Religious Studies | Images of Jesus In Western Culture
E103 | 25939 | Brakke

Who was or is Jesus of Nazareth?  The mysterious secret messiah of
the Gospel of Mark?  Or the divine visitor to earth of the Gospel of
John?  The confident “man's man” of the popular book The Man Nobody
Knows?  Or the tortured figure caught between the conflicting
demands of humanity and divinity in the controversial film “The Last
Temptation of Christ”?
	This course will not decide which of these is the “real”
Jesus.  Instead, we will study how these different images of Jesus
reflect the values, hopes, and anxieties of the cultures that
produced them.  As people tell and retell the story of Jesus, they
must grapple with the same questions: What was Jesus' mission and
primary teaching?  Was he human, divine, or both?  Why did he cause
a violent commotion in the Temple?  Why was he killed and by whom?
Why did Judas betray him?  What does it mean to say that he rose
from the dead?  By comparing and contrasting different versions of
the Jesus story and different artistic representations of him, you
will learn how the humanities are studied at the college level and
gain some practice in writing.
	The first part of the course will study the earliest images
of Jesus in the Gospels (both in the New Testament and “apocryphal”
gospels) and early Christian art.  We will see that, even at the
beginning, there was no single idea about who Jesus was, but several
ideas, which reflected concepts about divine men in the ancient
world.  In the second part we will look at images of Jesus from
American popular culture from the late 19th century through the
early 1960s, including art, novels, and film.  Primary themes here
will be the changing roles of men and women, the values of business,
and Cold War politics.  Finally, we will turn to Jesus in the global
pop culture of the 1960s to the present, especially movies such
as “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Jesus of Montreal” and
controversial images such as the art of Andres Serrano and Mel
Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”  These later images of Jesus
reflect this period's idealism, skepticism about traditional
religion, and focus on youth as well as the emergence of new voices
of protest (feminist, gay/lesbian, etc.) and of resurgent
Many of the images of Jesus we will study are held dear by many
Christian believers or considered by them to be the “true meaning”
of Jesus.  But other images we will consider were created precisely
to challenge or to attack traditional beliefs, and so have been
considered by some Christians to be heretical, offensive, even
blasphemous.  We will study all this material sympathetically and
critically, so students in this class will need, as you do in all
your classes, an open mind.  But at times some of you will need also
a thick skin or a sense of humor about matters that may be very
important to you.
	Requirements include two tests, two papers, a final exam,
and active participation in discussion meetings.  During the course
of the semester students must view six movies, which are shown on
Monday or Tuesday evenings: if your schedule prevents you from
attending screenings on either of those nights, you should not
register for the course.
Textbooks: Bruce Barton, The Man Nobody Knows; David Cartlidge and
David Dungan, Documents for the Study of the Gospels; José Saramago,
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ; Terrence McNally, Corpus
Christi; E103 Course Reading Packet.