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Religions of Late Antiquity MPhil Pathway

Religions of Late Antiquity

Michaelmas Term 2019

Books, Readers and Interpreters

Course Coordinators: Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockcliffe and Dr Thomas Graumann

This course is compulsory for those writing a dissertation in the field of Patristics.

Prerequisites: A reading knowledge of Greek and/or Latin and/or Hebrew.  Anyone interested in participating should consult the course coordinator(s), who will determine whether you have sufficient language experience.

Throughout Late Antiquity, written texts were central to the rabbinic academy and to the Jewish community, as they were for ecclesiastical life and for the Christian community.  The study of the rabbis’ “Written Torah” as well as the OF their “Oral Torah” relied on the written word as much as on its memorization, both of which shaped the rabbis’ oral discussions.  Likewise, scriptural texts were read out and expounded in churches and intellectual circles, and a panoply of treatises, letters, sermons, and poems were copied and circulated among Christian teachers and preachers.  The practices and material conditions of ‘book-making’ and written exposition critically informed these developments; it has even been suggested that the spread of Christianity was linked to the early uptake of new forms of written media.  Later on, textual practices, now also applied to previous Christian and rabbinic texts, were instrumental in establishing Christian and Jewish thought as a field of learning and instruction, and in the organisation and transmission of knowledge.  The module takes what we know about the making and reading of Jewish and Christian ‘books’ as a starting point to study Jewish and Christian exegetical practices and the formation of distinct modes of theological discourses in this period.

Classes in 2019-20 (Indicative)

1.  Making books: Papyri – scrolls – codices

2.  Interpreting authoritative texts (1): Christian exegesis, commentary and preaching

3.  Interpreting authoritative texts (2): Rabbinic exegesis and discussion

4.  Textual practices: Excerpts, florilegia, compilations, collections

Possible essay topics

Candidates will write an essay in one of the general areas listed below.  Specific essay title must be decided in consultation with supervisors, and approved by the course director(s) and the degree committee.  Each essay must include close engagement with (at least) one primary source:

1.  Discuss the importance of textual format and materiality for reading strategies and shaping arguments. [with reference to a test case]

2.  Analyse and discuss the exegesis of [a chosen biblical text] by [a chosen patristic author or in a rabbinic text] [in a particular genre, or a comparison across two genres].

3.  What view of the Torah emerges from the rabbis’ reading, and how does this contrast with early Christian approaches?

4.  What is the argumentative [historical, theological, educational, polemical] purpose of [a particular selection of texts/excerpts or documentary collection] in the patristic or rabbinic corpus?

Further topics may include:

Literacy, orality, and memorization

Secondary orality

Materials and technologies of book production

Reading and writing in the classroom

Habits of composition and annotation, incl. stenography

Editing, copying and circulation of texts

The relationship between text, image and symbol

Instruments of scholarship in late antiquity from titles to tables.

Lent Term 2020

Christians in Late Antique Alexandria

Course Coordinator: Dr Thomas Graumann

This course is compulsory for those writing a dissertation in the field of Patristics.

Prerequisites: A reading knowledge of Greek and/or Latin.  Anyone interested in participating should consult the course coordinator, who will determine whether you have sufficient language experience.

In late antiquity, the city of Alexandria was, and had long been, a crucible of religious traditions.  It also developed into one of the most important centres of Christian social and cultural life, and theological reflection.  The emergence of Christianity as a leading social, cultural and intellectual force – in conversation and conflict with other religious and social groups, and intellectual traditions – between the late third and fifth centuries is the main focus of Classes in 2019/20.  Through the prism of the city and some of her major thinkers’ central themes in the history of late ancient Christianity may be studied in exemplary fashion.

These concern (among others) questions of theological dispute and the shaping of orthodoxy; distinct theological topics of lasting relevance, esp. the Trinity and Christology; the cultural and institutional development of ‘theology’ as a system of knowledge; the importance of rivalries and alliances between major Christian centres and their leaders, classical educational, rhetorical and philosophical traditions and their reception, accommodation and rejection by Christians; competition and violence between Christians and non-Christians, and between Christian factions; and many more.  With these and related themes the study of Christianity in Alexandria, in its interaction with other religions and traditions, serves up a rich menu of both specialist and general interest that allows students to develop and focus on a distinct topic for their research, while gaining insights into the wider late antique socio-cultural and intellectual context, and encountering a range of research questions, methodologies and approaches.

Classes

1.  Origen: Scripture, Theology and the emergence of an ‘Alexandrian’ tradition

2.  Athanasius: The Theology and Politics of Nicene Orthodoxy

3.  Theophilus-Cyril-Dioscorus: Christology, Authority and Power

4.  The City and the Desert: Egyptian Asceticism

Possible essay topics

Candidates will write an essay in one of the general areas listed below.  Specific essay title must be decided in consultation with supervisors, and approved by the course director(s), and the degree committee.  Each essay must include close engagement with (at least) one primary source:

  • Orthodoxy and power;
  • Religious competition and violence;
  • Religious identity and conversion;
  • A topic in the Alexandrian theological tradition;
  • Christian thought and the philosophical/classical tradition;
  • Genres of Christian literature – composition and circulation;
  • Reading, reception and refutation: the (textual and intellectual) relationship between two major Alexandrian thinkers;
  • Institutional, social and cultural characteristics of the Alexandrian Church;
  • Alexandria and its relationship to another major centre of Christianity (e.g. Rome, Constantinople, Antioch) in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Moodle

Current students and supervisors can access the Faculty’s Moodle page by clicking on the image below.