RELG 004. New Testament and Early Christianity Spring 2013

Mark Wallace. Tues/Thurs. 1.15-2.30 PM; Kohlberg 115
Office hrs. Tues/Thurs. 2.30-3.30 PM or by appointment
Phone: 610-328-7829
Office Pearson 216

A discussion-rich introduction to the New Testament in the light of contemporary biblical scholarship – along with fictional and cinematic retellings of the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The approach is both critical and sympathetic, namely, instruction will be intellectually rigorous and responsive to faith-based readings of the historical- and truth-claims of the Christian Bible. The ground is level in this class: believers and unbelievers, evangelicals and atheists are welcome. No prior background in biblical studies is assumed or required

The class engages the questions of authorship and redaction, historical context and cultural setting, and literary structure and theological purpose. Particular themes include the dynamic of canon formation; historical-critical method and religious belief; the synoptic problem in relation to the Gospel of John; the messianic consciousness of Jesus; early Christianity vis-à-vis Greco-Roman religions and Judaism; the role of women, gays, and slaves in formative Christianity; the use of epistolary literature in Paul; the challenge of apocalyptic material and end-of-history predictions; and the wealth of extra-canonical writings (e.g. Gospel of Judas and Gospel of Thomas) that are important for examining the rise of Christianity in the early common era

In addition to papers and exams, the class features student-led class takeovers and a community based learning component


The Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV – Student Edition [optional]

Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 5th edition

Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament

The Gospel of Judas, ed. Rodolphe Kasser et al., Critical Edition

Jim Crace, Quarantine

Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation

B. H. Throckmorton, Jr., Gospel Parallels: Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels [optional]


The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese (dir.)


Regular, punctual attendance is assumed. Do not miss class under any circumstances (medical or other emergencies are exceptions). Assessment assignments consist of one exegetical paper, midterm, student take-over and summary paper, and final exam. Equal weight is assigned to each assessment exercise for final grade evaluation. When possible, the instructor will deemphasize one outlier lower grade for final grade evaluation

Community Based Learning. Once every week for 3-4 hours, class members volunteer at after-school tutoring programs, among other activities. Swarthmore College understands its mission as developing utopian realism (ethical intelligence) among its student body. To that end, the goal of community based learning (CBL) in this course is to integrate classroom ideals about the good life and community practice so that that class members can become more reflective and competent participants in public life


Moodle provides the digital portal for the course: announcements, syllabus, reading materials beyond required books, CBL placements and information, assignments, research tools, and so forth. Please visit the class site regularly to keep abreast of new developments


Items noted below: New Testament books are listed by book and are to be read in their entirety, digital course documents are asterisked, and all other readings are from the Bibliography; Ehrman’s New Testament textbook readings are identified by chapter numbers; all other readings use page numbers where relevant

Week One: The Background of the New Testament

1/22 Introduction

1/24 Crace, Quarantine, 1-102
Ehrman, The New Testament, chaps. 1-5

Week Two: Introduction to the Gospels and Mark

1/29 Mark
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 6

1/31 Crace, Quarantine, 103-164
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 7

Week Three: Matthew

2/5 Matthew
Ehrman, The New Testament, chaps. 8-9

2/7 Crace, Quarantine, 165-242

Week Four: Luke/Acts

2/12 Luke
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 10
* Mark I. Wallace, “Early Christian Contempt for the Flesh and the Woman Who Loved Too Much in the Gospel of Luke,” in The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires and Sexuality in Christianity, ed. Kamitsuka, 33-49

2/14 Acts
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 11
* Mary Rose D’Angelo, “Reconstructing ‘Real’ Women from Gospel Literature,” in Women and Christian Origins, ed. Kraemer and D’Angelo, 105-128

Week Five: John and Gnosticism I

2/19 John
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 12

2/21 1, 2, 3 John
Ehrman, The New Testament, chaps. 13-14
Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 1-28 (Gospels of Nazareans, Ebionites, Hebrews, Egyptians, Thomas)
--- Exegetical Paper Due

Week Six: The Quest for the Historical Jesus and Gnosticism II

2/26 Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 15
Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 31-44, 57-62, 78-81 (Gospels of Peter, Mary, Philip, Infancy Gospel of Thomas, Coptic Apocalypse of Peter)
The Gospel of Judas, ed. Kasser, 6-53
* Gospel of the Egyptians

2/28 Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 15 (review)
The Gospel of Judas, ed. Kasser, 79-102

Week Seven: The Historian and the Believer

3/5 Ehrman, The New Testament, chaps. 16-17
* Burton Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins, 353-76

3/7 Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 18
* John Dear, Peace Behind Bars: A Peacemaking Priest's Journey from Jail, 1-7, 29-73

Spring Break

Week Eight: Paul and the End Times

3/19 Ehrman, The New Testament, chaps. 19-21
1 Thessalonians
* J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought, ix-19, 351-67

3/21 --- In-class Midterm

Week Nine: Paul and Slavery

3/26 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 22
* W. G. Rollins, “Slavery in the NT,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, ed. Crim, 830-32

3/28 Romans
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 23

Week Ten: Paul and Homosexuality

4/2 Romans (again), James
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 24
* Ronald E. Long, “Disarming Biblically Based Gay-Bashing,” in The Queer Bible Commentary, ed. Deryn Guest et al, 1-18

4/4 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus
Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 109-112, 157-59 (Acts of Paul, 3 Corinthians)
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 25
* Robert E. Goss and Deborah Krause, “The Pastoral Epistles: 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus,” in The Queer Bible Commentary, ed. Deryn Guest et al, 684-92

Week Eleven: Paul and Women

4/9 Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy (again)
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 26

4/11 * Elizabeth Castelli, “Paul on Women and Gender,” in Women and Christian Origins, ed. Kraemer and D’Angelo, 221-35

Week Twelve: Christians, Pagans, and Jews

4/16 Hebrews
* “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” in The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings, 2d ed., ed. Ehrman, 183-88
Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 219-35 (Letter of Barnabas)
Ehrman, The New Testament, chaps. 27-28

4/18 1 Peter
* R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, selections
* "New Testament References to Jews" and "St. John Chrysostom," excerpts

Week Thirteen: The End of the World I

4/23 James (again), Jude
Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 211-18 (Didache)
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 29

4/25 Revelation
Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 251-87 (Shepherd of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter)
Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 30
Rossing, Rapture Exposed, 1-102

Week Fourteen: The End of the World II

4/30 Rossing, Rapture Exposed, 103-207

5/2 Ehrman, The New Testament, chap. 30 (review)

Final Exam TBA

Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013, 8:02 PM