Discussion Notes for Christian Origins (HUMA 3421 / 3422), version A – Ethnicity and Diaspora


  • HUMA 3421: Pauline Communities and Issues of Ethnicity (from ca. 40-65 CE)
  • HUMA 3422: Jesus Adherents as Minorities in the Diaspora (c. 65-135 CE)

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HUMA 3421

Introduction to Paul, Pauline Communities and Issues of Ethnicity

1. Scholarly approaches to the study of ancient society and early Jesus adherents and the problem of categories (e.g. “religion” and “ethnicity”)

  • Academic approaches to the study of ancient Judeans (Jews) and early Jesus adherents (e.g. Religious Studies and historical approaches) – what we are not doing in this course (e.g. theology)
  • Difficulties with the category of “religion” in the study of ancient society (e.g. Nongbri 2013): Modern compartmentalization of human activity into politics, religion, economics, etc
  • Usefullness of the category of “ethnicity” for making sense of Paul and his communities (e.g. Johnson Hodge 2007)
    • Our experiment: Focus on issues of ethnicity as a new angle on understanding the earliest evidence for followers of Jesus, both Paul and those he addresses in his letters

2.  Paul, his “gentile” audience, and ethnic discourses

  • Introducing Paul and his communities
    • A movement devoted to the Israelite or Judean god makes its way into a non-Judean world – the Judean Paul as key transition figure
    • Paul’s letters as real letters addressed to real people (in Galatia, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, etc) – overview and nature of our evidence
    • Non-Judeans as outsiders or insiders?
      • Paul’s Judean ethnic discourse: Judean language of us (Judeans) and them (“gentiles” / “peoples”) –  Peoples as failures (“sinners”)
      • Paul’s aim of including gentiles in a movement devoted to the Israelite / Judean god
        • Paul’s notion that god or Jesus called him for a mission – Paul’s teaching (e.g. 1 Thess 1)
        • Controversies surrounding Paul’s aim and announcement (“gospel”): Conflicts of Jerusalem leadership and others / circumcision debate (e.g. Galatians 1-2)
  • Paul’s ethnic categories
    • Paul’s ethnic self-identifications: Discussion of “autobiographical” passages (link)
    • Paul on other “peoples” /  “gentiles” (ethnē)


Positioning Judeans and a Judean movement in a Greco-Roman context – Ethnicity, ancestral customs, and foreign “superstitions”

1. Defining ethnicity and ethnic identification: Discussion of reading in Harland

  • Social scientific approaches to ethnicity and identification (e.g. Howard 2000, Sanders 2007)
  • Constructed, ascriptive and fluid nature of ethnicity, not primordial or static (as often portrayed by participants or members).  Contrast nineteenth century notions of “race”.
  • Identification and belonging based on insiders’ and/or outsiders’ notions of:
    • (1) shared blood, kinship, or ancestry, whether fictive or otherwise
    • (2) shared cultural customs and symbols for interpreting and explaining life in the world (cf. Clifford Geertz within cultural anthropology)
    • (3) common sense of attachment to a real or imagined homeland
  • Simultaneous importance and interplay between (1) insiders’ self-understandings and (2) outsiders’ categorizations or stereotypes (e.g. Jenkins 1994)
    • Stereotypes about other peoples and the formation of ethnic hierarchies (hegemonic and otherwise)

2. Cultural life and ethnicity in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds

  • Diversity of peoples and cultures in the ancient Mediterranean: Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Syrians / Phoenicians, Egyptians, etc.
    • “Ancestral customs” / culture and the place of gods / goddesses
    • Israelite and Judean culture in context — overlaps (e.g. honouring the god, temple and sacrifice) and distinctions (e.g. “monotheism,” scriptures)
  • Hegemonic ethnic groups in our period:  Hellenistic (from Alexander on) and then Roman (from Augustus on) powers
  • Cultural encounters and acculturation
    • Hellenistic and Roman cultures in interaction with subject peoples (e.g. the “Hellenization” of Judean society and culture)
    • Diasporas. migration, and interactions (e.g. of the Judean diaspora)

3. Greek and Roman perceptions and stereotypes about Israelites or Judeans and their ancestral customs

  • Outsider’s perceptions and ethnic identification
  • Ethnography in the Greco-Roman context
  • Tacitus on the Judeans (discussion)
  • Tacitus and Pliny on a Judean movement / Jesus adherents (discussion)


Contemporary Judeans and other peoples 1 – Philo and Ethnic Hierarchies

1. Philo of Alexandria’s social and cultural context

  • Introduction to the Judean diaspora (photos and AGRW inscriptions)
    • Judeans in Egypt
  • Philo’s social status and family
    • Alexander his brother and Tiberius Julius Alexander his nephew)
  • Philo’s education – Judean scripture and Hellenistic philosophy
  • Ethnic tensions in Alexandria between Egyptians, Greeks, and Judeans under Roman rule (context of Philo’s old age)
    • Clashes between Greek Alexandrians and Judean Alexandrians in 38-41 CE: Discussion of events outlined in Philo’s Against Flaccus
    • Philo’s role in the embassy to Gaius Caligula

2. Philo, stereotypes of Egyptians and ethnic hierarchies:  Discussion of hegemonic and other hierarchies (Harland article)

  • Judean responses to hegemonic categorizations and hierarchies
  • Judean self-identification and claims of superiority
  • Judean categorizations of other ethnic peoples


Contemporary Judeans and other peoples 2 – Josephos

1. Josephus of Jerusalem’s social and cultural context

  • Josephus’ social status and family
  • Josephus’ life, education and writings
    • Josephus, the Judean war, and Josephus’ time in Rome
    • Judean War, Antiquities, Life, Against Apion

2. Josephus, Judean Ethnicity, and Ethnic Relations:  Discussion of Against Apion and Esler article

  • Esler on the six characteristics of ethnicity
  • Against Apion
    • Part 1: Superiority of “barbarian” methods of documentation, inferiority of Greek — Judeans count
    • Part 2: Refuting stereotypes (by Apion and others) regarding the inferiority of Judeans
      • Judean / Egyptian rivalries again
    • Part 3: Affirming the superiority of Judeans / Israelites and their ancestral customs


Greeks and Macedonians join a Judean movement – First Thessalonians

1. Thessalonica and Paul’s relations with Jesus adherents there

  • The situation at Thessalonica and Paul’s response
    • Identifying Paul’s audience
      • Ethnicity
      • Social-economic status
        • Paul’s identification with his audience: Paul’s occupation as a handworker and its significance
      • History of Paul’s relations with them: Paul’s initial teaching to non-Judeans (“gentiles”)
    • Issues of concern among Jesus-followers:
      • Afflictions: Social harassment
      • Death of fellow members: Apocalyptic outlook
    • Paul’s Response: Comforting converts faced with affliction or social dislocation:
      • The tone of 1 Thess: “…like a nurse…”; familial language
      • Paul as example
      • Relations with outsiders (countering tensions)
      • Paul’s apocalyptic world-view and Christ’s “coming” (parousia): “…concerning those who are asleep…”

3.  Some questions to guide discussion:

  • What evidence is there in this letter regarding Paul’s interactions with those at Thessalonica in the past? Is his relationship with them positive or negative? What has occured before the writing of this letter?
  • What did Paul teach these people when he was with them?
  • What is the ethnicity of the people who are addressed? Are they Judeans or non-Judeans (Greeks would be an option, since Thessalonica would be populated mainly by Greeks)? What evidence would you point to in the letter regarding possible ethnic identifications?
  • What Judean perspectives or stereotypes about non-Judeans does Paul the Judean hold? What importance do sexual practices play in connection with ethnicity and ethnic stereotypes?


Paul’s Judean stereotypes regarding non-Judeans or Greeks: Sexual perversion and idolatry

1.  Background:  Foreign peoples and their customs (and avoidance of them) in Israelite and Judean culture

  • Hebrew Bible: Sexual language for involvement in foreign practices (of the Canaanites)
  • Canaanites and the new Canaanites:  Discussion of Wisdom of Solomon 12-14 (link; first century BCE)

2. Judean stereotypes regarding other ethnic groups (“gentiles” = “peoples”): Sexually perverted Greeks

  • The paraenetic section (1 Thess 4:1-12): Paul’s instructions and exhortations
  • Discussion of Knust article in relation to 1 Thess 4, 1 Corinthians 5-7 and Romans 1

3. Discussion of Galatians 1:1-2:16 on interactions between Judeans and Gentiles (avoidance and contact) and Paul’s perspectives (prelude to next week)

  • Figuring out a conundrum: Judean stereotypes of the peoples and Paul’s mission to bring the Israelite god to the “sinful peoples”


Debates concerning Judean ancestral customs: Paul, the “Judaizers” and the Galatians

1. Galatia and the history of Paul’s activity in relation to the situation

  • Northern (ethnic) Galatia or Southern (Phrygian) Galatia?
    • Paul’s journeys in Southern Galatia according to Acts (13:13-14:20; 16:1-6; Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Derbe)
  • The Jerusalem meeting (Gal. 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-35), Judean Jesus-followers and Paul’s collection (see Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:23-32)

3. The situation and the response with attention to ethnicity

  • Situation:
    • Ethnic identity of Jesus-followers (cf. 4:8)
    • Opponents: The “circumcision party” and Judaizers with a “different gospel”
      • Rationale of the opponents: Circumcision, proselytes and God-fearers in Judean culture
      • The primary issue is circumcision as an entrance requirement into the community of God and sign of favoured status (not salvation after death through works)
  • Response:
    • Paul’s tone: “O foolish Galatians!”
    • Paul’s methods: Hellenistic rhetoric; Judean biblical interpretation
    • Paul, the Law and the peoples (Gentiles): Circumcision is not an entrance requirement
      • Paul’s defence of his circumcision-free gospel
      • The issue of the inclusion of the peoples (Gentiles) in the people of God (the mission to the peoples) as the guiding principle in Paul’s view
    • 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”
      • Allegorical interpretation of scripture: Sarah and Hagar


Ethnic tension and interaction at Rome: Judeans, Greeks and “God’s people”

1. The city of Rome, capital of the empire

2. The situation at Rome that led Paul to write his letter

  • Traditional views: Romans as a summary of Paul’s theology
  • New view: Romans as a response to a concrete situation

a) Situation among Judeans at Rome

  • Synagogues (about 10-15 attested, some based on district, others on geographical links)
  • Origins of earliest groups of Jesus-followers within Judean gatherings (e.g. Prisca and Aquila)
  • Scholarly theories, including the issue of Roman authorities’ actions or expulsions (see Suetonius and Acts 18:2; Dio Cassius on restriction of meetings; collegia):
    • Wolfgang Wiefel’s thesis: Return of expelled Judeans to predominantly Greek groups of Jesus-followers after expulsion relating to conflicts over “Christ” (of 49
      CE, or 47-50 CE)
    • Philip Esler’s proposal: Whether expulsion or not, still ethnic conflict

b) Situation within groups of Jesus adherents

  • Identity of Paul’s addressees and the house churches at Rome (Romans 16)
    • 26 identified individuals: 7 probably Judeans, Latin names, Greek names
    • Primary addressees as Greeks
  • Divisions and tensions along ethnic lines (Greeks vs. Judeans) as the primary issue
    • Discussion: Greeks (“the strong”) feeling superior to Judeans (“the weak”): Case of the food and days in chapters 14-15 (contrast situation at Galatia)

3. Paul’s response

  • Paul’s purposes in writing (Going west, collection for Jerusalem, address ethnic conflict)
  • Rhetoric and the diatribe (imaginary opponents and hypothetical objections)
  • Paul, the Law and second-Temple Judean culture (again!?)
  • Paul’s response to the divisions and claims of superiority: “To the Judean first and also to the Greek” – “God shows no partiality”

A) Greeks and Judeans equally failures and in need of reconciliation with the Israelite god (ch. 1-8)

  • The other peoples (Greeks) are wicked and guilty: Idolatry and sexual immorality (1-2:16)
  • Judeans also under the power of sin (2:17-3:20)
    •  “What is the value of circumcision?  Much in every way.” (3:1)
    •  “Are we Judeans any better off?  No, not at all.” (3:9)
    • “For there is no distinction”: Made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ, not by law (3:21-31)
    • Abraham as the “father of us all”, both Judeans and the other peoples (4)
    • Christ as the second Adam in Paul’s typological thinking (5)
    • Dead to sin (6): Baptism in Paul’s view and the context of this ritual (also see 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27-28)
  • Sin as a power (7)
  • Flesh and spirit: Children of God (8)

B) If Judeans and the peoples have access to reconciliation with the Israelite god, what is the place of Israel in the plan (ch. 9-11)

  •   The remnant and Israel’s stumble (9)
  •   “Has God rejected his people? By no means!” (11)
  •   Israel stumbles but does not fall: “all Israel will be saved”
    •   Israel’s stumble is the peoples’ gain
      •   The olive tree analogy: “do not become proud” (11:20)
      •   Mercy: “all Israel will be saved” (11:26)

C) Parenesis and moral exhortation (12-13)

  • “I bid everyone . . . not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” (12:3)
  • “Be subject to the governing authorities” (13:1): Paul’s civic advice in context
  • Fulfill the law (13:8-10)



HUMA 3422

Introduction to the Gospels

1.  What are the gospels?

  • What kind of writing (genre) are the gospels (Richard Burridge’s synthesis):  Ancient historical-biographies: “Lives” (bioi) of Jesus; focus on stereotyped character and identity; Who is Jesus? as a central question
  • Writings with axes to grind: The historical Jesus vs. the Christ of faith
  • Surviving gospels: Canonical (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and non-canonical (e.g. Gospel of Thomas)
  • Dates, authorship and other introductory issues

2.  How did the gospels come about in the form we have them?

  • The process: Stages in the transmission of traditions used in the gospels
  • The methods of form criticism (esp. since 1919 – R. Bultmann): Identifying types of material originally passed on in oral form and relating this to settings in the life of the early churches

3.  What relationships are there among the gospels?

  • Similarities and differences in content and arrangement of the material in the gospels
  • The methods of source criticism (since late 1700s)
  • The “Synoptic problem”: Hypotheses of literary relationship
    • 1) Griesbach (Two-gospel) hypothesis (Mt first; Lk used Mt; Mk used both Lk and Mt)
    • 2) Markan priority without Q (Mk first; Mt second; Lk used both Mk and Mt)
    • 3) Two-source hypothesis, also known as four-source hypothesis (Mk first; Mt and Lk used Mk and another [hypothetical] sayings-source, called Q)

4.  Gospels as stories and portraits of Jesus

  • Gospels as more or less coherent stories with specific intentions and purposes
  • Redaction criticism (esp. since 1950s): Identifying the purposes and tendencies of specific gospel writers (how did an author revise and re-shape available material)
  • Literary and narrative approaches to the gospels (plots, characters and narrative development — esp. since the 1980s)

5.  Other historical approaches

  • Doing social history: Gospels as windows into community life?
  • Historical Jesus research: Problems in finding the Judean peasant

The Gospel of Mark: Jesus as Suffering Son

1.  Introductory matters: Authorship, date, audience

  • Traditional explanation of the origin of Mark’s gospel: Papias
  • Date (c. 65-80 CE): Internal evidence: Nature of the material; references to the Temple.  External evidence: Literary relation with Mt and Lk
  • Gentile identity of author and audience from internal evidence:  Lack of familiarity with Judean/Judean geography and culture

2.  Mark’s Story of Jesus: The suffering son of Man

  • Distinctive features or central themes of Mark’s gospel:
    • Jesus’ identity (as the son of God and Christ/Messiah)
    • Jesus’ authority; Secrecy (the “messianic secret”)
    • Jesus’ message about the impending rule (“kingdom”) of God
    • Jesus at odds with others – ongoing conflicts between Jesus and other characters in the narrative
  • Settings, characters, and plot:
    • Identity of Jesus; centrality of his death (tragedy and triumph)
    • Unfolding of the plot –  Ongoing conflicts between Jesus and other characters:  1) Non-human forces; 2) Authorities; 3) Disciples/students

–   Outline of the story (see handout)

3.  Locating Mark’s gospel

  • Jesus, the suffering Son of man: Mark’s Christology and the humanity of Jesus
  • Discipleship: Pick up your cross and follow
  • Gentiles and Jesus: Where does Mark fit

The Gospel of Matthew:  Jesus as Davidic Messiah and New Moses


1.  Introductory matters: Authorship, date, audience

  • Traditional attribution: Matthew the tax-collector
  • Internal and external evidence:  Judean Christian author and audience, probably in Syria
    (Antioch), c. 80-90 CE
  • Matthew’s sources: Mk, Q, other oral and written
    material (M)
  • Distinctive features of Matthew’s gospel:
    • Five great discourses (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25)
    • Organizational patterns and doubling motifs
    • Prominence of Peter
    • Jesus explicitly talks about “the assembly/church” as an institution
    • Strong Judean orientation

2.  Matthew’s Story of Jesus: Davidic Messiah and new Moses

  • Central themes and flow of the narrative
  • Key themes in the plot: Presence of God (Jesus is “God with us”); Jesus’ Identity; Jesus’ conflict with the Judean authorities; Rejection of Jesus

        Outline (see handout for more detail)

  • Part I: Presentation of Jesus (1-4:16)
  • Part II
    • a): Teaching and healing activity of Jesus (4:17-11:1)
    • b): Repudiation of Jesus (11:2-16:20)
  • Part III: Journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and his passion
    and resurrection (16:21-28:20)

3.  Locating Matthew’s gospel and community

  • Judean author and community
    • Judean forms of following Jesus: Peter and the Judean leaders at Jerusalem
  • The Matthean community in conflict with other Judean groups
    • Emergence of  Rabbinic Judaism in the late first century
    • Interpretation of the law and the prophets (claiming Jesus’ identity as the Judean Messiah; differing interpretations of the Judean law)
  • Portrait of Jesus: Jesus as the Son of God, deserving of “worship” / bowing the knee (higher Christology than Mark, but lower than John’s gospel)

Luke-Acts volume 1: The Gospel of Luke – Jesus as Saviour and Prophet like Elijah

1. Introductory matters: Author, audience, date, genre (historiography)

  • Luke as a 2-volume work: Story of Jesus and the church
  • Traditional authorship: Luke the physician and companion of Paul (Col 4:14)
    • “We” passages (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16)
    • Internal evidence: Well-educated Gentile or Hellenistic Judean
      • Richest vocabulary in the New Testament
      • Communicating across cultural lines to the diverse world of the Roman empire
  • Date (80-90 CE)
  • Luke-Acts as history: Generic and other similarities with Josephus (discussion in tutorial):1) Preface; 2) Speeches; 3) Exciting material; 4) Apologetic history
  • Sources: Material unique to Lk (L) accounts for half of the gospel
  • Distinctive features and main themes of Luke’s gospel:
  • 1) Historical context: Jesus and the church within world history
  • 2) Concern with the outcasts and oppressed of society
  • 3) Centrality of the Holy Spirit
  • 4) Centrality of Jerusalem
  • 5) Continuity of devotion to Jesus with Judean culture (fulfilment)
  • 6) Success of Jesus’ mission through his disciples and the church

2. Luke’s story of Jesus: Jesus the prophet and “saviour” in cross-cultural terms (Judean and Greco-Roman)

  • Judean: Prophet; Messiah; Son of Man; suffering servant of Isaiah (Acts 8:30-35); Elijah (Malachi 4:5); Moses (Deut 18:15; see Acts 3:22; 7:37)
  • Greco-Roman: Saviour and benefactor; travelling philosopher; god-man

Outline of the narrative ( with a focus on the identity of Jesus as prophet and saviour)

1. Jesus’ birth and his relation to John the Baptist (1:1-4:13)

  • Saviour to the poor and “lowly” (1:51-52; 2:8-14)
  • Son of God – the god-man

2. Teaching and healing activity in Galilee (4:14-9:50; includes the “little interpolation”, 6:20-8:3)

  • Anointed prophet to the socially marginalized – the poor, captives, blind, and oppressed (4:16-21; cf. 7:22; Isaiah 61:1-2)
  • Prophet like Elijah and Elisha (4:25-27; see Malachi 4:5)
  • Healings that illustrate this identity as prophet like Elijah
  • Friend of tax-collectors and sinners (socially marginalized)
  • Inaugural sermon: Blessed are the poor and hungry, woe to the rich and full (6:17-26)
  • Following in Elijah‘s footsteps: Healing of the widow’s son (// 1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • “Who are you?”: Prophet of Isaiah 61 and the marginalized again (blind, lame, lepers, deaf, dead are raised, poor)
  • “If this man were a prophet” he would not have anything to do with a sinner-woman (7:39)
  • Elijah or an “ancient prophet” (9:7-8, 16-20) – Prophet and Messiah (anointed)
  • Jesus’ Exodus (“departure”) (prophet like Moses) (9:31)

3. Journey (departure / Exodus) towards Jerusalem (9:51-19:44; “big interpolation”)

  • “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51)
  • Organization of the big interpolation not clear: disciples mission, teachings, parables, healings
  • Women: Mary and Martha (10:38-42)
  • Parable of a rich man (12:13-21)
  • Lament over Jerusalem: “it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem” (13:33)
  • Parable of great dinner redaction: poor, crippled, blind, lame (cf. Isaiah 61)
  • Parable of rich man and poor man (16:19-31)
  • Parable of the tax-collector (18:9-14)
  • Parable of the rich ruler (18:18-25)

4. Teaching and healing activity in Jerusalem (19:45-21:38)

  • Rich people and a poor widow (21:1-4)

5. Passion and resurrection (22:1-24:53)

  • Unique trial before Herod Antipas (23:6-12)
  • Jesus of Nazareth, “who was a prophet” (24:19, 27)
  • Everything must be fulfilled (24:44)
  • Ascension like Elijah (24:50-53)

3. Locating Luke-Acts

  • Luke-Acts and the other canonical gospels: Judean and Greco-Roman cultural terms
  • Luke-Acts in relation to Pauline groups:
    • Pauline connections and themes…yet does not seem to know Paul’s letters!

Luke-Acts volume 2: Acts and the Story of the Church

1. Introductory matters

  • Acts as history

2. Acts’ story of the church:

  • Success of a legitimate movement from Jerusalem to “the end of the earth”
  • Acts’ connections with volume 1
  • Main themes and purposes of Acts (in addition to the themes of volume 1):
    • 1) The Holy Spirit and the success of the church
    • 2) Legitimization/apologetic purposes:
      • a) “Not in a corner” — the Jesus movement as politically innocuous
      • b) Judean roots of following Jesus and, therefore, antiquity/legitimacy
    • 3) The unity of the early church: The Judean-Gentile issue


  • Part 1: The origins and success of the church in Jerusalem under Peter (chs. 1-8)
  • Part 2: The dissemination and success from Jerusalem to the world under Paul (chs. 9-20)
  • Part 3: Paul’s arrest and trials: “proclaiming the kingdom of God” in Rome (chs. 21-28)

The Gospel of John: Jesus as Son and Revelation (Self-Expression) of the Father

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship, audience, date: “Beloved disciple” tradition; Johannine school/community
  • Date (c. 90-100 CE): Expelled from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2)
  • Sources and composition:  Signs source; stages of editing
  • Distinctive features:
  • Widespread use of symbolism and dualism
  • Content and style of Jesus’ teaching: Philosophical discourses about himself (no parables about the kingdom!)
  • Emphasis on the role of the Spirit/Paraclete
  • Jesus’ miracles as “signs” (no exorcisms!)
  • Emphasis on love of one another as the key commandment of Jesus
  • Salvation and life in the present (lack of references to future return of Christ)

2.     John’s story of Jesus: Jesus the Son and self-expression (Word, Truth) of the Father

  • Portrayal of Jesus: Pre-existent Word; One with the Father (Father-Son motif)
  • Jesus as fulfilment of the Judean festivals; Crucifixion = exaltation

Outline (see handout)

3.  Locating John’s gospel

  • Portrayal of Jesus: High Christology
  • Judean and Hellenistic features
  • Johannine forms of following Jesus (community behind 1-3 John)
  • Gnostic use of John

Modern Portraits: The Historical Jesus

1.  Methods and Problems in the study of the peasant Jesus

  • Nature of our sources: Partial; Christ of faith; Disinterest in history in the modern sense; Few external sources
  • Theological interests of modern scholars: A Jesus in one’s own image?
    • E.g. A counter-cultural Jesus with egalitarian principals and a social revolution (a liberation theology Jesus?, a hippy Jesus?)
  • Methods:
    • Multiple attestation; Dissimilarity; Contextual reliability; Embarrassment
    • Sayings or deeds approach?
    • Problems: Scholars’ differences in methods; Identifying layers
    • Key contextual factor: How Judean or Hellenistic was Galilee and Jesus?

2.  Jesus in Context: Comparing Jesus with contemporary leaders, prophets, holy men, and “kings”

  • Discussion of Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs, especially passages from Josephus

3.  Some Modern Portraits of Jesus

A) 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)

B) Jesus as a Judean 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

Hebrews: Jesus as High-priest and Sacrificial Victim


1.  Introductory matters: Date, author, background

  • Date: c. 65-95 CE  (cf. 1 Clem 36)
  • Author: Hellenistic Judean
    • Judean and Hellenistic influences: Saturated in Judean scripture; Platonic ideas
  • Audience: Hellenistic Judeans that follow Jesus as Messiah
  • Background: Destruction of the temple in 70 CE

2.  Situation and Response (key in 13:7-18; cf. 10:19-25; cf. B. Lindars)

  • Situation: Segment of Judean Jesus-followers maintaining close connections with local Judean synagogue –  Danger of “falling away” (apostasy) and continuing in the practices of an “old” covenant (cf. 2:1-2; 3:12; 4:1; 6:4-6; 10:23)
    • Issue of atonement for sins and corresponding practices central
  • Response: “Hold fast” — Followers of Christ are to go to him “outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.” “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent [priests of the “old” order] have no right to eat.”

3.  Response elaborated: Jesus as “superior” high-priest and “once for all” sacrifice

  • Deliberative rhetoric: Dissuasion from a particular action (“falling away”)
  • Series of analogies and comparisons which show that Jesus Christ is the mediator of a “new” and “better” covenant as the ultimate high-priest and sacrificial victim:
    • “Superior” to angels (ch. 1); Pioneer of salvation (2)
    • “Superior” to Moses (3-4:13)
    • “Superior” to Levi as Melchizedek, self-sacrificing high-priest of the “new covenant” (4:14-5:10; 7-10:18)
      • Warning against apostasy and reminder of God’s promise (5:11-6)
      • Background:
        • Melchizedek and the priestly messiah in Judean literature (Gen.14:18-20; Ps. 110:4; Philo; Dead Sea Scrolls)
        • “New covenant” idea: Midrash of Jeremiah 31:31-37 (cf. DSS)
        • The high priest and sacrifice on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus16)
      • Melchizedek as “superior” to Levi (and Abraham) (7:1-20)
      • A “better covenant” with a “once for all sacrifice” (7:20-8:13)
      • Earthly tent (shadow / copy / outer) and true tent (original / ideal) (9:1-10:18)
        • Platonic ideas: Original form and copy / shadow; Dead Sea Scrolls notion of a
          forthcoming perfect temple and cult
        • Earthly cult and “better” heavenly cult: The great high priest “has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26)
          • Followers of Jesus as a new order of priests
    • Dangers of falling away (apostasy) and need for faith (10:19-12)
      • Warning against apostasy (10:19-39)
      • Exhortation to faith and discipline (rather than apostasy) (11-12)
    • Closing (and key hints as to the situation): “outside the camp” (13)

4.  Locating Hebrews

  • Another Judean or Hellenistic-Judean form
  • Complicated nature of relations between Jesus-followers and Judean roots
    • Discussion in tutorial: Development of notions of supercession (Epistle of Barnabas)

1 Peter: The Nature of Persecution and Relations with Outsiders

1.  Introductory matters

  • Context:
    • 1) Asia Minor as a hub of Jesus groups (cf. Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Pastoral Epistles, John’s Apocalypse, Johannine epistles, 1 Peter)
    • 2) Group-society relations: Jesus-followers 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)
      • Discussion: The nature of the persecution faced by Jesus-followers in Asia Minor and elsewhere: Official or unofficial (Tacituson Nero, Pliny the Younger on Jesus-followers in Bithynia)
  • Response:
    • Comforting Jesus-followers 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) (discussion continued in tutorial)
        • 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”

3.  Locating 1 Peter

John’s Apocalypse (Revelation): Futuristic Visions and the Call to Worship God (not the

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship and audience
  • Date and context: Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE (compare other Judean 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 (see outline handout)

3.  Visions of Beasts and Babylon: Attitudes toward the Roman empire

  • 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 Jesus-followers: Defining community boundaries

4.  Locating John’s Apocalypse

  • Sectarian, Judean forms of devotion to Jesus in Asia Minor

John’s Epistles and the Opponents: A “Gnostic” Trajectory?

1.  Introductory matters

  • Authorship, date, location, recipients of each letter (“elect lady” and Gaius)
  • Johannine community (probably in western Asia Minor)
  • Relationship between John’s gospel and the epistles
  • Common themes and view of Jesus: Son-Father-Spirit, word, life, truth, knowledge, light/darkness, “new commandment” of love

2.  Situation and response: Internal struggles in the Johannine churches

  • Schism (“they went out from us”) and identity of the schismatics
    • Docetism and the development of “Gnosticism”: “Anti-christs” or “false prophets” denying the complete humanity of Jesus and emphasizing his divinity (high Christology; cf. John’s gospel); denying his death’s significance for human sin: “we
      have no sin” (cf. 1 Jn 1:8-10; 2:18-25; 4:1-6; 5:6-8; 2 Jn 1:7-11)
  • Hospitality (3 Jn 1:5-10): Opponents (Diotrephes) and refusal of hospitality for follows of John the elder; John’s letter of recommendation (cf. 3 Jn 1:12)

3.  Locating John’s letters

  • Varying interpretations within the Johannine tradition

Ignatius’ Epistles: Leadership Structures and Concepts of Martyrdom in the Second Century

1. Introductory matters

  • Ignatius’ identity (bishop of Antioch; hope of martyrdom; Romans 4; Philadelphians 10)
    • Concepts of martyrdom
  • Genre, date and audience: Letters to churches in western Asia Minor

2. Situation and response

  • Situation: Opponents in the Asian churches (one or two groups?)
    • Docetism (see Ephesians chs. 7-8; Magnesians 11; Trallians 9-10; Smyrnians 1-2, 5,
      7-8 [eucharist])

      • Comparing those who deny the flesh in John’s epistles
    • (Gentile?) Judaizing (see Magn. 8-10; Phil. 6 [Gentiles])
      • Comparing the Judean “myths” in the Pastoral epistles
    • Divided house-churches: Lack of communion
  • Response: Church leadership as monarchy
    • Unity under the bishop (cf. Eph. 4; Trall. 2; Smyrn. 8)
    • Defining “proper” belief: The move toward creeds
    • Common meetings/communion (Eph. 5.3; 20.2; Magn. 4; Phil. 4; Smyrn. 7-8)

3. Group-society relations: Jesus-followers and outsiders (society) in Ignatius

  • Maintaining peaceable relations (cf. Eph. 10 [“brothers’]; 12; Trall. 3; 8)

4. Locating Ignatius’ letters

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