Core Curriculum Designation Proposal Theological Understanding: Theological Explorations



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Zach Flanagin

dflanagi@stmarys-ca.edu



Core Curriculum Designation Proposal

Theological Understanding: Theological Explorations

TRS 101, “The Origins of Christianity”

  1. Name of Proposer: Zach Flanagin

  2. Email address: dflanagi@stmarys-ca.edu

  3. Department/Program of Proposer: Theology & Religious Studies

  4. Name of Department/Program housing the course: Theology & Religious Studies

  5. Name(s) of Program Director/Department Chair (if not the proposer): Michael Barram

  6. Course Acronym, Number and Title: TRS 101, “The Origins of Christianity”

  7. Semester(s) in which course will be offered: fall

  8. How often is this course taught? every two years

  9. Course Prerequisites (if any): TRS 097, “The Bible & Its Interpretation”

  10. Unit Value of Course: 1.0

  11. Proper Audience for the course (delete those that don’t apply):

Sophomores Juniors Seniors

  1. The Learning Goals for which the course is being submitted: Theological Understanding: Theological Explorations

Teaching: A brief narrative that explains how the course will guide students to achieve the learning outcomes

In TRS 101, I teach outcome #1a (i.e., understanding of a religious tradition) through the following specific course outcomes:



  1. Students will demonstrate knowledge of proto-orthodox Christianity and the reasons why it distinguished itself from Judaism and Gnosticism;

  2. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the forces that promoted and those that impeded the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire;

  3. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the theological and political forces operative in the Trinitarian and Christological debates of the 4th and 5th c.;

In this context, students will be required to spend significant amounts of time reading both primary sources and secondary historical texts, which will be the focus of lectures and discussions in the class. (For specifics topics and readings, see the syllabus below.)

In TRS 101, I teach outcome #1b (i.e., focused study in a subfield of theology) through the following specific course outcome:



  1. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the principles and methods of the study of church history;

In this context, students will begin the semester with a reading by the church historian David Steinmetz entitled “The Necessity of the Past,” which discusses the purpose and methods of church history. After practicing these methods in our analysis of primary texts in class over the course of the semester, students will return to the article and write a response to it, in light of the semester’s work.

In TRS 101, I teach outcome #2 through the following specific course outcomes:



  1. Students will demonstrate an ability to explore multiple perspectives in a theological debate through written papers and in-class debate;

  2. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of religious issues through close analysis and articulation of specific theological arguments.

In this context, I will lead students through a close analysis of a variety of opposing arguments found in primary texts, and the students will then practice these skills in papers and an in-class debate.

Learning: A brief explanation of how coursework (e.g., papers, exams, videotaped presentations) will be used to measure student learning of the outcomes

My course outcomes #1-3 (= core outcome #1a) will be assessed by a mid-term and final exam, containing both short answer and essay questions. Knowledge of the debates with Gnosticism and the later Trinitarian debates will also be assessed by two significant papers required in the course (see syllabus for details). Course outcome #4 (= core outcome #1b) will be assessed by a self-reflection paper on the Steinmetz essay (mentioned above). Course outcomes #5-6 (= core outcome #2) will be assessed by two significant papers (one on Gnostic-Orthodox debates and one on Arian-Nicene debates about the divinity of Jesus) and an in-class debate (in which students play the roles of either Gnostics or Orthodox believers in the 2nd c.).



Syllabus

TRS 101: The Origins of Christianity

Course Description: The Christian religion begins its story with only a few dozen followers of a crucified man in the first century – backwater, uneducated, and unlikely to survive very long in a Mediterranean world dominated by much more powerful religious systems.  Yet, in less than three centuries, Christianity would overwhelm the Roman Empire and beyond, building an elaborate theological and ecclesiastical system that would last until the present day.  This course examines the rise of this Christian movement, focusing on such topics as the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, Gnosticism, and the Roman Empire, as well as the complex theological debates over the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Jesus.

Learning Outcomes:



  1. Students will demonstrate knowledge of proto-orthodox Christianity and the reasons why it distinguished itself from Judaism and Gnosticism;

  • To be assessed by an exam, a paper, and an in-class debate

  1. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the forces that promoted and those that impeded the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire;

  • To be assessed by an exam

  1. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the theological and political forces operative in the Trinitarian and Christological debates of the 4th and 5th c.;

  1. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the principles and methods of the study of church history;

  • To be assessed by a self-reflection essay

  1. Students will demonstrate an ability to explore multiple perspectives in a theological debate through written papers and in-class debate;

  • To be assessed by two papers and an in-class debate

  1. Students will demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of religious issues through close analysis and articulation of specific theological arguments.

  • To be assessed by two papers and an in-class debate

Course Schedule:

  1. Introduction & Syllabus (Aug 30)

    1. Readings: *David Steinmetz, “The Necessity of the Past,” Theology Today 33 (July 1976): 168-77

  2. The First Chapter in Christian History: The Acts of the Apostles (Sep 1)

    1. Readings: (All assignments are listed for the day that they are due.)

      1. Bible, Acts of the Apostles 1:1-28:31

      2. Bible, Galatians 1:1-6:18

  3. The Struggles over Judaism (Sep 6)

    1. Readings:

      1. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 9-23

      2. Re-read Bible, Galatians 1:1-6:18

      3. Introduction and “The Letter of Peter to James and Its Reception,” in Ehrman, After the New Testament, pp. 134, 136-39

      4. Bible, John 9:1-41; re-read Acts 6:7-7:60

  4. The Struggles with Judaism: Justin Martyr (Sep 8)

    1. Readings:

      1. Introduction, in Ehrman, pp. 95-97

      2. Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” in Ehrman, pp. 106-15 (also see the introduction to a different section of this text on p. 18)

  5. The Struggles with Judaism: Barnabas (Sep 13)

    1. Readings: “The Epistle of Barnabas,” in Ehrman, pp. 98-106

  6. The Gnostic Movement: Interpreting the Old Testament (Sep 15)

    1. Readings: Ptolemy, “Letter to Flora,” in Ehrman, pp. 165-70

  7. The Gnostic Movement: Gnostic Cosmology (Sep 20)

    1. Readings:

      1. Introduction, in Ehrman, pp. 144-45

      2. Bible, Genesis 1:1-3:24

      3. “The Secret Book of John,” in Ehrman, pp. 146-54

      4. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 32-41

  8. The Gnostic Movement: Views of Jesus (Sep 22)

    1. Readings:

      1. “The Coptic Apocalypse of Peter” and “The Second Treatise of the Great Seth,” in Ehrman, pp. 227-34

      2. *“The Gospel of Judas,” trans. Rodolphe Kasser, et al., http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lostgospel/_pdf/GospelofJudas.pdf

      3. *“The Gospel of Mary,” in Bart Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford, 2003), pp. 35-37

  9. Reactions to Gnosticism: The New Testament Canon (Sep 27)

    1. Readings:

      1. *Robert M. Grant with David Tracy, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, 1984), pp. 39-43

      2. Ehrman, After the New Testament, pp. 309-15

      3. *Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, trans. G. A. Williamson (London, 1989), pp. 86-89, 65-67, 49, 61, 80, 100-02

  10. Reactions to Gnosticism: Ignatius’ Episcopal Structure (Sep 29)

    1. Readings:

      1. Introduction, in Ehrman, pp. 317-19

      2. Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 3:1-13

      3. *Ignatius, “Letter to the Trallians,” in Early Christian Writings, trans. Maxwell Stanforth (London, 1968, revised 1987), pp. 78-82

      4. Ignatius, Letters to Ephesians, Magnesians, and Smyrneans, in Ehrman, pp. 325-28

      5. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 41-53

  11. Reactions to Gnosticism: Irenaeus and the Rule of Faith (Oct 4)

    1. Readings:

      1. Introduction, in Ehrman, pp. 195-96

      2. Irenaeus, “Against the Heresies,” in Ehrman, pp. 196-211

      3. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 80-83

  12. Reactions to Gnosticism: Tertullian (Oct 6)

    1. Readings: Tertullian, “Prescription of the Heretics” and “On the Flesh of Christ,” in Ehrman, pp. 211-24

DEBATE / PAPER #1: Gnostics vs. Orthodox (Oct 11) – The class will be split into representatives of the Gnostic and Orthodox traditions at the time of the 2nd and 3rd c. Your job in the oral debate is to take up the position of your side and to defend its views of God, the world, and humanity (as well as show how and why your opponent is wrong). Not only will you need to clearly and accurately defend your view of the truth, but you will also need to support it with as many arguments as you can muster, drawn from the Bible, authority, logic, etc. A decent debater can defend his position. A great debater also knows the objections that his opponent will make and answers them before they can be brought up. All students are expected to (1) participate in the debate in class and (2) write up a 5-6 page debate paper. The paper can be written as a traditional compare/contrast paper, a dramatic dialogue (like a script), or even as a series of letters between individuals. If you have other ideas, let me know. (This paper is not group work). Unlike the oral portion of the debate, the paper should not be written from only one side, but should fairly and accurately represent how each side (Gnostic and Orthodox) would represent its position within the context of the 2nd and 3rd c. writings that we have discussed so far.

  1. Christianity and the Roman Empire: The Spread (Oct 18)

    1. Readings:

      1. Introduction, “The Acts of John,” and “The Acts of Thomas,” in Ehrman, pp. 7-18

      2. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 54-66

      3. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pp. 3-21, 76-128

  2. Christianity and the Roman Empire: Apologies for the Faith (Oct 20)

    1. Readings:

      1. Ehrman, pp. 51-71, 75-82

      2. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 66-79, 90-93

  3. Christianity and the Roman Empire: Persecution (Oct 25)

    1. Readings:

      1. *Pliny the Younger, “Letter to the Emperor Trajan,” from Letters 10.96-7, translated at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/pliny.html

      2. Ehrman, pp. 25-50

      3. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 23-31, 116-24

      4. *Eusebius, The History of the Church, pp. 256-81

      5. Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pp. 163-89

  4. Christianity and the Roman Empire: Constantine’s Conversion (Oct 27)

    1. Readings:

      1. *Eusebius, “The Conversion of Constantine,” ch. 27-32, from the Library of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, 2nd series (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1990), Vol I, 489-91, at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/conv-const.html

      2. *Lactantius, “On the Manner in which the Persecutors Died,” ch. 44, from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.iii.v.xliv.html

      3. *The “Edict of Milan” and other edicts in support of the Church, in Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (Oxford, 1999), pp. 17-19

      4. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, pp. 125-29

      5. *Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire, A.D. 100-400 (New Haven, 1984), pp. 43-51

      6. Re-read Stark, The Rise of Christianity, p. 10

Mid-Term Exam (Nov 1) – Review Session TBA

  1. Early Christian Views of Jesus – The New Testament & Its Challenges (Nov 3)

    1. Readings:

      1. Bible, compare Deuteronomy 6:4 to 1 Corinthians 8:6; and compare John 1:1-5, 10-18 to Proverbs 8:22-31 (where Wisdom is speaking)

      2. Bible, read Philippians 2:5-11; Romans 10:9; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Timothy 2:5; Mark 13:32; Luke 2:52; John 20:28, Colossians 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-4

      3. Find two other passages on your own that give some insight into the identity of Jesus in the Bible.

  2. Early Christian Views of Jesus – Before the Age of Nicea (Nov 8)

    1. Readings:

      1. *Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, vol. 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600) (Chicago, 1971), pp. 172-90

  3. Trinitarian Controversy: Arius (Nov 10)

    1. Readings:

      1. Chadwick, pp. 84-90, 113-115 (optional pp. 94-113)

      2. Introduction, Arius’ Letters to Eusebius of Nicomedia and Alexander of Alexandria, and Alexander of Alexandria’s Letter to Alexander of Thessalonica, in William G. Rusch, The Trinitarian Controversy, pp. 1-18, 29-44

      3. *Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, pp. 191-200

  4. Trinitarian Controversy: Council of Nicea (Nov 15)

    1. Readings:

      1. Introduction, “The Synodal Letter of the Council of Antioch,” and “The Creed of the Synod of Nicea,” in Rusch, pp. 18-20, 45-49

      2. *Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, pp. 200-07

      3. Chadwick, Early Church, pp. 129-32

  5. Trinitarian Controversy: After Nicea (Nov 17)

    1. Readings:

      1. *Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, pp. 207-10

      2. Chadwick, The Early Church, pp. 133-51

  6. Trinitarian Controversy: The Trinity – One Being, Three Persons (Nov 22)

    1. Readings:

      1. *Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, pp. 211-25

      2. Gregory of Nyssa, “Concerning We Should Think of Saying that There Are not Three Gods to Ablabius,” in Rusch, pp. 23-25, 149-61

      3. *The Constantinopolitan Creed, in Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present, ed. John H. Leith, 3rd ed. (Louisville, 1982), pp. 31-33

PAPER #2: Is Jesus God? – For the past several weeks we have been discussing fundamental questions about the divinity of Jesus. Now, I want you to take a side. Is Jesus God? Or not?  I would like you to structure this paper in letter-format.  The recipient can be either real or fictional.  Your job is to convince them of your perspective with a clear argument and the use of the kinds of evidence that we have been discussing in class: biblical, philosophical, liturgical, and/or soteriological.  (You do not need to use all four of these kinds of evidence; these are simply the four categories available to you.)  You will not be graded on which position you take (i.e., your grade will be neither better nor worse based on whether you argue that Jesus is God or not). You will be graded on (1) your explicit (and properly cited) interaction with the sources assigned for class and (2) the quality of your argument and writing.

  1. Christological Controversy: Alexandrian Christology (Nov 29)

    1. Readings: Introduction, Athanasius’ “Orations against the Arians,” and Apollinaris’ “On the Union in Christ of the Body with the Godhead,” in Richard Norris, The Christological Controversy, pp. 17-23, 83-111

  2. Christological Controversy: Theodore of Mopsuestia (Dec 1)

    1. Readings: Introduction and Theodore’s “Fragments,” in Norris, pp. 23-26, 113-22

  3. Christological Controversy: Nestorius and Cyril (Dec 6)

    1. Readings: Introduction and selections from Nestorius and Cyril of Alexandria, in Norris, pp. 26-29, 123-45

  4. Christological Controversy: Council of Chalcedon and Beyond (Dec 8)

    1. Readings: Introduction, Leo’s “Letter to Flavian,” and the Council of Chalcedon’s “Definition of the Faith,” in Norris, pp. 29-31, 145-59

Due Dec 8: On the first day of class you read a short article about the importance of studying history, written by David Steinmetz. Now that you have studied the history of early Christianity for nearly a semester, I would like you to re-read the article. Please write up a two-page response paper to the Steinmetz essay in light of what you have learned / discovered this semester. There will be a link on the website for you to upload this final assignment.

Final Exam: According to College Schedule. Review Session TBA.


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