Religion 221a, F'07
TTh 10:00-11:30

The Morning of the Resurrection (1882)
Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

Women and Gender In Early Christianity

Prof. Anne McGuire
Haverford College

Focus for Fall 2007: Eve, Mary, and Mary Magdalene
in Early Christian Traditions

This is the entry page for Relg. 221a, Women and Gender in Early Christianity. The full syllabus for the course is under construction, and a partial version is now available on the Blackboard site and within the Tri-College network at

Images of Eve, Mary, and Mary Magdalene in the History of Art

Syllabus and Course Information

  • Course Description: An examination of the representation of women and gender in the New Testament and other early Christian texts, with attention to their historical and contemporary significance. In this course we'll employ a variety of methods (feminist, literary, historical, socio-cultural, theological) to explore the variety of early Christian views of women and gender. A special focus for Fall 2007 will be the varying representations of 3 female figures who have played important and varied symbolic roles in the history of the Christian tradition: Eve, the 'mother of the living' (Genesis 2-3); Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Mary Magdalene, female disciple and witness.

    Course Requirements:

    1. Careful reading of all assigned texts, Blackboard postings, and participation in class discussion (30%).
      1. This is not a lecture course. All students are expected to come to class ready to participate in discussion.
      2. Half the class will post on Blackboard a 2-3 paragraph Analysis of some aspect of the reading for class by 9 p.m. the Monday night before every Tuesday class; the other half will post by 9 p.m. the Wednesday night before Thursday's class, starting the second week of the semester.
      3. These postings should offer close analysis of a particular passage or theme in the primary source readings assigned for class, or they should raise critical questions about secondary sources (the writings of contemporary scholars). You may find some topics to consider on the syllabus, or you may explore topics of your own. Students who have written for class may be asked to share an observation or a question about the material for class discussion. In addition, each student will post brief responses to at least 2 of the postings for the class for which they are not writing a 2-3 paragraph analysis.
    2. Two Essays of 5-6 pages each (40%).
    3. A final research paper of 12-15 pages (30%). Proposals due in class (date tba). Annotated bibliography and outline due; 5-page draft due last week of class.

    Required Textbooks:

    • Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, 10th Anniversary Edition
    • Ross Kraemer and Mary Rose D'Angelo, Women and Christian Origins
    • Carolyn Osiek and M. MacDonald, A Woman's Place
    • Bonnie Thurston , Women in the New Testament
    • Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.
    • Bible. New Revised Standard Version.
    • Additional Readings will be available at the web site, on reserve, or in class.


I. Women and Gender in the New Testament: The Gospels and Letters of Paul

I: The Cultural and Social Contexts of Early Christianity

T, 9/4 Introduction to the Course: Women and Gender in Early Christianity and in Contemporary Scholarship
Th, 9/6: From Jesus Movement to Constantine: the Cultural and Social Contexts of Early Christianity

Readings for Week of 9/4-6

  • Introductory Background reading for Thursday's class:
    • Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, "Remembering the Past in Creating the Future," Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation," 93-115.
    • Fiorenza, In Memory of Her [IMOH], 99-104
  • First reading of The Gospel of Mark 1-8
  • Fiorenza, IMOH, 105-130
  • Topics for Class Discussion
    • Consider the issues and debates in early Christian studies discussed by Fiorenza. Which of these seem most relevant to the issues you want to see discussed in the course?
    • Examine closely the references to women in the Gospel of Mark. How are these women characterized? What roles do they play? How does their representation and/or characterization in GMark relate to the gospel's characterization of the male disciples of Jesus (the 12 and others)

II: Interpreting Stories about Women in the Gospel of Mark; Gender, Characterization, and Narrative Themes as Categories of Analysis

Text for the week of 9/11-13: The Gospel of Mark

  • T, 9/11 Reimagining the Jesus Movement and Stories about Women in the Gospel of Mark 1-8
  • Gospel of Mark, focus on chapters 1-8
  • Fiorenza, IMOH, 105-30; 316-323
  • Kraemer and D'Angelo, "Introduction," Women and Christian Origins (WCO), 3-10;
  • Recommended: Ross Kraemer, "Jewish Women and Christian Origins: Some Caveats," WCO, 35-49

    • Topics for Discussion and Postings on Blackboard for Tuesday's class:
    • Consider Fiorenza's reconstruction of the Jesus movement, especially with respect to her understanding of Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom (basiliea). What would it mean for a woman or a man to follow Jesus as a disciple and his proclamation, according to Fiorenza? How similar is Mark's presentation of Kingdom and discipleship to Fiorenza's? How are they different?
    • Consider, for example, stories about such apparent 'insiders' as Jesus' family (Mark 3:31-35) and the disciples (Mark 4 and throughout) in relation to stories about apparent outsiders, such as the women with the flow of blood (Mark 5:25-43) and the Syrophoenician woman(Mark 7:24-30).
    • Analyse one or more of the stories about women in GMark 1-8 in relation to the category of gender. In what ways do these stories reflect, reinforce, challenge, or subvert traditional constructions of male and female difference?

  • Th, 9/13: Stories about Women in the Gospel of Mark 1-16
  • Reread the entire Gospel of Mark; note the difference between the 'original' ending of Mark at 16:8 and the longer ending (16:9-20)
  • Mary Rose D'Angelo, "(Re)Presentations of Women in the Gospels: John and Mark," WCO, 129-149 (Focus on her discussion of GMark)

    • Topics for Discussion and Postings on Blackboard for Tuesday's class:
    • Reread the entire Gospel of Mark closely with careful attention to the gospel's depiction of the disciples of Jesus and of the women who interact with him. Compare the disciples' failure to 'hear' and 'understand' Jesus (Mk 4:10-13, 4:40-41; 6:17-29; 6:47-52; 8:14-21, 8:31-33; 9:30-35; 10:32-37, etc.) with the responses of various women depicted in the text - from the women with the flow of blood and the .Syrophoenician woman to the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany (14:3-9), and the women at the cross and the empty tomb (15:40-16:8).
    • Consider the stories about women, the disciples, the family of Jesus, and other social groups in GMk in relation to the larger themes emerging in the gospel - e.g., the "good news [gospel] of the Kingdom of God," the identity of Jesus, and various tensions, e.g., between secrecy/hiddenness and openness/revelation; between faith/understanding and unfaith/misunderstanding; and between insiders and outsiders? How are we to read the stories about women in GMk 1-6 in relation to these themes and tensions in the text?
    • Choose one story and develop your own interpretation or retelling of the story to share with the class.

For the full syllabus of readings and topics, go to the full syllabus on Blackboard.

III: Interpreting Stories about Women in the Gospel of Luke-Acts: Luke's Depiction of Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Women in the Early Church

IV. Women and Gender in the Communities and Letters of Paul

VI: Women and Gender in the Pauline and Post-Pauline Communities

VII: Women and Gender in the Gospel of John; Logos and Sophia; Images of the Divine in the Gospels and Letters of Paul

VIII. Women and Gender in the Gospel of Thomas; The Mary's of the Gospels of John and Thomas

IX: Images of the Divine: Wisdom, Sophia, Thunder in Gnostic Texts and Traditions

X: "Mother of the Living" or "Devil's Gateway": Images of Eve in Nag Hammadi Texts of the Second & Third Centuries

XI: Mary Magdalene in the Memory and Imagination of the Early Church

XII: The Ideals of the Virgin and the Martyr: Thecla and Perpetua

XIII: The Legacy of Early Christianity: Women and Gender//Eve, Mary, and Mary Magdalene in Contemporary Culture

Presentation and Discussion of Research Topics

Last Week: No new readings

  • Each student should be prepared to speak for ca. 5 minutes on his/her final project for the course
  • Due in class: 5-page draft, annotated bibliography, and outline of final paper

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