BTS-4295/5080 Topics: James and the Sermon on the Mount

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1 THE FOLLOWING SYLLABUS IS A TENTATIVE DRAFT ONLY. ALTHOUGH THE BASIC SHAPE OF THE COURSE WILL REMAIN THE SAME, DETAILS MAY CHANGE. BTS-4295/5080 Topics: James and the Sermon on the Mount Canadian Mennonite University Fall Semester, Tuesday, 2:30-5:15 p.m. Professor: Sheila Klassen-Wiebe, Ph.D. (Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA) Office: C08, South side of campus Phone: , ext COURSE SYLLABUS Course Description The Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James both envision a way of life for followers of Jesus that is distinctive, demanding, and ultimately life-giving. They address some common themes: wealth and poverty, perfection, persecution, law, prayer, and speech ethics, to name a few. At the same time, James and the Sermon on the Mount are also very different, in terms of genre, style, canonical setting, and historical context. The person of Jesus figures very differently in each. This course will be a study of these two influential bodies of writing, with attention to overall literary structure, canonical context, social historical setting, theological themes, and ongoing relevance for Christian faith. Course Objectives Upon successful completion of this course students will 1. have a thorough knowledge of the contents of the epistle of James and the Sermon on the Mount; 2. be familiar with some of the critical introductory issues (e.g., authorship, structure, provenance, etc.) involved in interpreting and understanding James and the Sermon on the Mount (SM); 3. have a better understanding of various themes and topics in James and the SM and their contribution to the overall message of each body of writing (e.g., perfection, wealth and poverty, the law; prayer); 4. be knowledgeable about the thematic and verbal connections between James and the SM and the areas of continuity and discontinuity in theological and ethical emphases; 5. be able to reflect on the significance of this continuity/discontinuity for the development of the Jesus tradition in the early church; 6. have gained experience in interpreting biblical texts in their social, historical, and literary contexts; 7. have a stronger appreciation for the formative power of these texts (James and the SM) to shape Christian discipleship in the church today. Textbooks and Readings To be determined. 1

2 Course Requirements (summary) Class participation, attendance, and overall engagement with course 10% Book review 15% Class presentation 20% Research essay, including proposal and preliminary bibliography 35% Final summative paper/take home exam 20% Course Expectations and Additional Terms of Reference Voluntary Course Withdrawal: The final date for voluntary withdrawal from the course without academic penalty is Nov. 13, Due Dates and Extensions Students are expected to hand in assignments at the beginning of class time on the day they are due. Permission for extensions should not be taken for granted, and will only be given for legitimate and serious reasons. Requests for extensions must be made in writing at least one week prior to the due date and must include reasons why the extension is needed. Marks will normally be deducted by half a letter grade (e.g., from A to B+ or C+ to C) for assignments submitted late without permission for an extension and by a full letter grade for assignments submitted more than one week late. Submission of assignments All assignments must be submitted in paper form. If a student is unable to be in class the day the assignment is due (e.g., because of illness or weather conditions), the student may arrange with the instructor to submit the assignment electronically in order to get it in on time. The instructor will send an confirming that the assignment has been received, normally within 24 hours (unless on a weekend). The student should not consider the assignment received until he or she has received such confirmation from the instructor. Furthermore, the student is still expected to bring in a paper copy of the assignment at the next class. Please put your CMU mailbox number on every assignment. Use of Technology in the Classroom Students are permitted to use laptop computers and tablets in class for the purpose of taking notes. This privilege will be revoked immediately for any student using a laptop or tablet for non-academic purposes. The use of other electronic devices in class is prohibited. Academic Integrity Plagiarism and cheating are serious academic offences. Students are expected at all times to submit their own work and to acknowledge and document sources properly. Such sources include books and articles, but also the Bible, internet sources, hand-outs and class notes, and work of other students or professors. For help with proper documentation of sources, students should consult A Pocket Style Manual, by Diana Hacker (Bedford Books). If it becomes evident that a student has plagiarized an assignment, that assignment will receive a failing grade. 2

3 Grading Scheme A % Exceptional A Excellent B Very good B Good C Satisfactory C Adequate D Marginal F 0-49 Inadequate Note that all grades are provisional until they have been vetted by the registrar s office. That process occurs early in January for fall semester grades. Course Requirements (details) Attendance, Class Preparation, and Participation (10%) Attendance at every class and timely arrival in class are essential in a course that meets only once a week. If missing a class is unavoidable due to a family emergency, ill health, or other serious conflict, please speak to me about it. Any other absences will result in deduction of marks from the 10% allocated for class participation and preparation. When students do need to miss a class, it is their responsibility to obtain notes from another student, to request any missed hand-outs, and to hand in assignments on the due date. Classes will consist of lectures, class presentations, and discussion of readings and presentations, but the overall format of the course is intended to be seminar style. This means that students should come to class having done the assigned readings from the Bible, textbooks, and other sources, and should be prepared to engage the readings intelligently and thoughtfully with others in class. Students should write down questions and observations as they read, and bring their analyses, questions, and critiques to class for discussion. Students who find it difficult to speak up in class or who are unable to participate as much as they would like due to class size are encouraged to the instructor their contributions. Book Review (15%) Since very few books focus on both the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James, for the book review students will likely need to choose a book on either one or the other. A bibliography of suggested titles will be provided in class. Students are encouraged to choose a book related to the topic of their class presentation. The book review should consist of 3 parts: (1) a summary and analysis of the book or brief summary of each essay; (2) an evaluation of the book or essay collection, including contribution to the work of the church; and (3) personal engagement with the book or set of essays, including intersection of their claims and ideas with either James or the Sermon on the Mount (whatever is not the focus of the book/essays being reviewed). A more detailed book review guide will be distributed in class. The review should be 2500 words in length (approx. 7-8 pp.) and double-spaced. Class presentation (20%) Each student will be required to do a 20 minute presentation on a particular text or topic from either James or the Sermon on the Mount or both. Topics will correspond to those listed in the course outline, and students will sign up for the date and topic that interest them. The presentation should begin by 3

4 summarizing the question or issue under discussion, and then should respond to the question, on the basis of research done on the topic. Students will be required to provide an outline and possibly a reading for the rest of the class in preparation for the presentation. Presenters should be prepared to respond to questions from the rest of the class and should come with their own questions for their colleagues. Research essay (35%) The purpose of this assignment is to give students the opportunity to explore in greater depth a topic or theme of particular interest to them by writing a research essay on a topic related to the course. If the student s presentation focusses primarily on the Sermon on the Mount, the essay should explore a text or theme from the letter of James; if the presentation s focus is James, the essay should concentrate on some aspect of the Sermon on the Mount. The essay may be an exegetical study of a text or may explore a theme in the writing. It should be words in length for undergraduate students, words for graduate students (footnotes not included in word count). The essay should discuss and analyse the content and meaning of the passage(s) being studied, or explore the various dimensions of the topic chosen. In order to ensure that the topic is manageable and that the necessary resources are available, students will submit a preliminary bibliography and a short essay proposal to the instructor for feedback. This proposal should outline, in a paragraph or two, the intention, scope, and approach of the essay. The preliminary bibliography should include resources that the student knows will be helpful for their topic, but need not be complete. No essay will be accepted without advance approval of the topic from the instructor. Failure to hand in a proposal in a timely manner will result in a deduction of 5% from the final grade of the paper. Summative paper/take home exam (20%) The final course assignment is an opportunity for students to reflect back on the semester and pull together some conclusions about the two works of Scripture that we have been studying. To that end, it is more a summative or integrative essay than a take-home exam. Like a take-home exam, however, questions will be distributed at the last class, to which students will then respond in essay form. The questions will draw from learnings and readings throughout the semester and should not require additional research or reading. Questions may ask students to compare and contrast the Sermon on the Mount with the letter of James in certain areas, to reflect on the significance or implications of some of the things we have studied, to summarize a topic, and so on. Required length will be not more than 2000 words. 4

5 TENTATIVE Course Outline Sept. 11 Course introduction Reading James and the Sermon on the Mount (SM) together; James and the Jesus tradition Sept. 18 Introductory matters: authorship, provenance, canonization, structure, genre, history of interpretation Sept. 25 Beatitudes: Doorway to the Sermon Wisdom in James (and Matthew) Oct. 2 Law Jesus relationship to the Jewish law (Mt. 5:17-20, with attention to 5:17-48 generally) Is Jesus really as legalistic as this text implies? James perspective on the law (1:25; 2:8-12; 4:11-12): the perfect law, the law of liberty, the royal law, the place of the love commandment (Lev. 19:18) in James s ethic Oct. 9 Speech Speech ethics of James (esp. 3:1-12 but also 1:19, 26; 2:12; 4:11; 5:9) The use of oaths (Mt. 5:33-37; James 5:12) Anger in the Sermon on the Mount and in James Oct. 16 Perfection, Integrity and Wholeness The theme of perfection or wholeness in the ethics of James (and Matthew [5:48]). Are James (and Matthew) demanding impossible perfectionism? Retaliation and love of enemy (Mt. 5:38-48). How are we to understand Jesus command that disciples must love their enemies? Who are the enemies Matthew has in mind? Are there situations in which this is or should not be relevant? How does attention to context (literary and historical) impact interpretation? Oct. 23 Wealth and poverty Treasures, mammon, and worry in the SM (Mt. 6:19-34) The rich and the poor in James (throughout the letter but esp. 1:9-11; 2:1-7; 4:13-5:6). What is the social context of James audience, and who are the rich and the poor? Do both exist in James s audience? What is James s word to the rich? to the poor? Oct. 30 Believing and Doing/Faith and works Hearing, doing, believing in James and the SM (James 1:22-27; 2:14-26; Mt. 7:15-27) Faith and works in James and Paul: Are they mutually contradictory? Nov. 6 Eschatology (the relevant texts are sprinkled throughout both works; read James and SM looking for eschatological references, both those that speak about the future positively and those that speak of future judgement) 5

6 Eschatology in James: promise and judgment Eschatology in the SM: promise and judgment Nov. 13 Prayer (and piety) Practices of prayer and piety in the SM (Mt. 6:1-18; 7:7-11); possible focus on the Lord s Prayer Prayer in James (1:5; 5:13-18) Nov. 20 Miscellaneous/Leftovers Sin and forgiveness in James and the SM Suffering, trials, and testing Friendship with the world, friendship with God Other? Nov. 27 Retrospect and Prospect: Pulling it all together and So what? Where is Jesus in the epistle of James? where is grace? How then should we live? Other.... 6

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