Anthropology, Religion and the Rise of Christianity

Fall 2010












Required Texts:

1.     Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Oxford University Press, 2007.

2.     Geza Vermez, Who's Who in the Age of Jesus. Penguin, 2006.

3.     Richard Horsley and John Hanson. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

4.     Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1999

5 .    Elaine Pagels. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House.


 Supplementary Sources:

1.     Bart Ehrman, The Historical Jesus [audio], The Teaching Company, 2000.

2.     Bart Ehrman, The New Testament [audio]. The Teaching Company, 2000.

3.     Luke Timothy Johnson, Jesus and the Gospels [audio]. The Teaching Company, 2004.

4.     Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments. Wing Books. 1981.


Reference Sources:

1.     Bible Gateway

2.     Bible Review

3.     Willis Barnstone (ed.), The Other Bible: Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic Scriptures. New York: Harper and Row. 1984.

4.     James M. Robinson (ed.), The Nag Hammadi Library. New York: Harper and Row. 1988.



Course Description:


Who was Jesus? Is there any direct evidence that he existed? Was he born in Bethlehem?  Why do the various gospels repeatedly contradict one another regarding what he said and did and about the events surrounding his life?  Why, for example, is there no description of Jesus' birth in the Gospel of Mark, but two completely contradictory versions in Matthew and Luke?  Why did most people, including Jesus' own family, reject him in Mark and Matthew, but accept him in John? Why was Jesus crucified by a Roman official?  Why did Jesus preach only among the Jews, and why were all of his apostles Jewish?  Who was James and why did Paul refer to him as “the Lord’s brother”?  Why wasn't the Gospel of Mary Magdalene included in the New Testament, and why was she called “The Apostle to the Apostles”?   Why isn't Jesus mentioned in any historical source other than the New Testament?  How many forms of Christianity existed during the first several centuries C.E.? These are some of the many questions that will be raised and discussed in this course.


The course will answer these and many other questions as it explores the effect that social, political and economic conditions in early Palestine had on the origin and evolution of early Christianity.  Through a discussion-based format, the relationship between religion and other aspects of society will be examined.  Special attention will be given to the relationship between politics and religion.  Stressing the importance of objective reasoning, critical evaluation and social science research methods, the course will apply anthropological theory regarding the origin and evolution of religious movements to shed light on the rise and early evolution of Christianity in ancient Palestine.





The following procedures will be used to arrive at a student's final grade:


1.    Mid-term exam

2.    Final exam

3.    Research Paper

4.    Class participation







Research Paper:


1.    Each student must undertake a research paper that examines a specific topic related to the origin and evolution of early Christianity.  The research paper should be approximately 15 pages long (4,000-5,000 words).  Students must submit their topic in writing no later than Thursday, September 30th.  The paper is due on the last day of class.


2.    All assignments submitted in relation to the research paper MUST be typed. Handwritten materials will NOT be accepted. Also, ALL research papers must be properly referenced and follow the AAA referencing style. 


NOTE: Internet sources will be accepted as valid bibliographic references only in special circumstances and very sparingly.


3.    All students are expected to meet with the instructor to discuss the progress of his or her paper. This will help improve the quality of the final paper and, thus, the grade that the paper receives. 


4.    A library instruction class has been scheduled to help students with their research.  Students will need to obtain research materials that are, for the most part, not available in the Trexler Library in order to complete the research paper for this course.  This will necessitate either travel to other libraries in the Lehigh Valley or extensive use of Interlibrary Loan services through the campus library.  Students should be aware that obtaining research materials through Interlibrary Loan may take several weeks and should, therefore, start their research papers as soon as possible.  Not receiving sufficient sources in time to analyze your subject and write your paper will seriously affect the quality of the paper you submit and, therefore, the grade your paper receives.  Not receiving your Interlibrary Loan sources in time to complete your paper is NOT a valid excuse for an incomplete or inadequate paper. 


5.    Although the primary concern is with the quality of the ideas and analysis presented, essays and research papers will also be evaluated in terms of their adherence to accepted writing standards.  They must be typed clearly and legibly. They must also be organized, grammatically correct and free from spelling errors. Papers must, therefore, be carefully proof-read before they are submitted.  A sloppy and poorly written paper will not receive as high a grade as a comparable paper which is neat and clearly written, which expresses a coherent theme, which is well referenced, and which contains few spelling and grammatical errors.  Having an idea that you cannot express clearly and concisely is not much better than not having the idea at all.  All students are, therefore, strongly encouraged to make use of the Campus Writing Center.



Grading Policy:


1.   ALL assignments and examinations MUST be completed or taken at the time scheduled.  Make-up tests will only be given in the event of an emergency and will receive 10-point reduction in grade for each day they are late (i.e., a score of 80 on a make-up test or paper will be recorded as a 70, 60, 50, etc., depending on the number of days it is late).  The grade on any exam not taken or assignment not completed will be zero.  Similarly, incomplete course grades (I) will be reduced by 10 points when they are completed.


2.   ALL materials assigned for reading or presented or discussed in class (including films) will potentially  be included in examinations.


3.    Attendance will not be taken, but absence from class is NOT an acceptable excuse for a student's failure to complete an assignment or examination.  It is the student's responsibility to obtain the necessary information on days that he or she misses class.  In addition, a student who regularly misses class cannot expect special consideration in the event of poor grades.  Furthermore, 20% of a student’s grade in the course is based on participation, which includes both attendance and participation in class discussions.  Everyone in the class begins with a "C" (73) for participation, and an individual's grade increases or decreases depending on the quality of their participation.  While I don’t grade down for one or two classes missed, I do expect students to attend all classes, and excessive absences result in a reduced grade for participation.  (Obviously, if a student is not in class, participation for that day is zero.)  I also assign a higher participation grade for those students who come to class prepared to contribute positively to class discussions or who discuss issues with me through email.  Conversely, I assign a lower grade for those students who come to class unprepared, who do not participate in class discussions or whose classroom behavior is either inappropriate or disruptive.


4.   In the final analysis, responsibility for completing all course requirements rests with the student. If the student has any doubt on any matter regarding the course, he or she should contact the instructor BEFORE the problem becomes insurmountable.  One of the benefits of the small size of the Muhlenberg Campus is the potential that exist for easy faculty-student contact.


5.    Plagiarism constitutes a violation of the Academic Behavior Code and will be dealt with VERY STRICTLY.  Depending on the nature of the plagiarism, a student could receive a failing grade for the course; be referred to the Dean's Office for judicial review; and have a "VF" (violation of Academic Behavior Code) grade entered on their transcripts.  If a student is in doubt about a specific situation, it is his or her responsibility to consult the instructor or some other appropriate person (such as a librarian or writing tutor) for clarification.







The Religious Divide in America


America is one of the most religious countries in the industrialised world. Over 80% of Americans claim to believe in God, compared with 62% of the French and 52% of Swedes. About two-thirds of Americans claim membership of a church, 40% go to church once a week, and 43% describe themselves as born-again Christians. Three times as many people believe in the Virgin birth as in evolution.  . . .  But America is also one of the most secular countries in the world. The constitution guarantees a rigorous separation of church and state, and secular groups are assiduous in using the courts to enforce that separation. (On February 25th, the Supreme Court ruled that states could withhold scholarships from students studying divinity.) Public schools recoil from even the mildest religious imagery. More than 29m Americans say that they have “no religion”, a number that exceeds all but two religious denominations, Roman Catholics and Baptists. For the most part, the people who run America's media industries in New York and Hollywood are aggressively secular, combining intellectual hostility to Middle America's religious fundamentalists with a generous measure of cultural disdain.

--The Economist (February 28-04)






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Jesus: Myth vs. Reality

Faith can move mountains, but not furniture.




1.   Ehrman, Chapter 1.

2.   Ehrman, The Historical Jesus  [R]

Lecture 1:   "The Many Faces of Jesus"

Lecture 2:   "One Remarkable Life"

3.   Abruzzi, The Jesus Movement.

4.   Zeitlin, The Christ Passage in Josephus.

5.   Zindler, Did Jesus Exist?  

6.   Vermes, Who's Who in the Age of Jesus Jesus of Nazareth, Mary, Joseph, James the Brother of the Lord, Jesus Son of Ananius, Honi, Hanina Ben Dosa, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John the Apostle.


*   *   *   *   *




On the Life of Jesus


"We do not have enough material to write a respectable obituary."


--M.S. Enslin, The Prophet of Nazareth







Anthropology and Religion

Faith can move mountains, but not furniture.



"Web of Religion"

William Blake







Sacred Texts





1.   Owen, "Preslianity: Religious Devotion to Elvis Presley in America." [R]

2.   Southwold, "Buddhism and the Definition of Religion." [R]

3.   Abruzzi, The Myth of Chief Seattle

4.   Horwitz, "Dying for Dixie." [R]


*     *     *

5.   Abruzzi, Science and Anthropology.

6.   Abruzzi, Aristotelian vs. Galilean Forms of Explanation

7.   Abruzzi,  Why Cultural Anthropology Students Should Learn Quantitative Research Methods

8.   Ehrman, Chapter 14.

9.   Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, “Scholarship and Public Understanding” [R]





Saint. Elvis the Divine






Kellie Evert

"I Strip for God"




*     *     *













"A concern with knowing the world, rather than advocating a view of the world because it confirms some political, ideological, or religious project, has always been fundamental to scientific philosophy." 

  --Lawrence Kuznar, Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology (1997)



"The aim of scientific research is to formulate explanatory theories which are: (1) predictive (or retrodictive), (2) testable (or falsifiable), (3) parsimonious, (4) of broad scope, and (5) integratable or cumulative within a coherent and expanding corpus of theories."


--Marvin Harris (1994)





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Religious Movements and the Political Economy

I was born okay the first time.





*     *     *


Militant Islam



*     *     *



Right to Life Movement



Religion: Nigeria's latest flashpoint


India:  When religion and freedom clash







1.   Harris, "Phantom Cargo."  [R]

2.   O'Dea, "Who Are the Mormons? in The Mormons. [R]

3.   Stegner,  "Forty Thousand Saints in One Act." in Mormon Country. [R]

4.   Banton, "African Prophets." [R]

5.   Martin, "Kimbanguism: A Prophet and His Church." in Hesselgrave, Dynamic Religious Movements. [R]

6.   Schuyler & Trinh, The Apocalypse at Jonestown.

7.   Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown, National Public Radio.

8.   Kurtz, “Virgin of Guadalupe and the Politics of Becoming Human.” [R]  

9.   Articles on Sharia in northern Nigeria.


FILM:  Ghost Dance [R]




*     *     *


The Ghost Dance



Religion and Politics in Jakarta




*     *     *






Murder in God's Name





John Frum Cult



Joseph Smith

The Mormon Prophet






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Judean Society and Politics at the Time of Jesus

.Atheism is a non-Prophet Organization.






Bible Review






Should Cheeseburgers Be Kosher?




1.   Ehrman, Chapter 2-3.

2.   Ehrman, The Historical Jesus:

Lecture 12:   "Jesus in His Context"

Lecture 13:   "Jesus and Roman Rule"

3.   Horsley & Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs, Chapter 1.

4.   K.C. Hanson, The Galilean Fishing Economy and the Jesus Tradition

5.   Vermes, "The Age of Jesus in Its Wider Context," plus Herod, Judas the Galilean, Eleazar Son of Jairus, Herod the Great, Mariamme I, Josephus.



*     *     *


4.   Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs. (The remainder of the book)



*     *     *





The Truth of God


Pastor Gino Jennings









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Jewish Religious Movements







Masada: the Real Story









1.    Maccabees 1 & 2. Bible Gateway

3.    Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapters 3-4. (R)

4.    Lustick, For the Land and the Lord, Chapters 1-3.

5.    Pedahzur and Perliger, Jewish Terrorism in Israel, Chapters 1 & 2.  [R]

6.    Horsley, "The Sicarii: Ancient Jewish "Terrorists." [R]


*     *     *


6.    Brandon, "Jesus and the Zealots" Chapter 1 in Jesus and the Zealots.  [R]

7.    Harris, "The Secret of the Prince of Peace" in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches.  [R]




MAP: Palestine under the Maccabees


*     *     *


MAP: Land of Israel in the 1st Century



*     *     *





Moses and the Exodus from Egypt




On the name, "Moses"








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Critical Thinking and the Bible





The Last Judgment

Cathedral of St. Cecilia

Albi, France








1.     Ehrman, Chapter 4, 13, 15 & 28.

2.     Ehrman, The Historical Jesus  [R]

Lecture 4:   "Fact and Fiction in the Gospels"

Lecture 5:   "The Birth of the Gospels"

3.     Ehrman, The New Testament  [R]

Lecture 10:  "The Historical Jesus: Sources and Problems."

Lecture 11:  "The Historical Jesus: Solutions and Methods."

4.     Ehrman, "The End of History as We Know It.", Chapter 1 in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium.  [R]


*  *  *


5.     Abruzzi, Genealogy, Politics and History in the Bible.

6.     Genesis 1&2 and Exodus 9-14. Bible Gateway




*     *     *


Occam's Razor




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The Jesus Movement







Saints and Relics and Other Weird Stuff




1.   Abruzzi, The Jesus Movement.

2.   New Testament: Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John Bible Gateway

3.   Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapters 5-8.

4.   Ehrman, Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8 & 10.

5.   Ehrman, The New Testament:

Lecture 5:    "Mark"

Lecture 6:    "Matthew"

Lecture 7:    "Luke"

Lecture 8:    "John"

6.   Vermes, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John the Apostle, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Pilate & Quirinius.

7.   Funk, Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, "Introduction", The Five Gospels.  [R]



MAP: Palestine in the 1st Century


MAP: Roman Empire



*     *     *




Bible Maps










The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

A Slightly Different Version

of the Original Story




Gifts for the Irreverent






Jesus on the Beach















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The Trial and Execution of Jesus










The Acts of Pilate





1.   Brandon, "Suffered Under Pontius Pilate: The Problem of the Roman Execution of Jesus." in Jesus and the Zealots.  [R]

2.   W.R. Wilson, "The Trial." in Jesus: A Life [R]

3.   A.N. Wilson, “The Execution of Jesus.”  [R]

4.   Fox, "Jesus on Trial." in The Unauthorized Version[R]

5.   Ehrman, The Historical Jesus.  [R]

Lecture 20:    "The Last Days of Jesus"

Lecture 22:    "The Death and Resurrection of Jesus"

6.   The Gospel of Peter








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The Evolution of Christianity following the Death of Jesus

Christianity has Pagan DNA.



Mary Magdalene








Magdalene Laundries



Over a period of 150 years, an estimated 30,000 women were imprisoned by the Catholic Church and forced to work without pay. (ABC








The Holy Prepuce





Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and Martha

in Southern France







Conflict within the Early Church


1.   Ehrman, Chapter 9.

2.   New Testament: Acts of the Apostles, Bible Gateway

3.   Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapter 9.

4.   Eisenman, James: The Brother of Jesus, Chapters 6 - 9.



MAP: Expansion of Christianity



*     *     *


Struggles with the Outside World

5.   Ehrman, Chapters 25 & 26.

6.   Eisenman, James: The Brother of Jesus, Chapters 14 - 17.


*     *     *


Paul and the Evolution of His Teachings


6.   Ehrman, Chapters 20 - 23.


*     *     *


Multiple Christianities


7.   Ehrman, Chapters 11, 12 & 27.

8.   Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

The Gospel of Phillip

9.   Infancy Gospel of James

10.   Infancy Gospel of Thomas

11.   The Protoevangelium of James

12.   The History of Joseph the Carpenter



*     *     *


Women in the Early Church


13.   Ehrman, Chapter 24.

14.   Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen.



*     *     *


Jesus, Mary and Davinci

The Nag Hammadi Library



FILM:  Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci [R]



*     *     *


Christianity as the Established Church


15.   The Albigensian Crusade

16.   Harris, "The Great Witch Craze." in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. [R]



*     *     *





The Brother of Jesus



James: The Brother of Jesus


Historical References to James,

the Brother of Jesus


Josephus on Jesus' Brother James





*     *     *     *     *




Various Artistic Representations of Mary Magdalene




Mary Magdalene

Giovanni Barbieri [Guercino] (c. 1624-25)



Magdalene with Smoking Flame

George Latour (1636)



The Repentant St Mary Magdalene
Domenico Feti (1589-1623)



St. Mary Magdalene

Quentin Massys (1466-1530)



Mary Magdalene at St. Baume

Pierre-Cecile Puvis de Chavannes (1869)



Penitent Mary Magdalen

Metsys (1466-1530)



Repentant Magdalen

Gerard Seghers (1630)



Mary Magdalen in the Grotto

Jules Lefebvre (1876)




Magdalene and the Bethany Saints in Southern France
















Relief of Roman soldiers putting the two Mary's (along with Martha and Lazareth) to sea on a rudderless boat in Palestine.



St. Maries de la Mer Church where the remains of the two Mary's are believed to reside.




 The Mary Magdalene Reliquary (top left) is located in a crypt (top middle) beneath the Basilica to Mary Magdalene in Saint Maximin de Provence, France (top right) where Mary Magdalene is purportedly buried.  The reliquary contains what  many believe is Mary Magdalene's skull (above left).  According to local beliefs, Mary Magdalene left Palestine in a boat (above center) with Mary (the mother of James and Joses) and Mary (the mother of James and John) and landed at what is today known as Sts. Marie de la Mer, a small village on the Mediterranean southwest of St. Maximin.  According to local tradition, the two Marys remained in Sts. Marie de la Mer, where a church was built in their honor (above right) while Mary Magdalene left the village and lived naked (with just her long hair covering her body) as a hermit for 33 years in a cave at Baume, about ten miles southeast of St. Maximin (below left)).   Each year in late May, thousands of Gypsies converge on Sts. Marie de la Mer to celebrate the landing of the three Maries (and Sarah their slave girl ) in southern France. While living at St. Baume, Mary Magdalene was, according to the legend, raised by angels to heaven seven times each day "to hear the music of Paradise." (below middle).  Today, a small chapel marks the spot where Mary's daily levitation is believed to have occurred (below right)




Chapel in the Cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have lived for 33 years as a hermit following the death of Jesus.








Chapel on the cliff above the Cave at St. Baume where Mary Magdalene is believed to have been carried to heaven by angels, pictured in painting to the left.









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