Christian Origins, part 1 (version B) – Pauline Communities and Issues of Ethnicity (HUMA 3421; Fall 2019)

General information: Philip Harland (pharland-at-yorku-dot-ca).  Meetings: Thursdays 4-7pm.  Office hour (Vanier 248): TBA

Course Description and Aims: This course explores Christian origins through the earliest surviving writings regarding followers of Jesus, placing these writings by Paul within social, cultural and ethnic contexts in the ancient Mediterannean.  In the process, we will consider a range of worldviews and practices of groups devoted to Jesus, looking at transformations which took place as a Judean movement made its way into the broader Greco-Roman world.  Students will gain some control of both the content of early texts and the environment in which the Jesus movements were born, as well as an ability to analyze primary materials from an historical perspective.  We will also seek to develop students’ critical skills, including skills of argumentation, written presentation and verbal presentation.

Required Readings

  • Bible in modern translation: e.g. NRSV, RSV, NEB, or Jerusalem Bible with Apocrypha (not King James)
  • Linked readings in the course outline below (please print all pdfs, read and study them, and bring them to class for discussion)
  • For book review: Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).  E-book available on York library system via Oxford (link) or via Scholar’s Portal (link).

Course Requirements and Evaluation (see end of syllabus for full assignment descriptions)

  • Class attendance, participation, question generation: 15%
  • Quizzes – Beginning of class surprize quizzes on weekly readings: 20%
  • Academic integrity tutorial and test: link. Students must print out and hand in perfect test results before the first assignment (due week 4)
  • Assignment 1 (paper: analysis of primary source): 15% (due week 5)
  • Assignment 2 (paper: book review): 20% (due week 9)
  • In-class final test: 30% (week 11)
    • Total: 100%

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***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 sources) before attending classes and tutorials for a particular week, coming prepared for discussion.
  • Penalties for lateness: All assignments are due at the beginning of class. 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 the instructor as soon as possible to determine an appropriate solution together. My aim is fairness both to you and to your fellow students.
  • Academic honesty and plagiarism policies: Absolutely no form of plagiarism will be tolerated. All cases will be prosecuted to the fullest. Students are responsible for reading the university policies concerning academic honesty at: http://www.yorku.ca/secretariat/policies/document.php?document=69. There is further information on how to achieve academic integrity at: https://spark.library.yorku.ca/academic-integrity-what-is-academic-integrity/.
  • Cell-phones, laptops, and other devices: All cell-phones and other hand-held devices must be completely turned off and remain unused during class and tutorial times. Laptops are permitted for note-taking only. Any other use of laptops (or other devices) for internet surfing, tweeting, or messaging is a distraction (both to you and to your fellow students) that will not be permitted.

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Discussion outline

Week 1 (Sept 5): Academic study of the early Jesus movements and Paul’s ethnic identifications of self and others

  • Readings: Philippians 3:1-16; 2 Corinthians 11:5-12:13; Galatians 1:6-2:14 (distributed in class for discussion)
  • Special topics for discussion: How do we study early Christianity academically in the context of the discipline of Religious Studies?  What importance did ethnic identifications have for Paul?

Week 2 (Sept 12): Positioning Judeans and a Judean movement in a Greco-Roman context – Ethnicity, ancestral customs, and foreign “superstitions”

  • Readings: Tacitus, Histories 5.1-13 (link); Tacitus, Annals 15.38-44 (link); Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97 (link); Hodges. “Jews and Non-Jews: Paul’s Ethnic Map” (link)

Week 3 (Sept 19): Contemporary Judeans and other peoples 1 – Josephos

  • Readings: Josephos, Against Apion selections (link); Esler, “Judean Ethnic Identity in Josephus’  Against Apion” (link)

Week 4 (Sept 26): Contemporary Judeans and other peoples 2 – Philo and others

  • Readings: Philo, Against Flaccus (link); Harland, “Climbing the Ethnic Ladder” (link)

Week 5 (Oct 3): Documentary – Peter and Paul and the Christian Revolution

*Assignment 1 (analysis of primary source) due week 5 at the beginning of class*

Week 6 (Oct 10): Greeks and Macedonians join a Judean movement – First Thessalonians

  • Readings: First Thessalonians (in Bible); Knust, “Paul, the Slaves of Desire, and the Saints of God” (link)

**Reading week Oct 14-18**

Week 7 (Oct 24): Debates concerning Judean ancestral customs: Paul, the “Judaizers” and the Galatians

  • Readings: Galatians (in Bible); Johnson Hodge, “Negotiating Multiple Identities” (link)

Week 8 (Oct 31): Romans part 1 or 1 Corinthians – concannon?

  • Readings: 1 Corinthians (in Bible); ???

Week 9 (Nov 7): Ethnic tension and interaction at Rome: Judeans, Greeks and “God’s people”

  • Readings: Romans (in Bible); Esler, “The Weak and the Strong” (link); “Judeans and Jesus-followers at Rome” (link);

*Assignment 2 (book review) due week 9 at the beginning of class*

Week 10 (Nov 14): Course synthesis and discussion of Johnson Hodges If Sons, Then Heirs

Week 11 (Nov 21): Test 1 in class

Week 12 (Nov 28): Documentary on Paul and his communities

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ASSIGNMENT DESCRIPTIONS

Assignment 1 (analysis of primary source): The Jesus movements through elite Roman eyes (5 pages double-spaced)

  • Step 1: Re-read and thoroughly study the passages in Tacitus and Pliny the Younger regarding followers of Jesus or “Christians” (Christianae) which were linked as readings in week two.  Also read Wilken’s article on “Pliny: A Roman Gentleman” for background (link).
  • Step 2: Write an essay in which you imagine that you are an elite Roman like Pliny the Younger or Tacitus and describe (to another Roman or Greek) your perceptions of followers of Jesus, paying special attention to issues of ethnicity, Judean (Jewish) culture, and foreign “superstition.”  Be attentive to what things these Jesus adherents do, but also to what they do not do. Be sure to indicate why you (as a Roman) hold these views regarding Jesus adherents.

Assignment 3 (academic book review): Review of Caroline Johnson Hodge, If Sons, Then Heirs: A Study of Kinship and Ethnicity in the Letters of Paul (via Oxford link or Scholar’s Portal link).  (5 pages double-spaced).

  • Step 1: To familiarize yourself with the genre of the academic book review, read at least five book reviews that interest you in the Journal of Biblical Literature or Classical Review via the York library system.
  • Step 2: With a focus on the arguments and main points, read the book carefully.
  • Step 3: Write an academic book review of the book (in the form of an essay), which entails:
    • Explaining 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 points.
    • Providing a critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Does the author achieve what he set out to do? Is the argument convincing or not, and in what ways? What theoretical assumptions and/or value judgments 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.

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