Anthropology, Religion and the Bible

Spring 2004







Required Texts:

1.     Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments. Wing Books. 1981.

2.     Robert H. Eisenman, James: The Brother of Jesus. Penguin. 1998.

3.     Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus.  Yale University Press.

4.     Norman K. Gottwald & Barbara J. MacHaffie, The Hebrew Bible:  A
Socio-Literary Introduction
.  Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. (2003)

5.     Richard Horsley and John Hanson. Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

6.     Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1999

7 .    Elaine Pagels. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House.


 Reference Sources:

1.      Bible Gateway

2.      Bible Review

3.     Willis Barnstone (ed.), The Other Bible: Jewish Pseudepigrapha, Christian Apocrypha, Gnostic Scriptures. New York: Harper and Row. 1984.

4.     James M. Robinson (ed.), The Nag Hammadi Library. New York: Harper and Row. 1988.



Course Description:


How does an anthropologist view the Bible?  Did Abraham and the other Patriarchs ever exist?  Why are there two flood stories? Did the Exodus actually occur?  Were there really twelve tribes of Israel?  Was Jesus born in Bethlehem?  Why do the different gospels contradict one another?  Why was Jesus crucified by a Roman official?  Why did Paul refer to James as “the Lord’s brother”?  Why wasn't the Gospel of Mary Magdalene included in the New Testament?   Why isn't Jesus mentioned in any historical source other than the New Testament?  These are some of the many questions that will be raised and discussed in this course.


The course will explore the effect that social, political and economic conditions in early Palestine had on the origin and evolution of Judaism and early Christianity.  Through a discussion-based format, the relationship between religion and other aspects of society will be examined.  Special attention will be given to the relationship between politics and religion.  Stressing the importance of objective reasoning, critical evaluation and social science research methods, the course will apply anthropological theory regarding the origin and evolution of religious movements to shed light on the rise of Judaism and Christianity in ancient Palestine.





The following procedures will be used to arrive at a student's final grade:


1.    Mid-term exam (essay)

2.    Final exam (essay)

3.    Class participation 







Grading Policy:


1.   ALL assignments and examinations MUST be completed or taken at the time scheduled.  Make-up tests will only be given in the event of an emergency and will receive 10-point reduction in grade for each day they are late (i.e., a score of 80 on a make-up test or paper will be recorded as a 70, 60 50, etc).  The grade on any exam not taken or assignment not completed will be zero.  Similarly, incomplete course grades (I) will be reduced by 10 points when they are completed.


2.   ALL materials assigned for reading or presented or discussed in class (including films) will potentially  be included in examinations.


3.   Attendance will not be taken, but absence from class is NOT an acceptable excuse for a student's failure to complete an assignment or examination.  It is the student's responsibility to obtain the necessary information on days that he or she misses class.  In addition, a student who regularly misses class cannot expect special consideration in the event of poor grades.  Furthermore, 20% of a student’s grade in the course is based on participation, which includes both attendance and participation in class discussions.  Everyone in the class begins with a "C" (73) for participation, and an individual's grade increases or decreases depending on the quality of their participation.  While I don’t grade down for one or two classes missed, I do expect students to attend all classes, and excessive absences result in a reduced grade for participation.  (Obviously, if a student is not in class, participation for that day is zero.)  I also assign a higher participation grade for those students who come to class prepared to contribute positively to class discussions or who discuss issues with me through email.  Conversely, I assign a lower grade for those students who come to class unprepared, who do not participate in class discussions or whose classroom behavior is either inappropriate or disruptive.


4.   In the final analysis, responsibility for completing all course requirements rests with the student. If the student has any doubt on any matter regarding the course, he or she should contact the instructor BEFORE the problem becomes insurmountable.  One of the benefits of the small size of the Muhlenberg Campus is the potential that exist for easy faculty-student contact.


5.    Plagiarism constitutes a violation of the Academic Behavior Code and will be dealt with VERY STRICTLY.  Depending on the nature of the plagiarism, a student could receive a failing grade for the course; be referred to the Dean's Office for judicial review; and have a "VF" (violation of Academic Behavior Code) grade entered on their transcripts.  If a student is in doubt about a specific situation, it is his or her responsibility to consult the instructor or some other appropriate person (such as a librarian or writing tutor) for clarification.






The Religious Divide in America


America is one of the most religious countries in the industrialised world. Over 80% of Americans claim to believe in God, compared with 62% of the French and 52% of Swedes. About two-thirds of Americans claim membership of a church, 40% go to church once a week, and 43% describe themselves as born-again Christians. Three times as many people believe in the Virgin birth as in evolution.  . . .  But America is also one of the most secular countries in the world. The constitution guarantees a rigorous separation of church and state, and secular groups are assiduous in using the courts to enforce that separation. (On February 25th, the Supreme Court ruled that states could withhold scholarships from students studying divinity.) Public schools recoil from even the mildest religious imagery. More than 29m Americans say that they have “no religion”, a number that exceeds all but two religious denominations, Roman Catholics and Baptists. For the most part, the people who run America's media industries in New York and Hollywood are aggressively secular, combining intellectual hostility to Middle America's religious fundamentalists with a generous measure of cultural disdain.

--The Economist (February 28-04)






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Anthropology and the Study of Religion

Faith can move mountains, but not furniture.



"Web of Religion"

William Blake



Occam's Razor






1.   Sagan, The Burden of Skepticism.

2.   Sagan, The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.

3.   Thagard, Why Astrology is a Pseudoscience.

4.   Abruzzi, The Myth of Chief Seattle

5.   Abruzzi, Science and Anthropology.

6.   Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, “Scholarship and Public Understanding” [R]

7.   Southwold, "Buddhism and the Definition of Religion." [R]



Saint. Elvis the Divine


*     *     *








Sacred Texts







"A concern with knowing the world, rather than advocating a view of the world because it confirms some political, ideological, or religious project, has always been fundamental to scientific philosophy." 

  --Lawrence Kuznar, Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology (1997)



"The aim of scientific research is to formulate explanatory theories which are: (1) predictive (or retrodictive), (2) testable (or falsifiable), (3) parsimonious, (4) of broad scope, and (5) integratable or cumulative within a coherent and expanding corpus of theories."


--Marvin Harris (1994)




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Religion and the Political Economy

I was born okay the first time.




*     *     *


Militant Islam



*     *     *



Right to Life Movement



Religion: Nigeria's latest flashpoint






1.    Evans-Pritchard, "The Nuer Concept of Spirit in Relation to the Social Order." [R]

2.    Kurtz, “Virgin of Guadalupe and the Politics of Becoming Human.” [R]


*     *     *


3.    Simmons, “Pueblo Witchcraft”,  “The Tragedy of Nambe”, “The Zuni Plague of Witchcraft.” In Witchcraft in the Southwest. [R]

4.    Harris, "Broomsticks and Sabbats" &"The Great Witch Craze." in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches.


*     *     *


5.    Horwitz, "Dying for Dixie." [R]

6.    Articles on Sharia in northern Nigeria.


*     *     *



Religion and Politics in Jakarta




*     *     *





India:  When religion and freedom clash










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2-5 & 2-12

Religious Movements

Atheism is a non-Prophet Organization.


The Ghost Dance




John Frum Cult



Joseph Smith

The Mormon Prophet




1.   Harris, "Phantom Cargo." in Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches.  [R]

2.   Wolf, "The Social Organization of Mecca  and the Origins of Islam." [R]

3.   O'Dea, "Who Are the Mormons? in The Mormons. [R]

4.   Stegner,  "Forty Thousand Saints in One Act." in Mormon Country. [R]

5.   Banton, "African Prophets." [R]

6.   Martin, "Kimbanguism: A Prophet and His Church." in Hesselgrave, Dynamic Religious Movements. [R]

7.   Schuyler & Trinh, The Apocalypse at Jonestown.

8.   Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown, National Public Radio.



FILM:  Ghost Dance [R]








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Background to the Study of the Bible







Bible Review






1.   Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, Part 1 & Prologue to Part II.

2.   Friedman, "Who Wrote the Bible?" [R]



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The Truth of God


Pastor Gino Jennings







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Garden of Eden





1.    Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, Chapter 4.

2.    Genesis. Bible Gateway

3.    Abruzzi, Geneology, Politics and History in the Book of Genesis.

4.    Asimov, Vol. 1, Chapter 1.



*     *     *



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Exodus and the Rise of the Kingdom of Israel












1.    Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, Chapters 5 & 6.

2.    Silberman, “Who Were the Israelites?” [R]

3.    Gottwald, “Models of Israelite Settlement in Canaan” in The Tribes of Yahweh. [R]

4.    Exodus, Joshua & Judges. Bible Gateway

5.    Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapters 2, 6 & 7.


*     *     *



Moses and the Exodus from Egypt










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The Kingdom of Israel








1.    Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, Part III.

2.    Samuel  & Kings . Bible Gateway

4.    Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapters 9-12.



*     *     *




Archeology of the Hebrew Bible



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3-25 & 4-1

Colonial Judea










MAP: Palestine in the 1st Century CE





1.    Maccabees 1 & 2. Bible Gateway

2.    Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, Part 4.

3.    Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapters 3-4.




MAP: Palestine under the Maccabees


*     *     *


4.    Horsley and Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs.

5.   Abruzzi, The Jesus Movement.



*     *     *


Zealots and Sicarii




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4-8 & 4-15

The Jesus Movement











The Acts of Pilate



1.   Funk, Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, "Introduction", The Five Gospels. (R)

2.   New Testament: Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John Bible Gateway

3.   Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapters 5-8.




Rome at its height of power in 117 A.D.



*     *     *


From St Peter's bones to Severed Heads:

Christian Relics on Display




Bible Maps












The Greatest Action Story Ever Told

A Slightly Different Version

of the Original Story

Gifts for the Irreverent






Jesus on the Beach














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4-22 thru 5-6


The Evolution of Christianity following the Death of Jesus

Christianity has Pagan DNA.



Mary Magdalene






Magdalene Laundries




Over a period of 150 years, an estimated 30,000 women were imprisoned by the Catholic Church and forced to work without pay.







The Holy Prepuce





1.   Frederickson, From Jesus to Christianity.

2.   New Testament: “Acts of the Apostles,” Bible Gateway

3.   Asimov, Vol. 2, Chapter 9.


MAP: Expansion of Christianity


*     *     *


4.   Eisenman, James: The Brother of Jesus.


*     *     *

5.   Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Mary

The Gospel of Phillip

6.    Infancy Gospel of Thomas

7.   The Protevangelium of James



8.   Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen.


FILM:  Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci [R]



*     *     *


9.   The Albigensian Crusade

10.   Harris, "The Great Witch Craze." in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches. [R]



*     *     *







The Brother of Jesus



James: The Brother of Jesus







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