REL 102A
9:30-10:45 AM MW

Purpose of Course

This course has been designed to introduce students to a basic understanding of early Christian writings, utilizing insights from history, anthropology, literary analysis, sociology and theology. The purpose of Religion 102:

  • To develop an appreciation for the beauty and profundity of the text
  • To become familiar with the New Testament and related literature from a variety of modern academic and scholastic perspectives
  • To use historical and literary methods to interpret the significance of written texts.
  • To trace the religious development of diverse Jewish and Christian movements during the Early Church period who claimed Jesus as a messianic figure.

This course will introduce students to the academic investigation of Early Christian literature. We will use tools of textual and historical analysis to look at how particular authors and editors constructed characters, narrative and contexts in light of their own social/historical location and intended original audience (we are not the "intended original audience"). Further, this course is non-confessional in nature; you will not be asked to embrace any particular set of religious beliefs in this course. Any personal convictions you may hold regarding this literature will not be the focus of our investigation this semester.

Required Texts

Ehrman, B. (2011). The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Fifth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. Hereafter cited as Ehrman

The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Wayne A. Meeks, General Editor (2006). New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Recommended Texts

Documents for the Study of the Gospels, David Cartledge and David Dungan, eds. (1994). Minn: Augsburg Fortress Press.

Course Assignments

  1. Four examinations throughout the semester, based on class lectures and readings:

    Wednesday, February 1
    Wednesday, March 8
    Monday, April 5
    Final Exam - TBA

    Examinations will be composed of Fill-in-the-Blank, identification of term or concept and short answer essay questions.. All tests will be closed book. Tests may be taken at another time only with approved medical or family emergency. What constitutes an "approved" emergency:
    1. You are in-patient at a hospital with a grave medical condition. Of course, I will want to speak to your attending physician.
    2. The death of an immediate family member. An obituary in which your name and relationship to the deceased is mentioned will be requested.
    3. Feeling tired? Tummy hurt? Just not "in the mood"? Did not study? Problems with your significant other/friend/whatever? Sorry, but none of these excuses will be accepted.
  2. Each student will compose a short, five page research paper that explores one of the related works to New Testament studies, found by clicking on "Paper Topics" This paper will represent scholastic, academic research on the selected topic.

    Lest you think this assignment too big, let me break it down into manageable parts.
      1. By February 4, you will need to select a topic for exploration. To accomplish this task, you must follow these instructions. First, travel to the Paper Topics page. Second, read the topics carefully. If a topic has a line through it, it has already been selected by another colleague. Third, make a decision. Finally, email me your selection. The professor will respond to you within 24 hrs to confirm your selection. Only one topic per customer, please. No duplications. No substitutions.
      2. Each student will schedule a time with the professor to discuss appropriate sources (both books and periodicals). You will need at least one (1) books and four (4) periodicals for this research project. You may use the JSTOR and other academic databases. Only academic sources may be used for this project.
      3. Each student will submit by February 25 an acceptable bibliography, written in MLA or Chicago style. Be consistent. Do not mix styles and do not invent your own. Submit via email to me ( as a Word attachment
      4. Type the five page research paper, utilizing the same style selected for the bibliography. Other important paper guidelines which must be followed:
        12 point Times Roman Font
        65-70 character line, double spaced
        One inch top, bottom, right, left margins
        Justification to the left
        Page number at bottom right except for first page
        Start writing at the top of Page One
        Place you name(s) and complete Honor Code on Works Cite page
        Sign Honor Code
        Works Cited page must be included
        No more than 7% direct citation
        No block quoting
        Any attempt at plagiarism will result in a trip to the Honor Court.
      5. Paper must be submitted by April 15 by class. No exceptions, extensions or excuses. Like the bibliography, submit the paper via email as an attached Word document.
      6. Paper should address the following issues in brief detail:
        Author(s) of the text
        Date written
        Intended Original Audience
        Purpose of the writing
        Social Conditions of the writing
        Composition or structure of writing
        Literary styles exhibited
        Historical significance of writing
      7. Each student will deliver a five-ten minute presentation to the class concerning the key ideas of the paper. The information you share in this presentation will appear on the final exam of this course.
      8. Each student shall present a one-page handout which answers the key questions of the paper. One handout for each student should be provided by the presenters.
      9. Spend your five minutes engaged in a creative exploration of one or more the key ideas of the paper. Help make your information memorable through use of drama, video, lecture, dramatic reading, music, Power Point, etc. Of course, any presentation that appears to the professor to be the product of last-minute mindless and haphazard planning shall be met with a swift but definitive grade reduction.
      10. Team presentations begin on April 15.

    First, I am not your parent, your brother, or your best friend; I am a colleague in both teaching and learning. We need each other for this classroom tribe to function.
    Second, when you are not here, you will be missed. Our community will be diminished. Sure, most of us will miss a class. But what happens when somebody misses more than three class periods this semester?

    As Convener of this Tribe, I will assume that you have found a new community that requires your presence. So, due to my desire to live a life of total compassion, I will deduct one letter grade from your final course grade for each additional class period missed, thus encouraging you to be wherever it is you need to be other than our class.

    Within this course you are encouraged strongly to utilize "inclusive language". What does this term mean? When we speak of humanity, avoid using the gender specific term "man" as a synonym. When you speak of a particular god or goddess, use their proper name. Find ways in which to demonstrate respect and dignity for all persons, both believers and seekers.

    Each student will be expected to keep a class notebook. You will find that class notes will differ from the reading assignments. As a result, tests will reflect information not always found in the textbook.

    It is a requirement of this course that you submit written work on time; that is, in class the day a paper is due. A paper submitted five minutes after class starts is late. Late papers will result in the loss of a one letter grade for every day (a 24-hour period) after the due date (e.g., a paper with the grade of B will become a C if one day late, D if two days late, and so forth). A medical excuse does not exempt you from your responsibility to submit work on time. Assignments can be turned in at any time before the final deadline.

    While there is an increasing number of web pages devoted to the scholarly research of early Christian literature, the information is often not reliable or better than what is available in the library book and journal collections. Therefore, you are not to use or cite any source from the Internet unless you have consulted with the professor AND RECEIVED PERMISSION IN ADVANCE. IF ANY OF YOUR PROJECTS FOR THIS CLASS MAKE UNAUTHORIZED USE OF THE INTERNET, YOU WILL FAIL THE ASSIGNMENT. NO QUESTIONS ASKED. NO EXCUSES ENTERTAINED.

    Each student is expected to proofread and edit their work carefully prior to submission. I will deduct points for grammatical errors and violations of the principles expressed on the Writer's Cheat Sheet. Special attention should be given to eradicating "is", "are", "was", "were", "has", "had" and "been" from your formal writing. Edit your work using the Paramedic Method.

    Using the written work of a student who took this course in a previous semester is forbidden. Violation of this policy will be reported to the Honor Court.

    It is the policy of Centenary College to accommodate students with disabilities, pursuant to federal law, state law and the College's commitment to equal educational opportunities. Any student with a disability who needs accommodation (for example, in seating placement or in arrangements for examinations) should inform me at the beginning of the course. Students with disabilities should contact Disability Services (a division of Counseling Services), located on the ground floor of Rotary Hall (869-5466/5424).

  11. I do not offer "extra" credit in my courses. May I suggest you do your best to earn all available credit.

I am usually in my office by 8:15AM Monday through Friday and leave at 4:15 each afternoon. You may schedule an appointment with me at any time via email ( or phone (869-5051)

Evaluation Percentages

Four Examinations
20% each

Research Project 20%
Total Percentage 100%




January 4 Introduction to the Course
Review course syllabus
January 9 Basic Concepts for Young Bible Scholars (I)
Read Ehrman, Chapter One
Look at the Nag Hammadi Library
January 11 Basic Concepts for Young Bible Scholars (II)
No Class
January 18 Basic Concepts for Young Bible Scholars (III)
January 23 What is the New Testament World?
Read Ehrman, Chapters Two and 15
January 25 Philosophy in the Ancient Roman World
January 30 Jewish Context for Jesus
Read Ehrman, Chapter Four
Look at the Dead Sea Scrolls
Read about Hanina ben Dosa
Greco-Roman Biography and the Gospels
Read Ehrman, Chapter Five
Read Plutarch's biography of Alexander
February 6 Gospel of Mark (I)
Read Ehrman, Chapter Six
Read Mark
February 8

Gospel of Mark (II)
Jesus as a Revolutionary Peasant
Read Ehrman, Chapter 17

February 13 Gospel of Mark (III)
Read about the Secret Gospel of Mark or Proto Mark
Why did the gospel originally end at 16:8? Why two additional endings?
February 15 The Synoptic Problem
Read Ehrman, Chapter 7
The Jesus of Matthew (I)
Read Ehrman, Chapter 8
Read Matthew
Look at the Genealogy and read the Box 8.1.
February 20 The Jesus of Matthew (II)
Read the Q Source
February 22 The Jesus of Luke (I)
Read Ehrman, Chapter Nine
Read Luke
Who was Mithra?
March 6

The Jesus of Luke (II)
Jesus as a Greco-Roman Savior God

March 13 The Jesus of John
Read Ehrman, Chapter 11
Read John
Review the six different methods (or hermeneutics) we have used to this point to analyze text. (see Box 12.3)
What is a redactor?
March 15

Looking at other depictions of Jesus
Read the Gospel of Thomas
Read The Apocryphon of John
Read The Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Read The Gospel of James
Read The Epistle of the Apostles
Read Ehrman, Chapter 13

March 20 Paul the Apostle
Read 1 Thessalonians
Read I and II Corinthians
Read Ehrman, Chapter 21
Read Ehrman, Chapter 20
What is an insula?
March 22 Paul in Crisis
Read Galatians, Phillipians and Philemon
Paul Writes to Rome
Read Romans
Read Ehrman, Chapter 22
March 27 Deutero-Pauline Letters and the Pastorals
Read Ehrman, Chapter 24
Read Ephesians, Colossians, I and II Timothy and Titus
Read The Epistle of Barnabus
Read Fragments of Melito of Sardis
March 29 Christians and Pagans (I)
Read Ehrman, Chapter 27
Read I Peter
Read Perpetua and Felicitas
Read Letter of Pliny to Emperor Trajan
Read Letters from Ignatius of Antioch
Read The Martyrdom of Polycarp
April 3 Christians in Conflict (I)
Read Ehrman, Chapter 28
Read James, Jude and 2 Peter
Read the Didache
Read Epistle of Polycarp to the Phillipians
Read I Clement
Read Acts of Peter
April 12 Christian Apocalypses
Read Ehrman, Chapter 29
Read Revelation
Read Shepherd of Hermas
Read Apocalypse of Peter
April 17 Women, Gender and the Early Church
Read Ehrman, Chapter 25
April 19 TBA