Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies & Early Christianity
DEPARTMENT OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
Jesus of Nazareth in Film & History
20 January 2010
COURSE DESCRIPTION: Just
as there are four gospel portrayals of him, Jesus likewise has been the subject
of a multitude of film portrayals. This course will provide the opportunity
for viewing and discussion of a variety of film portrayals of Jesus (from
1953-present) in comparison with the canonical gospel accounts and current
"historical Jesus" research. We will discuss the socio-historical context
of this "Jesus material" and analyze its message(s) for contemporary culture.
COURSE OBJECTIVES: Through the successful
completion of this course, a student will be able to:
- Define the key terms relating to biblical study
- Identify & give dates for significant personages in the four canonical
- Outline the key themes & characteristics of each of the four NT gospel
portrayals of Jesus
- Discuss the significance of each of these four views of Jesus as the messiah
- Discuss the cultural appropriation of these canonical portraits in popular
films of different eras
- Evaluate the gaps and spaces in that appropriation as well as the positive
use of the canonical images
- Explain the meaning and significance of the key christological doctrine:
"fully human, fully divine"
REQUIRED FILMS & SECONDARY SOURCE MATERIALS (in addition to class handouts
and web page information):
- A college study edition of the Bible (with cross-references and annotations); not a paraphrase.
Recommended are the study editions of the NAB, RSV, or NRSV.
- Aland, Kurt, ed. Synopsis of the Four Gospels. Revised English Edition.
American Bible Society, 1985. ISBN: 0826705006. If you already own another Gospel
parallels text (i.e., Funk or Throckmorton), there is no need to buy this one.
If you are on a tight budget, this text could be shared with a classmate; there
also are on-line synopses, including ones with the Gospel of Thomas. See the JCU
Bible homepage for links.
- Books or other print resources:
- Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco:
Harper, 1994, 1995. ISBN #0060616628.
- Stern, Richard C., et al. Savior on the Silver Screen. Mahwah, N.J.:
Paulist, 1999. ISBN #0809138557.
- Tatum, W. Barnes. Jesus at the Movies: A Guide to the First Hundred Years.
Polebridge Press; 1998. ISBN #0944344674.
- Arcand, Denys. "Jesus of Montréal." Orion Classics, 1989 (French),
1990 (with English subtitles).
- Bronston, Samuel. "The King of Kings." Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1961. (Cf.
Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 version)
- Greene, David. "Godspell." Columbia Pictures, 1973.
- Jewison, Norman. "Jesus Christ Superstar." Universal Studios, 1973.
- Monty Python, "Monty Python's Life of Brian." Handmade Films, 1979.
- Pasolini, Pier Paolo. "The Gospel According to Matthew." 1964 (Italian),
1966 (with English subtitles).
- Scorsese, Martin. "The Last Temptation of Christ." 1988.
- Stevens, George. "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1965.
- Zeffirelli, Franco. "Jesus of Nazareth." RAI/ICT Entertainment, 1977.
- Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus
& the Heart of Contemporary Faith. San Francisco: Harper, 1994.
of the Catholic Church, tr. United States Catholic Conference.
Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist,
1994. ISBN #0809134349.
- Crossan, John Dominic, and Jonathan L. Reed. Excavating Jesus: Beneath the
Stones, Behind the Texts. Revised and Updated. San Francisco: Harper, 2002.
- Crossan, John Dominic.The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish
Peasant. San Francisco: Harper, 1991, 1993. ISBN #0060616296. Strongly
recommended for RL majors.
- Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN #0195124731. Strongly
recommended for RL majors.
- Funk, Robert W. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus.
New York: Macmillan, 1993.
- Neuner, Josef & Jacques Dupuis, eds. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal
Documents of the Catholic Church, Rev. Ed. New York: Alba House, 1982.
ISBN #0818904534. Seventh revised and enlarged edition, 2001. ISBN #0818908939.
Chpt. 6: "Jesus Christ the Savior." (= pp. 143-198).
- Oursler, Fulton. The Greatest Story Ever Told. 1949.
- Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study
of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Albert Schweitzer Library; Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. ISBN #0801859344. [On-line text: Albert
Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus
to Wrede. Translated by W. Montgomery. From the First German Edition Von
Reimarus zu Wrede, 1906. With a Preface by F. C. Burkitt, D.D. First English
Edition, 1910. Published in Great Britain by A. & C. Black, Ltd.]
- Van Beeck, Franz Josef. "Professing the Uniqueness of Christ," Chicago Studies
24 (April 1985) 17-35.
FORMAT: The course will be conducted in seminar style. Formal lectures
and student presentations will be complemented by active, critical student discussions
on the basis of the primary texts, films, and secondary literature. Class participation
is essential to the course, and is graded based on quality and quantity of input
in seminar discussions as well as attentiveness and receptivity to the ideas
of other in the seminar. This presumes keeping pace with the readings in the
primary and secondary literature assigned for each session.
ASSUMPTIONS regarding prior coursework.
Students will write two CREATIVE HISTORY
PAPERS will be written on the topics outlined below . Please try to keep
your answers under 1000 words. Students have the option of doing these projects
in collaboration with one other member of the seminar. The word limit would remain
the same, though a higher degree of proficiency would be expected; both collaborators
would share the same grade.
These are exercises in "historical imagination," that is, exercises based
on historical data and using the imagination to view and understand those data
in a new way. To do these exercises well, you must be willing to enter fully
into each historical situation -- feel the dust, taste the salt, hear and smell
the animals in the market, see the veiled women and bronzed men, the glorious
buildings in Herod's cities and the dirt floor dwellings of the country peasants.
You must also be as familiar as you can with the data themselves -- in this
case, details about the Jesus of history, his friends and enemies, and the social
environments in which they lived. To support your point of view, it is helpful
to do as much explicit discussion of the Jesus material as possible (always
remembering to give references for your ideas). Follow this
link for a sample paper (which is not necessarily a perfect job),
link for the grading protocol.
PAPER #1 (due
session #3): To prepare for writing this paper, carefully read the infancy
narrative in Matthew 1-2. Then compare and contrast it with the story of the
birth of Moses in Exodus 1-2. Note the role of the women in the stories (remember
that "Miriam" is the Hebrew form for "Mary"), and their relation to the central
male figure (i.e. Moses or Jesus). Based on this information, write a letter
detailing your response to this situation.] Imagine that you are Jesus' elderly
mother, reading a rough draft of Matthew's infancy narrative. What would be
your reaction to this story? For example, what kind of advice would you give
the author? Would you want to make the story more historically accurate? If
so, what sorts of changes would you want to see?
PAPER #2 (due
session #7): You are an early Christian writing an account of the "unknown"
Christians, the ones who received little or no attention in the four canonical Gospels.
You are faced with three accounts of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany—Mk 14:1-9,
Mt 26:3-13, and Jn 12:1-8—and a similar story in Luke 7:36-50. You are writing
your story about the woman who annointed Jesus. Assume that you know what modern
scholars do about the order in which the four Gospels were written, and the aims
of the individual evangelists in writing their Gospel accounts. Then, write your
story about the woman. Include such details as her religious, economic, and social
background, and tell about how she spent her life after this event (e.g. where she
was during the crucifixion, and what she did after Jesus' death). Remember to use
as much direct reference to the primary material as possible to support your stance.
A FILM CRITIQUE (2-3 pages)
on one of the "exploratory" feature-length films used in the course may be
substituted for one or both of the creative history papers. The critique should include
such topics as: (1) how this presentation compares with your prior understanding
of Jesus; (2) what questions it raises that can be answered by historical research;
(3) what questions or challenges it raises for current theology. As always, you
are welcome to add other points of interest and/or questions you would like to discuss
in the seminar. Due dates for the assignments remain the same. Follow this link
for further information.
The FINAL PROJECT
(due last session). I envision four alternatives for this, which we can discuss at the first class meeting:
- One option would be a collaborative endeavor
involving the entire seminar.the object of this project would be to develop an outline of our own life-of-Jesus film (based
on the canonical gospels, the secondary literature, and the Jesus films used in
this course) and expand on a few segments by creating "Storyboards" ofthe action, set, etc— everything necessary to indicate how that segment would be produced. These storyboards for the project would be developed by
2- or 3-person teams (a pair of graduate students, or one undergraduate and 1–2
grad students). Group labor should be divided equitably, butit is up to the team to decide how that would be done. (E.g., a team might decide that the undergraduate would have primary responsibility
for the visual aspects of the storyboard, while the graduate student(s) would have
primary responsibility for the content.) Regardless, all the team members will be assumed
to be working together on the complete project, and would receive one group grade.
- The second option would be a collaborative endeavor similar to the above option, but more focused. Instead of doing an entire filmscript outline, teams would choose one scene or event in the life of Jesus and develop a set of three or more different scenarios for how that might have developed; the way it is presented in one or more of the existing Gospels could represent one of the options, but at least one of these scenarios should present a novel way of viewing
that scene or event in Jesus' life. As with the preceding option, "Storyboards" would be generated to detail how those scenes/scenarios would be staged.
- The third option would be to do a traditional synoptic analysis of a gospel passage and compare it to how that text or scene was used in 2–3 life-of-Jesus films.The essay would culminate in a discussion of the theological significance of the changes as they relate to the socio-cultural develops of that same period.
- The fourth option would be to write an essay that surveys an image or character in the life-of-Jesus genre as it develops over a period of time, preferably the 20th century, with an exposition of why you think those changes were made and what is their theological significance.
The CLASS SCHEDULE gives due
dates for all readings, writing assignments, and examinations.
you have any questions about any of the items on this Syllabus, feel free to