Course Outline for Diversity in Early Christianity (HUMA 4825, version B; 2020-21)

General Information: Instructor: Philip Harland.  Office hour (by zoom – click here): Thursdays 2:30-3:30 or by appointment. Meetings: Fridays 11:30-2:20

  • Zoom link for Friday meetings: click here (must sign in with passport York login information and type in course password)

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 the origins of the Jesus movements, 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: RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, ESV or Jerusalem (but NOT King James or Message or Living translation or Good News).  A Bible can be purchased new or used online or at any used book store (the cheapest option).  Instead, you may also find eBibles online (in pdf or other forms) and print out specific books of the Bible on the appropriate weeks (e.g.  PDF loans also available on (e.g. search “Revised Standard Version”)
  • Linked readings in the course outline below.  Please print all pdfs, reading and studying them before bringing them to class for discussion Always bring the ancient sources with you each week.

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

  • Attendance at zoom or other meetings, question generation (at least once in Fall and once in Winter), ongoing participation in discussions, and three reading responses (if remote) or surprize quizzes (if in person) per term (3 in Fall, 3 in Winter): 15%
  • Presentation 1 (Fall): Analysis and explanation of scholarly argument / article: 10%
  • Essay 1: Analysis of primary source (due Fall week 6, 8 pages): 10%
  • Test 1 (Fall week 11 in class or remotely): 15%
  • Essay proposal and critical bibliography (due Fall week 9; 3 pages): 10%
  • Presentation 2 (Winter): DIscussion of your major research paper topic, especially key ancient sources you will be analyzing: 10%
  • Essay 2: Major research paper on a particular ancient group, movement, or writing (due Winter week 7; 10-12 pages): 15%
  • Test 2 (Winter week 11 in class, or remotely if necessary): 15%

 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.
  • Cell-phones, laptops, and other devices: All phones and devices must be completely turned off and remain unused during class (whether remotely or in person). Laptops or computers are permitted for note-taking and participation only, not for browsing or messaging.
  • 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)
  • Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, eds., Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2007). BR 195 J8 J49 in Scott library


Fall term: Styles of Jesus Adherence in Asia Minor with a Focus on Opponents


Week 1 (Sept 11): Intro –  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)
  • Readings after class:
    • Sumney, “Who are those ‘Servants of Satan’?” (link)
    • Harland, “Early Christian Apocrypha and the historiography of early Christianity (NT Apocrypha 6)” (link)

Judean, Philosophical (“docetic”), or Ascetic Trajectories

Week 2 (Sept 18): Paul and his opponents in Galatia – Debates about degrees of torah-observance among non-Judeans (50s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Galatians (Bible)
    • Barclay, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31 (1987) 73-93 (link)
  • Podcast lectures (if remote):
    • Paul and the situation in Galatia (link)
    • Paul’s response to the Galatians (link)

Week 3 (Sept 25): 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; 2 John 5-11 (Bible)
    • Brown, “When the Epistles Were Written: Johannine Internal Struggles” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (if remote):
    • Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1 (link)
    • A Schism in John’s Community, part 2 (link)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • Menken, “The Opponents in the Johannine Epistles: Fact or Fiction?” (link).
    • Painter, “The ‘Opponents’ in 1 John” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 4 (Oct 2): Opponents of Ignatius of Antioch – “Docetists” and/or “judaizers”? (ca. 110 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Ignatius’ letters to the Magnesians, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans (link)
    • Jerry L. Sumney “Those Who Ignorantly Deny Him: The Opponents of Ignatius of Antioch” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (if remote):
    • Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 1 (link)
    • Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2 (link)
  • Article presentation (two students):
    • Marshall, “The Objects of Ignatiusʼ Wrath and Jewish Angelic Mediators” (link).
    • Murray, “Christian Judaizing in Asia Minor: Revelation, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 5 (Oct 9): 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 lectures (if remote):
    • Legacies of Paul – Women’s leadership, part 1 (link)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • MacDonald, “the Oral Legends” and “The Storytellers” (link)
    • Dulk, “I Permit No Woman to Teach Except for Thecla” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

*Reading week October 10-16 – no classes*

Week 6 (Oct 23): Opponents in the Pastoral epistles – Ascetic rivals (ca. 110 CE)

  • Readings:
    • 1-2 Timothy, Titus (Bible)
    • MacDonald, “The Pastoral Epistles ‘Against Old Wives’ Tales'” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (if remote):
    • Legacies of Paul – Women’s leadership, part 2 (link)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • Towner, “Gnosis and Realized Eschatology in Ephesus (of The Pastoral Epistles) and the Corinthian Enthusiasm” (link)
    • Pietersen, “Despicable Deviants: Labelling Theory and the Polemic of the Pastorals” (link)
    • LaFosse, “Social Change, Intergenerational Conflict, and 1 Timothy” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

**Essay 1 due week 6 in class**

Apocalyptic and prophetic trajectories

Week 7 (Oct 30): John’s Apocalypse – Nicolaitans / “Jezebel” / Balaam and group-society relations (ca. 90s CE)

  • Readings:
    • John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) (esp. chapters 1-3, 13-18); Numbers 22-25; 1 Kings chapters 18-19 and 21 (Bible)
    • 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 (Bible)
    • Harland, “Honouring the Emperor or Assailing the Beast” (link).
  • Podcast lecture (if remote):
    • A Satanic Empire in John’s Apocalypse (ca. 80-100 CE) (link)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • deSilva, “The Revelation to John: A Case Study in Apocalyptic Propaganda and the Maintenance of Sectarian Identity” (link)
    • Friesen, “Satan’s Throne, Imperial Cults, and the Social Settings of Revelation” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 8 (Nov 6): 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)
    • Christine Trevett, “Gender, Authority and Church History: A Case Study of Montanism” (link).
  • Podcast lecture (if remote):
    • Marcionites and the Unknown God (link)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism” (link).
    • Tabernee, “Montanists and Persecution” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Other trajectories

Week 9 (Nov 13): Persecution and varying approaches to “martyrdom” – Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 160s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Look at 1 Peter again to solve what sort of “suffering” the addressees are facing
    • Martyrdom of Polycarp (link)
    • Pliny, Letters 10.96-97 (link)
    • Moss, “Asia Minor: Imitating Christ” (link)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • Thompson, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Death in the Roman Games” (link)
    • Cobb, “Polycarp’s Cup: Imitatio in the Martyrdom of Polycarp” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 10 (Nov 20): Marcion and Marcionite groups (from 150 CE)

  • Readings:
    • “Marcion and Marcionism” (link)
    • Tertullian, Against Marcion (Adversus Marcionem), book 1, sections TBA (link)
    • Judith Lieu, “The Principals of Marcion’s Thought and Their Context 1: God” (pages 323-366) and “Life and Practice (pages 387-397), in Marcion and the Making of a Heretic (link to ebook)
  • Article presentations (two students):
    • Lieu, “Marcion through Tertullian’s eyes,” (pages 50-85) in Marcion and the Making of a Heretic (link to ebook)
    • Wilson, “Marcion and the Jews” (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 11 (Nov 27) : **In class test 1**

Week 12 (Dec 4) – Film

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

Corinth in Southern Greece

Week 1 (Jan 15): Paul and Jesus adherents at Corinth 1 – Divisions among Jesus adherents (50s CE)

  • Readings:
    • 1 Corinthians (Bible)
    • Winter, “The Influence of Secular Ethics” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (if remote):
    • Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 1 (link)
    • Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 2 (link)
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 3 (Jan 29): Paul and Jesus adherents at Corinth 2 – “Super-apostles” (50s CE)

  • Readings:
    • 2 Corinthians (Bible)
    • Witherington, “The Background and Foreground of the Letter” (link)
  • Podcast lectures (if remote):
    • Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 3 (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 4 (Feb 5): 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 (link)
    • Jeffers? or Welborn, “Reconstruction” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Rome in Italy

Week 5 (Feb 12): Judeans at Rome, the earliest Jesus adherents, and the Nero incident (60s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Tacitus, Annals 2.85.4-5 (link); Suetonius, Tiberius 36.1 (link); Josephus, Antiquities 18.65-81 (link); Dio Cassius, Roman History 57.18.5 (link) (expulsions of Judeans from Rome under Tiberius in 19 CE)
    • Suetonius, Claudius 25.4 (link); Dio Cassius, Roman History 60.6.6 (link), Acts 18.2 (link) (expulsions of Judeans from Rome under Claudius in the 40s CE)
    • Tacitus, Annals 15.38-44 (link) (Nero, the fire and Jesus adherents)
    • Paul’s Letter to the Romans, especially chapter 13 and 16 (Bible)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

* Reading week Feb. 13-19 – no classes*

Week 6 (Feb 26): Shepherd of Hermas – Rich and poor among adherents at Rome (ca. 70-140 CE)

  • Readings:
    • Shepherd of Hermas, focussing on visions 1-4 (link)
    • Gregory, “Disturbing Trajectories” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 8 (March 12): Justin’s petitions to the emperor (ca. 150s CE)

  • Readings:
    • Justin, First Apology (link); Second Apology, chapters 1-3 only (link)
    • Van der Lans, “Written Media” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 7 (March 5): 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)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 9 (March 19): Minucius Felix’s Dialogue (ca. 210 CE ?)

  • Readings:
    • Minucius Felix, Octavius, especially sections 5-13 and 28-31 (link)
    • Rives, “Human Sacrifice Among Pagans and Christians” (link)
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):
  • Responsible for question generation (two students):

Week 10 (March 26): Review and discussion

  • Readings: TBA
  • Presentations on major paper topic (two students):

Week 11 (April 2): **In class test 2**

Week 12 (April 9): Film – TBA


Presentations and question generation

Beyond all students’ regular participation in class discussions every week, each student will have opportunity to contribute in three other ways.  Each student will:

  • (1) Carefully study and then present (10 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) Present to the class on the chosen major research paper topic (10 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.
  • (3) Take turns generating three substantial discussion questions from the common readings.  The purpose here is to facilitate discussion of the ancient readings or weekly scholarly articles among other students. You will hand in a hardcopy and email attachment of the four questions to me before class begins. As prof, I will then call upon the current week’s students for discussion questions at appropriate points. We may or may not use all your questions.

Essay 1: Analysis of primary sources (8 pages double-spaced, no longer)

  • Step 1: Thoroughly read and study the Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Pastoral epistles (1-2 Timothy, 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 varying 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 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.

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?


Research paper / Winter term presentation topics

  • Opponents of Paul at Galatia
  • Oppontents of Paul at Corinth
  • Docetism
  • Opponents of Ignatius
  • Opponents of John’s epistles
  • Opponents of the Pastoral Epistles
  • Style of the Acts of Paul and Thecla
  • Marcionites
  • Montanists or Phrygians
  • Valentinians
  • Ebionites
  • Manichees

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