Course Outline for Diversity in Early Christianity (HUMA 4825, version B; 2020-21)

General Information:

Course description: This course explores diversity in ideologies and practices among adherents of Jesus by investigating various groups and writings in different parts of the Roman empire (origins to about 200 CE). 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”.  In the first term we will focus attention on differing groups in Asia Minor, and in the second term we move on to other regions including Greece and Italy.

Required readings:

  • Scholarly translation of the Bible, preferably RSV or NRSV or NIV but NEB, ESV or Jerusalem are fine too (but NOT King James or Message or Living translation or Good News).  Any book of the bible (in various versions) can be downloaded, pasted, and printed from
  • Linked readings in the course outline below.  Please print all pdfs, reading and studying them before attending class meeting for discussion.

Evaluation (for full descriptions, see end of syllabus):

  • Course engagement in various forms: participation in zoom discussions (if not in an opposite time zone), question generation (at least once in Fall and once in Winter), reading responses, and at least one forum post or forum interaction every other week: 15%
  • Presentation 1 (Fall): Analysis and explanation of scholarly argument / article: 10%
  • Essay 1: Analysis of primary source (due Fall week 6, 8 pages): 10%
  • Test 1 (Fall week 11 remotely during zoom meeting time): 15%
  • Research paper proposal and critical bibliography on the topic of your choosing (due Fall week 10; 3 pages): 10%
  • Presentation 2 (Winter): DIscussion of your major research paper topic, especially key ancient sources you will be analyzing: 10%
  • Essay 2: Major research paper on a particular ancient group, movement, or writing of your choosing (due Winter week 7; 10-12 pages): 15%
  • Test 2 (Winter week 11 remotely during zoom meeting time, or in person if possible): 15%

 Important things to know:

  • Readings and participation: Read and study materials BEFORE meetings.
  • Penalties for lateness: Assignments are due at the beginning of class (if in person, hardcopy; if remotely, by email attachment). 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 York’s policies here and here.
  • Password protected files for the course, which are used under fair dealing provisions for the purpose of education, are for course use only and should not be redistributed in any form.

Helpful book resources at York library for finding topic ideas for your research essay:

  • Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). (link)
  • Antti Marjanen and Petri Luomanen, A Companion to Second-Century Christian “Heretics” (Leiden: Brill, 2008).  (link)


Fall term: Styles of Jesus Adherence in Asia Minor with a Focus on Opponents


Week 1 (Sept 11): Unity (Eusebius), duality (F.C. Baur) and plurality / diversity (Walter Bauer) in the study of Christian origins

  • Reading (distributed in class): Hegesippus’ and Eusebius’ views on purity and unity in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.32.7-8 and 4.7.1-15 (link)
  • Brief readings after class:
    • Harland, “Early Christian Apocrypha and the historiography of early Christianity (NT Apocrypha 6)” (link)

Judean, Philosophical (“docetic”), or Ascetic Trajectories

Week 2 (Sept 18): Paul and his opponents in Galatia – Debates about degrees of torah-observance for non-Judeans (50s CE)

  • Readings (always before class):
    • Galatians (in Bible – link)
    • Genesis 15 and 17 (link)
    • Barclay, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (listen ahead of meeting):
    • Paul and the situation in Galatia (link)
    • Paul’s response to the Galatians (link)

Week 3 (Sept 25): Opponents of John the elder – Those who “deny the Son” (ca. 100 CE)

  • Readings:
    • 1-3 John (epistles of John, not gospel), especially 1 John 1:5-10, 2:18-25 and 4:1-6 (link); 2 John 5-11 (link)
    • Brown, “When the Epistles Were Written: Johannine Internal Struggles,” pages 93-135 only (link)
  • Podcast lectures (listen ahead of meeting):
    • Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1 (link)
    • A Schism in John’s Community, part 2 (link)
  • Article presentations:
    • Menken, “The Opponents in the Johannine Epistles: Fact or Fiction?” (link) —
    • Painter, “The ‘Opponents’ in 1 John” (link) — Gerardo
  • Responsible for question generation:

Week 4 (Oct 2): Opponents of Ignatius of Antioch – “Docetists” and/or “judaizers”? (ca. 110 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Ignatius’ letters to the Magnesians, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans (link)
    • Sumney “Those Who Ignorantly Deny Him: The Opponents of Ignatius of Antioch” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (listen ahead of meeting):
    • Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 1 (link)
    • Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2 (link)
  • Article presentation:
    • Marshall, “The Objects of Ignatiusʼ Wrath and Jewish Angelic Mediators” (link) — Crystal
    • Murray, “Christian Judaizing in Asia Minor: Revelation, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr” (link) —
  • Responsible for question generation: James

*LAST DATE TO SUBMIT READER RESPONSE 1 (synchronous option)*

Week 5 (Oct 9): The Acts of Paul and Thecla – Debates on the status and role of women (ca. 150 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Acts of Paul, especially the Thecla episodes (link)
    • Davis, “Origins of the Thecla Cult” (link)
    • Harland, “Thecla, Tertullian, and controversies over women’s leadership (NT Apocrypha 18)” (link)
  • Podcast lecture (listen ahead of meeting):
    • Legacies of Paul – Women’s leadership, part 1 (link)
  • Article presentations:
    • MacDonald, “the Oral Legends” and “The Storytellers” (link) — Nicholas
    • Dulk, “I Permit No Woman to Teach Except for Thecla” (link) — Simon
    • Aubin, “Reversing Romance? The Acts of Thecla and the Ancient Novel” (link) —
  • Responsible for question generation: Natalie and Teh-Tzun

*Reading week October 10-16 – no classes*

Week 6 (Oct 23): Opponents in the Pastoral epistles – Ascetic rivals (ca. 110 CE)

  • Readings:
    • 1 Timothy (link), 2 Timothy (link), Titus (link)
    • MacDonald, “The Pastoral Epistles ‘Against Old Wives’ Tales'” (link)
  • Podcast lecture (listen ahead of meeting)::
    • Legacies of Paul – Women’s leadership, part 2 (link)
  • Article presentations:
    • Pietersen, “Despicable Deviants: Labelling Theory and the Polemic of the Pastorals” (link) — Teh-Tzun
    • LaFosse, “Social Change, Intergenerational Conflict, and 1 Timothy” (link) — Andrea
  • Responsible for question generation: Jordane and Crystal

**Essay 1 due week 6 in class**

Apocalyptic and prophetic trajectories

Week 7 (Oct 30): John’s Apocalypse – Nicolaitans / “Jezebel” / Balaam and group-society relations (ca. 90s CE)

  • Readings:
    • John’s Apocalypse / Revelation (link), especially chapters 1-3 and 13-18
    • Numbers 22-25, especially 25:1-5 (link); 1 Kings chapters 18-19 and 21 (link)
    • 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 (link)
    • Harland, “Honouring the Emperor or Assailing the Beast” (link).
  • Podcast lecture (listen ahead of meeting):
    • A Satanic Empire in John’s Apocalypse (ca. 80-100 CE) (link)
  • Article presentations:
    • Thompson, “Domitian’s Reign” (link)
    • deSilva, “The Revelation to John: A Case Study in Apocalyptic Propaganda and the Maintenance of Sectarian Identity” (link) — Jordane
    • Friesen, “Satan’s Throne, Imperial Cults, and the Social Settings of Revelation” (link) —
  • Responsible for question generation: Rosalie and Andrea

*LAST DATE TO SUBMIT READER RESPONSE 2 (synchronous option)*

Week 8 (Nov 6): The Phrygian “New Prophecy” (Montanism) and prophetic strands (from 150 CE)

  • 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” (link).
  • Article presentations:
    • Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism” (link) — Nathalie
    • Tabernee, “Montanists and Persecution” (link) — Oluwapelumi
  • Responsible for question generation: Simon

Other trajectories

Week 9 (Nov 13): Persecution and varying approaches to “martyrdom” – Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 160s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Martyrdom of Polycarp (link)
    • Pliny, Letters 10.96-97 (link)
    • Moss, “Asia Minor: Imitating Christ” (link)
  • Article presentations:
    • Thompson, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Death in the Roman Games” (link) — Rosalie
    • Cobb, “Polycarp’s Cup: Imitatio in the Martyrdom of Polycarp” (link) — Umair
  • Responsible for question generation: Gerardo

Week 10 (Nov 20): Marcion and Marcionite groups (from 150 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Ancient opponents of “Marcion and Marcionism” (link)
    • Introduction to Tertullian, Against Marcion (Adversus Marcionem), book 1, sections 1-3 (pages 4-11 on the site) (link)
    • Ehrman, “At Polar Ends of the Spectrum” (link)
  • Podcast lecture (listen ahead of meeting):
    • Marcionites and the Unknown God (link)
  • Article presentations:
    • Wilson, “Marcion and the Jews” (link) — James
  • Responsible for question generation: Oluwapelumi and Umair

* Research paper proposal due *

*LAST DATE TO SUBMIT READER RESPONSE 3 (synchronous option)*

Week 11 (Nov 27) : **In class test 1**

Week 12 (Dec 4) – Film – Apocalypse! (enter forum to get download link)

Winter term: Glimpses into Styles of Jesus Adherence in Other Regions

Corinth in Southern Greece

Week 1 (Jan 15): Paul and Jesus adherents at Corinth 1 – Divisions among Jesus adherents (50s CE)

  • Readings:
    • 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 1-4 and 11 (link)
    • Winter, “The Influence of Secular Ethics” (excerpt) (link)
  • Podcast lectures:
    • Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 1 (link)
    • Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 2 (link)
  • Responsible for question generation:

Week 2 (Jan 22): Paul and Jesus adherents at Corinth 2 – “Super-apostles” (50s CE)

  • Readings:
    • 2 Corinthians, reading in the following order: chapters 10-13, chapters 1-9, especially focussing on the situation behind chapters 10-13 (link)
    • Witherington, “The Background and Foreground of the Letter” (link)
  • Podcast lectures:
    • Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 3 (link
  • Responsible for question generation: Teh

Week 3 (Jan 29): Letter from the Romans to the Corinthians – Tensions between young and old, and a glimpse ahead at Rome (ca. 70-140 CE)

  • Readings:
    • 1 Clement, especially chapters 1-7, 40-65 (link)
    • Welborn, “Reconstruction [of the situation behind 1 Clement]” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic:  James
  • Responsible for question generation: Crystal

*LAST DATE TO SUBMIT READER RESPONSE 4 (synchronous option)*

Week 4 (Feb 5): Film (please watch before we meet on Friday at 11:30 and we will answer any questions people may have): From Jesus to Christ, part 1 (link)

Rome in Italy

Week 5 (Feb 12): Paul’s letter to the Romans (ca. 58 CE) and the Nero incident involving Jesus adherents (60s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Paul’s Letter to the Romans, especial 1-8 and 14-15 (link)
    • Esler “The Weak and the Strong” (link)
    • Tacitus, Annals 15.38-44 (link)
  • Podcast lectures:
    • Paul and the situation at Rome (link)
    • Paul’s response to the Romans (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic: Andrea
  • Responsible for question generation: James

* Reading week Feb. 13-19 – no classes*

Week 6 (Feb 26): Shepherd of Hermas – Rich and poor among adherents at Rome (ca. 70-140 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Shepherd of Hermas, visions 1-4 (link)
    • Gregory, “Disturbing Trajectories” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic: Jordane
  • Responsible for question generation: Umair

*LAST DATE TO SUBMIT READER RESPONSE 5 (synchronous option)*

Week 7 (March 5): Valentinus and the Valentinian school at Rome (from ca. 150 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora (link)
    • Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, section on Valentinians (link)
    • Dunderberg, “The School of Valentinus” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic: Crystal
  • Responsible for question generation:  Gerardo

Week 8 (March 12): Justin’s petitions to the emperor (ca. 150s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Justin, First Apology, chapters 1-7, 13-17, 23-26, 46, 52-54, 59-60, 66-67 (link); Second Apology, chapters 1-3 only (link)
    • Van der Lans, “Written Media” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic:
  • Responsible for question generation: Rosalie

Week 9 (March 19): Minucius Felix’s Dialogue (ca. 210 CE ?)

  • Readings:
    • Minucius Felix, Octavius, especially chapters 1-13 and 28-31 (link)
    • Rives, “Human Sacrifice Among Pagans and Christians” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic: Teh
  • Responsible for question generation: Andrea and Jordane

*LAST DATE TO SUBMIT READER RESPONSE 6 (synchronous option)*

Week 10 (March 26): Presentations

  • Presentations on major paper topic: Umair, Gerardo and Rosalie

April 2: Good Friday holiday


Week 11 (April 9):  An early regulation from Syria — The Teaching of the Twelve Disciples, aka Didache (our final meeting together)

Also, you can watch this documentary before our meeting rather than for week 12: From Jesus to Christ, part 2 (link)

Note: at-home test now optional (indicate if you would like to write the test)

  • Readings: Didache (link); Draper, “The Apostolic Fathers: The Didache” (link)

Week 12 (Monday April 12 — make up day for Good Friday): Watch film on your own to celebrate surviving the year – From Jesus to Christ, part 2 (link)


ONGOING HISTORICALLY-MINDED DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (also useful questions for reading responses)

Overall question: What styles of following Jesus do we find in the evidence and how would we describe beliefs and practices associated with these styles?  How would we plot these diverse styles out on a cultural map of the early Jesus movements?  How would we compare similarities and differences between different groups devoted to Jesus?

Situation: From our evidence in the ancient writing, what do we know about what was going on in the groups devoted to Jesus at a particular place or region? What are the key passages relating to opponents of the author? What can we reconstruct concerning the worldview and/or practices of these opponents? What are the main methodological difficulties in doing so? What are the key issues of debate between the author and the opponents? Are there social, economic, ideological or other factors involved in the debate between the opponents and the author? Is the relationship between these groups and surrounding Greco-Roman society a factor?

Response: How does the author respond to the situation and what does this reveal about the author’s stance or worldview? What does the author consider acceptable or unacceptable belief or practice? What concerns the author most about what the opponents are doing? In other words, why does the author single out his opponents for attack? Are the dividing issues social, economic, ideological, etc.? Are social practices and relation to surrounding Greco-Roman culture involved? Whose stance seems to be in the majority or minority, the author or the opponents?


Reading responses (marked on a pass or fail basis)

A reading response is a short essay which you will write that demonstrates your careful consideration of the ancient sources and scholarly resources for a particular week’s readings.  There are many options on how you can approach this, so long as you demonstrate careful consideration of the materials from an historical or literary perspective (not from a theological or belief-oriented perspective).  The ongoing discussion questions outlined above can be a guide.  These will be “pass” (you have clearly demonstrated careful consideration of the materials from an historical perspective) or “fail” (you have not shown sufficient work or understanding).  There will not be substantial feedback on these assignments beyond the pass or fail result.

There are two main options for reading responses, (1) synchronous (preferred for your learning experience), which involves your attendance and participation in zoom meetings during our designated class time; and, (2) asynchonous in cases where a student lives in a different time zone or other situation which makes attendance at zoom meetings impossible.  At the beginning of the course, you will need to indicate if you require the asynchronous option, and you will need to explain why this is absolutely necessary.

  • (1) Synchronous with consistent attendance at zoom meetings:  Students who regularly attend and participate in our weekly meetings will be responsible for writing 2-page (double-spaced) responses 3 times per term (3 in the Fall and 3 in the Winter).
  • (2) Asynchronous (in cases of living in an opposite time zone or other difficult circumstances): Students who are unable to attend zoom meetings due to an opposite time zone or difficult circumstances will be responsible for writing 4-page (double-spaced) responses 7 times per term (while the class is delivered in remote form).  This will help to ensure that you are fully engaging the material.  You are required to take your turns generating discussion questions regardless of synchronous or asynchronous conditions.

In essence, your responses will engage and explain important aspects of the readings in a thoughtful way and in your own words without merely quoting or summarizing them (in fact, you are only allowed one short, one-sentence quotation per response).

Presentations and question generation

Beyond all students’ regular participation in class discussions every week, each student will have opportunity to contribute in three other ways.

  • (1) Presentation analyzing and explaining arguments in a scholarly article (Fall term): Carefully study and then present (15 minutes) on a scholarly article (Fall term).  This will entail: (a) explaining to the class what the article is about with a focus on what the scholar argues and (b) clarifying how the article relates to our ongoing class discussions regarding varieties of Jesus adherence.  If it is impossible for you to attend zoom meetings, this presentation will need to be recorded in advance of the meeting and it will be played.
  • (2) Presentation on major research paper topic (Winter term): Present to the class on the chosen major research paper topic (15 minutes; Winter term).  In this presentation you will explain some key issues you will be exploring in the paper and you will choose one specific ancient source or passage in an ancient source to show us what type of analysis of primary sources you will engage in within the paper itself.  If it is impossible for you to attend zoom meetings, this presentation will need to be recorded in advance of the meeting and it will be played.
  • (3) Question generation (both terms): Take turns generating three substantial discussion questions from the common readings.  Each week two students will have an opportunity to put even more effort into the readings by generating three substantial questions each that they believe would facilitate student discussions of important issues.  Each student will do this twice during the course (once in Fall and once in Winter).  You will hand in (by email, if remote) the three questions to me by 3pm the day before our class meeting.  As prof, I will then call upon the current week’s students for discussion questions at appropriate points.  We may or may not use all your questions, but hopefully at least one per student.

Essay 1: Analysis of primary sources (8 pages double-spaced, no longer)

  • Step 1: Thoroughly read and study the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Pastoral epistles (especially 1 Timothy and Titus) with a focus on the authors’ stances on women.  Also read the scholarly materials for weeks 5 and 6 but without becoming overly dependent on these materials.
  • Step 2: After Paul’s death there were differing interpretations of Paul’s perspectives on various issues including the role of women.  Write an essay in which you compare and position each of these two authors (the author of the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the author of the Pastoral epistles) on the status and role of women within groups of Jesus adherents and in relation to Greco-Roman household or family structures.  You will want to note similarities but especially differences in these two perspectives.  (Note that for the assignment you will need to adopt the scholarly hypothesis that the Pastoral epistles were not written by Paul himself, but by an admirer after Paul’s death).

Proposal for major research essay and critical bibliography (2-3 pages)

Choose a group or movement or style of Jesus-adherence or writing from the first two centuries. 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).
  • Pinpointing at least two main ancient sources and key passages that you will analyze closely.
  • Explaining how the particular group or movement or writing relates to others we have studied and how it illustrates the variety in styles of following Jesus.

Essay 2: Major Research Essay (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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