Course Outline for Diversity in Early Christianity (HUMA 4825; 2018-19)

General information: Phil Harland, Click here to email me. Seminar: Thursdays 11:30-2:20 (Calumet College 318).  Office hours: Thursdays 2:30-3:30 in Vanier 248 or by appointment.

Course description: This course explores diversity in thought and practice among followers of Jesus in the Roman empire by looking at 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 encompassed in the canon (especially the New Testament Apocrypha and Nag Hammadi writings).

In identifying various groups, 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)
  • 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, discussion leadership (including question generation), and surprize quizzes (3 per term) (= 25%)
  • Scholarly article presentations: 10%
  • York University academic integrity tutorial and quiz (due week 4, Fall term).  All students must read the tutorial website (link) and complete the academic integrity quiz (link) before the first assignment, achieving a 10/10 (100%) and submitting a hardcopy print-out of the results of their test. Assignment 1 will not be accepted without a completed academic integrity test submitted beforehand.
  • Assignment 1: Book review (Ehrman, due Fall week 6, 5-6 pages = 10%)
  • Test 1 (Fall week 11 in class = 15%)
  • Assignment 2: Essay proposal and critical bibliography (due Winter week 5; 3 pages = 10%)
  • Assignment 3: 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 is an essential part of the process of learning, so readings (especially the primary, ancient sources) must be done before attending classes for a particular week, coming prepared for discussion.
  • Penalties for lateness: All assignments are due at the beginning of class. Penalties for lateness are one full grade per day (e.g. from a B to a C, if one day late). 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.


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


Week 1 (Sept 6): Intro –  Unity (Eusebius), duality (F.C. Baur) and plurality/diversity (Walter Bauer) in the study (historiography) of Christian origins

  • 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 13): 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.

Week 3 (Sept 20): The opponents of John the elder: “docetism”?

  • Readings: 1-3 John (Bible), see especially 1 John 1:5-10, 2:18-25 and 4:1-6; 2 John 5-11; Raymond E. Brown, “When the Epistles Were Written: Johannine Internal Struggles” (link); continue reading Ehrman’s Lost Christianities
  • Presentation: Maarten J.J. Menken, “The Opponents in the Johannine Epistles: Fact or Fiction?” (link). – Joanna
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each:  Briana and Xavier

Week 4 (Sept 27): 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). – Xavier
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Katarina

Week 5 (Oct 4): The Acts of Paul and Thecla and debates on the role of women

  • Readings: Acts of Paul, especially the Thecla episodes (link); MacDonald, “The Oral Legends Behind the Acts of Paul” and “The Storytellers Behind the Legends” (link); Harland, “Thecla, Tertullian, and controversies over women’s leadership (NT Apocrypha 18)” (link)
  • Presentation: Melissa Aubin, “Reversing Romance? The Acts of Thecla and the Ancient Novel” (link; course password required). – Catherine
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Maureen

October 6-12 *Reading week – no classes*

Week 6 (Oct 18):

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 7 (Oct 25): Opponents in the Pastoral epistles

  • Readings: 1-2 Timothy, Titus (Bible); MacDonald, “The Pastoral Epistles Against ‘Old Wives’ Tales'” (link); Colossians (esp. 2:8-23; Bible)
  • Presentation: P.H. Towner, “Gnosis and Realized Eschatology in Ephesus (of The Pastoral Epistles) and the Corinthian Enthusiasm,” JSNT 31 (1987): 95–124 (link) – Lori
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Andre and Christian
  • Extra presentation: H. V. Broekhoven, “The Social Profiles in the Colossian Debate.” JSNT 66 (1997) 73–90 (link). – Rosaria

Week 8 (Nov 1): Early Christian Apocryphal and other Literature in the Fisher Rare Book Library (University of Toronto: 12-2pm)

Apocalyptic and prophetic trajectories

Week 9 (Nov 8): John’s Apocalypse, the Nicolaitans / Jezebel, and group-society relations

  • 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).
  • Presentation: 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).
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Lori and Joanna

Week 10 (Nov 15): 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).
  • Presentation: Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 50 (1999): 1–22 (link). – Alex
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each:  Briana and Rosaria

Week 11 (Nov 22) : **In class test 1**

Week 12 (Nov 29) – Film

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

Judean (Jewish) and “Anti-Judean” Trajectories

Week 1 (Jan 3): “Gnostic” worldview in modern film: The Truman Show

Week 2 (Jan 10): Judean approaches to Jesus, including Ebionites, Pseudo-Clementines and the so-called “Jewish gospels”

  • Readings: Sakari Häkkinen, “Ebionites,” especially pages 265-272 with the passages from Irenaeus and Epiphanius (link); “Jewish Gospels Outside of the New Testament” (Gospels of the Hebrews from Origen, Nazareans from Jerome, and Ebionites from Epiphanius), especially gospel sayings or episodes circled and marked by arrows (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); see also Ehrman, ch. 5
  • Presentation: Craig A. Evans, “The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition” (link; course password). – Briana
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Vivian and Alexandra

Week 3 (Jan 17): Marcion and Marcionite groups

  • Readings: “Marcion and Marcionism” (link); FOR FUTURE YEARS Lieu, “Life and Practice” (link); also browse Tertullian, Against Marcion (Adversus Marcionem), book 1, especially the introduction in 1.1 (link); Ehrman, ch. 11
  • Presentation: Judith Lieu, “The Principals of Marcion’s Thought and Their Context 1: God” (pp. 323-366), in Marcion and the Making of a Heretic (link to ebook) – Vivian
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Xavier

Greek Philosophical or “Gnostic” Trajectories

Week 4 (Jan 24): 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)
  • Presentation: Karen King, “Platonizing Philosophy” (link).
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Katarina and Maureen

Week 5 (Jan 31): The Secret Book of 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); Karen King, “Methods and Strategies [in the Secret Revelation of John]” (link); see also Ehrman, ch. 6
  • Presentation: Karen L. King, “Reading Sex and Gender in the Secret Revelation of John,” JECS 19 (2011): 519–38 (link). – Maureen
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Andre

Week 6 (Feb 7): 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).
  • Presentation: 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). – Andre
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Catherine

Week 7 (Feb 14): 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).
  • Presentation: Peter Lampe, “Valentinians” (link).
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Joanna and Lori

*Reading week Feb 16-22: no classes*

Week 8 (Feb 28): Valentinian Gospel of Philip and gnostic practices and rituals

  • Readings: Gospel of Philip (link); Paul Foster, “The Gospel of Philip,” Expository Times 118 (2007), 417-427 (link)
  • Presentation: 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). – Katarina
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Alexandra and Catherine

Refuting “heresies”and the formation of “orthodoxy”

Week 9 (March 7): Rhetorical attacks on marginal groups / literature: Irenaeus on Valentinus’ school and Epiphanius on the Phibionites

  • 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)
  • Presentation: 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).
  • Responsible for four discussion questions each: Rosaria and Vivian

Week 10 (March 14): The Gospel of Judas (National Geographic film)

  • Readings: Gospel of Judas (link).

Week 11 (March 21): **In class test 2**

Modern popular perceptions of ancient “heresies”

Week 12 (March 28): “Gnostic” Worldview in Modern Film – Blade Runner

  • Readings (spoiler alert – you may wish to read this afterwards): Paris Mawby, “The Kingdom Is Within: Religious Themes and Postmodernity in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner,” Sydney Studies in Religion 4 (2008): 139–54 (link).


Scholarly Article Presentations:

Read and thoroughly study the article with special attention to the main argument of the scholar, as well as the scholar’s sources and method or approach.  Come to class prepared to explain the above issues (for 15 minutes), relating it to the ancient sources.  Also raise important questions to generate discussion (10 minutes) in a way that links the article to our own readings and discussions.

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, choosing volumes from the 1990s or earlier (online here: link).

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 (10-12 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?

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