On the Margins of Christianity: Heresy, Dissidence, and the End of the World (RELI 324; Winter 2005)


Course description:

This course investigates marginal forms of Christianity which have found themselves ignored, excluded, or suppressed by more mainstream Christian groups and institutions. The course explores aspects of the history of heretical movements, mysticism, and apocalypticism. It looks at the world-views and practices associated with such marginal forms of Christianity, placing religious traditions and movements within their broader social, cultural, and political contexts. (NOTE: Students who have received credit for RELI 308 may not take this course for credit.)

 Required Books (available at the Concordia University bookstore)

  • Course pack
  • Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Bible (modern translation: RSV, NRSV, New Jerusalem, NEB, NIV)


  • Attendance and participation 10%
  • Quiz (on the library session) in class week 4 (Jan 26) 5%
  • Paper 1 (TBA), due week 5 (Feb 2) (4-5 pages double-spaced, no longer) 15%
  • Minor test in class week 7 (Feb 16) 15%
  • Major test in class week 11 (March 23) 30%
  • Paper 2 (TBA), due week 13 (April 6) (8-10 pages double-spaced, no longer) 25%


Discussion schedule:


Week 1 (Jan 5)

Introduction (Definitions of "heresy" and "orthodoxy"; Overview of periods in the history of Christianity)

Strands of dissent and "heresy": Judaizers, Dualists, Apocalypticists, Populists

Readings: Ehrman, intro

I Diversity and "Heresy" in Early Christianity

Week 2 (Jan 12)

Intro to Early Christianity (Diversity of early Christianity; Apocalypticism; Institutionalization)

Earliest heresies, part 1: Paul's opponents (Judaizers, apocalyptic radicals, and spiritualists)

Readings: "Galatians" and "1 Thessalonians" (especially chapters 4:13-5:11); "Second Letter of John" (ALL READINGS ARE IN THE COURSE PACK UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED); Ehrman, ch. 1, 3, 4 and pp. 96-99

Week 3 (Jan 19)

Earliest heresies, part 2: Ignatius and two strands of heresy ("Judaizers" and docetism)

Apocalyptic "radicals": Montanists (Women on the margins 1)

Readings: "The Letters of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch", esp. letters to the the Magnesians and to the Smyrnaeans; "Montanus and Montanists"; Ehrman ch. 2 and pp. 15-16, 140-45

Week 4 (Jan 26)

Jewish forms of Christianity: Ebionites

Anti-Jewish heresies: Marcionites

Readings: "Ebionites"; "Marcion and Marcionism"; Ehrman, ch. 5



Week 5 (Feb 2)


Readings: "The Gospel of Truth"; "Valentinus and the Valentinians"; Ehrman, chs. 6-7


Week 6 (Feb 9)

Strategies and weapons in the battle between "heretics" and the "orthodox":Case studies - Ebionites vs. "Paul" and Epiphanius vs. the Phibionites

Readings: "Introductory Writings [of the Pseudo-Clementines]"; Epiphanius, "Against Gnostics [Panarion, book 1, section 26]"; Ehrman, chs. 8-10

Week 7 (Feb 16)

Intellectual heresies of the fourth century: Arians and others "Orthodoxy" established: Orthodoxy, canon, and creeds

Readings: Gonzalez, "The Arian Controversy and the Council of Nicea"; "The Muratorian Canon"; Ehrman, chs. 11-12


Reading Week Feb 21-25 (no class)

II Marginal and heretical movements in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period

Week 8 (March 2)

Intro to Medieval Christianity (Christendom and the papacy; Rise of heresies and inquisitions from 1000 CE; Diversification of Christianity with the Reformations)

Popular movements, part 1: Cathars in France

Readings: Wakefield and Evans, "A Historical Sketch of the Medieval Popular Heresies"; Petry, "Heresy and Inquisition [sections A-F]"

Week 9 (March 9)

Popular movements, part 2: Waldes in France, Wyclif and Lollards in England Intellectual heretics: Mystics (Women on the margins 2)

Readings: Petry, "Heresy and Inquisition [section G]"; Peters, "The Age of Wyclif and Hus"; Petroff, "Women and Mysticism in the Medieval World"

Week 10 (March 16)

Lutherans, Reformists, and Anabaptists as heretical, "marginal" movements

Readings: "Ninety-five Theses of Martin Luther"; "At the Diet of Worms" and "Charles' Reaction at Worms"; "Alleged Errors of Anabaptists"; "The Trial and Martyrdom of Michael Sattler, 1527"

Week 11 (March 23)



III Apocalyptic movements and the end of the world from the Middle Ages to the present

Week 12 (March 30)

Apocalyptic movements from the Middle ages to 1950: Munsterites and Millerites

Readings: Clair, "Thomas Müntzer and the Millenarian Anabaptists"; Hillerbrand, "Radical Reform Movements"; Clair, "America, Part Two: From Millerism to Flying Saucers"

Week 13 (April 6)

"Radical" apocalyptic movements of the 20th century and beyond: Jonestown, Waco, and modern millenial movements

Readings: "The Branch Davidians"; "Comet Hall-Bopp, Planet Nibiru, the Mass Landing, and Heaven's Gate"