Religion & Philosophy at Lyon College

The Syllabus Should Be Checked At Least Once A Week In Case There Are Revisions.
Jesus and the Gospels
RPH 325
Lyon Building 214
1:00-2:15 a.m., Tue. & Thur.
Syllabus – Spring 2013
Dr. Paul Custodio Bube

Office Hours: Lyon 321
MWF: 10:00 a.m. - noon.
TR: 8:30-9:20 a.m.
or by appointment
Phone: 870-307-7351

E-mail:  HH01580A.gif (1311 bytes)

Many resources for the course will be found at Educator:

Required Texts:

W. Barnes Tatum In Quest of Jesus
Funk, Hoover, et al The Five Gospels
Borg & Wright The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (2007 edition)
Recommended: An additional translation of the gospels, such as the HarperCollins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 29, Jesus asks his followers, "Who do you say I am?" This question has been posed afresh to each generation of Christians (and often non-Christians) ever since the gospels were written. This is the central question of the course. For many Christians the answer to the question seems obvious at first glance. However, merely comparing several of the most popular movies about Jesus made in recent times indicates that there are a variety of views about who Jesus is. Indeed, a little exploration suggests that the answer was not even so obvious to Jesus’ first followers.

As 21st century people living in America, we have different tools for answering this question than Jesus’ followers. Some of our tools may be better, some may be worse. On the one hand, we have the benefit of the written gospels and hundreds of years of archeological and historical research to help us; on the other hand, we do not have living eyewitnesses around to question. These advantages and disadvantages will become apparent as we embark upon our quest.

To give clarity to our explorations, this course makes a careful distinction between the quest of the historical Jesus and the quest of the Christ of faith. As we will see, Christianity has always been primarily concerned with the Christ of faith, providing us today with a vast wealth of resources for this aspect of the quest. However, the quest for the historical Jesus is a relatively new concern in scholarship and raises many problematic issues. This quest will be a significant focus for much of the course.

We will raise many difficult questions; some questions we may like, some we may not. But the ultimate purpose of this course is to see how these questions help us draw together faith and reason in ways that can deepen and enrich each other. Keep in mind, there are often differences of opinions about interpretation of the biblical texts and about the historical Jesus. Inevitably, there will be a variety of perspectives found in our readings and among members of the class. I hope that we would all respect each other’s perspectives where they differ. One of my responsibilities is to sharpen students' thinking about the issues raised in the course. Please keep in mind, even if I question a student’s views, I respect those views. We should all be open to having our perspectives questioned and challenged – that is not a lack of respect for differing views, but a means of trying to better understand others and, when done honestly, a way to pursue Truth.

As we begin this course, let me suggest a prayer, "For the Spirit of Truth," to guide all of us:

From the cowardice that dares not face new truth,

From the laziness that is contented with half truth,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,

Good Lord, deliver me. United Methodist Hymnal #597


Course Objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to:


apply critical thinking skills to the reading of biblical texts by learning to discriminate among the historical, literary, and theological dimensions of selected biblical passages


interpret biblical texts using historical-critical methodologies


apply modern historical methods to the biblical texts and other evidence to better understand what may be known of the historical Jesus


analyze the theological and historical approaches to Jesus found in contemporary films


integrate faith and reason by understanding how the historical, literary, and theological dimensions of the Bible affect each other, and how they affect our lives today

Lyon College Policy on Attendance:

Page 115 of the  Lyon Catalog states: Students are expected to attend all class periods for the courses in which they are enrolled. They are responsible for conferring with individual professors regarding any missed assignments. Faculty members are to notify the Registrar when a student misses the equivalent of one, two, three, and four weeks of class periods in a single course. Under this policy, there is no distinction between “excused” and “unexcused” absences, except that a student may make up work missed during an excused absence. A reminder of the college’s attendance policy will be issued to the student at one week, a second reminder at two weeks, a warning at three weeks, and notification of administrative withdrawal and the assigning of an “F” grade at four weeks. Students who are administratively withdrawn from more than one course will be placed on probation or suspended (see Academic Probation and Academic Suspension).

Attendance will be taken and counts 5% of the final grade.

Students must turn in all e-journals, essays, take all exams, and must turn in a paper for the course. Failure to turn in an essay, take an exam, or turn in a term paper will result in an "F" for the course. Students will be penalized points for taking a quiz or exam late, or turning in an e-journal, essay, or paper after the due date.

CELL PHONES, COMPUTERS, AND OTHER ELECTRONICS: Cell phones should either be turned off or put on silent or vibrate in class. They should be put away and not visible. Texting during class is not permitted. If you are awaiting an emergency call, then you should sit near the class entrance, and when your phone vibrates, you should quietly exit and take your call in the hallway out of earshot our class and other classes. Students may NOT use computers in class except for specific times indicated by the professor or otherwise given permission to do so by the professor. Listening to iPods or other mp3 or similar players is prohibited in class. Violation of these requirements will adversely affect your participation/attendance grade for the class.

Essays on Films:

In order to understand how Jesus is sometimes interpreted in modern north American culture, we will watch several films depicting Jesus from the following: King of Kings (1961); The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); Jesus Christ Superstar (1973); Last Temptation of Christ  (1988); Jesus of Montreal (1989); and The Passion of the Christ (2004). Most of these videos are available either at the Lyon College Library or at local video stores. Students will need to watch three of the first four videos on their own and write a 3-5 page (1300-2200 word) essay (word-processed, one-inch margins, 12 point Times New Roman font, double-spaced) analyzing the three films by addressing the following questions: (1) Which gospel(s) seem to have the most influence on the film? Give examples that support your observations. (2) What key aspects of the film are not in the gospels at all? (3) What symbols, scenes, and images are used to convey the film maker's view of Jesus? (4) Do you think those symbols, scenes, and images capture meanings found in the gospels themselves, even if they are not explicitly found in the gospels? (5) What kind of picture of Jesus is the film trying to portray? (6) How does that portrayal reflect the time that the movie was made? (7) As a whole, do you think the film is a faithful portrayal of Jesus, theologically and/or historically? Explain why or why not. The first essay is due Feb.21; the second essay is due Mar. 14; and the third essay is due Apr. 4.


As an upper division course, each student is expected to do an in-depth research paper of at least 12-15 pages (4000-6600 words excluding bibliography/works cited pages). Students are welcome to research a topic of her/his interest related to the nature of the gospels, the historical Jesus, archeology and Jesus, or related issues. Students need to turn in a paper proposal by Jan. 31 or earlier. The proposal should contain a tentative topic, a short statement about what is being explored or researched, some relevant references that will be used in the paper. I am open to students doing a project that does not take the form of a traditional term paper--students will need to negotiate with me on an alternative project and settle on it by Feb. 7. To get ideas for papers, students should skim ahead in their books and explore websites like The New Testament Gateway ( Check the paper guidelines at for more specific instructions. The paper is due by class time on April 18.


The purpose of e-journals is to encourage personal reflection upon the material covered in the course as well as to increase student accessibility to the professor. Students will need to keep an e-journal throughout the course, writing at least two paragraphs for each journal on a topic related to the readings covered at that time. The journal is meant to give students a chance to reflect on issues, questions, ideas, etc., that have come up in the readings and classes. In other words, the e-journal should discuss the material covered – what it means, how it relates to our understanding of ourselves today, asking questions about concepts that are not clear from class discussions, and communicating with the professor about your final paper. They should be e-mailed to me at by 5:00 p.m. on the date due (see Course Schedule below), The e-journals will be graded for their thoughtfulness, depth of engagement with concepts covered, and clarity of expression. E-journals that are late will be graded down five points for each day they are late.


Essay #1 5%
Essay #2 5%
Essay #3 5%
E-journals 10%
Exam #1 5%
Exam #2 10%
Exam #3 15%
Attendance 5%
Paper 20%
Final Exam 20%

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Please note: Students seeking reasonable accommodations based on documented learning disabilities should contact the Office of Academic Services at 307-7332.
Last day to drop with no record of the course is January 22
 Last day to drop with a W is March18   

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Course Schedule: [Note: this schedule is subject to revision and should be checked by students at least once a week.]

Gospel readings come from The Five Gospels

Jan. 8 Overview of the course, basics to background of study of the Bible
Jan. 10 Further Background on the New Testament; read pp. 15-21 in Tatum

Click here to see comparisons of reading levels of several major translations at the Cokesbury site
Jan. 15-17 Historical-critical method in studying the gospels: read pp. 25-54 in Tatum
 [first e-journal due Jan. 17]

For more information about the Synoptic Problem check out  by Stephen C. Carlson and by Mahlon Smith of Rutgers.
Jan. 22-29 Read Gospel of Mark; pp. 55-61 in Tatum
[second e-journal due Jan. 24]
Jan.31-Feb. 5 Read Gospel of Matthew; pp. 61-66 in Tatum
[third e-journal due Jan. 31]
Feb. 7-12 Read Gospel of Luke; pp. 66-71 in Tatum
[fourth e-journal due Feb. 12]
Feb.  13 Exam #1 [check study guide] is due Feb. 13 by 11:59 p.m.
Feb. 14-19 Read Gospel of John;  pp. 71-84 in Tatum
[fifth e-journal due Feb. 19]
Feb. 21 Go to Library for Tutorial on Research for Term Paper
Feb. 21 Essay #1 on a Jesus movie is due by 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 21
Feb. 26 Read the Gospel of Thomas
[sixth e-journal due Feb. 26]
Feb. 27 Exam #2 [check study guide] is due Feb. 27 by 11:59 p.m.
Feb. 28-Mar.12 Quest of the Historical Jesus: read pp. 87-109 & 139 in Tatum; pp. 3-27 in Borg & Wright; and pp. 34-38, 128 in Five Gospels; (recommended pp. 16-34 in Five Gospels)
[seventh e-journal due Mar. 12]
March 2-10 Spring Break
Mar. 14 Essay #2 on  a Jesus movie is due in class on Mar.14
Mar. 14-19 Begin Resurrection and Virgin Birth: read ch. 7 in Tatum; pp. 269-270, 397-400, 465-470 in Five Gospels; pp. 171-186 & 111-142 in Borg & Wright
[eighth e-journal due Mar. 19]

Mar. 21 Titles of Honor: ch. 8 in Tatum; pp. 76-77 in Five Gospels

Mar. 23 Exam #3 [check study guide] due by Mar. 23 at 11:59 p.m.
Mar. 26-28 Kingdom Preaching: read ch. 9 in Tatum; 136-137 in Five Gospels; pp. 31-76 in Borg & Wright
Apr. 2-4 Torah Teaching: read ch. 10 in Tatum; pp. 143-145, 289-295 in Five Gospels
[ninth e-journal due Apr. 4]
Apr. 4 Essay#3 on a Jesus movie is due in class on Apr. 4
Apr. 9-11 Parables: read ch. 11 in Tatum; pp. 194-197, 323-324 in Five Gospels

Apr. 16-18 Miracles: read ch. 12 in Tatum; pp. 309 & 436-439 in Five Gospels [click here for slides on Miracles]
[tenth e-journal due Apr. 18]
Apr. 18 Term paper is due on April 18 by class time.
Apr. 23-25 Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion: read ch. 13 in Tatum; pp. 117-126 in Five Gospels; pp. 79-107 in Borg & Wright

Course Wrap-up
May 2   On-line Final Exam due by 3 p.m. on May 2 (seniors need to complete the exam by May 1) [click here for study guide]

© 2013 Paul Custodio Bube