Death of Jesus

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This page is part of the Progressive Education project.


Description

Historical Investigation into the Death of Jesus

This module was originally prepared for a religious education program in a P-12 co-ed independent school. It is designed for students in Year Nine (approximately 14 years of age), but may be suitable for use with other age groups.


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Overview

In this unit, students will explore various aspects of the death of Jesus. Imagining themselves to be forensic detectives or investigative journalists, students will address the following lines of investigation and prepare an appropriate report on their findings:

  • What do we know about the death of Jesus?
  • What sources of information do we have and how reliable are they?
  • Who was responsible for his death?
  • Why is Christian anti-Semitism unacceptable?
  • What motive did various “suspects” have for killing Jesus?
  • What was involved in crucifixion in the Roman Empire?
  • What happened to the body?
  • How did the earliest Christians make sense of Jesus’ death?


This will require students to read closely a number of biblical texts , and these will be identified at various points.

They will also draw on relevant sections of the BBC series, Son of God. There is a special section of the BBC web site devoted to this series, including additional information about the series, the various experts who are interviewed, and some other aspects of the series. You may find that site a very valuable additional resource.


Within a five-strand model for Spiritual Development, this unit especially relates to the following themes:

  • Knowledge of the Bible and Christian Tradition
  • Ecumenical and Interfaith Relationships (especially Christian/Jewish relations)

To a lesser extent, this unit also connects with the theme of Celebration, Prayer and Worship as it draws upon and enhances the students’ knowledge of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies.

This unit does not directly address the remaining two themes, although it has some instrinsic relevance to them:

  • Personal values & beliefs
  • Justice & peace



Theological Background

This unit provides your students with an opportunity to explore (from a safe cognitive distance as imaginary investigative agents) the circumstances of Jesus’ death and the ways in which Christians have understood his death as a moment of blessing for us all.

The death of Jesus is the brute fact that lies at the heart of Christianity, and it is perhaps the most certain historical fact we know about Jesus. He was killed by crucifixion on the orders of the occupying Roman authorities in Palestine around the year 30 CE on charges of being a threat to the Empire.

The death of Jesus (we often speak simply of “the Cross”) was in every sense a defining moment for Jesus and his followers, and yet the Christian Church has never agreed upon one single and definitive explanation of what his death means for us or how it happens that we find the Cross to be a supreme act of divine love towards us. Despite the lack of a formal theological definition, various ideas of Jesus’ death as an atonement for sin have dominated the Christian imagination as people of faith have reflected on the meaning of the Cross. Many of these traditional ways of expressing the meaning of the Cross are problematic for us in the modern world, as they seem to raise as many problems as they answer.

In this unit you will not directly explore the different theological interpretations of the death of Jesus as our aims are more modest.

We want the students:

  1. to establish a sound grasp of what can reasonably be known about the circumstances of Jesus’ death based on what is said in the Bible and what we know about the ancient Roman Empire;
  2. to understand that the death of Jesus lies at the heart of our observance of Holy Week and Easter;
  3. to appreciate that Christians of all opinions regard the death of Jesus as the defining moment of his entire life of faithfulness to God and love for people around him; and
  4. to understand that Christian anti-Semitism is a betrayal of core Gospel values and a travesty on the name of Jesus.



Work Program

This unit is to be delivered over 8 lessons: most likely in weeks 6–9 of Term One. The final assessment item may be submitted in week 10 and returned to students at the beginning of Term Two. What follows are suggestions for using those 8 lessons with your class, including suggestions for particular segments from the BBC series, Son of God.

  • DJ1 - Lesson One
  • DJ2 - Lesson Two
  • DJ3 - Lesson Three
  • DJ4 - Lesson Four
  • DJ5 - Lesson Five
  • DJ6 - Lesson Six
  • DJ7 - Lesson Seven
  • DJ8 - Lesson Eight


Assessment

During this unit, student achievement should be assessed by the following means:

  1. Observation of their active engagement in the learning process, including punctuality for classes, having appropriate learning materials with them, and participation in class work.
  2. Submission of an appropriate report on their findings about the circumstances of Jesus’ death: including some evaluation of the historical information available to us and some conclusions on the question of who was responsible for the death of Jesus and what reasons they had for killing him. This report may be in written form, or a digital presentation, and will most likely take the form of a journalistic story or a forensic report.



Reporting Criteria

The following comments are suggested for use when reporting on student achievement in this unit.

Knowledge
N has demonstrated an excellent grasp of the information available to us about the death of Jesus.
N has demonstrated a good grasp of the information available to us about the death of Jesus.
N has demonstrated a sound grasp of the information available to us about the death of Jesus.
N has demonstrated a limited grasp of the information available to us about the death of Jesus.
N has demonstrated very little grasp of the information available to us about the death of Jesus.

Understanding
N has demonstrated an outstanding capacity to draw on the information we have about the death of Jesus in order to understand its significance for Christians over the past 2,000 years.
N has demonstrated a good capacity to draw on the information we have about the death of Jesus in order to understand its significance for Christians over the past 2,000 years.
N has demonstrated a sound capacity to draw on the information we have about the death of Jesus in order to understand its significance for Christians over the past 2,000 years.
N has demonstrated a limited capacity to draw on the information we have about the death of Jesus in order to understand its significance for Christians over the past 2,000 years.
N has demonstrated very little capacity to draw on the information we have about the death of Jesus in order to understand its significance for Christians over the past 2,000 years.

Communication
N has consistently demonstrated impressive communication skills in class and in written work.
N has mostly demonstrated good communication skills in class and in written work.
N has demonstrated appropriate communication skills in class and in written work.
N has sometimes demonstrated appropriate communication skills in class and in written work.
N has rarely demonstrated appropriate communication skills in class and in written work.