Course Outline for Diversity in Early Christianity (I-II C.E.) (HUMA 4825)

General information

Instructor: Philip A. Harland, Click here to email me. Vanier 248. Office hours: Wednesdays 2:30-3:30 pm, or by appointment. Seminar time and location: Wednesdays 11:30-2:20, Vanier College 118

Course description:

This course explores diversity in early Christian thought and practice 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 early Christian writings that did not come to be included in the canon (namely the New Testament Apocrypha and Nag Hammadi writings).

In identifying the various strands of Christianity, we will ask questions such as: What forms of Christianity do we encounter in the literature? How are these 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 early Christianity? In the process we will address theoretical and historiographical issues in the study of early Christianity, 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 forms of Christianity in one particular region, Asia Minor, and in the second term we will concentrate on forms of Christianity reflected in the early Christian Apocrypha and gnostic writings.

Required books:


  • 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).
  • James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library. Revised Edition. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1990. (ISBN: 9780060669355, paper back edition)


  • 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, paper back)
  • Additional articles (to be distributed)
  • Additional readings online
  • P. Harland, “Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean” weblog, entries listed in syllabus and “Diversity 1.x” series ( Also see the earlier series “NT Apocrypha”.


  • Ongoing participation and seminar presentation (= 30%)
  • Book review: Ehrman, Lost Christianities (5 pp. double-spaced = 15%), due Fall week 5
  • Test 1, Fall week 13 (15%)
  • Essay proposal and critical bibliography, due Winter week 5 (10%)
  • Major research paper, due Winter week 13 (10-12 pp. = 15%)
  • Test 2, Winter week 12 (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 give a 15 minute presentation (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.

Term 1: Forms of Christianity in Asia Minor – Opponents in the Literature


Week 1 (Sept 5)

Introduction to diversity, “orthodoxy”, and “heresy” in early Christianity

Week 2 (Sept 12)

Unity (Eusebius), duality (F.C. Baur) and plurality/diversity (Walter Bauer) in the study (historiography) of early Christianity


Week 3 (Sept 19)

Asia Minor: Geographical bearings and cultural contexts

Methods and problems in reconstructing the perspectives of opponents / “heresies”


“Jewish” trajectories

Week 4 (Sept 26)

Paul and his opponents in Galatia (and at Antioch)


Proto-gnostic (“docetic”), ascetic, and “Judaizing” trajectories

Week 5 (Oct 3)

The opponents of John the elder: “docetism”?

Discussion of Ehrman’s Lost Christianities


  • 1-3 John
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 93-144 (course pack)

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

Week 6 (Oct 10)

The opponents of Ignatius of Antioch: “docetists” and/or “judaizers”?

The “philosophy” at Colossae


Week 7 (Oct 17)

The Pastor and his opponents


  • 1-2 Timothy, Titus
  • MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle, pp. 13-77

Week 8 (Oct 24)

The Acts of Paul and Thecla and debates on the role of women


Apocalyptic / prophetic trajectories

Week 9 (Oct 31)

John’s Apocalypse, the Nicolaitans / Jezebel, and group-society relations


Week 10 (Nov 7)

Montanism and the prophetic strand: Priscilla, Maximilla and Montanus


Week 11 (Nov 14)

The opponents of 2 Peter and Jude: Methods in the attack

Diversity: Retrospect and discussion


  • 2 Peter and Jude (in the New Testament)

Week 12 (Nov 21)


Week 13 (Nov 28)

**In class test 1**

Term 2: Forms of Christianity reflected in the Christian Apocrypha and Nag Hammadi Literature


Week 1 (Jan 9)

Introduction: Apocrypha, Nag Hammadi writings, and Anti-heresy literature (heresiologists) – Assessing forms of Christianity reflected in the literature

“Jewish” and “Anti-Jewish” Forms of Christianity

Week 2 (Jan 16)

“Jewish” Gospels and related forms of Christianity: Ebionites and others


Week 3 (Jan 23)

Marcion and Marcionite Christianity


“Gnostic” (Demiurgical) and Related Forms of Christianity

Week 4 (Jan 30)

Problems in defining “gnosticism” (discussion of Williams)

The Apocryphon of John, the creation of the world, and scriptural interpretation


  • The Apocryphon of John (in Robinson)
  • Williams, “What Kind of Thing Do Scholars Mean by ‘Gnosticism’: A Look at Four Cases” in Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’ (course pack)
  • Ehrman, ch. 6

Week 5 (Feb 6)

Sophia of Jesus Christ // Eugnostos the Blessed and Platonism


**Reading week Feb 11-15, 2008 – no classes**

Week 6 (Feb 20)

The Gospel of Philip and gnostic practices and rituals


  • Gospel of Philip (in Robinson)
  • Paul Foster, “The Gospel of Philip,” Expository Times 118 (2007), 417-427. (course pack)

Week 7 (Feb 27)

Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) and Dialogue of the Saviour


  • Gospel of Mary (in Robinson)
  • Dialogue of the Saviour (in Robinson)
  • Hans-Josef Klauck, “Dialogues with the Risen Jesus”

Week 8 (March 5)

Gospel of Truth and The Gospel of Judas


Refuting “heresies”and the formation of “orthodoxy”

Week 10 (March 12)

Rhetorical attacks on marginal and “gnostic” groups / literature 1: Irenaeus on Valentinus’ school


Week 11 (March 19)

Rhetorical attacks on marginal and “gnostic” groups (cont’d)


Week 12 (March 26)

**In class test 2**

Modern popular perceptions of ancient “heresies”

Week 13 (April 2)

Ancient “heresies” and gnostic literature in modern film


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?

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