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RELG 004 (CLST 004) Radical Jesus

Swarthmore College, Fall 2020, Weds. 2.00-5.00 PM with outdoor and online
discussion add-ons, Wallace.

Office: Pearson 216. Phone: 610-328-7829. Email: Office

hrs: by zoom appointment


This class is a discussion- and writing-intensive study of classical and contemporary

understandings of the figure of Jesus through analytical reading, classroom dialogue,
expository writing, and community engagement. It asks the questions, Who was the real
historical Jesus? and, What is the relevance of Jesus for today? Required readings introduce
students to a wide understanding Greco-Roman, Middle Eastern and African cultures,
environments, geographies and ancient texts, biblical and otherwise, including many of the
extracanonical scriptures that did not make the final cut for inclusion in the commonly
received New Testament. It features an introduction to the Greek alphabet, lexicons, and
research tools for New Testament study along with rudimentary Greek terms essential to
biblical scholarship and commentary. Instruction is intellectually rigorous and responsive
both to skeptical and faith-based understandings of Jesus’ biography and the Bible. The
ground is level in this class: believers and unbelievers, evangelicals and atheists are
welcome. No prior background in religious or biblical studies is assumed or required.

The class is divided into four three-week sessions with each session devoted to one of the
Gospels including a couple of weeks on the book of Acts. Each session will study the
interplay between Christian scriptures along with writings and images about Jesus drawn
from the Hebrew Bible, extracanonical writings, history, theology and fiction. Images of
Jesus through time will be tackled: Jewish rabbi, political revolutionary, apocalyptic savior,
queer prophet, Indigenous shaman, and African messiah.

The class is cross-listed in Classics and fulfills requirements as a Writing course,

Interpretation Theory course, Environmental Studies course, and Engaged Scholarship
course. As an Interpretation Theory and Environmental Studies course, it will deploy
leading-edge theoretical tools for understanding the figure of Jesus, what Bart Ehrman
(problematically) refers to as “ideological criticism” in the course’s introductory textbook.
These interpretive methods include Indigenous studies, liberation theology, postcolonialism,
disability studies, critical race theory, critical geography studies, animal studies, gender and
queer theory, ecological criticism, and mindfulness practices. Self-consciously
interdisciplinary, the class foregrounds how contemporary critical methods produce often
competing understandings of Jesus across a wide variety of academic disciplines.
Likewise, the class will foreground more traditional academic tools in biblical studies vis-à-
vis Ehrman’s textbook. “Behind the text,” historical criticism interrogates the socio-
cultural sitz im leben (situation-in-life) that gives rise to the passage in question. “Within the
text,” literary criticism considers the internal relationships between words and ideas, using
the criterion of multiple attestation, to establish the meaning of particular passages. And “in
front of the text,” redaction criticism studies an author’s overall intent in editing and
selecting a range of texts in their formulation of a particular literary unit or scriptural book in
general. (Ehrman calls this first type of criticism socio-historical method; the second, genre
criticism; and the third, redaction method or comparative method.)

In addition to an initial paper, midterm essay, and final research essay, the class also
features a community-based engaged scholarship component in which class members’
classroom learning is grounded in regular volunteer activities in the wider community.

The pedagogical goals of this course are to cultivate in students modes of learning that are
open-minded, critically precise, attentive to the needs of others, and spiritually attuned to
the pressing existential challenges of our time, including systemic racism, climate
catastrophe, and an ongoing pandemic. The hope of the course is that class members will
discover that living through difficult times can open one to fresh vision and alternative ways
of living: the obstacle, ironically, can be the path forward. Or as Jesus put it, “the stone
which the builders rejected has become the new cornerstone” (Matt 21:42). In times of
despair, people sometimes discover an inner resilience and newfound solidarity with others
as the cornerstone for building communities of courage and integrity in spite of widespread
feelings of malaise and hopelessness.


1. Pronouns and inclusive language. Learn to identify oneself and others according to
preferred pronouns. This shows respect for others, as does the willingness to experiment
with gender-nonconforming language for terms such as “God” or “the sacred.”

2. Learn how to read. Reading for comprehension and economy is different from word-by-
word childhood reading. Experiment with this form of “deep skimming” and discover, in my
experience, a new way of reading that takes half the time to comprehend twice the amount
of textual information than is possible through conventional reading. See Mortimer J.
Adler, How to Read a Book (Touchstone, 1972).

3. Learn by handwriting instead of laptops for note-taking. While this is a digital-intensive

class, a growing body of evidence indicates that college students learn more when they take
notes on paper by hand than by using computers or tablets during class sessions.
meeting.html. Students with learning differences may need to use laptops primarily, but
consider experimenting with the learning growth and fun that comes through the bygone
practice of handwriting.

4. Learn to craft a well-researched, argumentative college-level essay. This is an invaluable

skill-set that will serve all class members throughout life. Learning the art of persuasive
rhetoric – in spoken and written form – is one of the chief aims of the humanities and liberal
arts. Considerable time in this class will be spent on teaching the discipline of coherent and
persuasive argumentative writing. Writing assignments consist of initial paper (5-7 pps),
midterm with an essay (5-7 pps), and final research paper (12-15 pps). Equal weight is
assigned to each assignment, along with instructor’s overall judgment about class and
engaged scholarship participation, for final grade evaluation. Grades posted numerically and
then converted to letter grades; note these equivalences: A=95; A-=90; B+=87; B=85; B-
=80; C+=77; C=75; C-=70; D+=67; D=65, etc.

5. Learning as healing. A central ideal of this class is students’ formation in ancient

wisdom traditions, biblical and extrabiblical, not the attainment of knowledge for its own
sake. To reimagine learning as soul-making, not simply data-acquisition, is both a radically
old timey, and strikingly contemporary, philosophy of education in the liberal arts. This class,
then, will approach all discussion, reading, video, and writing materials as opportunities for
growth in wellbeing. And to this end, a “ritual laboratory” component featuring nonsectarian
online mindfulness practices will be essential to realizing the course ideal of therapeutic

6. Prepare reading materials for classroom discussion. If you are local or otherwise able to
do so, purchase copies of all required books at the College Community Bookstore.
Otherwise, please secure digital versions of these items. The important point is to study
beforehand, and bring to class, hardcopy versions of all reading assignments for facilitated
classroom discussion whenever possible.

7. Accommodations for learning differences. If you need accommodations for a disability,

please contact the Office of Student Disability Services (Parrish 113) or email the office
at to arrange an appointment to discuss your
needs. As appropriate, they will issue students with documented disabilities a formal
Accommodations Letter. Of course, you are welcome to contact me privately to discuss your
academic or any other needs you might have.

8. Regular, punctual, considerate class attendance is obligatory. As a new zoom class, please
keep your video window open, your voice on mute until you are ready to speak, and, in
general, do not use the chat feature. The best learning occurs in a loop: read it, discuss it,
write about it. I hope to maintain the integrity of this three-foci ellipse throughout the
9. Research guides. An excellent place to start any research project is at Research Guides at
this Moodle site or go to This
gives you quick access to the two most important research tools for this class: the ATLA
Religion Database (EBSCOhost) and online New Testament commentaries. The ATLA
database is the best peer-reviewed information retrieval system in the academic field of
religion; beware of using Google etc. for research in biblical studies. At the ATLA page you
can enter descriptor terms that will lead you to key articles etc. in the field (e.g., searching
together the terms “white supremacy” and “bible” yielded 10 results, while “gender” and
“gospel of john” 26 results). As well, check out the online commentaries section noted here
in the Library Guide section. (Commentaries are verse-by-verse analyses of biblical books.)
There you will see e.g. Adela Yarbro Collins’s Mark: A Commentary online and, if you click
down further, a two-page discussion of the “synoptic problem,” namely, Why are the first
three Gospels so different from the Gospel of John? And more. Our humanities research
librarian Roberto Vargas put this page together for us; email him from the site itself with
questions you have about these matters.


Any copy of the Bible is satisfactory, but The HarperCollins Study Bible is the version
recommended for this class as an ideal translation and study guide

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings,
7th edition (note: only use the 7th edition)

Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr., Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, New
Revised Standard Version

Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in

Moodle is the digital portal for the course: announcements, syllabus, other required
readings, assignments, research tools, schedule changes, and so forth, are at the class site.
Please visit this site regularly to keep abreast of developments. Note: in schedule below
required digital course documents at Moodle site under Readings are asterisked (*);
websites are formatted as hyperlinks; occasional items under Readings such as handouts
and videos are hash-marked (#); mindfulness rituals are signified by carrot symbol (^); and
readings passed over and no longer required will be highlighted in yellow

---- Have at-the-ready printed hardcopy of assigned books and readings for each class
session. Assigned page numbers are noted by inclusive numbers (e.g. 4-8) while chapters
and sections within books are noted by the chapter number (e.g. chap. 13) or section name
(e.g. Introduction)

This is a covid19 hybrid course. The class will be conducted online on Weds. 2-5 PM with a
10-minute break roughly in the middle of the class. In the schedule below the break is noted
by the three asterisks between each class’s first half and second half of readings. As well, an
optional 1-hour discussion session might be added as a voluntary option per class
members’ schedules. If this extra hour can be added, public health guidelines and weather
permitting, I hope that this additional weekly session can be held outdoors for in-person


As a W course, a primary proficiency goal is for class members to learn the discipline of
well-researched and carefully structured expository writing. To this end, important class time
is devoted to teaching argumentative writing. Along with the help of the WAs, a central aim
is to facilitate opportunities for class members to revise their work and get help with thesis
statements, paper drafts, bibliographical resources, etc. Note that revision of the initial
paper is mandatory while revision of the midterm essay assignment is encouraged, but not
mandatory. In the last third of the semester, a discussion is initiated about how to
successfully write the final term paper, and a required one-page draft of the final paper’s
initial thesis statement is designed to ensure this success.

This is an Engaged Scholarship (ESCH) course. Once every week for 2-3 hours, class
members will volunteer online in after-school tutoring programs, among other activities.
Swarthmore College understands its mission as developing ethical intelligence among its
student body. To that end, the goal of ESCH in this course is to integrate classroom ideals
about the good life with civic engagement so that class members can become more
reflective and competent participants in public life.


----Week One 9/9: Jesus the Lion (Mark) I – Introduction

Confused? Jesus offers clarity -- or do they?

Mark, chaps. 1-4

Principal pericopes: Mark 3:7-12, 3:31-4:12

Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction, Front Matter, Introduction, chaps. 1, 2,
Photo Essay 1, 3 (skim), 4 (skim), 5, 6 (note: we will focus on “Excursus 1: Some Additional
Reflections: The Historian and the Believer,” 18-19) Lehmann and Slocum, New Testament Greek Online:

Series Introduction (alphabet, pronunciation, accents and breathing marks, some
vocabulary, nouns, verbs, other parts of speech, and basic research tools for New Testament


(*) “Scriptural Miscellany: Jesus or Not Jesus?”

(*) Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It, 57-62 (Infancy Gospel of

----Week Two 9/16: Jesus the Lion (Mark) II – Indigenous Jesus

Mark, entire

Principal pericopes: Mark 1:9-11, 8:22-26

Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction, chap. 7, Excursus 3 (note: we will focus
on “Excursus 3: Methods in Ideological Criticism,” 193-95; and note: beginning with this
class please have at hand Throckmorton’s Gospel Parallels for comparative studies of the


(*) Graham Harvey, “Animism - A Contemporary Perspective,” in Encyclopedia of Religion

and Nature, ed. Taylor, 1:81-83

(*) Clara Sue Kidwell, Homer Noley, George E. “Tink” Tinker, A Native American Theology,
Introduction, chaps. 1, 4, 7

(*) Mark I. Wallace, “Worshipping the Green God,” in When God Was a Bird: Christianity,
Animism, and the Re-enchantment of the World, 81-94 (only)

----Week Three 9/23: Jesus the Lion (Mark) III – Nonbinary Jesus

Aslan, Zealot, Map, Author's Note, Introduction, Chronology, Prologue, chaps. 1-6

Principal pericope: Mark 5:25-34

(*) Louise J. Lawrence, “The Stench of Untouchability: Sensory Tactics of a Leper, Legion, and
Leaky Woman,” in Sense and Stigma in the Gospels: Depictions of Sensory-Disabled
Characters, 1-27


(*) Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It, 19-28 (Coptic Gospel of Thomas),
35-44 (Gospels of Mary, Philip)

Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction, chaps. 12, 13, Excursus 4, 14, Photo
Essay 2

(#) Video, Lauren Green, Fox news, “Interview of Reza Aslan” (2013)

Initial Paper Prompt Distributed

----Week Four 9/30: Jesus the Rabbi (Matthew) I – White Jesus

(#) Benjamin West, Egyptian Mummy Portrait, and Henry Ossawa Tanner Jesus images

Benjamin West, Resurrected Jesus

Egyptian Mummy Portrait

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jesus and Nicodemus

Matthew, chaps. 1-15

(^) Modified zazen sitting ritual

Principal pericopes: Matthew 5:17-20, 15:21-28

Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction, chap. 8

Aslan, Zealot, Prologue, chaps. 7-9

(*) Love Sechrest, “Enemies, Romans, Pigs, and Dogs: Loving the Other in the Gospel of
Matthew,” Ex Auditu 31 (2015): 71-105


Blum and Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race, Prologue,
Introduction, chap. 1, 2, 6, 8

Initial Paper Due

----Week Five 10/7: Jesus the Rabbi (Matthew) II – Jewish Messiah – Guest Speaker:
Zuline Wilkinson

Matthew, chaps. 16-28

Principal pericopes: Matthew 25:31-40; 15:10-20 cf. Mark 7:9-23

(*) Clarissa Grundstein '20 Interview of Rabbi Glenn Blank

(*) Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God became a National Icon, chap. 7

(*) Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi’s Journey Through Religious Change in
America, chaps. 1-2 (skim)


(*) Thomas Bohache, “Matthew,” in The Queer Bible Commentary, ed. Deryn Guest et al,

(*) Junot Díaz, “Apocalypse”

Initial Paper (1st batch) Returned

----Week Six 10/14: Jesus the Rabbi (Matthew, Luke, and Acts) III – Black Christ –
Guest Speaker: Don H. Matthews

(*) Donald H. Matthews, Christianity is an African Religion: How Black Spirituality Gave Light
to the World: Deconstructing White Christian Religious Racism about the Origins of Western
Religions, Part One

Principal pericope: Matthew 2:13-23

Luke and Acts (skim but esp. note Acts 8, 13)

Aslan, Zealot, chaps. 10-12
journal/hidden-africans-bible-and-early-church Kroeger, African Origins of the Bible and
Formative Christianity


Blum and Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race, chaps. 7, 8

(*) James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, ix-xix, 1-29, 152-66

Mandatory Initial Paper (1st batch) Revision Due

Initial Paper (2d batch incl Sam) Returned

----Week Seven 10/21: Jesus the Friend (Luke) I – Queering Jesus and Swarthmore
Friends Historical Library – Guest Speakers: Kody Hersh and Celia Caust-Ellenbogen

Luke, entire

Principal pericope: Luke 23

Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction, chaps. 9, 12-17


(*) Robert E. Goss, “Luke,” in The Queer Bible Commentary, ed. Deryn Guest et al, 526-47

(*) Kent Haruf, Benediction, chaps. 25, 28

Mandatory Initial Paper (2d batch incl Sam) Revision Due

Midterm Distributed

----Week Eight 10/28: Jesus the Friend (Luke) II – Indigenous Jesus Again

Leftovers Season 3 Prologue

(#) TV series, season 3 prologue, "The Leftovers," Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta, HBO

(^) Modified sacred hoop ritual

Principal pericope: Luke 21

(*) Clara Sue Kidwell, Homer Noley, George E. “Tink” Tinker, A Native American Theology,
chaps. 2, 3, 8 Avalos,
Settler Colonialism and the Study of Religion

George E. “Tink” Tinker, “Indian Culture and Interpreting the Christian Bible,” in Spirit and
Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation, 88-99


(*) Alexander Koch, et al. “Earth System Impacts of the European Arrival and Great Dying in
the Americas After 1492,” Quaternary Science Reviews 207 (2019): 13-36 (skim)

(*) Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, 156-74 (only)

Midterm Due

----Week Nine 11/4: Jesus the Friend (Luke, Acts, John) III – Apocalyptic v Non-
Apocalyptic Jesus
"Homeless Jesus" causes someone to call police

Principal pericopes: Luke 7:36-50; John 1, 2, 4:1-30

Luke, Acts, John entire

Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction, chaps. 10, 11

(*) Mark I. Wallace, “Early Christian Contempt for the Flesh and the Woman Who Loved Too
Much in the Gospel of Luke,” in The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires and Sexuality in
Christianity, ed. Margaret Kamitsuka, 33-49


(*) Dostoevsky’s

The Grand Inquisitor, 1-37

----Week Ten 11/11: Jesus the Mystic (John) II – Non-Apocalyptic Jesus – Guest
Speaker: Pamela Boyce Simms

Note: see brief video and readings for today by Ms. Simms in Announcements; sorry for
late additions!
John, entire

Jesus through Buddhist and Theosophist Lenses: The Role of Jesus, The Christed-one in the
Human Psyche; Jesus of Nazareth, Age 12-30; The Archetype of Jesus the Christ in the
Evolution of Human Consciousness

Principal pericopes: John 1, 2:13-22

(*) Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 31-44, 78-81 (Gospels of Peter, Mary [again], Philip [again],
Coptic Apocalypse of Peter)


(*) Anne Elvey, “Storing Up Death, Storing Up Life: An Earth Story in Luke 12:13-34,” and
Oyeronke Olajubu, “Reconnecting with the Waters: John 9:1-11,” in The Earth Story in the
New Testament, ed. Norman C. Habel and Vicky Balabanski, 94-107, 108-21

----Week Eleven 11/18: Strike Class

Midterm Returned

Thanksgiving Break Week

----Week Twelve 12/2: Final Class


(#) TV series episodes, "Messiah," Michael Petroni, Netflix (2020)

Discussion of Final Research Papers and Other Interests

----Midterm Essay Revision Due 12/4 (Optional)

----Final Research Paper Due 12/15