Paul of Tarsus

(Fall 2000, Wilfrid Laurier University)


Course Description:

The course will examine the life, thought, work and influence of Paul of Tarsus through looking at his own letters, the letters of his followers and primary literature about him. We will especially be concerned with placing Paul, the communities he addressed, and the literature by or related to him within their religious and social-historical contexts in the Greco-Roman world. This will involve special attention to archeological or artifactual evidence concerning the specific contexts in which Paul and other Christians lived. The course will employ social-historical, literary, rhetorical and other methods. We begin with introductory issues, work chronologically (and regionally) through the letters of Paul and his circle, and conclude by looking at the narrative depictions of Paul and his life.

Required Textbooks:

  • Bible/New Testament (NRSV, RSV, NIV, Jerusalem or other modern translation).
  • Calvin Roetzel, The Letters of Paul. 3rd edition. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991.
  • Dennis MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983.
Recommended for further reading:
  • Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: the Social World of the Apostle Paul.
  • Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity.
  • Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah.)
Course Requirements and Evaluation:
  • Book review paper (list of books to be provided), due Oct 11 (5 pages, no longer; 20%)
  • Statement of major paper topic with outline, due Nov 6 (2 pages; 5%)
  • Major research paper, due Dec 4 (10-12 pages; 30%)
  • Final exam (35%)
  • Class participation (10%)


Course schedule:

Unit I: Orientation

Sept 11

Introduction: Paul, early Christianity and the academic study of religion

Sept 13, 18

Paul and his world: Judaism, the Greco-Roman world and the civic context

Reading: Roetzel, chs. 1-2

Discussion: Christians (and Jews) through Greco-Roman eyes (handout)

Sept 20

Problems in the study of Paul's life: Nature of the sources

Reading: Roetzel, chs. 1-2

Discussion: Galatians 1:13-2:14; Acts 15:1-35 (Problems in the study of Paul: The case of the Jerusalem meeting)

Sept 25, 27

Paul's Letters: Historical, epistolary and literary-rhetorical approaches

Reading: Roetzel, chs. 3-4

Unit II: Paul's letters in context

Oct 2, 4

Thessalonica: Paul's apocalyptic outlook and the guild of handworkers

Readings: 1 and 2 Thessalonians (and Acts 17:1-15); Roetzel, ch. 4

Discussion: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 (Early Christian apocalypticism)

Oct 9 Thanksgiving - no class

Oct 11, 16

Corinth I: 1 Corinthians - Paul's ethical instruction and rocky relations with a divided community

Readings: 1 and 2 Corinthians (and Acts 18:1-17); Roetzel, ch. 4

Discussion: 1 Corinthians 8-10; Acts 15:22-35 (Idol-food and Christian attitudes towards Greco-Roman culture and society)

*Book review paper due Oct 11 in class

Oct 18

Corinth II: 2 Corinthians - Paul and the "super-apostles"

Readings: 2 Corinthians

Discussion: 2 Corinthians 10-13

Oct 23, 25

Galatia: Paul, the Jewish Law and "Judaizers"

Readings: Galatians (and Acts 15:1-35); Roetzel, ch. 5

Discussion: Galatians 3:1-4:7; James 2:14-26 ("Faith", "works" and "law" in the thought of Paul and other early Christians)

Oct 30, Nov 1

Philippi and the Lycos valley (Philemon): Paul and the conventions and institutions of society (patronage, slavery)

Readings: Philippians (and Acts 16:11-40); and Philemon

Discussion: Philemon; 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (Attitudes on slavery)

Nov 6, 8

Rome: Jews, Gentiles and "God's people"

Readings: Romans; MacDonald, chs. 1-2

Discussion: Romans 11 (Israel from Paul's perspective)

*Statement of major paper topic due November 6 in class


Unit III: Perceptions and depictions of Paul - Pauline traditions and narrative sources

Nov 13, 15

The Pauline circle and the development of church organization and leadership structures (Colossians, Ephesians, Pastorals)

Readings: 1-2 Timothy, Titus; Ephesians and Colossians; Roetzel, ch. 6; MacDonald, ch. 3

Discussion: 1-2 Timothy, Titus; Ephesians 5:21-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1 (Importance of the household for church organization in post-Pauline Christianity)

Nov 20


Nov 22, 27

Paul in the Acts of the Apostles: Respectable Paul

Reading: Acts 9-28

Discussion: Acts 21-28 (Acts' depiction of Paul: Trial narrative)

Nov 29

Paul in the Acts of Paul: Radical Paul

Reading: Acts of Paul; MacDonald, ch. 4

Discussion: Acts of Paul; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 4:7-8; 5:13-16; 2 Timothy 3:4-9 (Women in the Pauline tradition)

Dec 4

An overview of Paul and his legacy

Reading: Roetzel, chs. 6-7; MacDonald, ch. 5 and conclusion

*Major Paper due Dec 4 in class

Final Exam (TBA - 3 hrs)

Outline of Assignments for RE301 (Fall 2000)