Course Outline for Diversity in Early Christianity (HUMA 4825; 2022-23)

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 thoroughly read and study all pdfs before attending class meeting for discussion.

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

  • Attendance at zoom meetings and regular weekly participation in discussions: 15%
  • Quizzes at 11:30am sharp on readings and audio materials, with three questions that you answer via an email to me immediately (approximately x 20, with 4 worst performances ignored; each quiz is pass or fail): 15%
  • Fishbowl participation (x 3 times) for the first 15 minutes of class (about 5 students per fishbowl; students are marked individually): 15%
  • Presentation 1 (Fall): Analysis and explanation of scholarly argument / article: 10%
  • Presentation 2 (Winter): DIscussion of your major research paper topic, especially key ancient sources you will be analyzing: 10%
  • Essay 1: Analysis of primary source (due Fall week 6, 8 pages): 10%
  • Essay 2: Research paper proposal and critical bibliography on the topic of your choosing (due Fall week 10 now week 11; 3 pages): 5%
  • Essay 3: Major research paper on a particular ancient group, movement, or writing of your choosing (due Winter week 7; 10-12 pages): 20%

 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 with a Focus on Opponents in Asia Minor


Week 1 (Sept 7): 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 in Asia Minor

Week 2 (Sept 14): 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 21): 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:
    • Painter, “The ‘Opponents’ in 1 John” (link)
    • Menken, “The Opponents in the Johannine Epistles: Fact or Fiction?” (link)

Week 4 (Sept 28): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion (first one): (everyone’s in the fishbowl this time)
  • Article presentations (first ones):
    • available: Marshall, “The Objects of Ignatiusʼ Wrath and Jewish Angelic Mediators” (link)
    • available: Murray, “Christian Judaizing in Asia Minor: Revelation, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr” (link)

Week 5 (Oct 5): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Bangyue, Ryan, Aaliah, Ael  (1)
  • (1)
  • Article presentations:
    • Ashlee: MacDonald, “Oral Legends” and “The Storytellers” (link)
    • Mathew L.: Aubin, “Reversing Romance? The Acts of Thecla and the Ancient Novel” (link)

*Reading week October 10-14 – no classes*

Week 6 (Oct 19): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Everyone
  • Article presentations:
    • *Elizabeth: Dulk, “I Permit No Woman to Teach Except for Thecla” (link)
    • *Nikola: Pietersen, “Despicable Deviants: Labelling Theory and the Polemic of the Pastorals” (link)
    • available: LaFosse, “Social Change, Intergenerational Conflict, and 1 Timothy” (link)

**Essay 1 due week 6 in class**

Apocalyptic and prophetic trajectories in Asia Minor

Week 7 (Oct 26): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Tania, Erin, Shawn (1)
  • Article presentations:
    • available: Thompson, “Domitian’s Reign” (link)
    • Ryan: deSilva, “The Revelation to John: A Case Study in Apocalyptic Propaganda and the Maintenance of Sectarian Identity” (link)
    • Aaliah: Friesen, “Satan’s Throne, Imperial Cults, and the Social Settings of Revelation” (link)

Week 8 (Nov 2): 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)
    • Trevett, “Gender, Authority and Church History: A Case Study of Montanism” (link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Matthew, Nikola, Elizabeth (1)
  • Article presentations:
    • Tania: Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism” (link)
    • avaiable: Tabernee, “Montanists and Persecution” (link)

Other trajectories

Week 9 (Nov 9): Ebionites and anti-Pauline strands (first century on)

  • Readings:
    • Häkkinen, “Ebionites,” especially 265-272 with a focus on passages from Irenaeus and Epiphanius (link)
    • Evans, “Jewish Gospels Outside of the New Testament,” especially gospel sayings or episodes circled and marked by arrows (link)
    • Pseudo-Clementines, Epistle of Peter to James and Homily 17.13-19 (link), along with my post Harland, “Peter vs. Simon Magus (alias Paul) in the Pseudo-Clementines (NT Apocrypha 17)” (link)
    • Ehrman, “At Polar Ends of the Spectrum,” especially the first part on Ebionites (link)
  • Podcast lecture (listen ahead of meeting): Filip Holm, “The Ebionites and Jewish Christians” (16 minutes; link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Ryan, Aaliah, Bangyue (2), Ashlee (1)
  • Article presentations:
    • available: Evans, “The Jewish Christian Gospel Tradition” (link)
    • Erin: Jones, “Jewish Christianity of the Pseudo-Clementines” (link)
    • available: Crawford, “Κανών [Canon] and Scripture according to the Letter of Peter to James” (link)

Week 10 (Nov 16): Marcion and Marcionite groups (from 150 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Ancient opponents of “Marcion and Marcionism” (link)
    • Introduction of Tertullian, Against Marcion (Adversus Marcionem), book 1, sections 1-3 (link)
    • Ehrman, “At Polar Ends of the Spectrum,” especially the second part (link)
  • Podcast lecture (listen ahead of meeting):
    • Marcionites and the Unknown God (link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Matthew, Nikola, Elizabeth, Ael (2)
  • Article presentations:
    • *Shawn: Wilson, “Marcion and the Jews” (link)
    • Bangyue: Lieu, “Life and Practice” (link)

* Research paper proposal due *

Week 11 (Nov 23): Opponents and methods of attack in 2 Peter and Jude

  • Readings:
    • Jude (link) and the dependent 2 Peter (link)
    • Nortjé-Meyer, “Vilification in 2 Peter 2: A Comparison with the Letter of Jude” (link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Tania, Erin, Ashlee, Shawn  (2)
  • Article presentations:
    • Ael: du Toit, “Vilification as a Pragmatic Device in Early Christian Epistolography” (link).

* Research paper proposal due * (was previously due the week before)

Week 12 (Nov 30): From Jesus to Christ, part 1 (link) and part 2 (link)

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

Corinth in Southern Greece

Week 1 (Jan 11): 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)

Week 2 (Jan 18): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion:
  • Research paper topic presentations:

Week 3 (Jan 25): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Ael, Bangyue, Ryan, Aaliah (3)
  • Research paper topic presentations: Ashlee

Week 4 (Feb 1): Film

Rome in Italy

Week 5 (Feb 8): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Shawn, Matthew, Nikola, Elizabeth (3)
  • Research paper topic presentations: Erin, Tania

Week 6 (Feb 15): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: Tania, Erin, Ashlee (3)
  • Research paper topic presentations: Elizabeth, Ael

Reading week Feb. 18-24 – no classes*

Week 7 (March 1): 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)
  • Podcast lectures (listen before meeting):
    • “In Our Time: Gnosticism” (link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: (all of us this week)
  • Research paper topic presentations: Nikola, Matthew

Week 8 (March 8): “Gnostic” worldview in modern film – The Truman Show

  • Readings (AFTER THE MOVIE in this case, so as not to be a spoiler):
    • Verarde, “Suspicion, the Seed of Awakening: The Truman Show as Gnostic Fairy Tale” (link)

Week 9 (March 15): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: (all of us this week)
  • Research paper topic presentations: Aaliah, Shawn

Week 10 (March 22): 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)
  • Fishbowl discussion: (all of us this week)
  • Research paper topic presentations: Ryan, Bangyue


Week 11 (March 29): An early regulation from Syria – The Teaching of the Twelve Disciples, aka Didache

  • Readings:
    • Didache (link)
    • Draper, “The Apostolic Fathers: The Didache” (link)
  • Fishbowl discussion: (all of us this week)
  • Research paper topic presentations:

Week 12 (April 5): Readings TBA

  • Research paper topic presentations: 



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?


Fishbowl discussion (first 15 minutes of meeting, students marked individually):

  • For most weeks, about five students on their own will begin discussion of that weeks main readings in their group with the rest of us observing quietly and, eventually (after 15 minutes), joining the discussion.  Our focus questions for the course may be a guide for some issues to explore.  You will also want to show how the current week’s readings relate to other things we have been learning in the course.
  • There is no need for the group to meet or discuss things in advance. This is not a coordinated presentation but rather a somewhat spontaneous discussion based on your own careful reading and historical analysis of the materials.

Two Presentations:

  • (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.
  • (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.

Essay 1: Analysis of primary source (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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