Course Outline for Diversity in Early Christianity (HUMA 4825; 2015-2016)

General information: Phil Harland, Click here to email me. Vanier 248. Office hours: Wednesdays 2:30-3:30, or by appointment.  Seminar: Wednesdays 11:30-2:20, Bethune College 225

Course description: This course explores diversity in thought and practice among followers of Jesus in the Roman empire by investigating various groups and writings traditionally viewed as “heretical”, marginal, or non-canonical. We will study these groups by looking at opponents addressed in canonical literature, by considering the so-called heresiologists (e.g. Irenaeus), and by studying writings that did not come to be included in the canon (namely the New Testament Apocrypha and Nag Hammadi writings).

In identifying the various types of groups devoted to Jesus, we will ask questions such as: What forms of ideology and practice do we encounter in the literature? How are these different forms or groups related to one another? What are the key issues of debate among them? How might we plot these out on a “map” of the early Jesus movements? In the process we will address theoretical and historiographical issues in the study of Christian origins, including problems with the concepts of “orthodoxy” and “heresy,” as well as issues relating to the category of “gnosticism.” In the first term we will focus attention on differing groups in one particular region, Asia Minor, and in the second term we will concentrate on different forms and groups reflected in the early Apocrypha and gnostic writings.

Required readings:

  • Principal ancient and scholarly readings linked in this syllabus
  • Bible (modern translation: NRSV, NIV, NEB, Jerusalem). Recommended edition: The HarperCollins Study Bible. New Revised Standard Version with the Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical Books (available in the bookstore with the texts for HUMA 2830).
  • Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. (ISBN 0195182499, paper back)
  • Dennis MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983. (ISBN 0664244645, paperback)
  • P. Harland, “Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean” weblog, entries listed in syllabus and “Diversity 1.x” series (

Useful resources:

  • Antti Marjanen and Petri Luomanen, A Companion to Second-Century Christian “Heretics” (Leiden: Brill, 2008).  (ebook link)
  • Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, eds., Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007). BR 195 J8 J49 in Scott library
  • John D. Turner’s webpage with the full-text of many of his scholarly articles on “Sethian gnosticism” (link)


  • Ongoing participation, surprize quizzes (3 per term), discussion leadership, and presentation (= 35%)
  • Book review (Ehrman, due Fall week 5, 5-6 pages = 10%)
  • Test 1 (Fall week 11 in class = 15%)
  • Essay proposal and critical bibliography (due Winter week 5; 3 pages = 10%)
  • Major research paper (due Winter week 12; 10-12 pages = 15%)
  • Test 2 (Winter week 11 in class: 15%)

Important things to know:

  • Readings and participation: Participation and interaction is an important part of the process of learning. For this reason it is essential that you do the readings (especially the primary, ancient sources) before attending classes for a particular week, coming prepared for discussion. You will also have an opportunity to lead discussion and to present on a topic (to be discussed).
  • Penalties for lateness: All assignments are due at the beginning of class. To avoid giving some an unfair advantage over others, 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. The only exceptions to this standard will be in cases of serious crisis, which should be discussed with me (the instructor) as soon as possible to determine an appropriate solution together. My aim is fairness both to you and to your fellow students.


Fall: Forms and Groups in Asia Minor – Opponents in the Literature


Week 1 (Sept 16): Intro –  Unity (Eusebius), duality (F.C. Baur) and plurality/diversity (Walter Bauer) in the study (historiography) of Christian origins; Methods and problems in reconstructing the perspectives of opponents / “heresies”; Asia Minor and the early Jesus movements

  • Readings (in class): Hegesippus’ and Eusebius’ views on purity and unity in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.32.7-8 and 4.7.1-15 (link); Sumney, “Who are those ‘Servants of Satan’?” (link)
  • Readings after class: Harland, “Early Christian Apocrypha and the historiography of early Christianity (NT Apocrypha 6)” (link)

Judean and Philosophically-minded (“docetic”) or Ascetic Trajectories

Week 2 (Sept 23): Paul and his opponents in Galatia

  • Readings: Galatians (Bible); Barclay, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31 (1987) 73-93 (link); start reading Ehrman’s Lost Christianities.
  • Leader’s (prof) additional article: Walt Russell, “Who Were Paul’s Opponents in Galatia?” Bibliotheca Sacra 147: 587 (1990): 329-350 (link).

Week 3 (Sept 30): The opponents of John the elder: “docetism”? (Inna)

  • Readings: 1-3 John (Bible), see especially 1 John 1:5-10, 2:18-25 and 4:1-6; 2 John 5-11; 1 Corinthians 15 (Bible, on philosophical debates about the body and spirit); Raymond E. Brown, “When the Epistles Were Written: Johannine Internal Struggles” (link); continue reading Ehrman’s Lost Christianities
  • Leader’s additional article: Maarten J.J. Menken, “The Opponents in the Johannine Epistles: Fact or Fiction?” (link).

Week 4 (Oct 7): The opponents of Ignatius of Antioch: “docetists” and/or “judaizers”?

  • Readings: Ignatius’ letters to the Magnesians, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans (link); Jerry L. Sumney “Those Who Ignorantly Deny Him: The Opponents of Ignatius of Antioch,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 1 (1993): 345–65 (link); continue reading Ehrman’s Lost Christianities.
  • Leader’s additional article: John W. Marshall, “The Objects of Ignatiusʼ Wrath and Jewish Angelic Mediators,” JEH 56 (2005): 1–23 (link).

Week 5 (Oct 14): Overall discussion of diversity in the historiography of early Christianity (Ehrman and others)

  • Readings: complete reading Ehrman’s Lost Christianities; browse Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, 1934 (link).

**Book review (Ehrman) due week 5 in class**

Week 6 (Oct 21): The Acts of Paul and Thecla and debates on the role of women

  • Readings: Acts of Paul, especially the Thecla episodes (link); MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle, pp. 13-53; Harland, “Thecla, Tertullian, and controversies over women’s leadership (NT Apocrypha 18)” (link)
  • Leader’s additional article: Melissa Aubin, “Reversing Romance? The Acts of Thecla and the Ancient Novel” (link; course password required).

Week 7 (Oct 28): Opponents in the Pastoral epistles

  • Readings: 1-2 Timothy, Titus (Bible); MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle, pp. 54-96
  • Leader’s additional article: P.H. Towner, “Gnosis and Realized Eschatology in Ephesus (of The Pastoral Epistles) and the Corinthian Enthusiasm,” JSNT 31 (1987): 95–124 (link)

Week 8 (Nov 4): The “philosophy” at Colossae (Joshua) / Opponents of 2 Peter and Jude and methods of attack (Ma)

  • Readings: Colossians (esp. 2:8-2:23; Bible); Robert M. Royalty, “Dwelling on Visions. On the Nature of the so-called ‘Colossians Heresy’,” Biblica 83 (2002) 329-357 (link) // 2 Peter and Jude (Bible); Lilly Nortjé-Meyer, “Vilification in 2 Peter 2: A Comparison with the Letter of Jude,” Scriptura 112 (2014): 1–10 (link)
  • Leader’s additional article: H. V. Broekhoven, “The Social Profiles in the Colossian Debate.” JSNT 66 (1997) 73–90 (link) / Andrie du Toit, “Vilification as a Pragmatic Device in Early Christian Epistolography,” Biblica 75 (1994): 403–412 (link).

Apocalyptic and prophetic trajectories

Week 9 (Nov 11): John’s Apocalypse, the Nicolaitans / Jezebel, and group-society relations (Zubair)

  • Readings: John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) (esp. chapters 1-3, 13-18); Numbers 22-25; 1 Kings chapters 18-19 and 21 (Bible); 1 Peter 2: 11-3:7 (Bible); Philip A. Harland, “Honouring the Emperor or Assailing the Beast,” JSNT 77 (2000): 99-121 (link).
  • Leader’s additional article: David A deSilva, “The Revelation to John: A Case Study in Apocalyptic Propaganda and the Maintenance of Sectarian Identity,” Sociology of Religion 53 (1992), 375-395 (link; course password).

Week 10 (Nov 18): The Phrygian “New Prophecy” (Montanism) and prophetic strands

  • Readings: Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.14-19 (citing various opponents of the Phrygian heresy; link); “Montanist oracles” collected by Heine (link); Christine Trevett, “Gender, Authority and Church History: A Case Study of Montanism,” Feminist Theology 6 (1998): 9–24 (link).
  • Leader’s additional article: Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 50 (1999): 1–22 (link).

Week 11 (Nov 25) : **In class test 1**

Week 12 (Dec 2) – Film

Winter: Forms of Christianity reflected in the Christian Apocrypha and Nag Hammadi Literature

Judean (Jewish) and Anti-Judean Trajectories

Week 1 (Jan 6): “Judean” Christianity, Ebionites, and “Judean” gospels

  • Readings: “Jewish-Christian Gospels” (Gospels of the Nazareans, Ebionites and Hebrews) (link); Pseudo-Clementines, Epistle of Peter to James and Homily 17.13-19 (link) + Harland, “Peter vs. Simon Magus (alias Paul) in the Pseudo-Clementines (NT Apocrypha 17)” (link); Sakari Häkkinen, “Ebionites” (link); see also Ehrman, ch. 5
  • Leader’s additional article: Craig A. Evans, “The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition” (link; course password).

Week 2 (Jan 13): Marcion and Marcionite groups (Denise)

  • Readings: “Marcion and Marcionism” (link); also browse Tertullian, Against Marcion (Adversus Marcionem), book 1 (link); Heikki Räisänen, “Marcion” (link); Ehrman, ch. 11
  • Leader’s additional article: Judith Lieu, “The Principals of Marcion’s Thought and Their Context 1: God” (pp. 323-366) and “Life and Practice (pp. 387-397), in Marcion and the Making of a Heretic (link to ebook)

“Gnostic” (Demiurgical) and Related Philosophically-minded Trajectories

Week 3 (Jan 20): Introduction to “gnosticism” and its philosophical background

  • Readings: Williams, “What Kind of Thing Do Scholars Mean by ‘Gnosticism’: A Look at Four Cases” in Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’ (link); Plato’s Timaeus (“On the Origin of the Universe,” sections 27-43; link); E. Moore, “Middle Platonism”, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, especially the introduction and the discussion of Numenius of Apamea’s triad (link)
  • Leader’s additional article: John D. Turner, “The Gnostic Sethians and Middle Platonism: Interpretations of the ‘Timaeus’ and ‘Parmenides,’” VC 60 (2006): 9–64 (link).

Week 4 (Jan 27): The Sethian (?) Secret Book According to John, the creation of the world, and scriptural interpretation

  • Readings: Secret Book According to John (link); Genesis 1-6 (in the Bible); Plato, Timaeus (refresh your memory and bring it); Michael A. Williams, “Sethianism” (link); see also Ehrman, ch. 6
  • Leader’s additional article: Karen L. King, “Reading Sex and Gender in the Secret Revelation of John,” JECS 19 (2011): 519–38 (link).

Week 5 (Feb 3): Sophia of Jesus Christ // Eugnostos the Blessed and Platonism

  • Readings: Sophia of Jesus Christ // Eugnostos the Blessed (link); E. Moore, “Middle Platonism”, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, especially the introduction and the discussion of Numenius of Apamea’s triad (again; link);  Williams, “Negative Theologies and Demiurgical Myths in Late Antiquity” (link).
  • Leader’s additional article: Louis Painchaud, “The Literary Contacts between the Writing without Title On the Origin of the World (CG II,5 and XIII,2) and Eugnostos the Blessed (CG III,3 and V,I),” Journal of Biblical Literature 114 (1995) 81–101 (link).

Week 6 (Feb 10): Valentinian Gospel of Truth and Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora

  • Readings: Gospel of Truth (link) + Gospel of John 1:1-18 (in the Bible); Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora (link);  Ismo Dunderberg, “The School of Valentinus” (link).
  • Leader’s additional article:

**Reading week Feb 15-19 – no classes**

Week 7 (Feb 24): Valentinian Gospel of Philip and gnostic practices and rituals (Alyssa)

  • Readings: Gospel of Philip (link); Paul Foster, “The Gospel of Philip,” Expository Times 118 (2007), 417-427 (link)
  • Leader’s additional article: J. J. Buckley and D. J. Good, “Sacramental Language and Verbs of Generating, Creating, and Begetting in the Gospel of Philip,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 5 (1997) 1–19 (link).

Week 8 (March 2): The “Gnostic” Worldview in Modern Film – Truman Show

Refuting “heresies”and the formation of “orthodoxy”

Week 9 (March 9): Rhetorical attacks on marginal groups / literature: Irenaeus on Valentinus’ school and Epiphanius on the Phibionites (Shinedle)

  • Readings: Irenaeus, Against Heresies, preface and book 1, chapters 1-7, 10 (link); Epiphanius, Panarion, book 1, section 26, esp. from 3,3-5,8 (link); Williams “. . . or Libertinism?,” pp. 163-165, 175-188 (link)
  • Leader’s additional article: Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, “The Construction of Heresy and the Creation of Identity: Epiphanius of Salamis and His Medicine-Chest against Heretics,” Numen 62 (2015) 152–68 (link).

Week 10 (March 16): The Gospel of Judas (National Geographic film)

  • Readings: Gospel of Judas (link); “April D. DeConick’s The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says” (link); Simon Gathercole, “The Gospel of Judas,” The Expository Times 118 (2007), 209-215 (link).

Week 11 (March 23): **In class test 2**

Modern popular perceptions of ancient “heresies”

Week 12 (March 30): The “Gnostic” Worldview in Modern Film – TBA


Book Review Paper (5 pages double-spaced, no longer)

Carefully read and study the assigned book, making note of the main arguments of the author. Write a review of the book, which entails:

  • Outlining the main argument (or point) of the book and how the author builds up this argument in sub-arguments throughout the chapters.
  • Discussing the author’s methods (or approach) and use of evidence to support his or her points.
  • Providing a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Does the author achieve what she set out to do? Is the argument convincing or not, and in what ways? What theoretical assumptions and/or value judgements 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.

The review paper should have a clear thesis statement (concerning your evaluation of the book) 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.

In order to prepare for this assignment and to understand what is an academic book review, you will want to read a number of book reviews in academic journals such as the Journal of Biblical Literature or Review of Biblical Literature (online here: and Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

Major research paper proposal and critical bibliography (2-3 pages)

Choose a topic relating to the course that interests you. Speak with me to confirm that the topic will work and to get advice on how to proceed. Write a succinct proposal and outline of the paper, which entails:

  • Stating your topic, its relevance to the course, and the sort of material you expect to cover.
  • Outlining your tentative thesis or main argument and how you expect to structure the paper.
  • Discussing primary and secondary sources that will be useful in research. Provide a bibliography (following an accepted academic style of bibliography correctly).

Major Research Paper (12 pages double spaced)

This paper will build upon your earlier proposal, demonstrating research and analysis of both primary and secondary sources. A good research paper includes the following characteristics (and more):


  • Opening paragraph that provides context by noting the broader relevance of the topic. Ease the reader into the subject, yet get to your main topic or point promptly.
  • Clear thesis statement that encapsulates your main argument or point.
  • Clearly structured paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a specific point (or sub-thesis) that helps to support your overall thesis.
  • Clearly written sentences that communicate your ideas in a direct and succinct manner (without repetition).
  • Succinct concluding paragraph that pulls things together without merely repeating what has already been said.
  • No spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Complete bibliography listing all sources consulted or cited in the paper. Follow an accepted academic format of bibliography (do not create your own variations).


  • Early indication of your purpose, the way you will be approaching your topic, and the methods you will be using (e.g. historical, sociological, anthropological, psychological).
  • Discussion of a range of material relevant to your topic and purpose.
  • Provision of historical and cultural context. Where does your topic fit within the broader historical trends of the period you are studying? How does your topic relate to political, social or cultural developments of the time?
  • Thorough references to the sources (both primary and secondary) of your information throughout the paper (using an accepted form of citation). Find out what plagiarism is and avoid it like the plague.
  • Critical use and analysis of primary sources (that is, materials from the period you are studying produced by contemporary participants or observers). Primary sources include not only writings but also visual and artefactual materials (e.g. archeological findings, buildings, artistic productions, films in the modern context).
  • Critical use and analysis of secondary sources (that is, scholarly materials). Demonstrate that you have read relevant scholarly sources. Show that you are aware of the key issues of debate among scholars and take sides in the matter. Which scholarly positions do you agree or disagree with and why?


Possible presentation topics and useful resources

  • Johannine Christianity – Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist Press, 1979). BS 2601 B76
  • Ignatius of Antioch – Allen Brent, Ignatius of Antioch: A Martyr Bishop and the Origin of Episcopacy (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007). BR 1720 I4 B74
  • The Cult of Thecla – Stephen J. Davis, The Cult of Saint Thecla: A Tradition of Women’s Piety in Late Antiquity, Oxford Early Christian Studies (Oxford: OUP, 2001). BR 1720 T33 D38 (also ebook)
  • Outside critics on women in the Jesus groups – Margaret Y. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: The Power of the Hysterical Woman (Cambridge: CUP, 1996). BR 195 W6 M23
  • John’s Apocalypse and Roman imperialism – Steven J. Friesen, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (Oxford: OUP, 2001) (ebook link).
  • Gender issues and Montanism – Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority, and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: CUP, 1996). BT 1435 T74

  • Historiography of “gnosticism” – Karen L King, What Is Gnosticism? (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003).
  • Marcion – Judith M. Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
  • Sethians and the Ophites – Tuomas Rasimus, Paradise Reconsidered in Gnostic Mythmaking: Rethinking Sethianism in Light of the Ophite Evidence (Leiden: Brill, 2009) ebook (link)
  •  Hermetica – Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind (Cambridge: CUP, 1986). BF 1591 F75)
  • Gospel of Mary – Karen L King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003). BT 1392 G652 K56
  • Valentinian ethics – Philip L. Tite, Valentinian Ethics and Paraenetic Discourse (Leiden: Brill, 2009). ebook (link)
  • Rituals in the Gospel of Philip – Lubbertus Klaas van Os, “Baptism in the bridal chamber: the gospel of Philip as a Valentinian baptismal instruction” (Doctoral dissertation: University of Groningen, 2007) (link)
  • Manichees – Nicholas J. Baker-Brian, Manichaeism: An Ancient Faith Rediscovered (London: Bloomsbury, 2011).
  • Mandaeans – Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People (Oxford: OUP, 2002) – ebook (link)
  • Cathars – Malcolm D. Lambert, The Cathars (Wiley, 1998). BX 4891.2 L35 1998
  • Problems in interpreting the Gospel of Judas – April D. DeConick, The Thirteenth Apostle: What The Gospel of Judas Really Says (London: Continuum, 2007).

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