"Portrait of a City"
Research Project
last update: 27 March 2007

The purpose of the "Portrait of a City Project" is to give the student the opportunity to develop proficiency in analyzing the material culture in which a given Biblical text (or set of texts) arose.

Unlike the exegetical project, where one is expected to apply all the various methods of Biblical exegesis and interpretation that have been surveyed in this seminar, this paper permits the student to focus on archaeology, epigraphy, palaeography, and/or social history, using whatever methods of textual analysis are necessary to corroborate and help interpret the material remains.

When using textual data in your analysis, you must demonstrate your awareness of the contemporary critical approaches we have studied and how they apply to your analysis of the site you have selected as the focus of your research. (NB: This applies to non-canonical texts as well as the canonical ones.) For example:

  1. If you choose to study the ancient city of Corinth, you might focus on its shipping district and harbor in Cenchrea. This could lead you to refer to Rom. 16:1-2, where Paul commends Phoebe to the attention of the Roman churches, and mentions her status at the church in Cenchrea. There should be evidence that you understand what it suggests about Phoebe's social location, and about the leadership structure of her church, when Paul calls her adelphê, diakonos, and prostatis. An awareness of the translation issues regarding these terms might also be pertinent.
  2. Or, if you chose to focus on the Temple of Aphrodite in Acrocorinth, you might refer to Paul's remarks to the Corinthian women prophets in 1 Cor. 11:1-16; the discussion should indicate that you are aware of the text-critical problems with v. 10, and the dubious authenticity of 1 Cor. 14:33b-36.

You will not be expected to do a detailed analysis of such texts (otherwise, you would end up with an exegetical project rather than this one), but there must be evidence that you understand how and when to use the methods we have studied, and what one gains from the dialogue between the material culture and pertinent, critically-appropriated literary evidence from that same time and place.

A basic outline of a final "portrait" project is as follows:  

  1. An introduction including including your thesis statement, a statement of what approach you will take toward the text (e.g., historical, liberationist, social-scientific), a sketch of how you will proceed in proving your thesis, and a brief "history of research" on your site (designed to segué into your argument and establish why it is significant)
  2. An argument comprising an analysis of the chosen site, which would include: (a) an outline of the city's basic layout, including pertinent topographical, ecological, commercial, and political data; (b) a detailed study of one site within the city (e.g., the agora, public baths, burial grounds, a temple, or a private house), using contemporary archaeological (and allied) methods; (c) a synthesis of your findings and their significance; and (d) an analysis of the implications of your research for our understanding of early Christianity, and the Pauline corpus in particular.
  3. A conclusion summarizing how you have proven your thesis, and what avenues for further study remain;
  4. A critical, select bibliography of items relevant for your research. (This should include all the works you consulted, even if they are not cited in the essay itself.)

Ideally, even the rough draft of the project should include all these components, but it must include at least the thesis statement and #2.

As indicated in the syllabus, the project will be graded in six stages, weighted according to the course grading schedule. Deadlines for the various stages of the paper are indicated in the Course Schedule.

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Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies & Early Christianity
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