Spring 2006
Synoptic Gospels (RL 507)
Wed 6:30–9:15 P.M.—Room: SB107

Last page update: 27 March 2006
Marble relief of St. Mark, Church of the Gesu, University Heights, Ohio (photo taken by S. E. McGinn) Marble relief of St. Matthew, Church of the Gesu, University Heights, Ohio (photo taken by S. E. McGinn) Marble relief of St. Luke, Church of the Gesu, University Heights, Ohio (photo taken by S. E. McGinn)
Sheila E. McGinn, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies & Early Christianity
Department of Religious Studies

Consult Dr. McGinn
Office: B218   (2nd floor Admin. Bldg., near O'Malley wing)

Graduate prerequisites:
   There are no formal prerequisites for this seminar, but students will benefit from some basic knowledge of the New Testament (e.g., RL 205 or equivalent) and of exegetical methods (e.g., RL 400 or equivalent).
   *Instructor permission is required for non-RL graduate students.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This seminar introduces students to the current "state of the question" in research on the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Careful reading and group discussion of key studies that dominate the current debate will focus on such issues as: theories of synoptic relations; the relationship of the synoptics to the non-canonical GPeter and GThomas; the literary and theological characteristics of each of the three synoptics; trends in the christology, soteriology and ecclesiology of the synoptics.  Course readings will be coordinated with lectures, discussions, and workshop sessions devoted to applying the students' basic knowledge of exegesis to specific synoptic texts.  These texts will provide the "case studies" for class discussion and for student research papers.

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 fruitful experience for you.

ASSUMPTIONS: Lectures will be based on the assumption that students have basic knowledge of the New Testament and of key historical events of that period (e.g., the birth and death of Jesus, first Jewish-Roman War, destruction of the Second Temple). The first session will provide a rapid review of these events to refresh your memory, but it will not give enough background for students with no prior exposure to the New Testament. If you are concerned about your background knowledge, please consult the NT surveys indicated in the list of recommended texts below.

OBJECTIVES: Successful completion of this course will provide students with the following skills:
    1. Habitual knowledge of the Roman Catholic view of scripture and methods for interpretation
    2. Ability to explain the three main theories concerning the relationship of the synoptic gospels to one another
    3. Ability to summarize the key themes and characteristics of each of the synoptic gospels
    4. Ability to summarize the current phase of discussion of the exegesis and interpretation of a passage in one of the synoptic gospels
    5. Facility with the standard bibliographical and reference tools for biblical study.
    6. Experience in producing a critical Biblical research paper characterized by appropriate format, rigorous argumentation of the thesis, and thorough documentation of sources.
CLASS FORMAT: seminar; formal lectures and student presentations will be complemented by active and critical student discussions on the basis of the primary texts and secondary literature.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: 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 Scriptural ones. 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 submitting written work on time. It is expected that all assignments be completed in order to receive a passing grade for this course.  See the Course Schedule for further details
ATTENDANCE is expected at every class meeting, and excess unexcused absences will have a seriously deleterious affect upon the final course grade. See this page for further details. An absence from class does not constitute an extension on any assignment; this would need to be negotiated independently of the question of attendance. Late assignments will be docked one letter grade for each calendar day they are overdue.
15% APPA (Attendance, Preparation, Participation, and Attentiveness)
10% Critical reviews of two recent, English-language, exegetical articles (or one foreign-language article, or one book) on on a topic pertinent to your serninar research project (350–500 words for an article or book chapter, 600–800 words for a book). One of these reviews will be presented in class (see next item).
05% Class presentation of one of your critical reviews (5–7 minutes)
05% Peer review of another student's second draft
05% Oral response (5–7 minutes) to another student's project presentation
10% Class presentation of your course project
50% Exegetical research project or Site study. See here for details on grading. The final Critique Form is available for your review


  • The Bible! Yes, it is true, we actually will read the three synoptic gospels and other pertinent Biblical materials. The best available English editions are:  The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha (NRSV), the Oxford Study Bible (REB), and the Catholic Study Bible (NAB).
  • A Gospel synopsis. My suggestion is Funk's New Gospel Parallels (vol. 1: Mt, Mk, Lk), if you can find a used copy. Other choices are: the ABS Synopsis of the Four Gospels (If you are adventurous, they also have a Greek Synopsis, the Synopsis Quatuor Evangeliorum); and Throckmorton's Gospel Parallels (Mt, Mk, Lk). Alternatively, The Five Gospels (which includes the four canonical gospels and GThomas) is a good option if you are interested in the "historical Jesus" question.
  • A recent commentary on one of the synoptic gospels.
RECOMMENDED TEXTS:  Students with limited background in Second Testament study are encouraged to consult one or more of the following introductions:
  • Raymond E. Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament.  New York: Doubleday, 1999.
  • Raymond Collins, Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday/Image, 1983.
  • David L. Dungan, A History of the Synoptic Problem: the canon, the text, the composition, and the interpretation of the Gospels. New York : Doubleday, 1999.
  • Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982; two vols.
  • Bruce Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Augsburg Fortress, 1999?
  • Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Gospels. 1986.
  • Bo Reicke, "The history of the synoptic discussion." In The Interrelations of the Gospels. Louvain : Leuven University Press, 1990. Pp. 291–316.
  • Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation. New York: Crossroad/Continuum, 2000.
  • Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroad, 1984, 1994).
REFERENCE TOOLS: these will come in handy for the research papers and class discussions.
  • Raymond Brown & John Meier, Antioch & Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity (New York/Ramsey: Paulist, 1983).
  • Erwin Nestle and Kurt Aland, eds. Novum Testamentum Graece; 26th ed. Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1987.
  • Bruce M. Metzger, ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. London/New York:  United Bible Societies, 1975.
  • Dr. McGinn's Synoptic Gospels Web Resources page
  • Various and sundry commentaries on the gospels are available. Select one or two and follow them along with the class discussions.

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