Discussion Notes for Founders of Christianity (version B)



Jesus Among His Contemporaries

Paul Among His Contemporaries

Other Early Christian Perspectives

Early Christianity and the Academic Study of Religion

1. Why study early Christianity and early Christian writings?

  • Life in the ancient world
  • From insignificant Jewish sect to Roman imperial religion to world religion
  • Significance for Western history and civilization

2. What is the academic study of religion, or Religious Studies?

  • Background of the discipline
  • Characteristics of the academic study of religion
  • How do we approach the study of early Christianity within this discipline?

3. Ongoing themes and arguments

Early Christianity in its Greco-Roman and Judean Cultural Contexts: A Bird’s Eye View



1. The Greco-Roman world

  • Historical developments
    • Alexander the Great and the impact of Hellenization (from 331 BCE)
    • Roman Rule and the impact of the pax Romana


  • Greco-Roman culture and society
    • Social life and the structures of society
    • Honouring the gods (Religious life)
      • Religion embedded within everyday life in antiquity
      • Honouring the gods – Intolerance of failure to do so
      • Various forms of cult: Official and unofficial
    • Intellectual / philosophical life: Stoics, Platonists, Epicureans, Cynics – Cosmology and ethics

2. Judean culture and customs in the Second-Temple period

  • Periods in the history of Israel: Israelites and the first temple; Northern and Sourthern kingdoms (map); Assyrian / Babylonian conquests (722 BCE / 586 BCE); Judean exile and the formation of the Hebrew Bible; Second temple period (from about 500 BCE on)
  • Judean culture and Hellenistic culture: Interactions and oppositions


  • Roman rule in Israel
  • Characteristics of Second-Temple Judean culture (“Judaism” = Judean approaches to honouring their God)
    • Importance of regional factors: Galilee, Samaria, and Judea


    • Misrepresentations of “Judaism” within scholarship


    • Common denominators in Judean culture:1) Monotheism, 2) Election/land, 3) Covenant/Law, 4) Temple/sacrifice
    • Diversity in practice and belief:
      • Regional Israelite traditions and possible tensions with Jerusalem temple leadership (e.g. Galilee; Samaria’s Mount Gerizim)
      • Educated leaders and groups: Saduccees, Pharisees, Essenes (e.g. Josephus, War 2.119, Ant. 18.11-25)
      • Popular leaders and groups: messianic and prophetic movements (e.g. Ant. 17.269-278 on popular movements and “disorders”; Ant. 20.97 on Theudas the prophet / “magician”)


  • The Jesus-movement’s origins within the Judean / Galilean cultural spheres

3. Early Christianity in its context

  • Early Jesus movements within the context of Judean culture
  • Where did groups of Jesus-followers fit (or not fit) within the Greco-Roman world?
    • Models from the ancient context: Philosophical schools, Judean synagogues, associations
    • Christians through Greco-Roman eyes (see handout):
    • Popular perceptions of Christians:
      • Familiarity: Just another association
      • Peculiarity: Jesus-followers (and Judeans) as “atheists”

Introduction to the Historical Jesus, part 1: Sources, Problems, and Methods

1. External Greco-Roman literary sources for the historical Jesus

  • Roman historians: Tacitus (Annals 15.44)
    • One of the most solid things we know about the historical Jesus: Jesus was executed under the Roman official Pilate
  • Roman imperial officials: Pliny the Younger’s unfortunate lack of knowledge
  • Other authors on Jesus-followers

2. Judean and Galilean sources for the historical Jesus

  • Josephus’ Judean War and Judean Antiquities
    • Problems in using Josephus to reconstruct historical events
    • Josephus and the first century Judean context
    • John the Baptist in Josephus (Ant. 18.116-119)
    • Jesus in Josephus (Christian interpolations) (Ant.18.63-64)
    • James in Josephus (Ant. 20.200-201)
  • Archaeological and epigraphical materials from Judea and Galilee
    • E.g. the Pilate inscription and ritual baths (mikvaoth)
    • Problems of interpretation remain, however

4. Early Christian sources for the historical Jesus

  • First generation (before 65 CE): Paul and the problem of disinterest
    • Sayings and traditions of “the Lord” in Paul’s letters
  • Second generation (from 65 CE) Christian sources: Early Christian “Lives” / biographies (gospels) and other materials
    • Problems in using the gospels to reconstruct history:
      • Genre and Interests of these writings:
        • Gospels as biographies, not modern history-writing
          • Luke as biography and ancient historiography
        • Promotional writings (“Historical Jesus” vs. “Christ of faith”)
        • Late first century interests and the context of communities of Jesus-followers (e.g. Gospel of John’s references to being thrown out of the synagogue, Matthew’s references to “the church”)


    • Isolated sayings (“agrapha”) and non-canonical writings
      • The Gospel of Thomas and early sayings collections (e.g. “Q”)
      • Gospel of Peter


    • Methods and approaches to the Jesus materials:
      • Traditional approaches: Form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism
      • Source criticism, the Synoptic problem and relations among the gospels
        • Two Source (aka Four Source) hypothesis as our working hypothesis
        • Q as an early Christian sayings source
      • Criteria of authenticity and their limits:
        • Dissimilarity (from church interests and contemporaries)
        • Embarrassment
        • Multiple attestation
        • Context
        • Accounting for and compatibility with the most secure historical factor: the execution
      • The nature and limits of modern historical methods and history writing – Possibilities and levels of probability, not certainties


Introduction to the Historical Jesus, part 2: Some Scholarly Portraits and Approaches

1. Jesus as a counter-cultural, egalitarian, non-apocalyptic peasant – John Dominic Crossan

  • Crossan’s method and approach:
    • Social sciences and the study of the ancient Mediterranean as the framework
    • Dating the strata of our evidence for Jesus and the place of the Gospel of Thomas and other extra-canonical writings
    • Organizing the sayings material into complexes (based on theme)
    • Multiple attestation as the key criterion of authenticity
    • Issue of interpretation and scholarly choice as deciding factors at many levels -value of transparency in method
  • Crossan’s portrait:
    • Overview: Peasant with counter-cultural values (affinities with Horsley’s “social revolutionary” peasant)
    • Social-economic conditions of first century Palestine as key (draws heavily on work of Richard Horsley) – Bandits, prophets, and messiahs are important here
    • Discontinuity between the programs of John the Baptist (apocalyptic) and Jesus (non-apocalyptic — compare Marcus Borg)
    • The Sapiential (Wisdom) Kingdom or Rule
      • Proclaiming the “kingdom of nobodies” (e.g. G. Thomas 22; 54)
      • Kingdom here and now (e.g. G. Thomas 3; 113)
      • Performing the kingdom: Magic and meal
        • Open commensality: Implications regarding Jesus and Judean cultural ways including ritual laws
        • Itinerancy: Mission speech and Cynic-like activity (G. Thomas 14; Luke 10:4-11)
    • Why was Jesus executed?
      • The Gospel of Peter and the early “Cross gospel” – Biblical interpretation and the passion narrative
      • Symbolic destruction of the temple (compare Sanders), yet only insofar as this action symbolized his overall teaching and program of recreating an egalitarian peasant society (contrast Sanders)


    • Strengths/Weaknesses
      • Strengths: Sophisticated and explicit methodology; Placing Jesus firmly within a social-economic context — Jesus is explained in relation to concrete realities
      • Problems: Debatable aspects of the sketch of social-economic realities; Archeological evidence?; Galilee-specific context? (vs. Mediterranean generalities); Categorization, choice, and interpretation of evidence (selection of what is in the first strata, for instance); Itinerancy theory (including the Cynic hypothesis)

2. Jesus as a Jewish apocalyptic prophet – E.P. Sanders (compare John P. Meier / Bart Ehrman)

  • Stress on placing Jesus within the context of Judaism (Judean culture) — Jesus as a Torah observant Jew
    • Jesus’ conflicts with contemporary Jews (e.g. Pharisees) are not the key to understanding his demise
  • The apocalyptic frame: Apocalyptic teacher (John the Baptist) – apocalyptic followers
  • Sanders on importance of deeds or basic “facts”
    • Starting point: Jesus and the temple incident – Symbolic destruction (Mk 11:15-19 and //s)
      • Sayings on, and charges regarding, the temple (Mk 13; Mt 26:60ff; Jn 2:18-22)
      • Reading the rest of our evidence in light of an end-time restoration of Israel
  • Jesus’ teachings on the imminently arriving Kingdom of God
    • Jesus and the renewal or restoration of kingdom of Israel under the twelve tribes (cf. Psalms of Solomon 17 — Mk 14:25; Mt 19:27-29) :
      • Background of the Babylonian exile and the return (in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible)
      • 1. Reassembling the twelve tribes; 2. Gentiles converted or subjugated; 3. Jerusalem’s temple restored; 4. Perfect worship by a righteous people
  • Why was Jesus executed? — Temple actions and sayings
  • Strengths/weaknesses
    • Problems: Lack of attention to the real-life social and economic contexts of Palestine (instead focussed on ideology); Less attention to the “present” aspects of the kingdom
    • Places Jesus solidly into the context of Judean culture; Accounts for the apocalyptic teacher and apocalyptic followers

3. Our approach: Jesus in the context of his contemporaries in Judea and Galilee

  • The balancing act: Jesus must be placed firmly within his cultural context in Galilee and Judea, and yet be noticeable or distinctive enough to lead him to execution

Jesus among Galileans and Judeans: Political, Social-Economic, and Cultural Contexts

Our approach to the historical Jesus: Jesus in his context and among his contemporaries

1. Geography and history of Jesus’ world

  • Prelude: Problems on the nature of our sources – how little we know
  • Upper and Lower Galilee on the map: Terrain and locales
  • Jerusalem and Judea on the map
    • Jerusalem as the centre of a Temple-state system
      • Functions (political-economic-religious) and structure of the temple; importance of the priesthood and the Torah as the basis of temple activity; Centrality of the sacrificial function of the temple (maintaining proper relations between God and the people)
      • Question of the relationship between this system in Jerusalem and other areas under its jurisdiction, including the peasantry
  • Quick history of Israel for geographic purposes: Twelve tribes under a united monarchy (David on), northern and Southern kingdoms, fall of those kingdoms
  • In the wake of the Assyrian conquest (730s BCE)
    • The question of the inhabitants of Galilee: “Pagan” or Israelite peasants?
    • Independence of Judean temple leadership in Jerusalem
    • Consequences of independence: Regional social and cultural developments
  • The Babylonian conquest of Judea (586 BCE) and the return under Persian rule
    • Reconstruction of a temple state in Jerusalem
  • Hellenistic control and the wake of the Hasmonean (Maccabean) expansion (from ca. 104 BCE)
    • Renewed contacts between Jerusalem temple and Galilee: Promoting Judean customs – Continued regional characteristics


  • In the wake of Roman conquest (from 63 BCE)
    • Client rulers (Herod and his offspring)
      • Herod “the Great” (reigns 37-4 BCE)
        • Herod’s building program (e.g. Caesarea Maritima) and the expansion of the temple (see Reed, pp. 29-31)
        • Assessing Herod’s reign
        • Jesus likely born in the final years of Herod’s reign
      • Herod’s sons (view a map of regions under the Herods, originating from the Wikipedia page here, under a GNU licence.)
        • Herod Antipas (rules 4 BCE-39 CE) — tetrarch of Galilee and Perea — renewing of Sepphoris and founding of Tiberias
        • Herod Philip (rules 4 BCE-34 CE) — tetrarch of Trachonitis, Gaulanitis, and Batanea
        • Herod Archelaus (rules 4 BCE-6 CE) — ethnarch of Judea, including Samaria
    • Roman governors (from 6 CE in Judea and later in other districts)
    • Roman-Judean war of 66-70 CE and the destruction of the temple

2. Social, economic, and cultural contexts of Galilee and Judea in the first century

  • Social and economic life:
    • Galilee and Judea as peasant societies
      • Agrarian focus and subsistence farming (grain, vegetables, oil)– some trade (primitivist vs. market debates)
      • Redistribution economy (Polanyi) centred on the Temple
        • City – countryside relations
      • Social strata: Rulers (aristocrats) and ruled (peasants and others)
      • Social-economic conditions of the peasants: Taxes and temple dues (20-over 40%?); Land situation (increase in large-landholders); Social banditry and other factors
      • Life in cities (Sepphoris and Tiberias) and villages in the Galilee:
        • Populations (cities in thousands, villages in hundreds)
        • Simple houses
        • Working the land, keeping animals, fishing, or engaging in handwork in villages (e.g. carpenter): excavated fishing tackle and boats (Reed, pp. 11, 68-69)
        • Health and life expectancy (see discussion by Reed, pp. 10-11, 69)


  • Cultural life – key scholarly debates and interpretations of the archeological evidence
    • How Hellenistic or Judean or Galilean (Israelite) was Galilee (and Jesus)?
    • Judean culture (Judaism) in Galilee? (Some scholars: Freyne, Sanders, Horsley)
      • What do we mean by Judean culture: Customs and laws outlined in the Torah (Hebrew Bible, especially the Pentateuch) and centred on the Second Temple and its priesthood (purity, offerings, sacrifices)
      • Scholarly debates regarding Judean culture: “Common Judaism” (e.g. Sanders, Freyne) vs. Regional tensions with Jerusalem (e.g. Horsley)
      • Literary evidence (problem – Josephus our principal source):
        • Galileans and the temple: Pilgrimage festivals (Passover in Spring; Weeks in Summer; Booths in Fall)
        • Other anecdotal incidents suggesting Galilean adoption of Judean ways or concerns to observe the Judean Torah (e.g.s from Freyne)
          • Judas the Galilean in Judea (vs. the tribute in 6 CE) (War 2.117-118)
          • Protest of Galileans at Ptolemais against attempt to place imperial images in the temple under Caligula (War 2.184-203)
          • John of Gischala supplying oil (purity issues) to inhabitants of Caesarea Philippi (ca. 66 CE; War 2.591-93)


      • Archeological evidence (discussion of Reed, ch. 4):
        • Problems of interpretation – Interpreting the archeology in terms of Judean rituals and customs (from the Torah)
        • Purity concerns: Ritual baths (miqvaoth) at Sepphoris and Gamla and stone dishes and other stoneware (stone as not susceptible to impurity) (click here for photos of ritual baths)
        • Food laws: Absence of pork remains in eating contexts
        • Burial practices (photo)
        • Synagogues in Galilee?

Jesus among Contemporary Educated Groups and Leaders

1. Educated near-contemporaries of Jesus

  • What can we know about the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes? (problem of sources)
  • Sadducees: Aristocrats; lack of belief in life after death
  • Pharisees: Respect among and some ability to influence the populace (e.g. Josephus’ ongoing complaint); Specific traditions regarding interpretation and application of Torah, especially regarding purity and eating (viewed as too lenient by some and as too strict by others); Applying certain aspects of the Torah regarding priests to everyday life, including eating practices; Belief in a future resurrection of the dead; Galilean presence?
  • Essenes: Concerns with purity as well; Question of whether the Dead Sea (Qumran) group was an Essene community
  • The Dead Sea community (second century BCE to first century CE): A penitential and apocalyptic sect (Qumran photos)
    • Origins of a penitential movement (c. 190 BCE) and the priestly “Teacher of Righteousness” – “they realised their sin and knew that they were guilty men” (post here)
    • The Qumranites and other educated or powerful Judeans:
      • Perspective on the Temple: The “Wicked (Hasmonean?) Priest” – Reinstate Zadokite priesthood in a purified temple
        • Idea of a “new covenant” following the proper calendar for the festivals
      • “Seekers after smooth things” (lenient Pharisees?) in the scrolls
        • Qumranites’ strict interpretations of purity and other laws
    • Communal life, legal concerns (especially purity), and modes of biblical interpretation (new covenant idea is key)
    • Apocalyptic worldview: The visitation of God and the final battle with Belial
      • Dualism of good vs. evil (God vs. Belial; Angel of Light vs. Angel of Darkness)
      • Expectation of two messiahs: messiahs of Aaron (priestly) and Israel (kingly = branch of David) (1QS 9:11)
      • Purified Jerusalem with a restored temple


  • General relevance for understanding Jesus and his earliest followers: Common concerns and differing interpretations among contemporaries on Judean Law and purity customs (Torah / covenant), Temple leadership, God’s plans and human destinies (the apocalyptic option)

2. John the Baptizer: Jesus (at 30) as student and follower

  • Nature of our sources: Josephus and gospels
  • Baptizer and Prophetic leader of a penitential movement
    • Context and implications: Symbolic significance of the desert and Jordan
    • Ascetic lifestyle
    • Message and method: Coming apocalyptic judgement, repentance / baptism (immersion and purity)
    • Affinities with the Dead Sea sect: Penitent movement, purity emphasis, and the coming end
  • Interactions with authorities and reason for his death: The soap opera that killed John
  • Significance for the historical Jesus: The debate about the apocalyptic message of Jesus


Jesus as Teacher: The Method and Content of Jesus’ Teaching (Reign of God)

1. Forms of teaching material and methods

  • Jesus’ first audiences
    • Peasants of Galilee
    • Jesus’ closer following (both men and women) and the question of the twelve
    • Pharisees, scribes, or other educated figures?


  • Example of the “Inaugural speech” from Q (Lk 6:20-49 + //s)
  • Forms or methods of teaching
    • Problem of sorting out historical Jesus from later developments
    • Wisdom sayings (aphorisms – one-liners)
    • Parables
      • What is a parable? Stories that use everyday things (known) to explain some deeper teaching (unknown)
      • Contemporary rabbis and parable-tellers
      • Jesus’ parables and their imagery
        • Rural, Galilean referents and imagery: agriculture (seeds, planting, harvesting, vineyards, tenants, loans, etc); everyday life (birds, banquets, etc).
        • Examples: Luke chs. 15-16: Hundred sheep, lost coin, two sons, rich man and the manager

2. Content of the teaching / message:

  • The “Kingdom of God”
    • Authentic?: Multiple attestation and dissimilarity criteria (e.g. “Kingdom of God” not common among contemporary Judeans or early Christians such as Paul)
    • What does it mean? God’s kingly reign in a Judean / Israelite context


    • Present (non-apocalyptic) vs. future (apocalyptic) debate (Judean background of apocalypticism)
      • Future elements of the kingdom (emphasis of Sanders, Meier, Ehrman — Albert Schweitzer forerunner)
        • Jesus and the temple actions (Mk 11:15-19) / sayings (Mk 13:1; 14:57ff)
        • “The twelve” (1 Cor 15), the twelve tribes (Mt 19:28), and restoration ideology
        • Banqueting in the Kingdom (Mk 14:25 + //s; Mt 8:11-12 // Luke 13:28-29)
        • Blessings and curses – Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12 // Lk 6:20-23)
      • Present elements of the kingdom (emphasis of Crossan, Borg)
        • When and where is it? (Luke 17:20-21 // Thom 113)
      • Relation of future / present elements — imminence of the kingdom


    • Inhabitants of the kingdom
      • Reversal theme in Jesus’ teachings
      • Parable of the dinner invitation (Lk 14:15-24 // Thom 64) – unexpected and somewhat random
      • Nobodies and undesirables: Children (Mk 10:13-16; cf. Thom 22); poor


  • Connections between Jesus’ teaching of the Kingdom of God and his role as a healer / exorcist?
    • E.g. Jesus’ acts of healing interpreted as a sign of the intervention of God: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Lk 11:20)

Jesus among Contemporary Popular Groups and Leaders part 1: Jesus as Healer, Exorcist, and Miracle-Worker

1. Contemporary exorcists, healers, and miracle-workers (“magicians”)

  • Healers and exorcists
    • An historian’s approach: not interested in question of whether miracles really happen, but in the ancients’ perceptions of the miraculous
    • Background: Medical anthropology (disease vs. illness); ancient conceptions of health and healing (e.g. mental illness as demon possession; illness as caused by God(s) or demons)


    • Exorcists and healers:
      • Eleazar (and Solomon’s wisdom) (Ant. 8.42-49; first century CE)
      • Judean exorcists (Acts 19:13-20)
      • Hanina ben Dosa (in Galilee) and his relatives (first century CE)
        • Miracles and the prophetic role: “Are you a prophet?”
        • Nature miracle: Rain


  • Other miracle-workers (e.g. “nature miracles”)
    • Onias / Honi the Circle-drawer and his descendants (in Josephus and rabbinic passages) (first century BCE)

2. Traditions relating to Jesus as exorcist and healer

  • Multiple attestation – Synoptics and the Gospel of John (overlaps and tensions)
  • Overview of miracle material in the gospels (e.g. of John’s “signs” and Mark 4:35-6:56)
    • Types: Healings, exorcisms, “nature miracles”


  • Jesus as healer in historical perspective
    • Ancient worldviews and contemporary healers
    • Opponents’ perceptions: Beezelbul controversy as the key passage (Luke 11:14-26 and //s, including Mark 3:22-26)


  • Jesus’ followers and healing (the so-called “mission speech”) (Luke 10:1-12 and //s including Thom 14b)
  • Connections between role as healer and as prophet? (long Israelite/Judean tradition of the prophet who works miracles — e.g. Elijah and Elisha in 1-2 Kings)

Jesus among Contemporary Popular Groups and Leaders, part 2: Jesus as Prophet or Messiah?

1. Jesus and contemporary prophets

  • What is a “prophet” in first century Israel?
    • “Prophets” in the Hebrew Bible as spokespersons or messengers for God
    • Moses and Elijah as models (types) of the ideal prophet
    • Ideas concerning the return of a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-22) or like Elijah (Malachi 4): Some Judeans looking forward such prophetic figures or interpreting contemporaries as such figures (cf. Mark 6:14-16; 8:28; 9:11-13; and //s)
      • Apocalyptic thinkers: Role of such prophets in God’s final intervention


  • Contemporary prophets
    • Oracular: John the Baptist, 20s-30s CE; Jesus son of Hananiah, 60s CE (War 6.300-309)
    • Popular (War 2.259): The Samaritan, 30s CE (Ant. 18.85-87); Theudas, 40s CE (Ant. 20.97-98); The Egyptian, 50s CE (Ant. 20.169-71)
  • Why would some contemporaries view Jesus as a prophet?
    • Problem of distinguishing later Christian authors’ views on who Jesus was from contemporary views
    • Evidence pointing to contemporary perceptions of Jesus as prophet
      • Sayings about Jesus as Elijah or a prophet
      • Association of healing and prophetic status: Elijah-like prophet (cf. Hanina Ben Dosa)
      • Apocalyptic element in his teaching (compare John the Baptist)
        • Kingdom of God teaching – Jesus as bringer of God’s message
        • Statements and actions about the temple (likely apocalyptic)
        • Other items attributed to Jesus: Twelve disciples and gathering the twelve tribes
      • Conclusion: Likelihood that Jesus was perceived as a prophet (with an apocalyptic message), and may have understood himself in that role

2. Jesus and contemporary kings / messiahs

  • What is a king or “messiah” in first century Israel?
    • Biblical model (or type) of David, the anointed (messiah) king (cf. Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:17-22; Isaiah 11)
    • Importance of foreign occupation for developments in notions of a native king
    • Expectations for a messiah or messiahs not normative or standard
      • Some instances of an expectation of a Davidic messiah-king (Psalms of Solomon 17)
        • Warrior element primary
      • Dead Sea sect: A prophet and two messiahs: “messiahs of Aaron [priestly] and Israel [kingly]” (prevalence for the priestly messiah)
      • Overall variety in understandings of a messiah, perhaps even within the Dead Sea Scrolls


  • Contemporary kings and notions of messianic roles
    • Popular kings or royal claimants in Josephus’ narratives
      • Time of Herod’s death (4 BCE): Judas son of Hezekias, Simon the servant of Herod, Athrongeus (Ant. 17.271-285)
      • Time of the revolt (66-70 CE): Menahem (War 2.433-34) and Simon bar Giora


  • Was Jesus viewed as a king or royal messiah by contemporaries?
    • Political implications of Jesus’ statements about the temple and his teachings about a kingdom soon to be established
      • Passion narratives: Pilate’s and Highpriest’s questions — problem of ambiguity in Jesus answer and lack of multiple attestation
      • The inscription on the cross: “King of the Judeans”
      • Authorities’ disinterest in sorting out kings from prophets — popular following was enough to get you in trouble
    • Conclusion:
      • No doubt that gospel authors in the late first century interpreted Jesus as a messianic or Davidic figure of a particular type, drawing on passages from the Hebrew Bible
      • Lack of secure evidence that the peasant Jesus actually claimed kingly / messianic role; no evidence that he engaged in military activities similar to contemporary royal claimants as described by Josephus (Judas, Simon, and Athrongeus)
      • In general, the historical Jesus did not fit the Davidic warrior models that we find in some contemporary Judean writings (e.g. Psalms of Solomon) or the pattern set by popular royal claimants
      • Not likely that the model of the royal messiah would be the first thing to jump into contemporaries’ heads when seeing Jesus (prophetic role more likely)


3. Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death: Explaining Jesus’ demise

  • Contemporary models of prophets and popular leaders who were arrested, tried, and/or executed: e.g. Jesus son of Hananiah
  • Why was Jesus arrested and executed?: The popularity and temple factors
  • Crucifixion: Literary and archeological evidences

Introduction to Paul and his letters



1. Who is Paul?:

  • A Hellenistic Judean in the diaspora (remember the slides on Paul’s world)
  • Sources and their problems: Priority of Paul’s own information (over the Acts of the Apostles)
  • The “autobiographical” passages
    • Discussion of Philippians 3:1-16; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12:13; Galatians 1-2

2. Paul’s relations with the Jesus movement at Jerusalem: Tensions in early Christianity

  • Paul’s “announcement” (gospel) / Paul’s Christianity: Focus on the notion of the resurrection and vindication of Christ (very little focus on the earthly life of Jesus and his sayings); Notion of being “one in Christ”; Inclusion of Gentiles (without requiring circumcision and food laws)
  • Paul’s apostleship / “announcement” and Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem meeting according to Paul and the author of Acts (Galatians 1-2; Acts 15; full discussion in tutorials)

3. Approaches to the study of Paul, his letters, and his communities

  • Epistolary approaches: Paul’s letters as Hellenistic letters
    • Some ancient Greek letters: Family Letters of Paniskos
    • Structural elements in Paul’s letters: Opening (greetings and thanksgiving); Closing (greetings and benediction); Body: Recurring types of material (autobiographical statements, travel plans, paraenesis); Traditional material (Christian hymns, sayings, vice/virtue lists)
  • Rhetorical approaches: Paul, the rhetorician
    • The three types of rhetoric corresponding to context and purpose:
      • 1) Judicial: type of speech used in the law courts to convince judges concerning past events: accusation or defence
      • 2) Deliberative: type of speech used in the civic context (politics) to persuade people to take a certain future course of action: persuasion or dissuasion
      • 3) Demonstrative (epideictic): type of speech used in ceremonial contexts (e.g. festival gatherings) to provide pleasure for audiences in the present: praise or blame
  • Historical and social-historical approaches: Paul and his communities in their contexts
    • The situations in the assemblies and Paul’s responses to those situations


  • Our main approach in the course: Paul among contemporary Judeans, Greeks, and Romans
    • Paul among apocalyptic Judeans (e.g. members of the Dead Sea sect)
    • Paul among Greco-Roman philosophers (Platonists, Stoics, Cynics, Epicureans)
    • Paul among rhetoricians (e.g. Dio Chrysostom)

Paul among Apocalyptic Judeans

1. Apocalyptic Judeans

  • Scholarly study of apocalypticism
    • 1) Apocalyptic worldview (held by apocalyptic thinkers): God reveals secrets; Evil age / kingdom of Satan (dualism), God’s intervention (battle, resurrection, judgement), God’s age / kingdom (emerging some time in the second temple period)
    • 2) Apocalyptic movements / groups (living out the worldview)
    • 3) Apocalypse as a genre of literature (expressing the worldview in particular forms: a. historical and b. otherworldly apocalypses)
  • Fallen angels and the origins of the apocalyptic worldview: 1 Enoch 1-36 (c. 200 BCE)
    • Enoch’s otherworldly journey
    • Explaining the origins and end of evil
    • Fallen angels, the evil age, and the coming judgement (development of Satan, head of the fallen angels, in subsequent writings)
    • Characteristics: Thoroughgoing dualism (with human participation), predeterminism (God has a plan)
    • Dead Sea sect knew of the fallen angels story and also had copies of 1 Enoch 1-36
  • Dead Sea sect (c. 160s BCE-70 CE): Apocalyptic worldview and movement
    • The Damascus Document
      • Origins of a penitential movement
      • Living under a “new covenant” with “exact intepretation” of the Torah in the era of Belial (“Worthless One” = Satan)
      • Key functionaries in the end times (Teacher, Messiahs of Aaron and Israel)
    • The Community Rule
      • New covenant ceremony
      • The Two Spirits (Light and Darkness) and the apocalyptic scenario (discussion of The Community Rule)
      • The final battle with evil (cf. the War Scroll)


  • Apocalyptic Judeans, Pharisees and the afterlife / resurrection of the dead
    • Daniel 12:1-3 (ca. 160s BCE) as an early example
    • Standard among apocalyptic Judeans
    • Pharisees and the resurrection according to Josephus and a few rabbinic passages
      • e.g. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10.1: “All Israelites have a share in the world to come, as it is said, Your people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified (Is. 60:21). And these are the ones who have no portion in the world to come: He who says, the resurrection of the dead is a teaching which does not derive from the Torah, and the Torah does not come from Heaven; and an Epicurean” (trans. by Jacob Neusner).
  • Gentiles in apocalyptic scenarios (preview for next week)

2. Paul, the Apocalyptic Judean

  • Paul’s apocalyptic teachings at Thessalonica in Macedonia (c. 50 CE)
    • Introduction to 1 Thessalonians:
      • The setting of Thessalonica
      • Paul and the situation among the Jesus-followers at Thessalonica
        • Paul’s past relations (initial visit, Timothy’s visit, letter)
        • Paul’s praise for the Thessalonian Jesus-followers
        • Affliction and relations with outsiders (other Thessalonians)
        • Death of members
    • Paul’s initial apocalyptic teachings (esp. 1 Thess 1:9-10)
    • Paul’s apocalyptic clarifications (1 Thess 4:13-5:11)
      • Jesus the Christ (Messiah) as the key end-time functionary of God (two visits)
  • Paul’s apocalyptic scenarios in other letters
    • 1 Corinthians (esp. chapter 15):
      • Paul on the resurrection of the dead and on the first and last Adams (1 Cor 15, esp. verses 20-28, 50-57) – transformation imminently arriving


  • Paul’s otherworldly journey (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

Paul among Pharisees and other Judeans – Circumcision, the Gentiles, and Biblical Interpretation

1. Pharisees and other Judeans on circumcision, the gentiles, and biblical interpretation

  • Circumcision and the Gentiles among contemporary Judeans
    • Key passages: Abraham, the covenant, and circumcision in Genesis 17
    • Gentiles and the Judean God in the first century:
      • The range of attraction: supporters (e.g. Severa), “God-fearers”, proselytes, and others
      • Judean perspectives on Gentiles (ethnic stereotyping and Noachic expectations)
      • Gentiles and the end-time: The significance of the gentiles (nations) in the restoration of Israel and in apocalyptic scenarios – subjugation, destruction, or inclusion
    • Paul’s Judean opponents in Galatia: The position of Paul’s opponents (and their likely association with Jerusalem)


  • Interpretive techniques among Pharisees and other Judeans
    • Midrash
    • Allegory (e.g. Philo of Alexandria)
    • Pesher (e.g. the Dead Sea scrolls)

2. Paul’s position on circumcision and his interpretation of the Hebrew Bible

  • Paul, the Law and the Gentiles: Circumcision is not an entrance requirement
    • Paul’s defence of his circumcision-free announcement (gospel) – tensions with others with ties to Jerusalem (the other announcement)
    • The issue of the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God (the mission to the Gentiles) as the guiding principle in Paul’s views
  • Paul’s interpretative techniques
    • Paul’s midrash of the Abraham story:
      • God’s primary covenant-promise to Abraham (Gen 15):
        • The blessing of Abraham – faith (not circumcision = “works of law”) as the true sign of being sons of Abraham and members of God’s community
      • The secondary covenant, circumcision (Gen 17) and the Law at Mount Sinai: “the law was our custodian until Christ came”
    • Paul’s allegory: Sarah and Hagar

Paul among Greco-Roman Teachers and Philosophers

1. Greco-Roman philosophers

  • Three-fold focus of ancient philosophy: Logic (reason), physics (cosmology), ethics (how to live in accordance with wisdom or reason)
  • Goal of philosophy: e.g. Pseudo-Plutarch [30-31]
  • Philosophical schools or groups in Paul’s time
    • Interactions among schools (e.g. Stoic-Cynic or Platonic-Stoic philosophers)
    • Platonic philosophers
    • Epicurean philosophers
    • Stoic philosophers
    • Cynic philosophers
  • Judeans interacting with Hellenistic philosophy: E.g. Philo of Alexandria
  • Cynic and Stoic perspectives often most helpful in understanding Paul (but also Platonic ideas — e.g. 1 Cor 15)

2. Key concerns and topics of debate among philosophers and Paul
1) How should the philosopher approach teaching his students?

  • Methods of instruction:
    • Living the principles and presenting a model for imitation (imitate me) (e.g. Seneca [T 52]
    • Diatribe / dialogue (e.g. Epictetus [36-37]; cf. Romans 9-11)
    • “Frank speech” (telling it like it is) vs. gentle instruction (e.g. Plutarch [T 55]) – assessing your students’ situations
    • Letters as a means of instruction
  • 1 Thessalonians: Paul’s approach to his students

2) How are we to live? (ethics and moral exhortation / parenesis)

  • Philosophers’ prominent concern with moral behaviour (e.g. Hierocles on the “golden rule” ) – should not adopt a Judean or Christian perspective on the immoral “pagans”
  • E.g. Musonius Rufus on sexual indulgence
  • Parenetic sections in Paul’s letters (e.g. 1 Thess 4:1-12; Romans 12-13)
    • Paul’s teaching on relations with the state (e.g. Romans 13) in the context of philosophical discussions
    • Listing virtues, vices, and hardships

3) Is marriage compatible with the pursuit of a proper life?

  • Debates on whether one can pursue philosophy and be married: E.g. Hierocles on marriage not being a burden
  • Paul reflects such debates in 1 Corinthians 7

4) How should a teacher financially support his activities?

  • Options: 1) Live off wealth from land (if you own it); 2) Fees for teaching; 3) Financial support from a patron or benefactor; 4) Handwork; 5) Begging
  • Opinions among philosophers:
    • Cicero [150-151] on gentlemanly and vulgar occupations
    • Some Epicurean, Cynic, and other opinions (link)
    • Musonius Rufus (Cynic-Stoic) on the value of farming [151-152]
    • Ideals of self-sufficiency among some Stoics and Cynics
  • Paul’s approach(es): Handwork with the Thessalonians and Corinthians (1 Thess 2 9-10; 1 Cor 9); Acceptance of financial support from the Philippians (Paul’s thank-you letter)

Paul among Greco-Roman Rhetoricians

1. Greco-Roman rhetorical training and speeches

  • Rhetoric as argumentation in oral or written form
  • Rhetorical handbooks and education in the world of Paul
  • The three types of rhetoric corresponding to context and purpose:
    • 1) Judicial: type of speech used in the law courts to convince judges concerning past events: accusation or defence
    • 2) Deliberative: type of speech used in the civic context (politics) to persuade people to take a certain future course of action: persuasion or dissuasion
    • 3) Demonstrative (epideictic): type of speech used in ceremonial contexts (e.g. festival gatherings) to provide pleasure for audiences in the present: praise or blame


  • Contemporary examples illustrating aspects of rhetoric: The speeches of Dio Chrysostom

2. Paul and Greco-Roman rhetoric

  • Judicial (1 Cor 9), deliberative (1 Corinthians), and demonstrative (e.g. 1 Thessalonians; Philippians) rhetoric in Paul’s letters
  • Character of deliberative rhetoric: Dio Chrysostom’s speech as context for understanding deliberative rhetoric
  • 1 Corinthians: A case study of deliberative rhetoric and civic discourse
    • Background on the situation at Corinth
      • Ethnic and social-economic composition of the community
      • A letter from some of the Christians at Corinth (chs. 7-15 as a response)
      • Internal divisions and perceived problems in the situation at Corinth: Social-economic and other factors in the problems
        • “I belong to Paul” – “I belong to Apollos” (chs. 1-4)
        • Ethical problems (ch. 5): Thou shalt not sleep with thy step-mother
        • The socially “superior” Christians: Litigious Christians (ch. 6); the drunk and the hungry (rich and poor) (11:17-34)
        • The intellectually “superior” Christians (spiritual enthusiasts) and their slogans (chs. 7-15): Asceticism: “…it is good not to touch a woman…”; Knowledge and wisdom: “…all of us possess knowledge…an idol has no real existence” (the weak and the strong) (chs. 8, 10); “…some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead…”


    • Paul’s response and argument for concord and against division:
      • Paul’s language of civic (political) discourse
      • Versus divisions (chs. 1-4)
      • Addressing other problems
      • Paul’s body metaphor and civic discourse


Paul and his Contemporaries on Slavery


1. Slavery in the Greco-Roman world

  • Nature of ancient slavery
    • Compare and contrast ancient and modern slavery
    • Sources of slaves
    • Slaves as objects owned by masters
    • Slaves as members of the household / family community
    • Duties of slaves and slaves in different roles
      • Slaves in imperial service (“Caesar’s family” – e.g. Phillipians)
    • Manumission practices


  • Inscriptions pertaining to slavery and manumission (see Meyer’s site)

2. Contemporaries of Paul on Slavery

  • Slaves and Judeans in the diaspora
    • Slaves in the Judean scriptures
    • Judeans as slaves
      • Judean war and slavery
      • Judean slaves and freedmen in Rome
    • Judeans as masters
      • Diaspora examples of manumissions in the Black Sea area


  • Jokes involving slaves (Philolegos, nos. 25, 57)
  • Intellectuals on self-control in the treatment of slaves
    • Musonius Rufus on the sexual use of slaves
    • Galen, the physician and philosopher, on his father’s policy (late first century, Pergamon)
    • Seneca on controlling one’s passions / anger (first century, Stoic philosopher)


  • Intellectuals punishing or protecting runaway slaves
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistles 9.21 and 9.24

3. Paul on Slaves

  • Tensions in Paul’s views?
    • Ideal expressed in Galatians 3:28: “no longer slave or free” in Christ
    • 1 Corinthians 7:21-24: “remain as you are” and Paul’s apocalyptic worldview
  • The case of Onesimus, the slave of Philemon

1) The situation

  • Addressees: Christian group in Colossae?
  • Onesimus the runaway slave and Philemon his master

2) Paul’s response on this case involving a slave

  • Paul’s letter of recommendation
  • The rhetoric of the letter
  • Request or social pressure?: “Paul…to Philemon…and the church in your house”


John’s Apocalypse (Revelation): The Fall of an Earthly Empire and the Establishment of God’s Kingdom

1. Introductory matters

  • Authorship and audience
  • Date and context: Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (compare other Jewish apocalypses)
  • What is an Apocalypse?
  • Apocalypticism (world-view), Millenial movements (social groups), and the genre of Apocalypse (writing)

2. Situation and Response

  • Situation:
    • Traditional explanations: Domitian’s persecution
    • Revised view: Futuristic visions that build upon some current or past incidents in order to convince followers of Jesus to maintain distance from “pagan” society and imperialism
    • Opponents in the letters: Followers of “Balaam” and “Jezebel” (Nicolaitans) (see Numbers 22-25; 1 Kings 18:4, 13; 19:1-2; 21:25-26)
      • Idol-food and “fornication” (metaphor for participation in “foreign” cultural practices)
  • Response:
    • Sectarian perspective of John’s Apocalypse
    • Call to endurance and worship of God and the Lamb (not the beast)
    • Distance from surrounding society: “Come out of her, my people…”(18:4-8)


  • Overview of the visions:
    • 1-3 Vision of Jesus and messages to the churches in Asia
    • 4-11 Vision in Heaven
    • 12-16 Vision of Signs (dragon and beasts), vision of plagues
    • 17-18 Vision of Babylon (= Rome), the great harlot, riding the beast
    • 19-20 Vision of final judgment and victory for the righteous
    • 21-22 Vision of the New Jerusalem

3. Visions of Beasts and Babylon: Attitudes toward the Roman empire (12-13, 17-18)

  • The military and religious critique of empire: Worship of the beast (ch. 13)
  • The economic critique of empire: Babylon the whore and the “fornicators” (chs. 17-18)
    • Links with the opponents in the letters (“fornication”)?


  • Comparison with other Christian attitudes towards Roman imperial society (see 1 Peter 2:11-17)
  • Group-society issues among early Christians: Defining community boundaries

4. Locating John’s Apocalypse within early Jesus movements

1 Peter: The Nature of Persecution and Relations with Outsiders

1. Introductory matters

  • Context:
    • 1) Asia Minor as a hub of early Christianity (cf. Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Pastoral Epistles, John’s Apocalypse, Johannine epistles, 1 Peter)
    • 2) Group-society relations: Christians and outsiders (“pagans”) and the issue of “persecution”


  • Authorship (pseudonymous) and date (late first century) of 1 Peter
  • Recipients: Ethnic and social identity (“aliens and exiles” – literal or figurative?; see 1:14-16; 4:3)
  • Genre: Diaspora letter (cf. Jeremiah 29:4-23; 2 Baruch 78-87; James)
  • Traditional approaches: 1 Peter as instruction manual for initiates (catechesis)?
    • Baptismal material (e.g. 3:18-22)
    • Baptism as initiation ritual within the Jesus movements: Paul on dying and rising with Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-11); taking off and putting on clothing metaphor (Colossians 3:-9-12)
  • Outline of structure:
    • 1:1-2:10: Hope through suffering: Spiritual household and holy priesthood (identity)
    • 2:11-3:7: Household code: Getting along with outsiders (“Gentiles”)
    • 3:8-4:19: Suffering for righteousness, like Christ
    • 5:1-14: Church leadership and closing

2. Situation and Response

  • Situation:
    • “Aliens” facing “suffering” and social harassment
      • Nature of the suffering: “Reviled” and “abused” (3:9, 13-17); “Abused”, “reproached”, and a “fiery ordeal” (4:4, 12-19; 5:9)
      • Roots of the “suffering” (1:14-18; 2:11; 4:3-4)



  • Response:
    • Comforting Christians and strengthening group identity: “holy priesthood” and “spiritual household” (1:1-2:10)


    • Alleviating tensions: Group-society relations (2:11-3:7)
      • Attitudes towards authorities and empire (2:11-17): “Honour the emperor” (contrast Revelation’s call to assail the “beast” = emperor and “whore” = Rome)
      • The household code (2:11-3:7)
        • Background: “Family values” in the Greco-Roman world (Aristotle and others)
        • Household codes in other Christian writings: Colossians, Ephesians; Pastorals


    • Diversity in early Christian attitudes and practices in relation to outsiders/society
      • Some cases we have seen: Thessalonica vs. Corinth; Pastorals vs. Thecla)
      • Cases to come: John’s Apocalypse and the issue of “idolatry” and “worshipping the beast”

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