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Biblical Studies 5201A
The Synoptic Gospels

September - December 2011

St. Peter's Seminary, Room 108
TUESDAYS 7:00 - 9:50 pm

Instructor: Rev. Murray Watson, B.A., M.Div., SSL, PhD

A. COURSE DESCRIPTION (from St. Peter's Seminary Academic Calendar)

“This course encourages students to apply methods of interpretation learned in the introductory course. General issues pertaining to all three Synoptic Gospels will be considered, followed by treatments of each Gospel separately. Basic issues such as authorship, date, place, and characteristic themes will be addressed. (3 hours; antirequisites: the former Biblical Studies 238B and 201A).”


This course will assist students to grow in the following knowledge, skills and attitudes:

Familiarity with the “Synoptic problem” and some of the major theories proposed to address it.
An understanding of the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the distinctive literary and theological characteristics of each.
Familiarity with some reliable commentators and commentaries on each of the three Synoptic Gospels, which could be employed in future pastoral ministry.
Familiarity with some basic issues in the “quest for the historical Jesus”.
Awareness of some useful and worthwhile Internet sites for study of the Gospels.
Growing comfort in analyzing and explaining Biblical passages, using the tools and insights provided by contemporary Scripture study.
The ability to present a coherent, thoughtful argument in the form of written assignments, using standard academic citation formats (footnotes and bibliographies) where required.
The ability to translate exegetical information into a format accessible to the average educated parishioner in a ministry setting.
A love for the Sacred Scriptures, as interpreted in the life and mission of the Church.
A sensitivity to the challenges of interpreting some Gospel passages, and a suitably nuanced approach to them.
A respect for, and understanding of, the work of exegetes and other Biblical scholars.
A desire to make appropriate use of Scripture, and contemporary scholarship, in the service of evangelization.


There are two assignments for this course:

For the first term assignment, students may choose any one of the following three options:
1)      Prepare a PowerPoint presentation (25-30 slides) on one of the three Synoptic Gospels. These slides should include a pointform discussion of issues of authorship (ancient and contemporary views), dating, key literary and theological themes, and pictorial slides presenting 5 key stories in that Gospel. As a starting point, use Father Raymond Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament, relevant articles from the New Catholic Encyclopedia (2002 edition), and artworks drawn primarily from the Artstor searchable digital archives (available as a UWO library database). The assignment should be submitted on CD/DVD or ZIP drive, and must be accompanied by a one-page hard-copy bibliography, to be submitted with it.        
If you don’t have a copy of Microsoft PowerPoint, you can download a free, open-source alternative (Open Office; which is entirely compatible with PowerPoint.

2)      Write an essay (at least 3 single-spaced pages) exploring the development ofour current three-year Sunday Lectionary (in which individual years are devoted to each of the three Synoptic Gospels), and discuss both its benefits and value and its limitations/drawbacks in terms of presenting the three Synoptic Gospels pastorally. Is it helpful? Is such a structure overly repetitive? How might a single year per Gospel be a good dea? How might it be a bad idea? How suitable is it for lectionary-based catechesis, such as the RCIA? How might pastoral teams help parishioners to better appreciate the distinctive richness of each year’s liturgical Gospel?
3)      Prepare a three-page, single-spaced annotated bibliography of at least 5 single-volume commentaries (from our library) on one of the Synoptic Gospels that you find particularly pastorally valuable, and would want to recommend to colleagues or interested parishioners. In your comments, address questions of thoroughness, balance, readability, pastoral relevance, and highlight at least one specific area where each commentary taught you something new and helpful. Each entry should be slightly more than half a page in length.
This assignment is due on or before Friday, November 4, 2011.
There will also be a take-home exam which must be handed in on or before Friday, December 16, 2011.
Written assignments should be submitted in a 12-point font, with 1-inch margins on all sides. Either MLA or SBL [REF PN147 S26 1999] styles may be followed—and must include full citations for each source used.

These assignments can be submitted directly to the instructor, or can be handed in at the seminary’s reception desk before the office closes at 4:30 p.m.


There is one required textbook (available from the UWO Bookstore on campus, or through most online booksellers):

• Pheme Perkins, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009. [Library has 2007 edition: BS2555.52.P47 2007]

Each student must have, in addition, a copy of a modern scholarly translation of the Bible in English; acceptable translations for class use include the New Revised Standard Version, the New Jerusalem Bible or the New American Bible (for any others, please consult the instructor). Students will be required to read selected portions of the book of Psalms, as well as the letter to the Hebrews and the book of Revelation in their entirety. Bibles must be brought to each class.

Additional course materials will be provided in class, and some will be placed on reserve in the A.P. Mahoney Library, where they may be consulted and photocopied by students.


What is a Gospel? Examining the Literary Form of the Eὐαγγέλιον [evangelion]
Gospel_ and GospelS: One Evangelion in Four Evangelia
     The Gospel Synopsis and Its Importance for Gospel Study
Early Attempts to Address the Question of Four Gospels
     The Diatessaron of Tatian—and later “Gospel Harmonies”
     The Canonical Tables of Eusebius
Earlier or Later? Major Hypotheses About the Origins, Development and Editing of the Four Canonical Gospels     The Earliest Surviving Manuscripts of the Gospels
     The “Two-Source” Hypothesis and Alternatives
     The Mysterious (and Hypothetical) “Q” Source
Four From Among the Options: The Four-Gospel Canon and Other Gospels and “Gospels”
The Gospel of Mark
     Traditions of Authorship and Sources; Modern Perspectives
     The Character, Characteristics and Unique Content of Mark
The Gospel of Matthew
     Traditions of Authorship and Sources; Modern Perspectives
     The Character, Characteristics and Unique Content of Matthew
The Gospel of Luke
     Traditions of Authorship and Sources; Modern Perspectives
     The Character, Characteristics and Unique Content of Luke
The Effort to Reconstruct the “Historical Jesus”: Its Vital Importance for Christians, and Its Limitations
The Gospels Today: Opportunities and Challenges


Students are responsible for knowing the University’s academic policies and regulations and any par­ticularities of their own course of study. These can all be found at the University’s website ( Ignorance of these policies is not an excuse for any violation thereof. The following policies are particularly important to note:

Submission of Assignments: Unless otherwise indicated, assignments are due at the beginning of class on the dates as given above. Assignments may not be dropped off at King’s or submitted electronically. It is the responsibility of the student to organize his or her work so that the assignments are completed on time. For a serious reason, a student may approach the professor before the due date, and may be granted an extension at the discretion of the professors. Any medical reasons will be confirmed by proper documentation, as approved by the Dean’s Office. A penalty of 10% of the value of the assign­ment will be deducted for each day it is overdue without permission. No electronic devices will be allowed during tests or the examination, unless approved in advance by Student Services at the University or King’s. 
Students who miss tests will negotiate a “make-up” date with the professor. Any medical reasons will be confirmed by proper documentation as approved by the Dean’s Office.           

Plagiarism: Students must write their essays and assignments in their own words. Whenever  students take an idea or a passage from another author, they must acknowledge their debt by quotation marks and/or footnotes. Plagiarism is a major academic offense. Students may be required to submit their work in electronic form for plagiarism checking.        

Selection and Registration of Courses: Students are responsible for ensuring that their selection of courses is appropriate and accurately recorded, that all prerequisite course(s) have been successfully com­pleted, and that they are aware of any anti-requisite course(s) that they have taken.         

Absence from Class: Should you be obliged to be absent from class (because of illness or a significant personal reason), you are responsible for ensuring that you are up-to-date on any materials covered in class while you are away, including any class handouts. If you know in advance that you will be away for a class, please arrange with a colleague to pick up an extra set of handouts for you.
Some Initial Bibliographic Starting-Points: (unless otherwise indicated, all call numbers refer to the holdings of the A.P. Mahoney Library at St. Peter’s Seminary)
Brown, Raymond Edward, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1990. [BS491.2 N4 1990]
Barton, John, and John Muddiman, eds. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001. [REF BS491.3 O94 2001]
Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992. [REF BS2555.2 D53 1992]
Harvey, A. E. A Companion to the New Testament. 2nd ed. based on the New Revised Standard Version. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Barton, Stephen C., ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. [BS475.2 C26 1997]
Throckmorton, Burton H. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, with Alternative Readings from the Manuscripts and Noncanonical Parallels. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1992. [Oversize: BS2560 T48 1992]
*** Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2001.
*** Powell, Mark Allan. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998. [at King’s: BS2555.2.P67F6]
*** Wills, Lawrence M. The Quest of the Historical Gospel: Mark, John and the Origins of the Gospel Genre. London, UK: Routledge, 1997. [at King’s: BS2585.2.W54Q8] (Chapter 1, on the genre of “gospel”)
Griffith-Jones, Robin. The Four Witnesses: The Rebel, the Rabbi, the Chronicler, and the Mystic. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000. [BS2555.2 G75 2000]
Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006. [BT303.2 B38 2006]
Dunn, James D. G. Christianity in the Making. Vol. 1: Jesus Remembered. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. [BT203.D86 2003]
Meynet, Roland. New Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Miami, FL: Convivium Press, 2010. [BS2555.52 M49 2010]
Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. New York: Doubleday, 1991-2009. 4 volumes to date:

1: The roots of the problem and the person
2: Mentor, message, and miracles
3: Companions and competitors
4: Law and love 

O’Collins, Gerald. Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. [Available online as an e-book through UWO libraries]
Levine, Amy-Jill. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006 [at King’s: BM535.L393 2007]
Fredriksen, Paula. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity. New York: Knopf, 2000. [at King’s: BT301.2.F74J4 2000]
Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000. [at Huron: BT297.V36]
Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987. [at King’s: BS2555.5.B6H5]
Also: much of the relevant work of Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Geza Vermes, James Charlesworth, Brad Young, E.P. Sanders, David Flusser, Gerald O’Collins, etc.

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