Tuesday, Thursday 9:30-10:45 am
Professor Adam H. Becker
What was it about Christianity that made it so popular in the ancient world? Was it the martyrs volunteering for public execution? Monks’ sexual renunciation? The isolation of hermits living on the tops of columns in the wilderness? Or perhaps orthodoxy and its politically divisive anxieties about heretics and Jews? In fact, all these things (and more) explain how a small Jewish messianic sect from Palestine became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. This course will provide an introduction to the big questions in the history of early Christianity. The focus will be on early Christian literature, such as martyr texts, saints’ lives, and works of monastic spirituality and mysticism. Issues addressed will include the Christian reception of Greco-Roman antiquity, the origins of anti-Semitism, gender and sexuality in the early Church, and the emergence of Christian theology.
We will usually read only one or two texts for each class. This is intentional. Most courses addressing this period and its sources are structured as history courses in which the various readings serve primarily as evidence for specific events and issues. This course is historical in that it offers an opportunity to think about the past, how we construct it from our sources and what our relationship is to it, but a significant focus will be on the sources themselves as literary documents. One of the most significant characteristics of Christianity in the early period, especially if we judge by the bulk of the remaining evidence, is the emergence of a diverse new literary culture and new forms of literacy (not only in Greek and Latin but also Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Ethiopic, as well as other less well attested linguistic archives). We will study this and in doing so both attempt to understand its place in the history of the early church and consider how we can rely on different types of documents for reconstructing social history.
Class Participation 10%
Three Quizzes 10%
Six short papers 80%
There are no exams or research papers for this course. Instead, the bulk of students’ grades will be based upon six short papers, each one due at the end of each of the six parts of the semester (see below). These papers will be a response to the question listed on the syllabus at the end of each part (see below) but we as a group may adapt them to fit what strikes our interest as we work through the material.
Structure of Class Time:
Each class will begin with a lecture on the topic listed for the day. The lecture will provide a historical survey, a discussion of material culture, and whatever else we may need to better think 2
about our sources. I will then discuss the author and texts we have read for that day. We will then spend time as a group discussing the text or texts. This is not simply a lecture course: The goal is to create a context for lively conversation about texts that make significant claims about the world.
Weekly Handout: Dates, Key Terms, Maps
This is not a course in later Roman history nor Church history in any traditional sense (and of course there are many topics we will be unable to address in detail, e.g., liturgy). However, we need to know at least some basic empirical information in order to interpret correctly the texts we will be reading from a historical perspective. Therefore, there will be a list of dates, names, locations, and key terms for each lecture. Students are expected to learn these.
You are expected to attend all classes. It will be extremely difficult to successfully complete the written assignments if you do not attend class. I would be happy to discuss missed material in office hour or at some arranged time provided that class was missed due to illness or some personal emergency.
The amount of reading varies from week to week. Try to plan ahead. The lectures and class discussion will be less useful if the material has not been read beforehand. There will be three surprise quizzes to make sure students are reading for each class meeting.
Written assignments are penalized one grade for being late and another for every four hours after that until they are handed in (please email late assignments as soon as possible). There will be no extensions without medical reasons or seriously personal disasters. Plan in advance.
The only book you need to purchase is:
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
There are several printings of this edition and so the year of publication may vary.
Sept. 5 Introduction
PART 1: MARTYRDOM
Sept. 7 Martyrdom and the Inclination to Suffer like Jesus Christ
Lecture Topic: The Early Spread of Christianity within the Roman Empire
*Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. J. B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, rev. Ed. Michael W. Holmes (2nd. ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 166-185 (odd pages).
*The Martyrdom of Polycarp, in The Apostolic Fathers, 222-245 (odd pages)
*Pliny, Epistle 10.96/7 (http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/latin/pliny.html)
Sept. 12 Gender and the Suffering Body in Martyrdom Accounts
Lecture Topic: Public Violence and Display in the Roman World
*The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, trans. Maureen A. Tilley, in Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice, ed. Richard Valantasis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 387-97.
*Martyrs of Lyons, Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. 5.1ff, trans. Frederick W. Weidmann, in Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice, 398-412.
Sept. 14 Exhortations to Martyrdom and the Ethical Problem of Survival
Lecture Topic: What Papyrological Remains Tell Us About Martyrdom
*Tertullian, To the Martyrs, in Tertullian, Disciplinary, Moral, and Ascetical Works, trans. Rudolph Arbesmann, et al. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1977), 107-114.
*Cyprian, The Lapsed, in Saint Cyprian, Treatises, trans. Roy D. Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1958), 55-88.
3-page paper due on Friday, Sept. 15
Question: How is martyrdom about making meaning within community? What is the meaning made?
PART 2: MULTIPLE CHRISTIANITIES AND POSTBIBLICAL LITERATURE
Sept. 19 Extending the Gospels
Lecture Topic: The Development of the Gospel Genre
*Protevangelium of James, in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R. McL. Wilson (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991), I. 421-39.
*Infancy Story of Thomas, in New Testament Apocrypha, I. 439-51.
Sept. 21 “Gnostic” Literature
Lecture Topic: Nag Hammadi and the Discovery of Multiple Christianities
*The Secret Book According to John, in The Gnostic Scriptures, trans. Bentley Layton (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1987), 23-51.
*The Thunder-Perfect Intellect, in The Gnostic Scriptures, 77-85.
*Odes of Solomon 19, in The Apocryphal Old Testament, ed. H.F.D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), 709-10.
Sept. 26 Extending the Acts
Lecture Topic: The Greek Novel and the Apocryphal Acts
*Acts of Thomas, in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, trans. R. McL. Wilson (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992), II: 339-54.
*Acts of Paul and Thekla, in New Testament Apocrypha, II: 239-46.
*Acts of John, in New Testament Apocrypha, II: 194-201.
Three-page paper due on Friday, Sept. 27
Journal Question: How is the proliferation of different forms of Christianity in the early period reflected in the apparent flexibility of early Christian biblical genres?
PART 3: POLEMIC AND INTELLECTUAL CULTURE
Sept. 28 The Beginning of Apologetics: Justin Martyr
Lecture Topic: Christianity and Greek Philosophy
*Justin Martyr, The First and Second Apologies, trans. with introduction and notes by Leslie William Barnard (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), a selection from 23-73 (see also notes).
*Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, trans. Michael B. Falls (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America, 2012), 3-19.
Oct. 3 The Bride of Christ and the Beginning of Commentary
Lecture Topic: The First Christian Commentaries on Scripture
*Origen, Prologue to the Commentary on the Song of Songs, in Origen, trans. Rowan A. Greer (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 217-44.
Oct. 5 The Beginning of Theology and Hermeneutics
Lecture Topic: The Origins of Christian Theology
*Origen, On First Principles IV, in Origen, 171-216.
Oct. 10 Poetry on Reading
Lecture Topic: The Emergence of New Christian Literacies
*Ephrem of Nisibis, Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian P. Brock (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 77-108 (Hymns 1-5).
*Ephrem of Nisibis, The Hymns on Faith, trans. Jeffrey T. Wickes (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 2015), 192-195, 377-392 (Hymns 31, 81-85)
Oct. 12 The Origins of Ecclesiastical History
Lecture Topic: The Conversion of Constantine and the First Ecumenical Church Councils
*Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, trans. G. A. Williamson (London: Penguin, 1965), 1-34 (Book 1).
*Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine, trans. Averil Cameron and Stuart Hall (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999), 67-89 (Book 1.1-48).
Four-page paper due on Friday, Oct. 13
Question: What is the relationship between emergent early Christian intellectual and literary culture and the canonical Bible?
PART 4: MONASTICISM
Oct. 17 The “First Monk” and the Writing of his Life
Lecture Topic: Anthony and proto-monasticism
*Athanasius, Life of Anthony, trans. Robert C. Gregg (New York: Paulist, 1980), a selection from 29-99 (notes 134-144).
The Desert Fathers and the Beginning of the Rule
Lecture Topic: Monastic Rules and the Egyptian Fathers
* The Desert Christian: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward (New York: Macmillan, 1975), 9-19.
*The Rules of St. Pachomius, in Pachomian Koinonia, Volume II: Pachomian Chronicles and Rules, trans. Armand Veilleux (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1981), 141-183.
Oct. 24 The Cappadocian Fathers
Lecture Topic: Christian Neoplatonism
*Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), a selection.
Oct. 26 Evagrius of Pontus and the Beginning of Ascetic Literature
Lecture Topic: The Different Genres of Monastic Literature and their Social Location
*Evagrius of Pontus, Selections from the Kephalaia Gnostica and the Antirheticus, in Ascetic Behavior in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook, ed. Vincent Wimbush (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 175-186, 243-262.
Oct. 31 The Epistle of Guilt and Ascetic Desire
Lecture Topic: Elite Monasticism and the Spread of Asceticism to the West
*Jerome, letter 22 (“To Eustochium”) in Handmaids of the Lord: Contemporary Descriptions of Feminine Asceticism in the First Six Christian Centuries, trans. Joan M. Petersen (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1996), 169-208 (notes 208-217).
Five-page paper due on Tuesday, Nov. 1
Question: What is the role of personal exemplarity in monastic culture?
PART 5: HAGIOGRAPHY AND THE MORAL TRANSFORMATION OF SOCIETY
Nov. 2 Collective Biography of Saints
Lecture Topic: Simeon the Stylite
*Theodoret of Cyrrhus, A History of the Monks of Syria (Religious History), trans. R. M. Price (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1985), 3-11 (Prologue), 160-176 (Symeon [Stylites]).
Nov. 7 Hagiographic Models: The Man of God of God of Edessa and Pelagia the Harlot
Lecture Topic: Hagiography and the Cult of the Saints
*Life of the Man of God, in Robert Doran, Stewards of the Poor: The Man of God, Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth-Century Edessa (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 2006), 17-25.
*Life of Saint Pelagia, in Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources, Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cisterician, 1987), 66-75.
The Cult of the Saints: John Chrysostom (Part 1)
Lecture Topic: The Cult of the Saints in Late Antiquity
*John Chrysostom, “On the Holy Martyr Ignatius,” in The Cult of the Saints: Selected Homilies and Letters, trans. Wendy Mayer and Bronwen Neil (Crestwood, NY: St Vladmir’s Seminary Press, 2006), 101-17.
Nov. 14 Homiletics: John Chrysostom (Part 2)
Lecture Topic: Care of the Poor in the Early Church
*John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty, trans. Catherine P. Roth (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1984), 19-78 (with a few cuts to Sermon #3)
Nov 16 Homiletics: John Chrysostom (Part 3)
Lecture Topic: Contra Iudaeos Literature and its Social Context
*John Chrysostom, Discourses against Judaizing Christians, trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1979), 147-76 (Discourse VI).
Four-page paper due on Friday Nov. 17
Question: How did Christianization entail the transformation of public culture?
Nov. 21 Converting the Barbarians
Lecture Topic: The Spread of Christianity beyond the Roman Empire
*Sulpitius Severus, Life of Martin of Tours, in Early Christian Lives, trans. by Caroline White (New York: Penguin Press, 1998), 134-59.
Nov. 23 THANKSGIVING: No CLASS
PART 6: READING A CLASSIC OF EARLY CHRISTIAN LITERATURE
Nov. 28 Augustine’s Confessions
Lecture Topic: Augustine and Rhetorical Education
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3-34 (Bk I-II).
Nov. 30 Augustine’s Confessions
Lecture Topic: Manichaeism
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 35-71 (Bk III-V).
Dec. 5 Augustine’s Confessions
Lecture Topic: Neoplatonism and Augustine’s Conversion
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 72-132 (Bk VI-VII).
Dec. 7 Augustine’s Confessions
Lecture Topic: Augustine’s Other Works (including the rest of the Confessions) and the End of the Roman Empire in the West
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 133-178 (Bk VIII-IX).
Dec. 12 No CLASS (Monday schedule)
Dec. 14 Discussion of Final Essay
Final Essay: on Augustine’s Confessions and its place in early Christian history