Who was Jesus as a historical figure and how did his earliest followers interpret his life in Judaea and his execution at the hands of the Rome? What kind of religious world did his early followers inhabit, and what did their communal spaces look, sound, and smell like? In this class, we will use archaeology and literature to explore the early Christian movement as a Jewish sect in the Roman empire. We will examine texts composed by the earliest followers of Jesus that are now part of the New Testament, alongside other material to help us understand the startling diversity of the early Jesus movement — lost gospels, Dead Sea Scrolls, early Christian amulets and magical spells, demon-repelling inscriptions, and legendary accounts of Christian heroes and villains.
Readings and lectures presuppose no knowledge of early Christian texts. Together we will use the tools of historical investigation to understand the New Testament in its material context.