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Christianity in the Greco-Roman World: The Second Century


Admission requirements

In addition to the general rules set out for admission to the Master program students are required to have a BA either in Religious Studies, Classical Languages, Ancient History, Egyptology, Assyriology or Archaeology.


After Christianity had started in the 1st century as marginal group of followers of an executed Jewish Palestinian charismatic, the 2nd and 3rd centuries saw an equally breathtaking process of intellectual diversification and cultural adaptation in a complex and often problematic “dialogue” with the non-Christian world. We will look into texts documenting the diversity of Christian groups ranging from women prophets awaiting the advent of heavenly Jerusalem in a tiny village in Asia Minor to Christian philosophers trying to persuade an educated Roman audience that Christians are better citizens and should be protected instead of persecuted. We will follow martyrs into the arena and try to look into the minds of Gnostic theologians who despised everything worldly. And we will explore the socio-cultural context o early Christian communities by visiting cities like Rome, Lyons, Carthage or Aelia Capitolina (former Jerusalem) – of course and as always with a keen eye also on relevant archaeological finds.

Course objectives

  • Understanding theoretical questions of religious transformations and inculturation during the Early Roman Empire with special attention to second and third century Christianity;

  • Knowledge of and insight into key texts and positions in early Christianity in the context of the Ancient World, including relevant evidence of material culture;

  • Carrying out independent research on a specific topic, related to the theme of the course.


Please consult the timetable on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture

  • Seminar

Course Load

The total course load is 280 hours (10 ec):

  • Class attendance: 24 hours

  • Reading literature: 82 hours

  • Preparation of oral presentation: 74 hours

  • Writing the research paper: 100 hours

Assessment method

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • Paper (80%)

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the teacher.


Blackboard will be used as means of communication and to distribute study material.

Reading list

For a first orientation the book M. Humphreys, Early Christianity, London / New York 2006 is helpful, R. MacMullen, The Second Church. Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400, Atlanta 2009 problematizes many modern assumptions and is very inspiring. A full bibliography will be distributed at the beginning of the seminar. All primary texts will be made available either by Blackboard, as handouts or ivia a special reading shelf at the University library.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis&, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Prof. Dr. Jürgen K. Zangenberg:


  • Attendants who miss more than two sessions will have to repeat the course.

  • Minimum attendance is 3 students.