Origins of Christianity, part 1 (version B) – Pauline Communities and Issues of Ethnicity (HUMA 3421; Fall 2019)

General information: Philip Harland (pharland-at-yorku-dot-ca).  Meetings: Thursdays 4-6:50pm (DB 0004).  Office hour (Vanier 248): Thursdays 2:30-3:30 or by appointment

Course Description and Aims: This course explores Christian origins through the earliest surviving writings regarding followers of Jesus, placing these writings by Paul within social, cultural and ethnic contexts in the ancient Mediterannean.  In the process, we will consider a range of worldviews and practices of groups devoted to Jesus, looking at transformations which took place as a Judean movement made its way into the broader Greco-Roman world.  Students will gain some control of both the content of early texts and the environment in which the Jesus movements were born, as well as an ability to analyze primary materials from an historical perspective.  We will also seek to develop students’ critical skills, including skills of argumentation, written presentation and verbal presentation.

Required Readings

  • Bible in modern translation: e.g. NRSV, RSV, NEB, or Jerusalem Bible with Apocrypha (not King James)
  • Linked readings in the course outline below (please print all pdfs, read and study them, and bring them to class for discussion)
  • For book review: Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).  E-book available on York library system via Oxford (link) or via Scholar’s Portal (link).

Course Requirements and Evaluation (see end of syllabus for full assignment descriptions)

  • Class attendance, participation, question generation: 15%
  • Quizzes – Beginning of class surprize quizzes on weekly readings: 20%
  • Academic integrity tutorial and test: link. Students must print out and hand in perfect test results before the first assignment (due week 4)
  • Assignment 1 (paper: analysis of primary source): 15% (due week 5)
  • Assignment 2 (paper: book review): 20% (due week 10)
  • In-class final test: 30% (week 11)
    • Total: 100%


***Important things to know***

  • Readings and participation: Read and study materials BEFORE class meetings.
  • Penalties for lateness: All assignments are due at the beginning of class. Late submissions will be penalized by one full grade (e.g. from a B to a C) and a further grade for each additional day beyond the due date.
  • Academic honesty and plagiarism policies: Absolutely no form of plagiarism will be tolerated. Study our policies at: and
  • Cell-phones, laptops, and other devices: All cell-phones and other hand-held devices must be completely turned off and remain unused during class and tutorial times. Laptops are permitted for note-taking only.


Discussion outline

Week 1 (Sept 5): Academic study of the early Jesus movements and Paul’s ethnic identifications of self and others

  • Readings: Paul’s “autobiographical” passages and ethnic identifications – Philippians 3:1-16; 2 Corinthians 11:5-12:13; Galatians 1:6-2:14 (link – distributed in class for discussion)
  • Special topics for discussion: How do we study early Christianity academically in the context of the discipline of Religious Studies?  What importance did ethnic identifications have for Paul?

Week 2 (Sept 12): Positioning Judeans and a Judean movement in a Greco-Roman context – Ethnicity, ancestral customs, and foreign “superstitions”

  • Readings: Tacitus, Histories 5.1-8 (link); Tacitus, Annals 15.38-44 (link); Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97 (link); Harland, “Introduction” (on ethnicity) from Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians, pages 1-19 (link)

Week 3 (Sept 19): Contemporary Judeans and other peoples 1 – Philo and others

  • Readings: Philo, Against Flaccus, especially sections (numbers to the right of the text) 1-8, 16-57, 73-80, 86-94, 168-191 (link); Harland, “Climbing the Ethnic Ladder” (link)

Week 4 (Sept 26): Contemporary Judeans and other peoples 2 – Josephos

  • Readings: Josephos, Against Apion selections (link); Esler, “Judean Ethnic Identity in Josephus’  Against Apion” (link)

Week 5 (Oct 3): Documentary – Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution (Empires)

  • link to film (2:13) (watched on your own – no meeting in classroom this week)
  • Readings: Johnson Hodge. “Jews and Non-Jews: Paul’s Ethnic Map” (link)

*Assignment 1 (analysis of primary source) due week 5 at the beginning of class*

Week 6 (Oct 10): Greeks and Macedonians join a Judean movement – First Thessalonians

  • Readings: 1 Thessalonians, with a close reading of 4:13-5:11 (on the apocalyptic perspective) and attention to the social status and ethnicity of the recipients; The Community Rule (1QS), Columns 1-4, from the Dead Sea Scrolls (link; FUTURE YEARS NOT THIS YEAR); Barclay, “Thessalonica and Corinth,” pages 1-8, 24-25 (link; FUTURE YEARS NOT THIS YEAR)

**Reading week Oct 14-18**

Week 7 (Oct 24): Paul’s Judean stereotypes regarding non-Judeans or Greeks: Sexual perversion and idolatry

  • Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 12-15 (link); 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 and 4:3-8; 1 Corinthians 5-7; Romans 1:18-32 (on stereotypes); Galatians 1:1-2:16 (on Paul regarding Gentiles / Judeans and his “calling”); Knust, “Paul, the Slaves of Desire, and the Saints of God,” pages 51-81 (link)

Week 8 (Oct 31): Debates concerning Judean ancestral customs: Paul, the “Judaizers” and the Galatians

  • Galatians (in Bible); Johnson Hodge, “Negotiating Multiple Identities” (link)

Week 9 (Nov 7): Ethnic tension and interaction at Rome: Judeans, Greeks and “God’s people”

  • Readings: Romans (in Bible); Esler, “The Weak and the Strong” (link); “Judeans and Jesus-followers at Rome” (link)

*Nov. 8: Last date to drop course without receiving a grade *

Week 10 (Nov 14): Course synthesis and discussion of Johnson Hodge If Sons, Then Heirs

*Assignment 2 (book review) due week 10 at the beginning of class*

Week 11 (Nov 21): Test 1 in class

Week 12 (Nov 28): Documentary – From Jesus to Christ, part 1 (PBS) (link)



Assignment 1: Analysis of primary sourceThe Jesus movements through elite Roman eyes (5 pages double-spaced)

  • Step 1: Re-read and thoroughly study the passages in Tacitus and Pliny the Younger regarding followers of Jesus or “Christians” (Christianae) and regarding Judeans which were linked as readings in week two.  Also read Wilken’s article on “Pliny: A Roman Gentleman” for background (link).
  • Step 2: Write an essay in which you imagine that you are an elite Roman like Pliny the Younger or Tacitus and describe (to another Roman or Greek) your knowledge and perceptions of followers of Jesus, paying special attention to issues of ethnicity, Judean (Jewish) culture, and foreign “superstition.”  Be attentive to what things these Jesus adherents do, but also to what they do not do (i.e. how they diverge from an elite Roman’s expectations). Be sure to indicate why you (as a Roman) hold these views regarding Jesus adherents.

Assignment 2: Analysis of scholarly argument – Johnson Hodge on Paul and ethnicity

Step 1: To familiarize yourself with the analysis of scholarly argument, read at least five book reviews that interest you in Journal of Biblical Literature before 1990 (link) or in Classical Review (link) via the York library system.
Step 2: With a focus on scholarly arguments, read the chapters 2, 4, 7, 8, and the conclusion of Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (via Oxford link).  You will want to choose view pdf and print out the required chapters.
Step 3: Write an essay that explains and critically analyzes Hodge’s arguments in these chapters.  This will also include: (1) explaining the author’s methods (or approach) and use of evidence to support her points; and, (2) offering a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of her arguments, particularly noting any theoretical assumptions or value judgments that influence the author’s reconstruction of history.   Be sure to provide concrete examples (citing page numbers in parentheses) of the problems or strengths you discuss.

This analysis of scholarly arguments should have a clear thesis statement (concerning your evaluation of the arguments) which is supported throughout the paragraphs. The paper should be clearly written and structured with no spelling or grammatical errors. Be succinct and do not exceed the prescribed length.

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