Lessons about Jesus should explore how Muslims view him as a prophet and also examine his Jewish identity, academics have said.
Showing pupils a range of perspectives on Jesus would make GCSE and A-level religious-education lessons more rigorous, and encourage pupils to have empathy with others, according to the authors of a new textbook, titled Who is Jesus?
They have called for teachers to move beyond telling the story of the birth, life and works of Jesus.
Instead, the authors say RE lessons should highlight the way in which he is seen by people from a variety cultural, religious and academic backgrounds, including theologians, historians, feminists, the visually impaired, artists and southern African cultures.
Professor Rob Freathy, from the University of Exeter, who led the team that put the textbook together, said: “There is no single, neutral and objective answer to the question, 'Who is Jesus?'
“Answers differ depending on who is being asked. RE teaching and assessment that recognises that, by asking pupils to think about subject matter from different perspectives, is intellectually more rigorous and can promote the educational benefits of open-ended inquiry.
"It also best prepares pupils to enter a world characterised by a radical diversity of beliefs, religions and worldviews.”
The textbook introduces a team of fictional scholars, who each have different motivations for studying Jesus. Pupils then encounter a range of answers to the question "Who is Jesus?" This includes analysing sources, such as the Bible, the Qur’an, historical writings, rituals, interviews, architecture, artefacts and art.
Examples include Christa – a statue by Edwina Sandys of a naked female Christ on the cross – and the painting Jesus and the Cross Dressers by Brian J Turner, which places Jesus on a road-construction site alongside four male workers dressed in women’s clothes.
Professor Freathy said: “We know these images are potentially controversial. They are designed to be provocative.
"But what we want to provoke is thought, not outrage. According to the gospels, Jesus caused controversy by associating with people who were marginalised at the time, such as tax collectors and prostitutes.
"The Jesus and the Cross Dressers painting is used to stimulate discussion about which groups are rejected and excluded today, and perhaps with which groups a modern day Jesus would mix.”