Academic Programs 
      

A Political Reading of Paul’s Letters   (SC-647)
  Fall 2005

This course will explore the letters of the Apostle Paul from the perspective of power and politics, in particular how Paul and his congregations engaged the Roman imperial order of his day. A case study will be undertaken in how Paul addressed a critical institution of the Roman order - slavery - in his Letter to Philemon.  The course will include readings and discussions both of Paul's letters and relevant Greek and Roman literature (in translation), and how a political reading of these ancient writings can inform our own engagement in matters of power and politics from the perspective of faith today. 

 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:50 p.m., beginning September 14

Efrain Agosto
Professor of New Testament
 


Contact Information:

phone: 
(860) 509-9500
email:

 

Course Syllabus


Office hours: Wednesdays 3:15 to 4:15 PM Or by appointment

Course Description

This course will explore the letters of the Apostle Paul from the perspective of power and politics, in particular how Paul and his congregations engaged the Roman imperial order of his day. Particular attention will be focused on Paul’s letters to important urban centers of the Roman Empire, namely Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, Rome and the various cities in the Roman province of Galatia. A case study will be undertaken in how Paul addressed a critical institution of the Roman order - slavery - in his Letter to Philemon. Differences in resistance or accommodation to the politics of empire will be discussed in light of what many consider to be post-Pauline correspondence, including Colossians, Ephesians and especially the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy and Titus). The course will include readings and discussions both of Paul’s letters and some relevant Roman and Greek literature, and how a political reading of these ancient writings can inform our own engagement in matters of power and politics from the perspective of faith today.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course the student will have:

  1. Explored the Pauline letters in light of the political reality surrounding the Pauline mission – the Roman Empire.

  2. Studied each Pauline letter taking into account the historical and cultural context in which it was written, namely the urban centers of the Roman Empire, and the immediate concerns of the congregations that received the letters. 

  3. Analyzed various theological, ethical and ministerial themes that emerge from these contexts, both inside and outside the Pauline assemblies, and how Paul addresses the way in which the needs of his congregations relates to the world of the Roman Empire.

  4. Discuss the various connections between Paul’s “political theology” and similar concerns that have emerged in the practice of faith today, that is, how people of faith relate to the political realities that surround us today.

 

Course Requirements

  1. Attendance & informed participation in all classes. 

  1. Reading

    1. Required Reading (Available for Purchase)

Richard Horsley, ed., Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997).

______________, ed.,  Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000).

______________, ed., Paul and the Roman Imperial Order (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2004).

_________________, Religion and Empire: People, Power and the Life of the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).

Robert Jewett, Paul the Apostle to America: Cultural Trends & Pauline Scholarship (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994).

Wayne Meeks, ed., The Writings of St. Paul, Norton Critical Edition (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1972).

 

    1. Reserved Reading (Copies in Library)

“The Acts of Paul and Thecla” in Bart D. Ehrman, ed., The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 2004), 177-182.

Efrain Agosto, “A Postcolonial Commentary on Philippians,” in Fernando Segovia & R.S. Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, forthcoming), manuscript copy of chapter in library reserve.

C.K. Barrett, ed., The New Testament Background: Writings from Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire that Illuminate Christian Origins, Revised Edition (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989).

Allen D. Callahan, Embassy of Onesimus: The Letter of Paul to Philemon (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997).

Fred O. Francis & J. Paul Sampley, eds., Pauline Parallels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).

Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Community and Authority: The Rhetoric of Obedience in the Pauline Tradition (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1998).

Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Cannon (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

Sandra Hack Polaski, Paul and the Discourse of Power (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).

J. Paul Sampley, ed., Paul in the Greco-Roman World (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003).

  1. Written Assignments

 

    1. Each student will make at least four oral presentations in class from assigned readings followed by a one to two page (single-spaced) written summary and review of that reading. The class presentation will be ten to fifteen minutes long and will be the preamble to a class discussion about that reading in light of the topic of the day.

    1. Each student will write a 15-page to 20-page (double-spaced) research paper on a topic of interest to the student related to the themes of the course.  The topic should be discussed with and cleared by the professor by the 8th class session (November 2).  The paper is due one week after the end of classes (December 21).

 

Course Schedule

September 14                Introduction to the Course & the Study of Paul & His Letters

September 21                Politics & Faith in the Ancient World

Read:  Horsley, Religion & Empire; Barrett, 1-23.

September 28                Reading Paul through the Eyes of Politics & Empire

Read: Paul & Empire, 1-35; Paul & Politics, 1-39; Roman Imperial Order, 1-23.

October 5                     The Case of Thessalonica: Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

Read: Meeks, 3-10; Paul & Empire, 158-166; 215-223; Roman Imperial Order, 47-66.

October 12                    Corinth & the Corinthians: Internal Politics in 1 Corinthians

Read: Meeks, 22-28; Paul & Empire, 104-125; 242-252; Paul and Politics, 72-109; Roman Imperial Order, 89-101; Strabo, Geography 8.6.20-23 (on Corinth) – copies handed out in class.

 

October 19                    Reconciliation & Collection: The Politics of 2 Corinthians

Read: Meeks, 48-66; Paul & Politics, 191-215; Imperial Order, 67-88.

October 26                    Galatians: Internal Polemics & Pauline Principles

Read:  Meeks, 10-22; Paul & Empire, 224-241; Paul & Politics, 130-159; Polaski, 73-103.

 

November 2                  Romans: A Missionary Theology in Imperial Terms

Read: Meeks, 66-94; Paul & Empire, 140-157; Paul & Politics, 160-190; Imperial Order, 25-46; Jewett, 32-44.

 

November 9                  Cooperation with Rome? Interpretation, Romans 13 and Other “Pro-Imperial” Texts

Read: Paul & Empire, 184-204; Paul & Politics, 40-71.

 

November 16                Philippians:  “Heavenly Citizenship” Over Roman Citizenship

Read: Meeks, 94-101; Paul & Politics, 173-183; Imperial Order, 125-153; Kittredge, 53-110; Agosto, “A Postcolonial Commentary on Philippians.”

November 23                No Class – Reading Week/Thanksgiving Break

November 30                A Case Study in Dealing with an Imperial Practice: Paul & Slavery

Read: Meeks, 101-104; Paul and Politics, 110-129; 216-223; Roman Imperial Order, 155-173; Jewett, 59-69; Sampley, Handbook, 575-607; Callahan, Embassy of Onesimus, 1-70; Polaski, 52-72.

December 7                  Post-Pauline Communities:  Accommodation to Empire?

Read:  Meeks, 107-148; 199-207; Paul & Empire, 167-183; Jewett, 45-58; Kittredge, 111-174; McDonald, 13-103; “The Acts of Paul & Thecla” in Ehrman, Reader, 177-182.

December 14                  Conclusion of Course:  Pauline Faith & Politics Today

Read: Jewett, 3-31; 98-127.

December 21                Final paper due at professor’s office by 5PM– either in person, by email or regular mail.

 

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