Saturday, September 8, 2018

Modular Course: Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity

I will be back in Saskatchewan in October to teach "Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity" as a week-long modular course at Briercrest. The class can be taken in the college as a 300-level undergraduate History or Biblical Studies elective, in the seminary (with a little more work) as a Masters-level Biblical Studies elective, or as an audit.

This is how I describe the course in the syllabus:
Contemporary scholars of Christian origins are committed to studying early Christianity carefully in its early Jewish context; they also agree that Judaism should be studied fairly on its own terms and not simply as the background to Early Christianity.

This course will adopt the same approach. We will examine pivotal “intertestamental” period events, such as the Maccabean revolt, and consider the impact of centuries of Persian, Greek and Roman rule on the beliefs, practices, and dreams of first-century Jews. We will learn about the distinctives of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, as well as what was common to the majority of ordinary Jews who did not belong to any group. We will also gain a first-hand acquaintance with early Jewish literature by reading selections from the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. By the end of this course, you will recognize more fully the richness and complexity of the Jewish milieu out of which Christianity developed. You will also be familiar with major trends in scholarship on early Judaism, and be better able to identify the nature and limits of the historical evidence, as well as to distinguish between speculative and solidly-grounded historical reconstructions.

And yet at every turn we will be concerned with the implications of what we are learning for our understanding of early Christianity. Our study of Jewish eschatological beliefs will shed light on the early Christian affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. Our analysis of early Jewish interpretation of Scripture will help us pay attention to the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament; it will also provide an opportunity to explore the development of the Old Testament canon. Finally, what we learn about the role of the law in early Jewish life will provide a framework within which Paul’s statements about the law can be evaluated. Fresh ways of looking at familiar texts will raise new questions as well as answer old ones. This is good—not least because it can direct us back to the Bible, prepared to listen to Scripture more carefully and to hear its challenge with new force.
It's a course I've taught a bunch of times now--see here and here for past iterations--but never as a "mod." This time around I switched up some of the assignments to suit the intensive format, and, hopefully, my students. I also changed one of the key textbooks--assigning short essays from The Jewish Annotated New Testament instead of readings from George Nickelsburg's Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah. Here is the full list of assigned texts, in case anyone is interested:

Secondary Sources
Cohen, Shaye J. D. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. 3rd ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2014.
Levine, Amy-Jill, and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Annotated NewTestament. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
Reserve Reading 
Kugel, James L. “Early Jewish Biblical Interpretation.” Pages 151–78 in Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview. Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.
Sandmel, Samuel. “Parallelomania.” JBL 81 (1962): 1-13.
Primary Sources
Apocrypha: Coogan, Michael D., ed. The New OxfordAnnotated Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Dead Sea Scrolls: Vermes, Geza. Penguin Classics Complete Dead SeaScrolls in English. 7th ed. New York: Penguin, 2012.
Pseudepigrapha (Note: You are not expected to purchase a copy, but you are required to bring a copy of the assigned readings from the Pseudepigrapha with you when they are discussed in class):
Charlesworth, James H., ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1983, 1985. Repr. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010.
Or Charles, R. H., ed. Pseudepigrapha. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English. Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon, 1913. (Online at or

And here are the syllabi:
BLST 371 College Biblical Studies Syllabus
HIS 371 College History Syllabus
BLST 801 Seminary Biblical Studies Syllabus

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