The New Testament is a collection of first-century Mediterranean notes between people interested in the burgeoning Jesus movement. Translated, edited, and collated, these writings have since become a touchstone in the cultural heritage of the West. We will attempt to situate New Testament texts in light of the artifacts and social drama of the period in order to understand the character of early Christianity. Using techniques from biblical studies, we’ll come to a greater appreciation for the history and politics that made Christianity–and these writings– appealing. And we will begin to discover how these writings became scripture.
Jonathan L. Reed, The HarperCollins Visual Guide to the New Testament: What Archaeology Reveals about the First Christians (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007).
Archaeology and the Bible
The Spread of Hellenism
The Rise of the Roman Empire
Second Temple Judaism
The Politics of the Gospels
The Sociology of Pauline Literature
Sex, Gender, and Health in the Early Roman Period
Apocalyptic States of Mind
Reading the New Testament in Contemporary Life
Elizabethtown College is an institution with roots in the Church of the Brethren, a historic peace church known for holding “no creed but the New Testament.” This identity ran counter what students noticed as the palpable violence contained in early Christian literature. In recognizing the differences in norms and concerns between the present day and the first century, students inquired about the extent to which interpretations had changed over two millennia and across an ocean. As a point of comparison, students compared the role of the New Testament in the Church of the Brethren’s pacifist gestures.
Archivist Rachel Grove Rohrbaugh introduced students to the Elizabethtown College Peace Pamphlet Collection, part of the Earl H. and Anita F. Hess Archives and Special Collections.”With materials dating from 1775 to the 1970s, the pamphlets highlight the Biblical basis of peace, alternatives to war, the experiences of conscientious objectors, and other topics on non-violence.” Students analyzed pamphlets from 20th century conflicts, paying special attention to the New Testament’s place in advocating for peace. Having also studied the passages in their first-century context, students also considered similarities and differences in interpretations.
During the final exam period, the class shared their findings with local current Brethren scholars, pastors, and laity. We gathered at the Bucher Meetinghouse in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. The exchange led to an increased understanding of how Brethren perceive the New Testament as a story to be lived into.
Students looked at the New Testament as a text whose content appears to change as it is reconstructed in new contexts. For St. Patrick’s Day, we hosted Michael Geaney for a lecture on the Book of Kells.
For the final exam, Dr. Jennifer Grace Bird joined us for a discussion of her book, Permission Granted: Taking the Bible Seriously (Westminster John Knox, 2016).
The class also read some of her Huffington Post commentary on the role of the Bible in public life. Each student wrote there own blog posts on how the New Testament continues to impact the cultural heritage of the West and discussed biblical interpretation with Dr. Bird.
In its final offering at Elizabethtown College, students used an interactive notebook to work through our textbook, in-class activities, exam review, and independent study.
For the final essay, students were tasked with tracking a biblical allusion in contemporary life and comparing its use and appearance to its first century development. Other students participated in an “unessay” or research project to demonstrate their skills.
Pre-med student Emily Sechrist ’21 studied Hellenistic, Early Roman, and Second Temple healing practices and developed diagnostic reports of ailments found in the gospels. As part of this project, she created anatomical votives.