RS120C–D, St. Michael’s College, Vermont, Spring 2016
St. Edmund 105

Professor Jeffrey A. Keiser  |  jkeiser.2+rs120@gmail.com
Office and Hours: Jeanmarie 152; Mon and Wed 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.

Course Description

This course offers an introduction to the origins of Christianity, the Bible, and the major Christian traditions. The course is divided into three units covering the biblical foundations of Christianity, medieval developments, and modern challenges. Topics covered in the course include heresy and orthodoxy, church and state, the ‘war’ between science and religion, and much more. This study will be conducted academically, so no particular religious affiliation is presumed or necessary.

Course Objectives

Students in this course will:

  1. gain an understanding of contemporary methods and presuppositions in the academic study of religion;
  2. learn to read the Bible and other assigned texts critically and contextually;
  3. become familiar with key persons, events, and movements in the history of Christianity;
  4. develop written and oral communication skills.

Required Texts

  1. Harold Attridge, et al., Eds., The HarperCollins Study Bible, Student Edition (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2006). C. A. Cory and M. J. Hollerich, Eds., The Christian Theological Tradition, 3rd Ed., (Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Pearson Education, 2009) (Abbreviated TCTT in the Course Schedule).
  2. Links to additional readings will be posted on the course schedule.

Course Requirements

  1. Attendance and Participation:  Regular attendance will be reflected in your final grade. I acknowledge, however, that some absences are unavoidable; please notify me in advance of such absences whenever possible. In addition to attendance, your grade for the course will incorporate the following components:

    Reading:  Arrive in class with the assigned readings in hand, having read and annotated them in advance so that you are prepared for discussion.

    Active Participation:  Listen, make notes, ask questions, and contribute to class discussions.

  2. In-Class Exercises and Quizzes:  You will be required to participate in a variety of in-class exercises, either individually or in groups. As well, short quizzes will test your comprehension of class discussions and/or assigned readings. In order to receive credit for an exercise or quiz, you must be present on the day it is assigned and ensure that you turn it in with your full name on it. I will not offer make-up exercises or quizzes.

  3. Thinking Pieces:  Over the course of the semester you must complete five thinking pieces. These are short assignments based on the readings. In some cases the assignment will require that you compare and contrast different readings or answer a set of questions. In other cases you will write up a response to a question concerning a reading. These responses should be no more than two pages (roughly 500 words of typed, double-spaced text in 12-point Times New Roman or the equivalent). Depending on the nature of the assignment, you must turn in a hardcopy in class or upload your response to Canvas prior to the start of class.

    Thinking Pieces must be turned in at the beginning of class on the day they are due. Late submissions will be marked down.

  4. Church Visit Report:  Prior to Wednesday, March 30 you must attend a major weekend service of a church service of your choosing, excluding the denomination in which you were raised or with which you are currently affiliated. This exclusion does not apply if you have no Christian background or affiliation. During your visit you should make careful observations of the service. Write up your notes immediately afterward. A 3–5 page paper detailing your observations will be due on Monday, April 4. Additional details are available here.

  5. Final Examination:  A final examination will be administered during the exam period in May. This exam will cover content from the entire course. Additional details will be released later in the semester.

Summary of Course Requirements

  1. Attendance and Participation: 10%
  2. In-Class Exercises and Quizzes: 20%
  3. Thinking Pieces: 20%
  4. Church Visit Report: 25%
  5. Final Examination: 25%

Academic Integrity

Student work in this course will be evaluated in accordance with the college’s policy on academic integrity.

Special Needs

Please let me know if you have any special learning needs or if there is any factor which could interfere with your work in this course.

Laptops and Electronic Devices

Use of laptops and other devices such as tablets is discouraged in the classroom except for a documented learning disability. Please turn off your devices for the duration of the class.

Changes to the Syllabus

The official version of this syllabus will be hosted online. Modifications to the course schedule will be announced in advance.

Course Schedule

Week 01

Jan. 18: The Three Traditions of Christianity

TCTT, Introduction (pp. 1–17)

Jan. 20: Creation and FallHandout: Comparing Creation Stories

TCTT, pp. 19–27; ch. 2

HB/OT: Genesis 3:1–24; Ezekiel 28:11–19


Week 02

Jan. 25: The Covenant(s) of AbrahamHandout: Comparing Covenant Stories

TCTT, pp. 42–54

HB/OT: Exodus 1–15; Psalm 136

Jan. 27: Israel and the TorahHandout: Timeline of Ancient Israel to the Time of Jesus

TCTT, pp. 54–67

HB/OT: Exodus 19:1–20:21; 24–27; 31:18–32:35


Week 03

Feb. 01: Territory and TempleLinks to Maps and Diagrams

TCTT, pp. 68–73

HB/OT: Deuteronomy 17:14–20;  1 Samuel 8;  selected passages about David and Solomon

Feb. 03: Exile and Restoration
CLASS CANCELLED. Watch the following documentary on The Bible’s Buried Secrets (starting at 51:17), and complete this viewing guide.

TCTT, ch. 5


Week 04

Feb. 08: Exile and Restoration (continued)

HB/OT: The following readings address two questions:
1. Why were the Judean elites taken into exile?
2. How did the Judeans envision the restoration?

Feb. 10: Second Temple Judaism to the Time of Jesus Timeline of Second Temple Judaism

TCTT, pp. 91–103 TCTT, pp. 103–114

HB/OT: Ezra 3:8-13; Malachi 2:1-3:7

1 Maccabees 1–4 (What was the Maccabean Revolt?)

Josephus on the four sects of Judaism (Jewish Antiquities 18.11–25) (Who was Josephus?)


Week 05

Feb. 15: Jesus According to the Gospels

Thinking Piece #01:

  1. The four sects of Judaism are each looking to hire a messiah. Write one job description for each sect that fits their expectations of a messiah.

  2. Does Jesus fit any of these expectations? Why or why not?

TCTT, pp. 114–117

NT readings:
1. Mark (the whole gospel)
2. Matthew 1:1–4:17 and 23:1–26:2
3. Luke 1:1–4:14 and 9:51–11:13
4. John 1:1–3:21 and 8:12–59

Feb. 17: The Death of Jesus

HB/OT: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Zechariah 12–13

NT: Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels, 10th Ed. (United Bible Societies, 1993), pp. 288–324


Week 06

Feb. 22: NO CLASS

Film: Christianity: The First Thousand Years

Feb. 24: Paul the Apostle

TCTT, ch. 7

Thinking Piece #02: Critical Explorations in the Letters of Paul.

NT: Acts 6:1–8:3; Galatians; Philippians 2–3; 1 Corinthians 1–3; 8; 11:17–15:58


Week 07

Feb. 29: Paul the Apostle (continued)

NT: Acts 6:1–8:3; Galatians; Philippians 2–3; 1 Corinthians 1–3; 8; 11:17–15:58

Mar. 02: Expansion, Consolidation, and Accomodation

Musarillo, Herbert, trans., The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, from The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972)

TCTT, pp. 135–139

TCTT, pp. 171–175 (“The Life of the Church”); 239–241 (“The Development of Monasticism”); 261–263 (“Reform within the System”)

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Week 08

March 07: Heresy and Orthodoxy in Ancient Christianity
CLASS CANCELLED. Watch the following documentary on The Lost Gospels and complete this viewing guide.

TCTT, ch. 8

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Apocryphon of John, trans. Frederik Wisse (from The Gnostic Society Library)

Mar. 09: Irenaeus of Lyon and the Beginnings of Orthodoxy

TCTT, pp. 161–171

NT: John 1:1–18

Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.18.1–7, 19.1–3, 5.1.1–3, trans. R. A. Norris, Jr., in idem, The Christological Controversy (Sources of Early Christian Thought; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 49–60.


Week 09

Mar. 14: The Christological Controversy

Thinking Piece #3:

  1. Study this chart comparing the creed of Nicea (325 C.E.) to the creed of Constantinople I (381 C.E.). How would you explain the additions to the creed ratified at Constantinople?

  2. Recall Irenaeus of Lyon’s understanding of Jesus as discussed in his writing Against Heresies and in the last class. How does the definition of Chalcedon expand on this understanding?

TCTT, ch. 9

HB/OT: Proverbs 8:1–9:1 NT: John 1:1–18

The Definition of Chalcedon (451)

Mar. 16: Nicaea II: Orthodoxy and Iconoclasm

TCTT, ch. 11

Daniel Clendenin, “The Image of Christ: Theology in Color,” in idem, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 71–93

John of Damascus, “Third Apology of John of Damascus Against Those Who Attack the Divine Images,” in St. John of Damascus, On the Divine Images (trans. David Anderson, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), 71–90.

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Spring Break

Mar. 21: NO CLASS

Mar. 23: NO CLASS


Week 10

Mar. 28: NO CLASS

Mar. 30: Discussion of Church Visits


Week 11

Apr. 04: Ancient and Medieval Theories of Sin and Salvation I: Augustine of Hippo
CHURCH VISIT REPORTS DUE

TCTT, ch. 10

NT: Romans 5 and 7; 1 Timothy 2:12–15

Stephen Finlan, “Jesus in Atonement Theories,” pp. 193–212 in ed. D. Burke, The Blackwell Companion to Jesus (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2011)

Augustine of Hippo, To Simplician—On Various Questions 10–12, pp. 380–381 in ed. and trans. J. H. S. Burleigh, Augustine: Earlier Writings (LCC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox 2006)

Apr. 06: Ancient and Medieval Theories of Sin and Salvation II: Anselm of Canterbury

TCTT, pp. 246–250 (“Major Theological Figures in the Early Medieval Period”); 264–268 (“Medieval Religious Piety: The Mediation of Grace”); 292–294 (“The Black Death and the Christian Imagination”)

Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo (selections) from ed. and trans. Thomas Williams, Anselm: Basic Writings (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007)


Week 12

Apr. 11: Scholasticism

TCTT, ch. 15; pp. 289–290 (“Scholasticism and Nominalism”)

Theodore Gracyk, “St. Thomas Aquinas: The Existence of God can be proved in five ways,” an argument analysis of the “Five Ways

Apr. 13: Scholasticism (continued)


Week 13

Apr. 18: The Development of the Papacy

Thinking Piece #4:  Read Luke 22:38 in its original context, then read Unam Sanctam, by Pope Boniface VIII. What do the two swords of Luke 22:38 represent, according to Boniface? Does this interpretation fit the context in the Gospel of Luke? Why or why not?

TCTT, pp. 235–238; 242–244 (“The Evolution of the Papacy”); 258–261 (“The Primacy of the Papacy”); 290–292 (“The Avignon Papacy and the Great Schism”); 294–296 (“Revolts Against Church and State”)

NT: Matthew 16:13–23; Luke 22:1–38

Urban VIII, Unam Sanctam

Apr. 20: The Reformation 1: Martin Luther

TCTT, pp. 303–306 (“The Modern Period”); chs. 17–18

Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty (selections)

Alexander Dominitz, Dir., 95 Theses

TCTT, chs. 19–20


Week 14

April 25: The Reformation 2: John Calvin

TCTT, chs. 19–20

April 27: Reformation to Colonization

TCTT, chs. 21 and 23

John Winthrop, “City Upon a Hill</a>,” excerpted from “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630) and “Letter to Sir Nathaniel Rich” (1634)

Cotton Mather, “Nehemias Americanus: The Life of John Winthrop, Esq., Governor of the Massachusetts ColonyMagnalia Christi Americana 2.1–4

Robert Allen Warrior, “A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians,” pp. 235–241 in ed. R.S. Sugirtharaja, Voices From the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, Third Edition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006)


Week 15

May 02: Christianity in the Modern World: From the Scientific Revolution to the Challenge of the Enlightenment and the ‘War’ with Science

Thinking Piece #5:  Watch astronomer Carl Sagan’s famous “Pale Blue Dot” speech, as interpreted by the recent reboot of his 1981 miniseries Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey. What is the purpose of this segment? Is Sagan speaking strictly in scientific terms or does he go beyond the ‘magisterium’ of science as defined by Stephen J. Gould?

TCTT, chs. 22 and 24

Joshua M. Moritz, “The War that Never Was: Exploding the Myth of the Historical Conflict Between Christianity and Science,” Theology and Science 10.2 (2012): 113–123

Stephen J. Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (1997): 16–22

May 04: Concluding Discussion