The Evolution of the Christ: the Development of Early Christianity

Sundays in February | Led by Jeffrey Small
9 a.m. in the Commons Room and on Zoom

The single most influential person in human history had a surprisingly modest impact during his short life. On the outskirts of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago, a Jewish peasant in his twenties left his family trade as a woodworker to join an apocalyptic desert cult. When he returned to the hill country near his home of Nazareth, he began preaching an unconventional message to a small band of followers while also serving as a faith healer. Compared to today’s standards of instant celebrity in which a dancing toddler can attract millions of fans online, this Jewish teacher would only have reached hundreds during his year-long wandering ministry in a small rural suburb. No surviving contemporaneous writings mention him. During his lifetime, this man was insignificant in the scheme of world events. Within three centuries, however, a new religion centered on this man, Jesus of Nazareth, would become the official religion of the Roman Empire, and two thousand years later Christianity remains the largest religion in the world.

How did this religion develop over those first three centuries and what do we really know about the man Jesus? This four-week class with Jeffrey Small explores how the earliest Christian writings came to be, the numerous disputed theories around Jesus, early alternative views such as the Gnostic Gospels, the coalescence of the competing views into orthodox Christianity, and then concludes with some modern reinterpretations of Jesus.