Jesus of Nazareth

Dr. Mark Given

Welcome to the online home of REL 320, Jesus of Nazareth.  Click here for Requirements and here for Calendar.

The Goal

According to the course description, the topic of REL 320 is "Jesus as presented in the canonical gospels and other early sources with attention given to literary and historical issues."  So the purpose of this course is to deepen your knowledge of early traditions about Jesus and early Jesus movements through primary and secondary sources. You will become acquainted with many of the literary, historical, and ideological issues currently under investigation in Jesus scholarship. It’s a great time to be alive and to be a Jesus scholar! 

The goal of studying religion in a state university is not to make you religious or irreligious. To use of oft repeated phrase, we do not "teach religion" in a state university but we "teach about religion."  In a famous 1963 decision, the Supreme Court encouraged the study of religion in an academic environment. This is consistent with a goal common to most universities of investigating all significant aspects of human experience in a sympathetic and responsible, yet thoughtful and critical manner. Religion is most certainly a very significant aspect of human experience. 

The Methods

The variety of ways to teach a basic Jesus course is truly mind-boggling.  Among other reasons, the sheer variety of Jesus scholarship assures that the choice of topics and approaches is practically endless.  This semester I have chosen to build the course around the reading and discussion of two excellent books.  One focuses on historical Jesus research and the other on the Gospels.  I have chosen these books very carefully, having seriously considered over a dozen other worthwhile possibilities.  Although I do not specialize in historical Jesus research, I have kept up with scholarship on the subject since college--and that's a long time.  What has struck me over and over again is the way scholars who represent extreme positions, either liberal or conservative, tend to get the lion's share of the attention.  In recent decades, the tendency of such scholars to publish popular presentations of their positions has ensured that interested non-professional readers latch on to either a radically revisionist or reassuringly traditional portrait of Jesus they like and think of this as the "real" Jesus.  Or, they find more than one reconstruction of Jesus convincing and despair of ever really knowing who Jesus was.  The second outcome is a real possibility this semester since the historical Jesus book covers a bewildering range of scholarship and, between both books, you will learn just how difficult the historical problems really are.  Hopefully, however, you will learn why it is probably best to avoid the extremes and sensationalism that has all to often pervaded contemporary Jesus scholarship, and will learn how to make knowledgeable and reasoned judgments about the most crucial issues in "the quest for the historical Jesus."  It is safe to say that after taking this course you will know about most of the major issues and be acquainted with methodologically astute and hermeneutically mature perspectives on the whole subject.  You will learn more than you ever could have guessed there was to know on this subject and hopefully will find the effort worthwhile. 

You will also spend some time with other activities such as doing a couple of short papers to confront firsthand some of the interpretive challenges presented by the gospels.  We will also occasionally spend some time with our Gospel Parallels pondering and discussing texts.  I will also work in discussion of some video clips to break the textual monotony.

Office Hours

My office is Strong Hall 266 and my office hours are posted on the Blackboard site.  Appointments are also possible. My email addresses are available on the campus web and on the Blackboard site. I encourage you to email me with questions, comments, etc., if you cannot come by during office hours.

Additional Course Policies

Dropping the Class

It is your responsibility to understand the University’s procedure for dropping a class. If you stop attending this class but do not follow proper procedure for dropping the class, you will receive a failing grade and will also be financially obligated to pay for the class. For information about dropping a class or withdrawing from the university, contact the Office of the Registrar at 836-5520.

Academic Dishonesty

Missouri State University is a community of scholars committed to developing educated persons who accept the responsibility to practice personal and academic integrity.  You are responsible for knowing and following the university’s student honor code, Student Academic Integrity Policies and Procedures and also available at the Reserves Desk in Meyer Library.  Any student participating in any form of academic dishonesty will be subject to sanctions as described in this policy.  In this course, cheating on any assignment besides the final exam will result in an F for that assignment and usually cannot be made up. Cheating on the final exam will result in an XF.


Missouri State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution, and maintains a grievance procedure available to any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against. At all times, it is your right to address inquiries or concerns about possible discrimination to the Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance, Park Central Office Building, 117 Park Central Square, Suite 111, 417-836-4252. Other types of concerns (i.e., concerns of an academic nature) should be discussed directly with your instructor and can also be brought to the attention of your instructor’s Department Head.   Please visit the OED website at

Disability Accommodation

To request academic accommodations for a disability, contact the Director of the Disability Resource Center, Carrington Hall, Room 302, 417-836-4192 or 417-836-6792 (TTY), Students are required to provide documentation of disability to the Disability Resource Center prior to receiving accommodations. The Disability Resource Center refers some types of accommodation requests to the Learning Diagnostic Clinic, which also provides diagnostic testing for learning and psychological disabilities. For information about testing, contact the Director of the Learning Diagnostic Clinic, 417-836-4787,

Cell phone policy

As a member of the learning community, each student has a responsibility to other students who are members of the community.  When cell phones or pagers ring and students respond in class or leave class to respond, it disrupts the class. Therefore, the Office of the Provost prohibits the use by students of cell phones, pagers, PDAs, or similar communication devices during scheduled classes. All such devices must be turned off or put in a silent (vibrate) mode and ordinarily should not be taken out during class. Given the fact that these same communication devices are an integral part of the University’s emergency notification system, an exception to this policy would occur when numerous devices activate simultaneously. When this occurs, students may consult their devices to determine if a university emergency exists. If that is not the case, the devices should be immediately returned to silent mode and put away. Other exceptions to this policy may be granted at the discretion of the instructor.

Emergency Response

At the first class meeting, students should become familiar with a basic emergency response plan through a dialogue with the instructor that includes a review and awareness of exits specific to the classroom and the location of evacuation centers for the building. All instructors are provided this information specific to their classroom and/or lab assignments in an e-mail prior to the beginning of the fall semester from the Office of the Provost and Safety and Transportation. Students with disabilities impacting mobility should discuss the approved accommodations for emergency situations and additional options when applicable with the instructor. For more information go to and