Baker Academic

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Best Jesus Books for Class Use - Le Donne

A couple days ago I asked: if you were to teach a class on Jesus and the Gospels to novices (adult learners, university freshman, etc) what three texts would you use?

So far my favorite comment comes from Eric T.:
Eric Eve, Behind the Gospels (because recommended here)
Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus
Stephen Prothero, American Jesus
The wild card: Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire 
So far it seems most choices are books on the historical Jesus, and only a few on the gospels. Not sure what, if anything, that says...
While I have not yet looked at Eric Eve's book (embarrassed to say!), I've been meaning to do so. By all accounts, it is up-to-date and takes the recent advances in social memory theory seriously. Although I can't speak to how accessible it would be for novices.  Stanton's book is a classic. I like to include at least one "classic" (defined according to my own whims). And I have indeed used Prothero's American Jesus with much satisfaction!

But what makes Mr. T's comment my favorite is his observation that most of our lists are "historical Jesus" heavy and "Gospels" light. Allow me to take this teaching moment to point again to Jesus Among Friends and Enemies by Larry Hurtado and (our very own) Chris Keith. This book is the best I've seen at balancing the historical-critical questions/themes about Jesus with the literary-critical questions/themes about the Gospels. See my full endorsement here. (And, no, I receive no royalties for book sales on this one.)



  1. If I may, I'd suggest Exploring the New Testament col 1 by David Wenham and myself.

  2. Some other candidates not mentioned thus far might be:
    L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus
    Bruce Fisk, A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus
    Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew
    R. Bauckham, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction
    E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus

    Anthony, I read The Wife of Jesus over the weekend and enjoyed it very much. I think university freshmen and adult novices would also appreciate it.

  3. Thanks, Anthony! And the Hurtado/Keith book is a great idea, one I should have remembered since it is on the shelf right across from my desk. I'd considered White's Scripting Jesus, and Watson's new gospel book, but am not sure if they are accessible to novices. And I've used parts of Levine's book before, and I love the book, but I think some of the chapters might be too much inside baseball for beginners too (the chapter on feminist scholarship, for example).

    Another useful question, perhaps: would/should a course like this include noncanonical gospels? If so, what books would you use to introduce and discuss them?

    Eric T.

    1. Well, since you ask: the course on Jesus that I teach is a "Portraits of Jesus" course. It is something of a reception history of Jesus peppered with a bit of historical critical and Gospels as literature flavoring. For a course like this, it would be negligent not to do a section on extra-canonical Gospels. ... but if this were a Jesus and the Gospels course, I would assume that we're primarily covering (1) historical Jesus discussions and (b) Gospels as literature and/or sacred texts. If so, I see no reason to do more than a single lecture on 4th-6th compositions. But I would seriously consider adding Chris Skinner's newest book about the Gospel of Thomas.


  4. Hi,

    I'm a classical and theological studies student and am doing an "Encountering the Historical Jesus" module this term and as part of my assessment am doing some work on wife of Jesus referring to your work. It's an excellent aid for me, so thank you for writing such a well-written work on the subject.