HUMA 3421 Interpreting the New Testament I

York University ~ Fall 2018

Paul and Timothy from a fourteenth-century manuscript

Instructor: Dr. Tony Burke
Phone: 416-736-2100 ext. 22329
Office Hours and Location: Mon. and Tues. 5:00–6:00 pm and other times by appointment, Vanier College 247.
Class Time and Location: Tuesdays, 7–10 pm, DB 0004.

1. Course Description

A historical and literary study of the traditions of the apostle Paul as they developed from the time of his missionary career through later generations of those who followed his teachings. The course begins with a study of Paul’s own writings (seven letters written ca. 50-60 CE to Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean world), through early biographical traditions (the Book of Acts), and into traditions about Paul used in later conflicts between rival Christian groups (the pseudo-Pauline letters, the so-called Pastoral Epistles, the Apostolikon of Marcion, and the non-canonical Acts of Paul and the Pseudo-Clementine Romance). Emphasis will be placed on examining the Greco-Roman background to Paul’s teachings and on reconstructing the situations that led to the composition of the texts. The methods of history, the social sciences (sociology and anthropology), and literary and rhetorical analysis will further our understanding of key issues. Throughout, we will place our discussions of early Christianity within framework of the ancient Mediterranean world. Students will gain some control of both the content of early Christian texts and the environment in which Christianity was born, as well as an ability to analyze primary materials from a historical perspective.

2. Prerequisites

May be taken independently of HUMA 3422 3.0. Not open to students who have taken HUMA 2830 6.0.

3. Required Texts

Ehrman, B. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 6th ed. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015 (earlier editions are permitted but students must ensure they are covering the appropriate materials for each class as page and chapter numbering differ between editions).

E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter-Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Intervarsity Press, 2004.

New Revised Standard Version, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, College Edition. M. Coogan et al (eds.). Oxford University Press, 2001 (another Bible is also acceptable but it must be the New Revised Standard Version).

4. Academic Integrity: York University is very concerned about the increase in student plagiarism. As heinous a crime as plagiarism is, sometimes it is perpetrated in ignorance. Please consult the SPARK page on academic integrity to learn more about it and about the repercussions of committing plagiarism (

5. Methods of Evaluation

All written work in this course is expected to be of high quality—i.e., it must conform to the style and format guidelines typical of Humanities courses—and it must be your own. To help ensure that these requirements are met, you are urged to consult the resources on SPARK. In addition, a style sheet of my own design is to be attached to your assignments (see the assignment descriptions below). No paper will be accepted without the style sheet attached.

NOTE: All graded work in this course is to be submitted to (and brought to class in a hard copy). For an overview of this service and the University’s policies regarding, please see HERE: It is very simple to use. Go to for instructions on how to create a user profile. You can use whatever email address you wish but it must be a working one since you will receive emails over the course of the year. It is recommended that you NOT use internet email accounts (e.g., Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.). You create your own password so make it easy to remember. You will also require the following information to sign in initially: Class ID: 18592196. Password: newt.

A. History and Geography of the Greco-Roman World Quiz: Learning about biblical literature necessitates knowledge of the land and cultures in which it was written. To that end, study chs. 3 and 4 of Ehrman’s textbook and the maps on pp. xxxiv–xxxv and 109 1 in preparation for a quiz that will take place in the first 15 minutes of class Sept. 25. The quiz comprises two sections: a site map, and matching terms/names with descriptions. Be prepared to place the following locations on the blank map provided at the quiz: Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Carthage, Corinth, Cyrene, Damascus, the Dead Sea, Ephesus, Galatia, Jerusalem, Judaea, Laodicea, the Mediterranean Sea, Mesopotamia, Nazareth, the Nile River,  Pontus, Rome, the Sea of Galilee, Sinai, Sinope, Syria, Tarsus, and  Thessalonica. The matching section will be limited to the following terms: Alexander the Great, Apollonius of Tyana, Antiochus Epiphanes, augur, Caesar Augustus, circumcision, David, Demeter, divination, Essenes, “the Egyptian,” extispicy, Gentile, Hellenization, Isis, Jewish War, mystery cults, monotheism, oracles, polytheism, pagan, Stoics, Antiochus Epiphanes, covenant, Dead Sea Scrolls, Diaspora, Essenes, fourth philosophy, Josephus, Lares, messiah, Penates, Pharisees, Pontius Pilate, Qumran, Sadducees, synagogue, Theudas, Torah. There is a practice map available HERE. Grade value: 10%.

B. Analysis Assignments: Each week or so you are asked to prepare for class answers to questions related to the assigned readings. The first of these (on 1 Thessalonians, due Sept. 25) is mandatory; you pick an additional two to complete from the remaining four (you can, and should, prepare for all four, but you can choose which two to hand in for credit). Your answers must be approximately two pages in length (double-spaced) and should be brought to class to aid you in contributing to group work and class discussions. Each assignment will be graded out of 10. Your assignments will be accepted only if the required style sheet is attached (you can find it HERE). If you are unable to attend a class in which an assignment is due, you may e-mail the assignment to the instructor on the day that it is due; no late assignments will be accepted. WARNING: the ideas presented in your assignments must be your own; DO NOT use secondary sources. Tutorial assignments must be submitted to by 8pm of the day for which it is assigned. Total Grade Value: 30%.

C. Tweeting the Letters of Paul: Can you summarize each chapter of Paul’s letters in 280 characters? Test your tweeting skills on each of the disputed and non-disputed letters. As you read through the texts, summarize each chapter in  tweet-sized bites and email your results (with every chapter preceded by the chapter number) to me by midnight of the Sunday before the following classes: Sept. 25 (1 Thessalonians), Oct. 2 (1 and 2 Corinthians), Oct. 16 (Philemon, Philippians, Galatians), Oct. 23 (Romans), Oct. 30 (Colossians, Ephesians; NOT 2 Thessalonians), and Nov. 6 (1 & 2 Timothy; Titus). A few guidelines:

Indicate possessives with “of” rather than with apostrophes (e.g., “of Paul” not “Paul’s”)

Use present, non-gerund verbs—e.g., writes (rather than wrote, or writing), teaches, predicts, etc.

Use past tense for the following: resurrected (rather than resurrects), crucified, baptized

The goal is to use the data from the tweets to create word clouds of each text (visual representations of the words used by the author). These will be used in the discussions of our texts. Each is worth 2.5% of your final grade (for a total of 15%). Each tweet cannot exceed 280 characters! Be sure to compose a tweet for each chapter, not one tweet for the ENTIRE text.

D. Book Review: E. Randolph Richards’ Paul and First-Century Letter-Writing is an excellent treatment of letter-writing in antiquity. It deals also with the thorny issue of divine inspiration of scripture. Prepare a review of Richards’ book providing a summary of its contents (roughly 60% of your review) and a critique of his approach, style, methodology, and arguments. Examples of scholarly book reviews are available HERE. Your book review will be accepted only if the required style sheet is attached (you can find it HERE). WARNING: start reading the book early, as it will be difficult to keep up with other assigned readings if you leave it too late. This assignment must be submitted to by 8pm. To encourage thoughtful discussion of the book, 20% of the grade for the assignment will be assigned to attendance and participation in the class in which it is due (so, failure to attend the class will result in a MAXIMUM grade of 80%). Due date: November 13. Length: 5 pages (no more!). Grade Value: 20%.

E. The Apostolikon of Marcion: the collection of Paul’s letters assembled by the second-century writer Marcion offer us a look into how Paul’s letters came to be regarded as Scripture. But the evidence for Marcion’s collection is difficult to use, because we don’t know exactly what it included—all we know is what other early Christian writers said about it, and there is good reason to be suspicious about what they say because they did not like Marcion’s views about Jesus. Read the excerpt from Jason BeDuhn’s The First New Testament provided in class and prepare a paper summarizing the challenges associated with studying Marcion and the conclusions BeDuhn reached about Marcion’s Apostolikon. Conclude with a statement (about half a page) about why Marcion is significant for the study of Paul’s letters. The paper should be around five page in length. It will not be accepted unless the required style sheet is attached (you can find it HERE). This assignment must be submitted to by 8pm. Due date: Dec. 4. Grade Value: 15%.

F. Class participation: each class is divided between lecture material and discussion sessions. To encourage engagement and attendance in the discussion sessions, you will be graded on participation. Part of that grade is assigned to attendance, and part to active participation when we discuss the material as a class.  Value of final grade: 10%.

Missing papers: In the event that papers go missing, it is your responsibility to keep a hard copy of all written work submitted for the course.

Late papers: the instructor, like you, is a very busy person. He likes to receive papers on time so that he can give them back to you within a reasonable time and then get on with other things he has to do (the instructor has other courses to teach and other papers to grade). Late papers complicate his life. So, he cannot accept late papers unless they are accompanied with documentation from Special Needs or Health Services. Contact the instructor if you foresee problems handing in papers on time.

6. Important Dates

September 18: Last date to enroll in Fall term courses without the permission of the instructor.
October 2: Last date to enroll in Fall term courses with the permission of the instructor.
November 9: Last date to drop Fall term courses without receiving a grade.

7. Class Schedule

Please come to class having read the assigned primary and secondary readings and having consulted the on-line resources. A lecture outline for each week’s class will be posted on-line by Monday morning of each week. It is your responsibility to print your own copy of the outline and bring it to class.

Sept. 11: Introduction; the New Testament World
Read after class today: Ehrman, chs. 3-4.
Online resources: where do you start when learning about Paul? Paula Gooder has some advice in this video for the Video Timeline Project.

Sept. 18: The Historical Paul
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 20; Acts 9; Gospel of the Hebrews (available HERE).
On-line resources: for more information on life in the first-century Roman Empire visit

Sept. 25: 1 Thessalonians
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 21; 1 Thessalonians.
Assignment: from your reading of 1 Thessalonians, characterize the structure of Paul’s ministry: who is in Paul’s group? how do they address problems in the communities that they have converted to Christianity? what problems have they encountered in their work? how does this letter function in Paul’s ministry (i.e., why was it written? what kind of language and tone does Paul use when responding to the Thessalonians?). (NOTE: this is the mandatory tutorial assignment that you must hand in).
On-line resources: learn more about first-century Thessalonica at
** Greco-Roman world quiz in class today **

Oct. 2: The Corinthians Correspondence
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 22 (pp. 368–83); 1 & 2 Corinthians
Assignment: 1 Corinthians figures heavily in debates about the roles of women in both early and modern Christianity. Read closely the entire letter taking note of what Paul says in it about women. Do not limit yourself to commands or exhortations about women, but also passages that mention women as characters. How would you characterize Paul’s views? Is he liberal or conservative? Do you see any problems of consistency (i.e., does he seem to hold different views about women’s roles in the church in different sections of the text)? (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
On-line resources: For more on women in Early Christian churches, visit

Oct. 9: Thanksgiving/Reading Week ~ No class

Oct. 16: Philemon, Philippians, Galatians
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 22, pp. 383–400; Philemon, Philippians, Galatians
On-line resources: The Bible Project has created an excellent video commentary on Galatians which creatively works through the text. You can see it HERE.

Oct. 23: Romans
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 23; Romans; James.
Assignment: James is not a letter by Paul, but a letter apparently written by James, the brother of Jesus. Though both Paul’s letters and James are found within the New Testament, they appear to represent two different forms of Christianity. Contrast Paul’s letter to the Romans and the letter of James. How do the two writers differ? What issue appears to divide them? Note particularly their use of the story of Abraham—how do they differ in interpreting this story? (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
On-line resources: When Paul finally journeyed to Rome, what do you think he found there? Perhaps a virtual tour of ancient Rome can help us with the answer (

Oct. 30: The Legacy of Paul I: The Deutero-Pauline Epistles
Read for today’s class: Ehrman ch. 25, pp. 434–48; 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians
Assignment: read the so-called “household rules” in Col 3:18–4:1 and Eph 5:21–6:9 (see also 1 Pet 2:13–3:12). These rules are concerned with the reciprocal duties in social arrangements that involve one person having power over another. It was believed, also, that social harmony in the home brought social harmony to society and to the universe. Consider these rules in light of our 21st century Canadian context. If you were to write such household rules for today (thinking again of harmony in the home and society), what would you include? In two pages, provide your list of rules (keep it short and snappy, like our ancient writers) and explain your choices. (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
On-line resources: Paul traveled through Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, and even to Rome to preach his “gospel.” To follow in the footsteps of Paul on his missionary journeys visit

Nov. 6: The Legacy of Paul II: The Pastoral Epistles and the Book of Acts
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, chs. 19 & 26 (pp. 449–59); 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus
Assignment: Read closely 9:1–30 and Acts  15:1–35. Compare Acts’ account of Paul’s two visits to Jerusalem  with how he tells the same stories in Galatians 1:13–2:10. What differences do you observe? How do we account for such differences? And how would a historian adjudicate between the two of them to determine what actually happened? NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
On-line resources: There are plenty of movies about Jesus, but not many on Paul. Just last year Paul, Apostle of Christ debuted and it features Jim Caviezel as Luke (author Acts), who helps care for Paul when imprisoned in Rome. Visit the official page and see the trailer.

Nov. 13:  A.D. The Bible Continues (TV Series)
As a conclusion to our look at the canonical Paul, we will look at scenes from the TV mini-series A.D. The Bible Continues and discuss how Paul’s life and career are presented. Watch the series’ official trailer HERE.
** Richards Book Review due in class today **

Nov. 20: Conference ~ No class

Nov. 27: The Apocryphal Paul
Read for today’s class: Ehrman ch. 24; Acts of Paul and Thecla (PDF); Pseudo-Clementine Romance (3. Kerygmata Petrou) (PDF); 3 Corinthians (PDF).
On-line resources: For today’s class you read several “apocryphal” texts. The North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL) has assembled a comprehensive bibliography on Christian Apocrypha, with summaries of each text and a range of print and online resources. For an example of their work, visit their page on 3 Corinthians.

Dec. 4: Marcion

Read for today’s class: BeDuhn, excerpts from The First New Testament: Marcion’s Scriptural Canon
On-line resources: Andrew Mark Henry has a video podcast called Religion for Breakfast. You can watch his episode on Marcion HERE.
** Marcion assignment due in class today **