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The University of Southampton

HIST2085 Rebels with a Cause: The Historical Origins of Christianity

Module Overview

The first century CE saw the rise of a new world religion that was to have an ever changing and at times turbulent history up to today. This module will explore the historical origins of Christianity and the contexts from which it emerged. In particular, we will examine Jewish society in the Graeco-Roman world, which produced the first Christians, and the Palestinian scene under Roman rule at the time. We will investigate reactions to early Christianity in Graeco-Roman and Jewish literature and histories, including how its members were viewed as a rebellious minority and perceptions of their ideas as ‘excessive superstition’ and a ‘contagion’ (Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97). We will also look at the search for identity and recognition amongst the earliest Christians, particularly in relation to the Jewish people, as they began to establish, develop and expand their new religion. The module will invite you to assess and debate the historical origins of one the key religions that has shaped the modern world.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The historical and social context of early Christianity in Graeco-Roman Palestine in the first centuries CE
  • Debates on the factors that affected the historical and ideological development of early Christianity
  • The origins of Christianity in Second Temple Judaism and Graeco-Roman religion and philosophy
  • The complex formation of Christian identity, especially in relation to Second Temple Judaism
  • The relationships between Jews, early Christians and Romans in Late Antiquity
  • Key primary sources that provide evidence on the historical origins of Christianity and contemporary responses to its development
  • The latest research on the subjects of early Christianity, the history of Graeco-Roman Palestine and Jewish-Christian-Roman relations
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently
  • Participate actively in group discussions and debate
  • Communicate a coherent and convincing argument in both oral and written formats
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Develop an interdisciplinary approach to historical studies
  • Analyse critically a diverse range of primary material
  • Identify and critically assess scholarly views and arguments
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain and discuss the factors that impacted on the historical and ideological development of early Christianity
  • Evaluate reactions and responses to the early Christian movement amongst Jewish and pagan Roman groups
  • Analyse fundamental concepts in Second Temple Judaism and Roman philosophy in relation to early Christian ideology
  • Evaluate critically the theoretical and methodological approaches used by scholars working on early Christianity
  • Express familiarity with and interpret critically a variety of primary sources from Late Antiquity
  • Explain your own views on debates within the fields of early Christianity and Jewish-Christian-Roman relations in Late Antiquity


Reference will be made throughout to the historical and social context of Graeco-Roman Palestine. Typically, the module will cover the following topics: • Introductory sessions: concepts and approaches • Second Temple Judaism • Early Christian writings and groups • Responses to early Christianity especially as reflected in Graeco-Roman and Jewish literature • The development of Christian identities and the ‘parting of the ways’ • Conclusions

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Weekly lectures focusing on key events, chronology and concepts, including lecturer-led examination and discussion of sources • A weekly seminar focusing on examination and discussion of primary and secondary source material and the key issues of debate they raise Learning activities include: • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participation in group and seminar discussion • Independent reading of the sources provided and of related secondary works • Preparing and delivering short oral presentations on primary sources • Independent research of additional information and source materials Lectures will provide you with general knowledge and understanding about chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Independent Study264
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Shaye Cohen (1987). From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. 

Daniel Boyarin (1994). A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • You will engage in small group exercises, focusing on specific formative tasks, which will be reviewed in class • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessment with your tutor • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your work in progress from your tutor • Guidance and advice on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Open Book Exam  (2 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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