Jesus in History and Culture

The impact of Jesus in western history has arguably been greater than that of any other human being who has ever lived. With the launch of the T&T Clark Jesus Library this month, find out about the historical figure of Jesus in his first-century milieu and about how that historical figure changed and morphed through time in art, film, and society.

Alexamenos Graffito
Line drawing of the Alexamenos graffito as first published by Raffaele Garrucci  (“Un graffito blasfemo nel palazzo dei Cesari,” La Civiltà Cattolica VII, Ser. III, 4 (1856), 531).

The earliest receptions of Jesus

The figure of Jesus was received in widely different ways in the ancient world. Before the earliest manuscripts available of the texts that made up the New Testament information about Jesus was spread through different means, orally, in letters and annals and even in graffiti as the famous Alexamenos Graffito shows. It was intended to mock Christians for worshipping someone who was crucified. Dating from the early 3rd century it may be the earliest surviving pictorial depiction of Jesus, and it shows him with the head of a donkey.  

Jesus and Brian
Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian, by Joan E. Taylor (ed) (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015)

Was Jesus a Brian?

Monty Python’s landmark film The Life of Brian was the result of a remarkable amount of research on 1st century Judea and the political atmosphere at the time. George Brooke examines Brian as a ‘teacher of righteousness’ and an accidental figure of worship, asking the question of whether or not Jesus was a ‘Brian’. 

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) (Artist) © Public Domain, sourced from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jesus through history

Art historian and biblical scholar Katie Turner’s specially selected collection of images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows key images related to the study of Jesus and his impact in history, from archaeological finds from Jesus’ own time through to modern depictions of Jesus in art and devotional materials.

The Head
Head of Christ (© Public Domain, sourced from The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Jesus and postmodern philosophy

Exclusive articles throughout the resource focus on key topics. This one by Lynne Moss Bahr looks at Jesus in postmodern philosophy, and showing how many recent developments in New Testament studies can trace their origins in the interest of continental philosophers such as Alain Badiou, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj Žižek in early Christianity.

Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child, by Segna di Buonaventura (Artist) (© Public Domain, sourced from The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Holy Terror?

What was Jesus like as a child? The infancy gospel of Thomas confronts its readers with a very different Jesus – a child who sometimes kills and harms others for trifling faults. So why is Jesus portrayed as acting in such an 'unchristian' fashion? Robert Cousland focuses on three interconnected representations of Jesus in the text: Jesus as holy terror, as child, and as miracle-working saviour.