Religious Studies 135: CHRISTIAN ORIGINS Robert A. Kraft


You may do whatever research and reading you feel is helpful. After researching and organizing, spend no more than one hour in actual writing on each of the following four questions, or if you choose to do this as a research project rather than an exam, no more than 4800 words (equivalent to about 16 typed, double-spaced pages). Electronic submission (by diskette or "text only" email file -- not an "attachment") is preferable to hard copy. You may refer to books and notes, but remember to acknowledge the source of anything that is not considered "general knowledge" in the field. You may also "divide and conquer" (i.e. not wait until the end of the course and do all questions at the same time) as long as you recognize that there is a certain amount of accumulation of information (and hopefully of understanding) that carries through the entire course period. Rewriting of unsatisfactory essays is encouraged, when it promises to lead to better understanding.

Evaluation of your answers rests on such criteria as:

  • (1) how well you know the sources and problems associated with them;
  • (2) how careful and consistent you are in argumentation (balance, fairness, etc.);
  • (3) how successful you are in choosing representative examples, where appropriate, to enhance your presentation.
  • Make sure to define your terms to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding. Usually, there are no "right" and "wrong" answers, but some presentations will be more satisfactory and appropriate than others!


    1. Backgrounds of Early Christianity

    Recognizing that Judaism is included among the religious options in the Greco-Roman world, discuss the claim that Christianity added nothing "new" to what was already available in the areas of

    EITHER religious ethics and religious practice in that world

    OR (alternatively) religious thought ["theology"]. Provide specific examples when possible, in addition to any general observations and perceptions.


    2. Jesus and the Traditions about him

    Paying close attention to methodological and source problems (e.g. the "synoptic problem" and related issues, the "apocryphal NT," etc.), discuss the claim that Jesus was primarily


    interested in "religious and social reform" within first century Palestinian Judaism


    an eschatological preacher (prophet) within first century Palestinian Judaism


    a traveling teacher of timeless "wisdom" somewhere in the context of (or on the fringes of) first century Palestinian Judaism.


    3. Paul and the Earliest Christian Materials

    Paul was seen as a friend by some "gnostic" Christian (and similar) groups and as an enemy by some "Jewish Christian" groups. What was at issue in such judgments? How would Paul have reacted to the ways he was interpreted by these groups or by their "orthodox" Christian opponents? What would he identify as the main problem areas, and what would he claim as his central, distinguishing ideas?


    4. Non-Pauline and Post Pauline Early Christian Materials


    Emerging "classical" Christianity collected and preserved a number of apparently diverse writings such as the "Catholic/General Epistles," "Hebrews," "Revelation," the "Apostolic Fathers" and the early "Apologists." Why? What factors were at work in creating such a mixture of literary forms and conceptual contents? Do they have anything(s) significant in common? How would our picture(s) of early Christianity be affected if these materials had not been preserved? Pay attention both to issues of practice (organization, ritual, ethics) as well as thought (theology).


    The "Apostolic Fathers" and the early "Apologists" are claimed as allies by classical Christian "orthodoxy." On what grounds? To what extent do these writers represent a homogeneous Christian outlook in terms of such issues as attitudes to Judaism and/or to Greco-Roman Hellenism, attitudes to Christian varieties and/or opponents, role and significance of Jesus, continuity with "apostolic" traditions, forms of Christian worship (and any other criteria you may choose)?


    //end (Sept 2001)//