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Rebel, Prophet, Martyr: Jesus of Nazareth in the Context of his Time


Admission requirements

This course is intended for students enrolled in the (Research) MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations, Religious Studies or History programs.
In addition to the general rules set out for admission to the master program, students are required to have a BA either in Religious Studies, Classical Languages, Ancient History, Egyptology, Assyriology or Archaeology. Minimum number of participants is 3, maximum is 20.


Jesus of Nazareth is certainly one of the most influential, but also one of the most controversial personalities from antquity - reason enough to take a critical look at the sources that describe his life and message (the four NT gospels and others) and the environment he was active in (Early Roman Galilee and Jerusalem). Equipped with an arsenal of modern philological and archaeological methods, we will try to look behind two millennia of reception history, pious faith and ecclesiastic doctrine and aim at reconstructing his "cultural profile" in the context of regional Mediterranean culture. A hypothesis, of course, but a lively and challenging one! What was Jesus' message? How did he fit into the turbulent times of social upheaval and cultural transformation? What do miracle stories and provocative feasting and drinking have to do with God? Why was he executed and his disciples were not? What does it mean when people claimed Jesus was raised from the dead? Jews and Romans, farmers and priests, the poor and the rich, men and women all played their perculiar roles in this very Mediterranean story of salvation and community which is still very much today. So: careful listening to old and new sources instead of the usual sensationalism!

Course objectives


  • of the major cultural and political developments in ancient Palestine during the Late Hellenistic and Early Roman Empire;

  • of the major groups and trends in Palestinian Judaism at the time of Jesus (apocalypticism, John the Baptist, social and religious "rebels");

  • of the roles of the Roman and Jewish authorities in the trial against Jesus and their political agendas;

  • of the most important literary and archaeological sources of Jesus of Nazareth and his time (Gospels, synoptic problem, Galilean archaeology);

  • of examples of how the "formative period" of the Jesus movement is picked up in modern European research and popular culture (film).


  • research: independent formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions;

  • critical assessment of primary and secondary literature; oral presentation: the oral presentation will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of specific textual passages, making effective use of a handout and/or PowerPoint;

  • written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research;

  • the student must demonstrate his or her grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material;

  • this course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.

The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated:

  • MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic, literature and research question, and when preparing their presentation (with handout). Their paper may consist of an assessment of the status quaestionis on a given topic.

  • ResMA students are expected to come up with their own original topic, literature and research question for the presentation (with handout). Their paper will have the more complex form of a scholarly report on a given issue discussed in current research. In addition to that, they will write a proposal / abstract for a paper to be held at a (fictitious) conference.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar: lecture elements by instructor, assignments to students, presentations and discussions by students.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • Seminar sessions: (13 x 2 hours =) 26 hours

  • Preparing seminar sessions: 54 hours

  • Preparing oral presentation (finding topic, research question, literature): 40 hours

  • Writing handout, literature report and (only ResMA) proposal for conference: 30 hours

  • Working out paper: 130 hours

Assessment method


  • Assignments (report on research question and bibliography), for ResMA students also proposal for (fictitious) conference paper.

  • Oral presentation;

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography).


  • Assignments: 10%

  • Oral presentation: 30%

  • Written paper: 60%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor. Only the final paper can be re-taken. The sufficient parts cannot be re-taken.

Inspection of feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest.


[Blackboard] ( will be used as means of communication and to distribute study material.

Reading list

Textual basis:

  • E. Nestle / B. Aland / K. Aland (eds.), Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th ed., Stuttgart 2012 (there are editions with facing German or English translation).

Secondary Literature:

  • E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, London 1993.

  • S. Freyne, Jesus, a Jewish Galilean. A New Reading of the Jesus Story, London / New York 2004.

  • L. Nogossek / C. Jacobi / J. Schröter (eds.), Jesus-Handbuch, Tübingen 2017.
    More literature to be announced in class.


Enrolment through [uSis] ( is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


Prof. Dr. Jürgen K. Zangenberg
Huizinga 1.34


Attendants who miss more than two sessions will have to repeat the course.