Learning The New Testament

Next fall, we’re reworking the Level One introduction to the Bible. We’ve rejiggered our undergraduate programme to begin by familiarising students with the Bible itself, and to prepare them for critical reading by helping them observe differences between what you might call “the cultural story of the Bible” (on one hand) and what one reads from one’s own copy of the Bible. It’s (roughly speaking) a literary-critical introduction, eschewing the historical issues in favour of nailing down a broad sense of what is written (granted that there remain problems about translation and text). This all works pretty easily for the Old Testament, where there are relatively few internal parallel passages, and those that we see can be contrasted moderately easily.
It will be vey tricky, though, for the Gospels. It’s easy to talk through a generalised “life of Jesus”, but the concurrence of four parallel accounts of Jesus, accounts that generally agree with most of the culturally-imagined/recalled events in his career, introduces snaggy complications. Our job will be to brief students on the contours of Jesus’ ministry, arrest and trial, death, and resurrection, and to alert them to differences among the gospels, and to the ways that the “cultural Jesus” differs from the literary Jesus. Right now, I’m guessing that we’ll have units on Jesus as wonder-worker, as Teacher (parables, apothegms, discourses), and Jesus as “king” — or something such as that — followed by a day on passion/resurrection. That’s four units, far too little in one way, but already a disproportionate fraction of the one-semester course.
That’s what I’m puzzling about this morning, anyway.

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