HUMA2830 Founders of Christianity

York University, 2016/2017

Early Christian Woman

A fresco from the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome depicting a female “founder” of Christianity from around 230-240 C.E.


Instructor: Dr. Tony Burke
Phone: 416-736-2100 ext. 22329
Office Hours and Location: Mon and Tues 4-6pm, McLaughlin 036
Class Time and Location: Tuesdays 7-10 pm, TEL 0013

1. Course Description

This course explores the origins of Christianity as reflected in early Christian literature of the first and early second centuries (including the New Testament). We will consider both common denominators and diversity in the worldviews and practices of various Christian communities, looking at the transformations which took place as an obscure Judean sect from Galilee made its way into the Greco-Roman world. We will be interested in exploring how various early Christians and early Christian authors lived their lives within the broader context of Judean, Greek, and Roman culture. We begin with the earliest written biography of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark, and work our way through the New Testament and other early Christian documents, including the letters of Paul and several second-century 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. Course Credit Exclusions

AS/HUMA 2830 9.00; AS/HUMA 3421 3.0; AS/HUMA 3422 3.0

3. Required Texts

Ehrman, Bart. 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).

Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus Before the Gospels. How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Stories of the Savior. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016.

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

Throckmorton Jr., Burton H. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels. 5th ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992.

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

4. 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 visit the on-line guides listed below. 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. For additional writing assistance, visit the Writing Centre.

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: 13172421. Password: founders.

A. 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. The university has set up an on-line tutorial to help students recognize acts of plagiarism. You are required to complete this tutorial (no papers will be accepted until you do so). Go to the web site and work your way through the tutorial. Print off the results of the quiz and hand them in by Sept. 27. There is no grade value for this assignment, but no papers will be accepted until the test results are handed in to the instructor. Site address: (select “For Students”).

B. History and Geography of the Early Christian World Quiz: Learning about biblical literature necessitates knowledge of the land and cultures in which it was written. To that end, study chapters 3 and 4 of Ehrman’s textbook, your own notes from the lecture on September 20, the map that precedes chapter 1, and the maps on p. xxxiv-xxxv and 109 in preparation for a quiz that will take place in the first 15 minutes of class October 4. 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, Bethlehem, Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, Cana, Capernaum, Corinth, Cyrene, Damascus, the Dead Sea, Decapolis, Ephesus, Galilee, the Sea of Galilee, Galatia, Jerusalem, Judaea, the Jordan River, the Mediterranean Sea, Nazareth, the Nile River, Rome, Samaria, Sinai, Tarsus, and Thessalonica (if you have trouble finding any of these locations, use other resources, including the maps in the Bible assigned for the course; do not ask the instructor). There is a practice map available HERE. Grade value: 10%.

C. Tutorial Assignments: Each week or so you are asked to prepare for class answers to questions related to the assigned readings. There are four assignments per semester listed on the syllabus; you are to hand in only two of them per semester (NOT three in one semester, 1 in the second, or other such variations). Try to prepare for all of them (it makes our discussion richer) but you can choose which 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 5. Your assignments will be accepted only if the required style sheet is attached (you can find it HERE). You MUST be present for the class in which the assignment is due (in other words, you can hand it in only at the end of class). 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: 20%.

D. Pericope Analysis: choose one of the following stories (“pericopes”) from the Synoptic Gospels: The Institution of the Last Supper (Gospel Parallels §236), The Lord’s Prayer (§31, 116), The Entry into Jerusalem (§196), The Stilling of the Storm (§105), The Rich Man and Lazarus (§177), or Jesus Blesses the Children (§188). Carefully compare the versions of the story given in the Gospels and answer the following questions: 1. Which writer do you believe is the source of the story? (that is, state which solution to the Synoptic Problem that you support and how the evidence for this theory is reflected in the story), 2. What elements in the various versions of the story are redactional? (that is, of the elements unique to each version of the story, which can you attribute to the writer’s redactional interests?), and 3. What elements of the story are original? (that is, what was the story like when it was in oral transmission, before ANY of the Gospel writers put it in written form?).  Required length: 3-5 pages. Due date: November 8. Grade Value: 10%.

E. Ehrman Book Review. Bart Ehrman, the author of the textbook for the course, is a prolific writer of Bible-related non-fiction aimed at a wider, non-scholarly audience. His most recent book is Jesus Before the Gospels, which examines the transmission of orally-circulating stories before the composition of the gospels. Prepare a review of Ehrman’s 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). 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%). Required length: five pages. Due date: November 29. Grade Value: 15%.

E. Richards 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%). Required length: five pages. Due date: February 28. Grade Value: 15%.

F. Reflection Paper: in the third class of the course, hand in a short, two-page statement on your knowledge of the New Testament at the start of the class. For example: what do you know/believe/think about such things as the life and mission of Jesus? about the role of Paul in the growth and development of Christianity? about conflicts between Christians and other groups (Jews, pagans)? Perhaps you have had NO interaction with the New Testament at all; if so, you can write about that, though certainly you must know some aspects of early Christianity given its prevalence in Western culture. Grade value for this part of the assignment: 5%. At the end of the course you will revisit your initial paper and see how you have progressed.  You are to use that paper as a primary source and analyze it as you would the texts from antiquity. Compare what your other self said about the foundation of Christianity with what you have learned at the end of this course. How would you characterize your earlier knowledge? Where do you think you were right? Or wrong? What questions do you have that still remain unanswered? What are your thoughts about the way we teach about Christianity in the “academy”? Reflection paper due April 13. Required length: five pages. Grade Value: 15%.

G. 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.

5. Important Dates

September 21: Last date to enroll in Fall term courses without the permission of the instructor.
October 19: Last date to enroll in Fall term courses with the permission of the instructor.
February 10: Last date to drop Fall term courses without receiving a grade.

6. 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 Friday morning of the previous week. It is your responsibility to print your own copy of the outline and bring it to class.

Sept. 13: Introduction to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings
Read after class today: Ehrman, chs. 1-2.
Online resources: the readings for today from the textbook discuss the process of assembling the modern New Testament from ancient Greek manuscripts. For additional insights into this process check out the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, whose goal is to digitize the world’s 5000+ Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

Sept. 20: The Context of Christian Origins
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, chs. 3-4.
Online resources: for more information on the world of Jesus visit James Tabor’s excellent sites “The Roman World of Jesus” and “The Jewish Roman World of Jesus.”

Sept. 27: Literary Criticism and the Gospels
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, chs. 5-6.
Online resources: Lawrence E. Frizzell of Seton Hall University has compiled this brief introduction to the various forms of criticism we will examine in today’s class.
** Integrity Test Results due today **
** Initial Reflection Paper Due Today **

Oct. 4: The Gospel of Mark
** Early Christian World Quiz in class today **
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 7; Gospel of Mark, 2 Kings 2-5 (Bible).
Assignment: The vast majority of scholars believe Mark was the first gospel to have been written. Imagine you are living in the first-century and Mark is the only gospel text you know. Answer the following questions solely from information from the text: who is Jesus (where was he born? where did he live? what did he do?). Who are his most important followers and how are they portrayed? What is surprising about the end of the gospel, when the women go to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body (for this last question see Mark 16:1-8; do not read 16:9-20 if it is included in your text)? (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
Online resources: the Galilean city Sepphoris was a mere hour’s walk from Nazareth. The analysis of the excavations of Sepphoris may tell us much about the influences upon Jesus. For a tour of the excavations see the following site:

Oct. 11: The Synoptic Problem and “Sayings” Gospels
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 8; Q (PDF), Gospel of Thomas; start bringing Gospel Parallels to class.
Online resources: The Oxford Hypothesis (one of several solutions to the “Synoptic Problem”) has found an outspoken defender in British scholar Mark Goodacre. He has constructed a web site that is a great resource not only for the study of the Synoptic Gospels, but for other biblical research also. Check out his response to the Two-Document Hypothesis at his NTGateway site.

Oct. 18: The Gospel of Matthew
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 9; The Gospel of Matthew.
Assignment: read the Confession at Caesarea Philippi (Gospel Parallels #122; p. 99-100). Assuming Mark wrote first, and Matthew used Mark as the source for his gospel, what changes did Matthew make to the story? What are the results of these changes (i.e., how does Matthew’s version read compared to Mark’s? What has Matthew done to change the story?). (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
On-line resources: Several years ago PBS produced a series called “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians.” To accompany the series, PBS set up a web site with some useful articles and resources. You can visit the site at

Oct. 25: The Gospel of Luke
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 10; The Gospel of Luke
Assignment: Luke offers us our second look at the birth story of Jesus. For this assignment I want you to read both Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy narratives (Gospel Parallels #A-L) and note the differences and similarities between the two accounts. Working as a historian (i.e., looking at sources and trying to determine from them what actually happened), what do you think we can say about Jesus’ early years based on these two accounts? (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
On-line resources: readers of Luke are surprised at the prominence of women in the gospel. One of the most exciting areas of research in the New Testament is the topic of women in Early Christianity. For a recent discussion of the topic visit

Nov. 1: The Gospel of John
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 11-12; Gospel of John; 1, 2, 3 John
Assignment: the Gospel of John has been labeled the most anti-Semitic of the NT gospels. Do you think this is true? Is the Gospel of John anti-Semitic? Be sure to note in your answer which particular material from the gospel could be considered anti-Semitic. (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
Online resources: Part of our discussion today will focus on the identity of the enigmatically named “Beloved Disciple.” For an introduction to the issue of the gospel author’s identity, read this Wikipedia article.

Nov. 8: Studies in the Synoptic Gospels
For today’s class: Today we will look at several key pericopae (episodes) from the Synoptic Gospels. Be sure to bring your copy of Gospel Parallels to class.
Online resources: For a different take on a synopsis of the gospels, see the on-line synopsis assembled by University of Toronto professor John Marshall at
** Pericope analysis Assignment due today **

Nov. 15: New Testament Apocrypha
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 13; Burke, “Lost Gospels No More”; Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Mary, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Infancy Gospel of James, Dormition of Mary
Online resources: for a conservative response to the (typically) liberal scholarship of this course, watch this interview with Darrell Bock on “lost gospels.”

Nov. 22: Conference ~ No class

Nov. 29: The Historical Jesus
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 14 (also 15-19 if time permits).
Online resources: author Richard Carrier has written several books attempting to demonstrate that Jesus did not exist, such as Jesus Did Not Exist. For a look at his evidence, watch this lecture available on Youtube.
** Ehrman, Jesus Before the Gospels book review due today **


Jan. 10: Class Canceled

Jan. 17: The Historical Paul
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 19-20; Acts 1-15; Gospel of the Hebrews (available HERE).
Online resources: where do you start when learning about Paul? Paula Gooder has some advice in this video for the Video Timeline Project.
Assignment: studying the life and thought of Paul is an exercise in reading someone else’s mail. They were written by people about whom we know very little, to people about whom we know even less, and without a date on them. To gain a better understanding of the difficulties involved in studying Paul, read the modern letter included in the course outline for this week and think about the question “What do we need to know in order to make sense of this piece of correspondence?” Consider who wrote it? to whom? when? where is the author? where is the recipient? what prompted the author to write it? what cultural shorthand is employed that we need to know in order to understand its meaning? etc. (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).

Jan. 24: Paul and the Crises of his Churches: 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Galatians
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 21-22; 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, Galatians.
Online resources: learn more about first-century Corinth at in this video by Ian Paul and Stephen Travis and from the Video Timeline Project. And learn more about first-century Thessalonica at

Jan. 31: Romans
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 23-24; Romans; James.
Online 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.

Feb. 7: The Legacy of Paul I: The Deutero-Pauline Epistles
Read for today’s class: Ehrman ch. 25 (p. 434-448); 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians; 3 Corinthians (PDF).
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).

Feb. 14: The Legacy of Paul II: The Pastoral Epistles and Second-Century Traditions
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 25 (p. 449-459), 26; 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus; Acts of Paul and Thecla (PDF); Pseudo-Clementine Romance (3. Kerygmata Petrou) (PDF); Treatise on Resurrection (PDF).

Feb. 21: Reading Week

Feb. 28: A.D. The Bible Continues (TV Series)
As a conclusion to our look at 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 **

Mar. 7: Christians and Jews
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 27; Hebrews; Epistle of Barnabas.
Online resources: is the New Testament anti-Semitic? Read this response from English theologian Steve Walton.

Mar. 14: Christians and Pagans
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 28; 1 Peter; Ignatius (To the Smyrnaeans; To the Magnesians); Martyrdom of Polycarp; Pliny and Trajan Correspondence
Assignment: Read the correspondence between Pliny the Younger and the emperor Trajan on Christians. What does it reveal about the nature of persecution? How does this evidence relate to our other evidence (discussed in Ehrman ch. 28) regarding attitudes towards and treatment of followers of Jesus? What does it tell us about Greco-Roman attitudes toward Christians and their practices in the early second century? (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
Online resources: Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan offers us one piece of evidence about early Christianity from non-Christian sources. For a brief survey of other such sources see this blog entry on With One Aim.

Mar. 21: Christians and Christians
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 29; Jude; 2 Peter; Didache; 1 Clement
Online resources: a Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC is set to open in 2017. The museum is owned by Hobby Lobby, who has been criticized for buying artifacts on the black market and for their goal to use these artifacts to demonstrate the literal truth of the Bible. For more on the museum, visit their homepage at

Mar. 28: Revelation
Read for today’s class: Ehrman, ch. 30; Revelation; Apocalypse of Peter
Assignment: scholars of early Christianity consider Revelation to be a text written in the late first century to comfort Christians undergoing persecution. As you read through the text, imagine yourself as a first-century Christian. What are your reactions to Revelation’s description of your predicament? to the imagery it employs throughout the text to bring comfort? and to its characterization of your enemies? (NOTE: this is one of the four tutorial assignments this semester of which you are to hand in two).
Online resources: For centuries Christians have been trying to identify the Beast of Revelation. Could it be Donald Trump? Visit this page to read the evidence.

April 4: Canon Formation
Online resources: for an overview of how the church selected the texts for the New Testament, watch this interview with scholar Dan Wallace.
** Founders of Christianity Reflection Paper due today **

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