Religious Studies 535: Varieties of Christianity

Robert Kraft, University of Pennsylvania, Spring 2002
227 Logan Hall; tel. 215 898-5827
Instructor's home page and old class home page

Survey Oriented Primary/Secondary Ancient Sources:

[NOTE: as representatives of their respective periods, they are"primary" sources, but in what they report they are "secondary"]

Collections of Ancient Primary Sources:

(see also the larger collections in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ancient Christian Writers, and similar series; online see especially the Early Christian Writings page)

Modern Secondary Syntheses (recommended as examples):

Anthologies of Secondary Treatments (recommended for guidance):

Overview of the Sources and their Geographical Distribution

The Spread of Early Christianity (see especially Bauer, Orthodoxy Harnack, Mission 2)

Classification of Extant Sources (Primary, Secondary)

Selected Problems Confronting Early Christianity

What Happens When the Expected End Fails to Arrive?
How is Authority Constituted, Recognized, Enforced, Transmitted?
Belief and Conduct in Christian Communities
Relationships to Surrounding Societies

Synthesis: Types of Varieties of Early Christianity

Focus Questions, by the week = class meeting

1. Getting Oriented to the Sources

Identify four different COLLECTIONS of early Christian Literature and be able to give at least one in-depth example from each.

[Suggestion: look at tables of contents of Primary Source Collections]

2. Getting Oriented to the Participants

Identify four different sub-GROUPS within early Christianity and be able to describe in some detail at least one representative of each sub-group.

[Suggestion: work from tables of contents of Secondary Syntheses, with help from Secondary Anthologies as necessary]

3. Getting Oriented to the Significant Events

Identify four different key EVENTS that helped shape the development of early Christianity and conjecture how that development might have been affected if each event had not occurred.

[Suggestion: look for turning points suggested by the organization of the Secondary Syntheses]

4. Getting Oriented to the ONLOOKERS and OPPONENTS

Identify four types of non-Christian contemporaries in that early period and describe each position vis-a-vis Christianity. Do the same for four specific individuals.

[Suggestion: pay special attention to "backgrounds" treatments in the Secondary Syntheses, and follow up in the Secondary Anthologies; e.g. familiarize yourself with
Pliny the Elder,
Philo (Hypothetica, on Human Freedom and on the Contemplative Life),
Josephus (selection on Honi),
Lucian of Samosata (on Alexander of Abonoteichos and Peregrinus),

5. Concepts of
"Messiah/Christ" in Relation to Joshua/Jesus

Identify four different models of "messianic" expectation present in the pre-Christian world and show how each did or did not become associated with Jesus/Joshua.

[Suggestions: consider such passages as
GJohn 4.1-42,
GMk 12 and parallels in GMt 21-22 and GLk 20,
Paul/Rom 1.1-4,
Heb 6-7,
"GHebs" Coptic fragment,
AscIsa 11,
GLk 7.1-35 and parallels in GMt 11]

6. Joshua/Jesus as Revealer

Identify four different ways in which Joshua/Jesus is depicted as a "revealer" of special "knowledge" and/or material to his disciples (pay attention to chronological [i.e. at what point in his career, broadly speaking] and geographical/physical issues [where, in what forms] as well as to audience and content).

[Suggestions: compare the approaches in such sources as
Paul (Gal 1.16, 2 Cor 12),
GThom (and "Q"),
Rev 1-3,
EpApostles (see 2 Pet 1.16-18),
Dialogue of the Savior (NH),
Sophia of Jesus Christ (NH),
Clement of Alex. --]

7. Joshua/Jesus as Representative/Intermediator/Model

This way of viewing things builds, to a large extent, on how God's representative "messiah" (above #5) and/or "revealer" (above #6) is depicted, with a focus on what that agent does on behalf of the dependent followers; identify four different ways in which Joshua/Jesus is depicted as an "intermediary" between humans and the divine (pay attention to what is at stake in his filling such a role) and/or four different functions attributed to Joshua/Jesus in this context.

[Suggestions: explore such passages as
Paul/1 Cor 15(end time victor),
Paul/Rom 5-8(victor over sin),
Paul/Gal 2("in me"), 3(curse);
?Paul/Phlp 2.1-13("mind");
"Paul"/1 Tim 1.12-2.7,
"Paul"/2 Tim 2.8-13,
"Paul"/Tit 2.11-14;
1 Pet 1;
1 Jn 1.5-2.17;
Heb 1-2(pioneer), 5, 7.20-8.13, 12.1-11;
GJn 1.1-18(logos), 6.35-65(nourishment), 17(model?), 19(kingdom);
Rev (lamb);
ApcrJn start (NH -- and other materials mentioned above under #6);
1 Clem 36;
Barn 8(scapegoat);
2 Clem 3-4; Irenaeus (on substitution and ransom to devil)]

8. Joshua/Jesus as Possesor of Special Powers (Miracle/Magic)

Identify four distinguishable types of extraordinary actions performed by Joshua/Jesus on his surrounding world (or four types of mastery, in relation to the perceived source of the problem, attributed to Jesus -- over nature, over sickness, over satan/demons, over human opposition, over death, over sin, over historical circumstance, etc.) and name four other such "miracle workers" from the same period, including two that are not his own followers and two that are.

[Suggestions: compare various relevant stories in the synoptic gospels and in GJohn, look for claims regarding any "competitors"; note similar activities by early Christians (e.g. in canonical and apocryphal Acts accounts),check encyclopedia articles on (ancient) magic, miracle, healing, etc.]

9. Institutionalizing/Domesticating the Apocalyptic Impetus

Explore the use and meanings in early Christian writings of such terms as "kingdom of God/Heavens," "parousia," "second coming" or "return" of Christ, "last days/times," "antichrist" and related imagery, "day of the Lord" (or "of judgment"), and the like.

[Suggestions: use a concordance for NT and Apostolic Fathers;
look at Paul/1 Cor 7, 15;
?Paul/1 Thess 5;
GMk 8.34-9.1 (and parallels);
"Paul"/1 Tim 4;
2 Pet 3; Heb 1;
Rev 22;
Didache 16;
2 Clem 17;
Diognetus 5]


Identify four instances in which apparent frustration of apocalyptic hopes led to the modification of existing ideas/practices or the development of new ideas/practices in early Christian circles.

[Suggestions: explore the implications of the synoptic "transfiguration" accounts (compare 2 Pet 1),
Paul/1 Cor 15 (resurrection past),
?Paul/1 Thess 4-5 (end anticipation),
1 Jn (antichrist),
2 Pet (delay of end);
consider how early Christians related "kingdom of God" to human institutions or to citizenship ideals]

10. Patterns of Authority and Structure

Identify four different existing institutions in the early Christian period that influenced Christian language and perceptions about authority, directly or indirectly; and/or describe four different patterns in which early Christian groups organized themselves with reference to authority structures.

[Suggestions: consider models from Political, Economic, Religious, Social, Intellectual (academic), and Aesthetic spheres -- note the useful mnemnotic acronym PERSIA;
for some specific passages, see Paul/1 Cor 12,
?Paul/1 Thess 4-5,
?Paul/Eph 4-6 (Col 3.18-4.6),
Heb 8.1-10.25,
GJn 18.33-38, 3 Jn,
Acts 1-5,
1 Clem 40-43,
Ign/ Smyr 8-9 (and in general),
Did 11-15,
Hermas Par/Sim 9 (browse)]

11. Patterns of Liturgy/Cult

Identify four different early Christian community practices or ritual developments, and be prepared to discuss the background of at least one of them.

Paul/1 Cor 5, 8-11,
Paul/Rom 6.1-11,
Did (entire),
Heb -- & Barn -- (isolation),
Pliny to Trajan,
1 John (confession?),
James 5.13-20,
Justin/Apol 61-67,
GPhil [NH] 64-71,
synoptic sending out of the 12/70,
GMatt 28 "great commission"]

12. Patterns of Study, Connectedness, Rationalization

Early Christians imitated, adapted and created various approaches and arguments in defense and/or explanation of their positions. What patterns and principles of interpretation and presentation are recognizable in the following examples:
Paul/Rom 9-11,
GMt 1-2, 5.17-48,
Rev 13 (compare
4 Ezra [2 Esdras] 11-12),
1 Clem 7-12,
Barn 7-8, 9-10, 18-20,
Did 3,
Justin/Dial 1-7,
Origin of World [NH] (start)?

[Suggestions: Be alert to patterns that might suggest educational influences, "school type" activities, philosophizing commonplaces, scriptural associations/allusions, and the like]

13. Patterns of Social Involvement and/or Withdrawal

In what ways, and for what reasons, did early Christians attempt to distance themselves from the world in which they found themselves and in what ways did they acknowledge and affirm it? Pay attention to attitudes regarding social contacts and meetings, citizenship, military service, attendance at theater and/or the games and banquets (note accusations of misanthropy, atheism, secret orgies, and the like).

Paul/Gal 5-6.10,
Paul/1 Cor 7,
Paul/Rom 13,
"Paul"/1 Tim 4-6,
Heb 13,
1 Pet 1-4,
1 Jn 4-5,
Rev 22.6-21,
Justin (accusations),
2 Clem 5-7,
Diognetus 5-6;
see also Marcion, Tertullian, "encratism"]

14. Synthetic Overview

Reconstruct four different types of Christianity in the early period and show how each has its own identity/personality in relation to the others, and to the extra-Christian worlds. Try to choose varieties sufficiently different from each other that they probably would have argued (or did argue) strongly (or at least loudly) against each other.

[Suggestion: review all the relevant materials and imagine how each position would relate to the others.]