MA Religions and Theology

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
New Testament in the Roman Empire

Course unit fact file
Unit code RELT60231
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The MA New Testament course has two elements: your own research project and a theme for the year that is discussed in seminars. Your research project may cover any aspect of New Testament study. It can focus on either a single text, a well-defined theme, or a scholarly issue/debate. It can be historical, theological, literary, linguistic, social-scientific, feminist, archaeological, text-critical, reception-critical or can combine these or other critical approaches. You will receive group and tutorial support and will present and defend your project to the group. The theme for the year will be one with ramifications covering a range of methods of NT study and will also be of broader interest to students with specialisms other than NT. The course can be taken either with or without the use of Greek. 

For 2023/24 the planned theme is New Testament in the Roman Empire. This is one of the most intense areas of current scholarly debate. We look at two aspects. First, at how NT texts relate to the realities of life in the first-century Graeco-Roman world. We consider archaeological evidence from sites such as Pompeii and Philippi and discuss topics such as the impact of household structures on the life of the earliest churches. Second, we look at how NT texts relate to the political and social structures of the Empire. Are some scholars right in seeing NT texts as specifically responding to these, or are they imagining things? Can the political and the theological be held together in interpreting the NT?


  • To develop advanced skills in analysis of New Testament texts.
  • To develop skills in analysis of the arguments of scholars studying the New Testament.
  • To develop skills in researching, presenting and defending conclusions on a topic of New Testament study. 



Knowledge and understanding

  • Describe and explain key aspects of the range of New Testament texts relevant to the theme of the course unit and for your assessed essay
  • Describe and explain key aspects of the range of other primary texts relevant to the theme of the course unit and for your assessed essay
  • Describe and explain key aspects of the range of scholarly work relevant to the theme of the course unit and for your assessed essay
  • Understand the influence of historical, social, cultural, ideological, and political realties on ancient Mediterranean theologies and religious literature


Intellectual skills

  • Identify, analyse and evaluate methods used by New Testament scholars;
  • Discuss and assess key issues in the scholarly theme for the year
  • Develop a repertoire of skills and resources for either advanced New Testament study or the use of the NT in, for example, theological research;
  • Identify and contextualize ideological interests in primary texts and the work of scholars (and see under personal qualities below)


Practical skills

  • Make accurate use of a range of types of primary text, including collections available as databases (e.g., and Perseus)
  • Make accurate and critical use of commentaries and other forms of secondary literature for New Testament studies.
  • Communicate in standard English prose the key findings of critical academic research


Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Design, carry out, present and defend a small-scale research project
  • Identify and contextualize ideological interests in your own work as a scholar

Assessment methods


Critical survey of scholarship on the topic of the summative essay Formative 1,000 words

Short presentation to the class on the topic of the summative essay Formative 10 minutes

Draft outline of summative essay Formative 500 words

Essay Summative 4,000 words 100%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on survey of scholarship on the topic of the summative essay


Oral feedback on short presentation to the class


Written feedback on draft outline of summative essay


Written feedback on summative essay



Recommended reading

  • Warren Carter, The Roman Empire and the New Testament: an Essential Guide (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006)
  • Peter Oakes, Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul's Letter at Ground Level (London: SPCK/Minneapolis: Fortress, 2009)
  • Peter Oakes, ed., Rome in the Bible and the Early Church (Carlisle/Grand Rapids: Paternoster/Baker Academic, 2002)
  • Jeffrey Brodd & Jonathan L. Reed, ed.,Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue on the Imperial Cult (WG-RWS 5; Atlanta: SBL, 2011)
  • John Riches and David Sim, ed., Matthew in Roman Imperial Context, London: T&T Clark Int., 2005; J.J.Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998.
  • Bruce W Longenecker and Kelly D. Liebengood,  E ngaging economics : New Testament scenarios and early Christian reception (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)
  • Richard Horsley, ed. various books - see library catalogue
  • Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul and various other books
  • Journal for the Study of the New Testament:

            March 2004 (Friesen on Paul and poverty, with responses by Barclay and Oakes),

            September 2004 (special issue on Domestic Space),

            March 2005 (special issue on NT and Imperial Cult),


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 6
Seminars 16.5
Independent study hours
Independent study 127.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Oakes Unit coordinator

Additional notes

11 x 1.5 hours of teaching 

4 x 1.5 hour engagement with scheduled Ehrhardt seminars

Total scheduled contact hours: 22.5 hours

Independent learning hours: 127.5

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