In Remembrance of Me: Jesus Before Christianity

What Is Truth? Christ and Pilate

COVID-19 update: We hope to hold Toronto Pursuits in July 2021 but are not formally opening registration yet. We will be updating our product pages as we have more information from the University of Toronto and the City of Toronto on indoor gatherings, and from the Canadian and US governments on border and travel updates. We do have a variety of online seminars running now, with new groups starting almost weekly. Thank you for your support!

Before Christianity was a global religion, it was a late antique messianic movement in a politically contested region of the Mediterranean known as Judea. And before the life and death of Jesus became known as a potent narrative of salvation and renewal, it was a story of failure and disappointment: the story of a leader of a blossoming spiritual and political movement who was executed by the state before that movement could reach fruition. How did Jesus’s followers transform this abject failure into the cornerstone of their salvific spiritual vision? How did the stories of Jesus’ words, actions and experiences lead his Jewish followers to understand their beliefs as fundamentally different from those of their fellow religionists? And how did Jesus’ campaign to reform and renew Judaism produce an offshoot tradition that would become so fiercely hostile to Judaism itself?

This seminar will pursue these questions through a close examination of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the four gospels canonized in the New Testament: the deceptively simple stories which propelled Christianity’s transformation from a minority movement to a global force, and which have remained for over 2,000 years a touchstone for art, for faith, for self-discovery and for political transformation. We will focus primarily on Mark, the earliest gospel, and John, the most stylistically and substantively distinct of the four. We’ll also consider a handful of early Christian texts that are not part of the Bible (though some nearly made the cut) to enrich our understanding of the political, social and spiritual environment in the century after Jesus’ death. Whether you know the gospels well, have distant childhood memories of them, or have never read them at all, take this unique opportunity to (re)discover these four world-changing stories.

Read more in Mandy’s recent blog post.

“Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.”

– John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, sermon, c. 400



Emanuelle Burton holds a Ph.D. in religion and literature from the University of Chicago. She currently teaches ethics to computer science students at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is completing a (co-authored) textbook for a science fiction–based computer science ethics course for MIT Press.

Book and Readings

Use to find the required edition.

The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated, edited by Harold W. Attridge
(HarperOne, 2006)
ISBN-13: 978-0060786854,
any other edition of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible

Mandy will also provide electronically a compendium of early Christian writings.

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Toronto Pursuits 2020