I mentioned this course over two years ago, back when the Open Culture had about five readers. And given that the topic is hardly out of date, I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to bring it back to the surface. The course comes out of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program (where I help give a hand). The topic is the real Jesus. The professor is Thomas Sheehan. You can access it on iTunesU and otherwise find it in our collection of free online courses. Finally, the course description is here:
Who was the historical Jesus of Nazareth? What did he actually say and do, as contrasted with what early Christians (e.g., Paul and the Gospel writers) believed that he said and did? What did the man Jesus actually think of himself and of his mission, as contrasted with the messianic and even divine claims that the New Testament makes about him? In short, what are the differences — and continuities — between the Jesus who lived and died in history and the Christ who lives on in believers’ faith?
Over the last four decades historical scholarship on Jesus and his times — whether conducted by Jews, Christians, or non-believers — has arrived at a strong consensus about what this undeniably historical figure (born ca. 4 BCE, died ca. 30 CE) said and did, and how he presented himself and his message to his Jewish audience. Often that historical evidence about Jesus does not easily dovetail with the traditional doctrines of Christianity. How then might one adjudicate those conflicting claims?
This is a course about history, not about faith or theology. It will examine the best available literary and historical evidence about Jesus and his times and will discuss methodologies for interpreting that evidence, in order to help participants make their own judgments and draw their own conclusions.