Christian Origins, part 2 (version B) – Jesus Adherents as Minorities in the Diaspora (HUMA 3422; Winter 2020)

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

Course Description and Aims: This course explores Christian origins through writings produced after the first generation of the movement (after the death of Paul around 64 CE). Ranging across a variety of types of literature (in and beyond the New Testament), including gospels, we will explore the ways in which Jesus adherents expressed their self-understandings and navigated experiences of living as minorities within local communities under Roman imperial rule in a diaspora context.   In the process, we will consider how followers of Jesus expressed their relationship to varied dimensions of both Israelite and Greco-Roman culture.  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 a modern translation: e.g. NRSV, RSV, NEB, Jerusalem Bible (not King James)
  • Maia Kotrosits, Rethinking Early Christian Identity: Affect, Violence, and Belonging (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015).
  • Linked “readings” in the course outline below (please print all pdfs, read and study them, and bring them to class for discussion)

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, Fall term)
  • Assignment 2 (paper: book review): 20% (due week 9, Fall term)
  • In-class final test: 30% (week 11, Fall term)
    • Total: 100%


 ***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: There is further information on how to achieve academic integrity at:
  • 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.


Discussion outline

Week 1 (Jan 9): Academic study of the early Jesus movements and the ancient Mediterranean cultural context

  • Readings: Distributed in class

Week 2 (Jan 16): Problematizing “Christian identity” – Ignatius’ epistles

  • Readings: Ignatius, Epistles (link); Kotrosits, introduction and chapter 1; article on opponents???

Week 3 (Jan 23): Jesus adherents in diaspora – 1 Peter

  • Readings: 1 Peter (in Bible); Kotrosits, chapter 2;

Week 4 (Jan 30): Israel, Rome, and diaspora – Acts of the Apostles

  • Readings: Acts (in Bible); Kotrosits, chapter 3

*Academic integrity assignment due*

Week 5 (Feb 6): Colonial experience in Platonic philosophical terms – Secret Revelation of John

  • Readings: Secret Revelation of John (link); Isaiah 40-55; Kotrosits, chapter 4

Assignment 1 (paper) due week 5 at the beginning of class*

Week 6 (Feb 13): Responses to Roman imperialism – John’s Apocalypse

  • Readings: John’s Apocalypse / Revelation (in Bible);  Kotrosits, “Citizens of Fallen Cities / Ruines, Diaspora, and the Material Unconscious” (link — ADD)

**Feb 15-21 – Reading week*

Week 7 (Feb 27): Book of Hebrews

  • Readings: Hebrews (in Bible);  ADDITIONAL READING??

Week 8 (March 5): Gospel of John

  • Readings: Gospel of John (in Bible); Kotrosits, chapter 5

Week 9 (March 12): Gospel of Truth

  • Readings: Gospel of Truth (link); Kotrosits, chapters 6-7 and conclusion

Week 10 (March 19): Fisher Rare Book LIbrary (4:30-6:30pm)

Week 11 (March 26): Test in class

Week 12 (April 2): Documentary – Apocalypse!



Assignment 1 (analysis of primary source):??? (5 pages double-spaced)

  • Step 1: Read and thoroughly study ???.
  • Step 2: Write an essay in which you ??.

Assignment 3 (academic book review): Academic book review (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 Journal of Biblical Literature or Classical Review through the 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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