Professor Nathan Johnson Earns Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for First Book

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The University of Indianapolis will be represented at Heidelberg University at the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise awards ceremony by Assistant Professor of Religion Nathan Johnson according to UIndy 360. Johnson has been recognized for his book, “The Suffering Son of David in Matthew’s Passion Narrative” which was published this past June. 


According to Johnson, his book was based on how early people in Jesus’ time viewed him as the Messiah and what that meant. He said he used sources from the first century to learn about how people understood Jesus’ death and also used this lens as a broader commentary on how people, even today, view grief and loss. 

“The Messiah, in Jesus’ day, was expected to be somebody who would defeat the enemies of people in that area of Judea,” Johnson said. “And the weird thing is with Jesus, even though he’s called Messiah, he doesn’t actually defeat any of the enemies in the area. He’s actually defeated by them by the Romans and crucified by them … So that was the beginning of it, and then researching that through and spending time looking at first century sources, material from 2000 years ago, to try to make sense of how these early people understood Jesus’ death. And I think it’s in a way a broader commentary on how do people make sense of tragedy? How do people make sense of difficult things like the loss of a loved one? And how did Jesus’ early followers describe and honor him?”

Johnson said he began the writing process for this book back in his doctoral program at the Princeton Seminary. He said there were four years of work to be done before he had to defend his studies in front of a committee. The inspiration behind the book came from the COVID-19 pandemic and the intense feelings of loss and tragedy, and how people came to understand and live with that, according to Johnson.

“I did work at Princeton Seminary, and this was based on my dissertation for that which was a four-year writing process for that and have to have it approved by committee and defended before a committee and an oral defense,”Johnson said. “So that was where it got its start. And then, actually, through the pandemic, thinking about loss, and that process of how we describe loss, how we make sense of loss. In the midst of the pandemic is when I finished the book and sent it to the publisher.”

The Manfred Lautenshlaeger Award for Theological Promise is awarded yearly to ten scholars who are working in the broad field of religion, Johnson said. He also said this award is specifically for first books, and “The Suffering Son of David in Matthew’s Passion Narrative” is his first publication. 

“It’s an honor to be in that group and represent our university at the University of Indianapolis in that setting,” Johnson said. 

In addition to accepting the award in Heidelberg, German, Johnson said he will also be presenting about his next book at the conference. He said he views this as yet another opportunity to represent UIndy on a larger scale. 

Johnson said in his next project, he wanted to look at other people and movements in history centered around the Messiah. He said Jesus was not the only person to be known as the Messiah, and that in this book he wants to look at the similarities and differences between those movements and Jesus’ to analyze what it means to be called the Messiah. 

“Part of that research, and something I talk about in a few of the classes I teach here, is Jesus actually wasn’t the only person in his time to be called the Messiah,” Johnson said. “There were other people who are known as Messiah, as well. And so my next project is to look at some of these other Messiah movements and draw some comparisons between their movements and that Jesus of Nazareth so what did it mean to be called the Messiah?”

Johnson said, in his experience, being able to work on research like this while teaching at UIndy is incredibly rewarding. He said it is beneficial for himself and other faculty that publish books and research because it gives them a sense of ownership over what they are teaching in the classroom or researching. This also benefits students because it enlivens the classroom when faculty have something that they are excited to teach and talk about, according to Johnson. 

“[The] faculty at UIndy, we love teaching—that’s why we’re here,” Johnson said. “That is the thing that really animates many of us and is the most meaningful thing in terms of what we do is connecting with students and being in the classroom, seeing the lights come on those ‘Aha!’ moments. So I think sometimes it’s thought that research can be a distraction from the work of the classroom, I’ve found that it really enlivens it … If I have something new that I’ve come to a conclusion myself about as a scholar, I’m going to be excited to share that with students and discuss it with them and see what they think about it and get their feedback on it.”

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