Spring 2004

Early Christianity in Syria & Asia Minor
RL 299.01 WSD/CS and 499.01 WSD/CS
Prerequisites: RL 101 & an inquiring mind
EN 103-112 or 111-112 or 114-116
Pre- or co-requisites: RL 205 or RL 220 or instructor permission

22 January 2004
Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Office: B218 (AD bldg.)
Professor of Religious Studies
Hours: W 8:30-1:30 or by appt.
E-mail: smcginn
Telephone: 216-397-3087

See course schedule

This seminar will explore the history of early Christianity in the Roman provinces of Syria and Asia Minor, through readings, lectures, and (virtual) visits to the actual places that were most significant to this development. Syria hosts many of the most ancient sites for the study of Christianity. The seminar will begin with the early events and texts associated with the cities of Damascus and Antioch, in ancient Syria -- events like the conversion of St. Paul; the missionary activity of Barnabas, Paul and Peter; the first ecumenical council; the composition of the Gospel of Matthew, the Didache, the Diatessaron and other early church documents. We will "travel" through time and space, tracing the route of Christian development from northern Palestine, through Cappadocia and Anatolia, to the coastal city of Ephesus, "the metropolis of Asia."

W This seminar is a "Writing Intensive" course in the undergraduate Core Curriculum, hence it will include explicit instruction in analysis and composition of research papers in historical theology. This will include"mini-workshops" in class as well as peer and instructor review of student papers.

This course is part of the Catholic Studies curriculum because it engages the student with the historical development of dogma, and the Roman Catholic theological tradition of interpretation of the New Testament and other early Christian documents.  Its ecclesial nature is a fundamental feature of this process of development.  Insofar as it is possible, I endeavor to make the class process model the kind of communal give-and-take which continues to produce this Catholic interpretive tradition.  Hence, students receive feedback on their papers not just from the professor, but also from their fellow students -- sometimes in written form, but more importantly in oral responses to different phases of their interpretive projects.  It is my hope that all students will find the class (and the instructor) respectful of their faith perspectives while posing invigorating challenges to prior assumptions.

CONSULTATION: I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your academic and research interests before or after class, during my office hours, or at other times by appointment.  I really do welcome your feedback at any time, especially any suggestions about how to make the class a more significant learning experience for you.

I assume that students have some familiarity with the Bible and with early Church history. It is particularly helpful if graduate students have somewhat more than cursory knowledge of the key historical events around the turn of the Era (e.g., Roman conquest of Palestine, life of Jesus, ministry of Paul, first Jewish-Roman War, writing of the gospels, persecution under Domitian). The first session will provide a rapid review of these events to refresh your memory, but it is unlikely to give enough background for students with no prior exposure to the period. If you are concerned about your background knowledge, please consult one or more of the surveys recommended below.

I assume that all students will actively participate in class discussions. A portion of the grade will be derived from this "APPA" score (Attendance, Preparation, Participation, and Attentiveness), which is my way of honoring the fact that scholarship is a communal endeavor. The "attendance" component allows that one's presence, at the very least, provides moral support for the other members of the seminar. In the "participation" component, weight is give to the quality of one's contributions to class discussion, not merely the quantity. The "preparation" factor presumes keeping pace with the readings in the primary and secondary literature assigned for each session, and conveying this by the quality of questions and/or comments during each session. The "attentiveness" factor recognizes and values the fact that we also learn by actively listening to the contributions of others during the seminar meetings, and by keeping the discussions focused on the topic area.

This course is designed to develop a student's affective, cognitive, and psychomotor skills.

Seminar/tour; a formal seminar during the spring semester at JCU will be complemented by student presentations as well as active and critical discussions on the basis of the primary data and secondary literature.



ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: At a Catholic institution, it goes without saying that students are expected to submit their own original work. This includes properly citing not only direct and indirect quotations, but any ideas you learn from other sources--including the Bible and other students. I am glad to work with anyone who needs clarification of this.

STUDENT RESPONSIBILITY includes preparing the assigned readings before each class meeting, actively participating in class discussions, and punctual submission of all written work. It is expected that all assignments be completed in order to receive a passing grade for this course.

ATTENDANCE is essential to this class. The University expects prompt and alert student presence at every class meeting. Seminar discussion comprises a substantial component of the course grade, and one must be present to participate in discussion. Hence, students who absent themselves more than two times during the semester will have their total course grade docked one letter grade, and then one additional grade level for each subsequent absence. If you are ill, a medical excuse is necessary to receive an excused absence. If you have an unavoidable conflict which will prevent you from meeting class, please present your documentation of this conflict before the class absence.

POSTPONEMENTS must be requested in writing at least one week before the due date for a given assignment. Absences from class do not excuse the student from submitting the required course work on time, since every assignment is listed in this syllabus under the course schedule. Late assignments will be docked one letter grade for each day they are overdue.


MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS include class presentations and a research project.

Each student will do THREE CLASS PRESENTATIONS. Use of note cards (or PPT) or an outline is strongly recommended; if used, please submit a copy to the instructor to assist in grading your presentation. I also strongly encourage you to rehearse your presentations aloud so you are certain that you can keep within the designated time limits (see your registration classification above for precise times for each presentation).

  1. One presentation will comprise a critical review of a book or article pertinent to your research project.
  2. A second presentation will involve an oral response to another seminar participant's research project. The response should focus on historical and methodological issues. The primary purpose of the response is to raise, for class discussion, key ideas or issues from the paper.
  3. The third presentation will involve a brief synopsis of your own research project, key issues, findings, and avenues yet to be explored on that topic.

The FINAL RESEARCH PROJECT should include four components:

  1. an introduction including the thesis statement, a history of research (critical survey of the prior discussions of this topic), and methodology of this paper;
  2. an argument comprising EITHER a exposition of the significance of a particular ancient Syrian site for the development of early Christianity (including the rise of Catholicism) OR an exegetical analysis of a passage from some early Syriac Christian text. The argument will comprise three parts:
    1. establishing your assumptions about the literary, rhetorical, social and historical aspects of the site or passage;
    2. a detailed analysis of the archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence pertaining to the site OR an exegetical study of a key portion of the pericope using standard historical-critical methods (including textual criticism); and
    3. a brief analysis of the ethical, historical, and/or theological implications of your findings for ongoing concerns, discussions, or debates in contemporary Catholicism -- Roman and/or Eastern Rite;
  3. a conclusion summarizing how you have proven your thesis, and what avenues for further study remain;
  4. a critical, annotated bibliography of selected items relevant to your research

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