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Early Christian Outlook and its Jewish Matrix: Narratives of Gospels and Acts

Campus - the Israeli National Project for Digital Learning via edX


When the earliest followers of Jesus suggested that their teacher was the anointed one, the Messiah, promised by ancient prophets who would bring redemption to Israel, they applied a broader Jewish messianic belief to Jesus.

  • What different kinds of messianic ideas were people nurturing?
  • Was a messianic expectation a mainstream or a marginal viewpoint?
  • To which Jewish groups first Jesus followers felt close and from whom they were estranged?

The movement that had started in the Land of Israel would reach out at an early stage to the broader Greco-Roman world, to both Jews and non-Jews there.

  • How much were the earliest Christian texts, coming from that Greek-speaking phase, influenced by their new cultural environment?
  • Do they still reflect faithfully the initial beliefs of Jesus' followers? Do they reinterpret them dramatically? Or do they even turn their back on them?

These are all complicated questions, which are also crucial for understanding the birth of Christianity from within the Jewish matrix, as well as various modern religious movements. And these are only part of the questions to be asked if we truly want to reach such an understanding. Our inquiry may lead us to some unexpected answers.

If you are ready to be part of the ongoing discussion and are willing to discover what may be called a Jerusalem perspective on the topic, you are invited to join our course.


Week 1. Introduction to the course. Second Temple Judaism as setting of nascent Christianity. From the Land of Israel to broader Greco-Roman context. Gospels and Acts as part of the early Jesus movement literary output. Formation of Gospel tradition and evolution in perception of Jesus' mission.
Week 2. Early Christian message and Jewish messianic beliefs (A) Variety of messianic outlooks in late Second Temple Judaism. The Synoptic Gospels as a reflection of that variety. (B) Problematic side of Jesus' kingly messiahship. A switch to another Second Temple idea, that of a heavenly savior.
Week 3. Hebrew Bible as the Gospels' point of reference (A) The claim for Jesus' messiahship in the light of other Jewish exegetical trends. Messianic interpretation of Scripture at Qumran. (B) Jesus as Interpreter of the Torah vis-a-vis the Torah exegesis in the Dead Sea Scrolls and among proto-rabbinic sages.
Week 4. The Kingdom of God idea: its Jewish setting The kingdom and the End of Days. Eschatology in the Gospels and at Qumran.
Week 5. Struggle for self-identity (A) Strategies of identity building in the Synoptics. Jesus as a Torah sage/Pharisee? The polemic against Pharisees in the Gospels, Qumran and rabbinic sources. (B) Gospel of John's sectarian tendency compared to that of the Scrolls. Polemical function of "the Jews" in John's narrative.
Week 6. Gospel of John's special stance (A) Messiah as revealer of God's Word. Messiah's preexistence: the question of Jewish setting. (B) Jesus as second Moses.
Week 7. Jesus' death and resurrection as the focal point of the Gospel narrative Various meanings of Messiah's death: Synoptic narrative vs. John's version. A suffering Messiah: precedents in Jewish thought.
Week 8. Early Christian outlook reflected in Acts (A) Preaching to the Jews in preparation for the Kingdom of Israel. Expectation of Jesus' return and the meaning of the interim period. (B) Preaching to the Gentiles as fulfillment of biblical prophecies and metamorphoses in the movement's outlook. Paul's mission and trends in Hellenistic Jewry. The issue of Torah observance.
Week 9. Delay in redemption and the response of Acts.
Renewal of prophecy/gift of the Spirit and the mission to the Gentiles as the signs of the interim period. Temple in Acts' eschatological scenario. Between quasi-Qumranian beliefs and broader universalistic ideas. Concluding remarks.

Taught by

Serge Ruzer


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