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My Graduate Level New Testament Course

Classes have started again and we are bursting into the term with vim and vigor!   For my graduate course this term I am teaching my “Problems and Methods in New Testament Studies” seminar (I offer this ever two or three years).  This is a kind of “Introduction” to the field of New Testament studies geared not for undergraduates but for graduates, all of whom have undergraduate degrees already and who (at least this semester) have already done some work in New Testament..   Well, the course is self-explanatory from the syllabus, which I attach here for your amusement.  It can give you an idea of how one might *start* on this kind of thing at the graduate level.


Religion 707: Problems and Methods in the Study of the New Testament \

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Fall 2017


Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman

This course will explore some of the classical problems addressed by the discipline of “New Testament Introduction.”  Some of these problems are as old as the discipline, many are hold-overs from the 19th century.  They all continue to intrigue scholars who are interested in asking new questions of old data.  We won’t be able to cover all the critical problems of the field, not even all the really interesting ones.  And in no case will we be able, at least in class, to engage in deep exploration.  Each topic deserves a seminar of its own.  But we will devote an entire week to some of the major issues about which one should be able to speak intelligently after having studied the New Testament on the advanced level.

To help make sense of the way I’ve structured the class, I need to say a few words about the kinds of writing assignments you will be expected to do.  These relate to the overall objectives of the course: (a) to help you become conversant with the broad range of issues in NT studies and the wide-ranging scholarship in the field, and (b) to help prepare you for your own career in both research and teaching (whether in NT studies or some other field).

One of the ways of becoming broadly acquainted with a field is by reading lots of books in it.   And one of the best ways to break into publishing is by writing a book review for a scholarly journal.   And so, we will be reading lots of books in this class, and you will be writing several book reviews.  This will be the principal writing objective: to help you learn to write clear, crisp, and compelling book reviews.

In terms of teaching: it is important to come to grips with how to set up and structure an introductory course, in whatever field you choose to pursue.  It is also important to have some experience in presenting scholarship in clear and compelling ways.  And so, one other writing assignment in this class will be to devise your own syllabus for a college-level course in New Testament, in which you choose the textbooks, establish the objectives, lay out the requirements, structure the classroom activities, and make the assignments.  You will also be expected to make two class presentations, set at the beginning graduate student level.

Specifically, the expectations and assignments for the class may be broken down as follows:


Course Expectations and Assignments

(1) Participation: You will be expected, of course, to do the entire reading assignment for each class, and to be prepared to engage in intelligent, informed, and (even) scintillating, conversation about it.  Most of the reading assignments are designed to give you a sense of the history of the question and the classical answers given to it, on the assumption that any future work needs to be built on what has already been done.


(2) Class Presentation and First Book Review: Over the course of the term, you will be expected to inaugurate two of our weekly discussions by making a class presentation, which will involve the following:


(a) Distributing to each member of the class a full bibliography of work recently done in the area (including, of course, appropriate works in German and/or French), with the more important works briefly annotated;

(b) Saying a few words about some of the critical items on this list, with which, therefore, you have some level of intimacy (5 minutes, max);


(c) Distributing to all members of the class a 1500-word book review of a major, recent work in the field that strikes you as particularly important — either because it is representative of a mainline view or because it breaks new ground.  (Please consult with me concerning your options, and I’ll be happy to make suggestions among them; I also will reserve the right of veto).  There are various ways to approach the book review:  you should read a ton of them in the Review of Biblical Literature to get a sense of what they tend to look like and how to differentiate the quality reviews from the mediocre.  In general, you should devote approximately 3/4 of the review to an impartial summary of the book and 1/4 to evaluation, comparison, and critique.  Members of the class will store the review away in their files (i.e., we will not read it in class); I will mark it up and allow you to resubmit it for a final grade.  Give me a hard copy; the copies to your classmates can come electronically – but before class.  Please note: reviews more than 10% over the word limit will be returned for editing, before I mark them.  I’m looking for clear, accurate summaries, informed critiques, and crisp writing that packs a punch.

(d) Discussing the book you have reviewed for 35-40 minutes, covering the following areas:

(i) 10-15 minutes on background issues (i.e., what the traditional issues have been and how they have been handled by scholars throughout the history of the discipline)

(ii) 10-15 minutes providing a summary of the book, possibly (but not necessarily) chapter-by-chapter, but certainly emphasizing the overarching thesis and the kinds of evidence adduced to support it

(iii) 10-15 minutes of critique, in light of your other reading (in which, among other things, you point out the counter-evidence).

Hand-outs are welcome but not required.  Altogether, you will be allowed 50 minutes for your presentation — and no more!  (Pretend you’re in a classroom and the bell has rung.)


(3) Book Notes: During the course of the term you will be expected to turn in two 150-200 word book notes of the kind that might appear in Religious Studies Review (read through a few issues to get the idea).  These may be on books of any topic in the field of NT Studies, again chosen in consultation with me.  The notes are to be informative and as tight as you can make them.  Not many words here!  Don’t waste any.  You may turn these in at any point during the term, but only one at a time.  I will mark up the first offering and allow you to resubmit it for a grade; the second is to be submitted after the re-submission of the first.


(4) Translation: Students who have Greek already will be required to do the weekly translation assignment.  We will spend 50 minutes each week going over the assignment in class.   Be able to translate the passage (do not bring to class translations written out in advance), parse all forms, and explain all syntax.  Students who do not know Greek will be given an additional writing assignment in lieu of the weekly translation session.


(5) Final Writing Assignments: On the day set for the final (December 9), you will be expected to turn in two final writing assignments:

(a) A syllabus for a first-year college level class in New Testament, which lays out the course objectives, textbooks, requirements/assignments, grading procedures, office hours, and class schedule (i.e, what is covered in each class period)

(b) A 2000-word comparative book review, in which you summarize and evaluate (possibly in relationship to each other) any two of the major college-level textbooks in the field of New Testament, except mine.   You should hunt around for the ones that seem worth looking at, and bounce your potential selections off me in advance.

That night, we party.  Pizza and beer, my treat.


Texts for the class:

Brown, Raymond.  Introduction to the New Testament.  New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Ehrman, Bart.  The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  6th ed.  New York: Oxford, 2016.

Meeks, Wayne.  The First Urban Christians.  2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Meier, John.  A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.  Vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and Person.  New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Neill, Stephen and Wright, N.T.  The Interpretation of The New Testament: 1861-1986.  New York: Oxford, 1988.

Smith, D. Moody.  John Among the Gospels.  Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Wenham, David.  Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

A number of readings, as indicated in the class schedule below, on SAKAI.


Grading for the course:

Class Presentations and Bibliographies 20% (i.e., 10% each);  Participation 10%;  Book Notes 20% (i.e., 10% each); Syllabus 10%; Book Reviews 30% (i.e., 15% each); Translation 10%.


Office Hours:

As always, I’ll be happy to talk with anyone about the course or about most anything else.  Best way to go: zap me an email or see me after class to find a time.




Class Schedule

Aug.    28       Introduction to the Course:  The Historical Study of the New Testament.

Sept.   4        NO CLASS.  Labor Day.  Start work on your book reviews and presentations.

11       The Canon of the New Testament (Translation: Mark 16:1-20, including the “shorter reading”); Reading: Brown, ch. 1; Neill/Wright chs. 1-2; Ehrman, New Testament: A Historical Introduction.

18      The Text of the New Testament (Translation: John 7:37-8:20) Brown, ch. 3; Neill/Wright, ch. 3; Eldon Epp “Textual Criticism (NT),” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6 (On SAKAI); Preface to both the UBS4 and NA27 editions.

25      Q and Synoptic Problem (Translation: Matt. 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30); Brown ch. 6; Neil/Wright, ch. 4; Article TBA (on SAKAI)

Oct.      2       John and the Synoptics  (Translation: Mark 15:1-15; John 18:28-19:16); Kümmel, Introduction, ch. 10; Brown, ch. 11; Epp and MacRae, chap. 10.

9       The Historical Jesus:  Sources and Character of His Message and Mission (Translation: Mark 8:22-9:13; 13:1-36) .  Meier, Part One; Neill/Wright, pp. 205-15; Brown, Appendix 1; Articles by Allison and Borg (on SAKAI)

16   Acts and Paul (Translation: Acts 17:22-34; Rom. 1:18-32); Brown, chs. 10, 16; P. Vielhauer “The Paulinisms of Acts” (on SAKAI).

23      Paul and the Law (Translation: Rom. 3:1-31); Kümmel, Introduction, ch. 19; Brown, ch. 24.  Articles by Barclay, Das, and Dunn (on SAKAI)

30      Social History of the Pauline Community (Translation 1 Thessalonians 1-3).  Meeks, First Urban Christians.

 Nov.      6       Jesus and Paul (Translation: Matt. 19:16-26; Gal. 2:15-21; 3:6-14).  Brown,         ch. 19; David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity?

13      The Appropriation of Paul (Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Epistles)  (Translation: 1 Tim. 2:1-3:5); Brown, chs. 25-31; Bart Ehrman, Forgery and Counterforgery, pp. 156-88; 192-217 (on SAKAI)

20      NO CLASS.  (SBL/AAR)

27      The Apocalypse of John (Translation: Rev. 1:1-20; 4:1-22); Brown, ch. 37; Adela Yarbro Collins, “Revelation, Book of” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5 (on Sakai)

Dec.     4       Discussion: Comparative Book Reviews, Course Syllabi, and Pedagogy.


The First Recorded Visit to the Realm of the Dead (in Western literature)
Journeys to Heaven and Hell: A Sketch of My Project



  1. talmoore
    talmoore  August 28, 2017

    Reading this gives me PTSD flashbacks from grad school.

  2. Avatar
    Judith  August 28, 2017

    All this makes me wish I had the capability to be one of your students in that class. Maybe in another life…

  3. Avatar
    Adam0685  August 28, 2017

    Clearly a lot of work. But as it’s said no pain no gain.

  4. Avatar
    seahawk41  August 28, 2017

    Wow! I have to say that this is very different from the grad courses in physics I took 50± years ago. For one thing, few of the courses were seminars. Of course, I don’t know the structure of the curriculum at UNC, so this may not be a major difference. For another, writing was not a major issue, but mathematics and problem solving were, obviously due to the differences between the disciplines. For another, we had to pass exams in 2 languages (!), but these exams involved translating technical material *with a dictionary*. I did German and was going to do Russian until I realized how easy it is to translate technical French into English! Finally, to imagine someone actually requiring an undergrad syllabus as an assignment in a grad course!! That is pretty amazing. I was thrown cold turkey into teaching the physics course that biology majors and pre-meds take for two weeks, while the faculty member was at meetings or some such. It was an entire unit, including an exam. The latter was a disaster.

    I think grad physics programs are different now, at least some of them, but …

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2017

      Yes, pretty different from physics! Also very different from any course I had in New Testament in grad school. We never *ever* would have learned how to make a syllabus or how to teach a class. We thought all that was *irrelevant* to graduate studies, and would have seen a class like this as milquetoast!

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  August 29, 2017

        Your students probably have no idea how much stress and frustration you’re saving them from in their future teaching careers by learning how to write a syllabus.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 30, 2017

          They actually end up appreciating the assignment very much. And by the end of the course they can make a bona fide claim to be able to teach the class to undergrads!

  5. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  August 28, 2017

    I like how the class is structured. It has a systematic approach. Did you create this format or is it a collaborative effort with your colleagues?

  6. Avatar
    Apocryphile  August 29, 2017

    Wow! After completing this class, I would fully expect to be immediately hired at an associate professor level at a major university…. or want to know the reason why not!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2017

      Right! But the reason would be that they didn’t have a job opening!

  7. Avatar
    Silver  August 29, 2017

    Am I correct in thinking that all who take this course will eventually go into college/university teaching? Are there other career paths open to your students?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2017

      Almost always. One person in my seminar this term is a European who wants to work in museums. Most graduate programs in the humanities right now are working on figuring out alternative career options for graduates, since the job market is so tight. But almost all of my former students are teaching in colleges/universities.

      • Avatar
        bamurray  August 29, 2017

        “Most graduate programs in the humanities right now are working on figuring out alternative career options for graduates, since the job market is so tight.”

        I’d be very interested to hear your (and your colleagues’) thoughts on how to solve this problem.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 30, 2017

          There’s really only one sensible solution and it will probably never be implemented: university administrators need to realize that education is far more than Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and that the humanities need to be much better supported and funded.

          • Avatar
            jdub3125  August 30, 2017

            And even with the raging emphasis on STEM, U.S. students overall are far below the top in international comparisons. Educators have their hands full, and maybe we will see if STEAM will be an improvement.

      • Avatar
        jdub3125  August 29, 2017

        Professor, are there at least a few former or current grad students who eventually became or plan to become church ministers, or chaplains, including Duke students, Methodist or otherwise, who take some courses at Carolina?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 30, 2017

          No, not in our program. They wouldn’t need or want to do a PhD for that line of work.

          • Avatar
            jdub3125  August 30, 2017

            Thanks. I suppose so. Years ago I heard a good Sunday sermon by Scottie Mcclennan at the Stanford campus church, and he’s a former attorney.

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  August 29, 2017

        This may be a silly and naive question, but do all ‘scholars’ have to teach? Why couldn’t one be exclusively a researcher?

        If teaching, which is a highly social activity, is required, it seems that requirement would preclude many introverted students who could otherwise be fantastic researchers.

        Alternatively, if they don’t have to teach, why do you make it such an important part of your class?

        Just curious. Thanks for sharing that. It was fascinating. I’m going to read that book by David Wenham, btw. I hope it’s not too ‘scholarly’!

        • Bart
          Bart  August 30, 2017

          Many scholars would love to have research positions where they don’t have to teach. But those positions are about as common as unicorns. No funding for them.

          Wenham book is not especially scholarly. I heartily disagree with it, which is why I have my students read it (to get another side)

  8. Avatar
    kentvw  August 29, 2017

    I had to take a nap after just reading about all of that work. Wow!

  9. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 29, 2017

    Mark 13:31 seems at odds with what I understand Jesus’ expectations to have been. I see from the notes that the saying is preserved in different forms in Matthew and Luke. Is it a likely Q saying that made it into Mark as an interpolation?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 30, 2017

      No, not necessarily. There are a number of “overlaps” between Mark and Q (as you would probably expect, since different accounts of Jesus’ words would be retained by different story tellers). This is simply a case of independent attestation, making it more probable that the words go back to Jesus.

  10. epicurus
    epicurus  August 29, 2017

    You probably already know this but your students have a resource for book reviews right at UNC.
    A while back I was looking for some book review writing tips and your university’s writing center’s guide was one of the first results that came up on a google search:

    • Bart
      Bart  August 30, 2017

      Ah! Thanks. Yes, it’s an incredibly valuable resource.

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 29, 2017

    Wow! I found the reading list to be especially helpful Thanks.

  12. Avatar
    tcasto  August 29, 2017

    Could I just audit the course? 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  August 30, 2017

      Ha! I do allow auditors in my undergraduate lecture courses, but not in my graduate seminars, as it turns out. They are too intense and the personal dynamic is too important.

  13. Avatar
    Tony  August 29, 2017

    “(c) Distributing to all members of the class a 1500-word book review of a major, recent work in the field that strikes you as particularly important — either because it is representative of a mainline view or because it breaks new ground.”

    Ha! Which one? Carrier? Doherty? Lataster? Forget Price – too convoluted.

    Need a guest speaker? I’ll volunteer, but you’ll need a course on exorcism afterwards.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 30, 2017

      No, not a chance on these (except Price). The course is dealing with New Testament scholarship and scholars.

      • Avatar
        Tony  September 1, 2017

        As per your definitions thereof. Real scholarship outside the constraints need not apply. The ossification of NT “scholarship” will continue.

        • Bart
          Bart  September 3, 2017

          I’m not sure what you mean by the ossification of NT scholarship. Have you read much of it? It’s an incredibly lively field.

          • Avatar
            Tony  September 3, 2017

            I’ve read enough to observe that the field seems to focus on minutia – presumably that’s where PhD thesis materials comes from. Admittedly, that could be said of other areas as well.

            The inclination is for the field to examine trees and missing the forest. I find most “secular” NT work highly repetitive, conservative, influenced by apologists, (I have difficulty finding the boundaries), and unwilling to think outside the box. Ignoring Mythicism being a case in point.

          • Bart
            Bart  September 4, 2017

            That’s true of all scholarship in every field. You can’t understand a forest if you don’t know about the trees.

  14. Avatar
    Paul  August 30, 2017

    Ugh, way too deep for me… I’ll just stick to reading your blog!

  15. Avatar
    JamesFouassier  September 1, 2017

    Professor, I was impressed to see Father Meier on your syllabus. I’ve struggled through all five volumes of “A Marginal Jew” (the last two in an electronic format) and have started over again while waiting for YOUR next work to be published. To my question — Have you an opinion of Professor Meier’s frequent conclusions of “non liquiet” and the idea that an examination of everything in the NT must start from absolutely neutral ground; no presumptions, prejudgments or prejudices of any nature whatsoever? In particular, I have a problem with his analyses of Jesus’ miracles so often leading to the conclusion that whether there actually were some factual bases for the stories is non liquiet. Absolute neutrality is fine when a solution actually is possible (albeit highly unlikely) in our physical universe. Since a miracle is by definition an impossibility, however, is it proper or reasonable or justifiable from a scholarly perspective to allow an inference, if not a presumption, against the miracle happening, thus starting off with the burden of proof resting on the side of the party advocating for the possibility of some factual bases? I submit that this would preclude a finding of “non liquiet” in many of Professor Meier’s analyses.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 3, 2017

      My sense is that it is impossible to be neutral, and even though I think his five-volumes are the most significant Jesus research done in the modern period, they show just how correct my sense is!

  16. Avatar
    Jana  October 17, 2017

    Cool ! (In my next life 🙂

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