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This seminar focuses on texts from the Mediterranean world of late antiquity, particularly as they relate to Christian origins. While it studies the New Testament, it also considers the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi texts, patristic literature, rabbinic material, and Greco-Roman texts.

Professor John Edwards

Professor Emma Wasserman

Jermaine Ross-Allam

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

09/16/2020 Online Meeting
5:30 PM
Paul, Mark, and Marcion’s Gospel
Heidi Wendt, McGill University (Canada)


In this session I draw on a nearly completed article (see attached pending your RSVP) that synthesizes the past decade of scholarship on the Paul–Mark question—that is, what sort of relationship, if any, can be discerned between the Gospel of Mark and Pauline thought, or even Paul's epistles—in order to argue that the gospel’s trademark secrecy motifs, including its abrupt “original” ending, collude to privilege Paul as the most (or only) legitimate apostle. Noting a number of under- or unexplored elements that strengthen the case for Pauline influence on Mark, I characterize the latter as a narrative precursor to the epistles and cite other literary arrangements designed to impart doctrinal knowledge or divine wisdom through modulated sequences of philosophical, wisdom, and other literature. As a coda to that argument, I will provisionally suggest in my presentation to the seminar that, with evidence mounting for strong, even highly particular, affinities between Paul and Mark, it may be worth considering that Marcion’s Evangelion was not a version of the Gospel of Luke, but rather, of Mark. After briefly summarizing key planks of the Paul–Mark argument, I will spend the majority of my time laying out my case for a Mark–Marcion connection. This task entails a critical assessment of the evidence for, on the one hand, the character and contents of Marcion’s gospel, and, on the other, Mark’s early reception, which is curiously thin and ambivalent despite its alleged apostolic pedigree.

10/14/2020 Online Meeting
6:15 PM
The Influence of John the Baptist on Jesus' Teaching
James McGrath, Butler University


Disciples and students inevitably reflect the impact and influence of their teachers, even when they resist or reject that influence. Whatever Jesus' precise stance towards his mentor over the course of his public activity, it is reasonable to expect to find evidence that can aid us in reconstructing the teaching and emphases of John himself. By working deductively (in a manner that reflects our understanding of the influence ancient teachers had on their students), we can say more about the teaching of John the Baptist than is usually acknowledged. Triangulating between the New Testament sources, Josephus, Mandaean texts, and other relevant works helps bring the portrait into sharper focus.

03/23/2021 Online Meeting
6:15 PM
Helena, Egeria, Melania, and Pelagia: Towards a Feminist Approach to Jerusalem’s Christianization
Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham University


The history of Jerusalem is usually told as a story about King David, Emperor Constantine, and Sultan Salah al-Din – that is, as the history of a city that was founded, built, and ruled by powerful men. The narrative of Jerusalem's Christianization follows a similar though not identical trajectory: Eusebius, in his work on Constantine's Life, credits Constantine with the city's Christianization, and scholars often refer to the empire's Christianization writ large as initiated by Emperor Constantine. And yet, by the end of the fourth century, another narrative began circulating in Ecclesiastical Histories and other Christian texts - that Helena, Constantine's mother, had discovered the True Cross, built the Anastasis, established the Feast of the Veneration of the True Cross, and sent relics of the True Cross across the empire - and before too long this revisionist story had become extremely popular. Why was the Christianization of Jerusalem reframed in this way?

In our seminar together, I will offer an answer to this question. I will argue that framing Jerusalem's Christianization not primarily as the result of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity but rather as a product of his mother's pilgrimage, can be understood in the late-fourth and fifth century contexts in which the Legend of the Finding of the True Cross emerged and circulated: in a context in which the patronage and piety of wealthy and ascetic women, including Eutropia, Pelagia, Paula, Melania the Elder, Demetrias, Pulcheria, Eudocia, Theodora, and others, were sought. The legends about Helena, along with legends about a previous Helena (of Adiabene), an earlier patron of Jerusalem whose memory was revived in this period, constituted, at least in part, a marketing strategy aimed at cultivating women's devotion to the city and its Christianization - architecturally, liturgically, monetarily, and more.

This talk is a small portion of my larger current book project titled Jerusalem: A Feminist History. I am at the experimental stage of this work and look forward to your questions, suggestions, and conversation.

04/14/2021 Online Meeting
6:15 PM
The Earliest Pocket Bibles: Miniature Book Rolls and Private Reading at Qumran
Travis Williams, Tusculum University


The Dead Sea Scrolls provide an important window into ancient reading practices in Second Temple Judaism (and by extension, early Christianity). But despite their tremendous potential to inform modern perspectives on the subject, the discussion is sometimes stymied by specious assumptions about ancient book culture. This paper seeks to draw attention to a few of the ways that this confusion has impacted modern treatments of reading by focusing on an unusual manuscript format present among the Qumran discoveries – what bibliologists refer to as "miniatures," or, as they are commonly described in scholarship, "pocket editions." This particular format is useful in that many of the problematic assumptions that impede discussions on ancient reading seem to coalesce in the treatment of miniature scrolls. At the same time, pocket editions may represent an important area of untapped potential, possibly revealing something of benefit about how individual members of Jewish (and Christian) communities engaged reading materials – and especially scriptural writings – during times of private study.