Department of Religious Studies

Geoffrey Smith


Ph.D., Princeton University

Assistant Professor
Geoffrey Smith

Contact

Interests


New Testament | Early Christianity | Patristics | Nag Hammadi | Papyrology | Coptic Language and Literature

Biography


Geoffrey Smith is Assistant Professor of Biblical Greek and Christian Origins and Fellow of the Nease Endowment in the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins (ISAC). He received a PhD in Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity from Princeton University in 2013. Smith is a scholar of the New Testament and Early Christianity whose research interests include Paul and the Pauline tradition, Patristics, orthodoxy and heresy, papyrology, and Valentinianism. His book Guilt by Association: Heresy Catalogues in Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2015) examines the strategic circulation of polemical texts in contests for religious authority by deutero-Pauline and early-Patristic authors. His current research explores the intersection of medicine and polemic in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage. 

Courses


R S 353 • Angel/Demon/Magic Early Cen

43645 • Fall 2016
Meets MW 100pm-230pm CBA 4.338
(also listed as MEL 321)

The world as early Christians imagined it was a spiritual universe inhabited by angels and demons. These lesser gods were thought to govern the mundane affairs experienced by Christians, day-to-day matters like health, wealth, love, and revenge. But how did Christians come to view the world in this way? How did angelology and demonology influence the ways that Christians thought about the world around them? And to what extent did Christians use magic to manipulate the spiritual world? We will consider these and other questions in this survey of early Christian views of angels, demons, and magic. All primary sources will be read in translation.

 

Texts:

  • M. Meyer and R. Smith, Ancient Christian Magic
  • H.D. Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation
  • The Oxford Annotated Bible

 

Grading:

  • 3 short essays: 45% (15% each)
  • Final Paper: 40%
  • Attendance and participation: 15%

R S 387M • Introduction To Coptic I

43760 • Fall 2016
Meets MWF 900am-1000am BUR 228
(also listed as MEL 383)

The origins of the Coptic language are somewhat mysterious. It emerged in the first and second centuries CE, when a small group of linguistic innovators began to transliterate the Egyptian language into Greek characters along with a few letterforms borrowed from demotic. The language increased in popularity and flourished from the fourth through seventh centuries among Christians in Egypt. Many late antique Egyptian Christians read the bible in Coptic translation, and composed literature, magical texts, and private letters in the language as well. Coptic was even used sporadically as the language of bureaucracy. While Coptic is no longer spoken today, it lives on as one of the liturgical languages of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This course will introduce students to the fundamentals of Coptic grammar and familiarize them with many of the texts that survive in the language. Students will also become familiar with the circumstances of discovery and contents of some of the major hoards of Coptic manuscripts, such as the finds at Dishna, Kellis, Nag Hammadi, Oxyrhynchus, and the monastery of the archangel Michael and the White Monastery. Finally, students will become acquainted with topics of special interest among Coptic scholars today, such as paleography, dialectology, and bilingualism.

Required course books include, but are not limited to:

  • Walter E. Crum, Coptic Dictionary (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2005)
  • Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar: With Chrestomathy and Glossary. Sahidic Dialect (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011)
  • Bentley Layton, Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises and Vocabularies (Peeters Publishers, 2007)
  • Richard Smith, A Concise Coptic-English Lexicon. Second Edition (Society of Biblical Literature, 1999)

R S 353 • Paul And His Social World

42830 • Spring 2016
Meets TTH 1100am-1230pm JES A215A
(also listed as C C 348)

Perhaps no other follower of Jesus has influenced the Christian tradition to the degree that the apostle Paul has. Among the twenty-seven books in the New Testament, his name appears on nearly half of them. He is variously remembered as the second founder of Christianity, the great apostle, and an apostate from Judaism. But who was Paul of Tarsus? What traditions influenced him? What did he teach, and how did others interpret his teachings?  This course will examine the life and letters of this first-century Jewish missionary, by interpreting Paul’s own writings within the context of diaspora Judaism and the broader Greco-Roman world. We will also explore his legacy within the early church, by considering some of the interesting and perhaps unexpected ways that later canonical and extra-canonical Christian authors tailored Paul’s teachings to suit their own contexts.        

Readings 

John Gager, Reinventing Paul

Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians

Richard Pervo, The Making of Paul: Constructions of the Apostle in Early Christianity

 

Grading

3 short essays, 5-6 pages (45%, 15% ea)

Final Paper, 10-12 pages (40%)

Attendance and participation (15%)

R S 365 • Hermits/Monks/Sts Early Christ

42845 • Fall 2015
Meets TTH 930am-1100am BUR 228
(also listed as C C 348, MES 342)

When a rich young man asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus famously replied: “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Mk 10:17-22). This course examines those early Christians who interpreted Jesus’ words literally and renounced friends, family, and material possessions and sought holiness in a life of self-denial. We will explore individual and communal forms of Christian monasticism, from Simeon the Stylite, who in an act of religious devotion lived for thirty-seven years atop a pillar, to Shenoute the Archimandrite, who oversaw a federation of monasteries intended to provide male and female monks with the opportunity to live as angels in heaven while still on earth. In this survey of Christian monasticism from the first through fifth centuries CE, we will not only marvel at the spectacular feats of these religious eccentrics, but also explore the social, economic, and religious factors that may have made a life of self-denial attractive to many early Christians. We will also consider the role of authority in these movements. Who had it? How did they get it? And in what ways did others contest it? All primary sources will be read in translation.  

 

Grading

  • 3 short essays: 45% (15% each)
  • Final paper: 40%
  • Attendance and participation: 15%

 

Texts

  • A. Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia: The Life of Saint Pachomius
  • B. Layton, The Canons of Our Fathers: Monastic Rules of Shenoute
  • R. Krawiec, Shenoute and the Women of the White Monastery: Egyptian Monasticism in Late Antiquity

R S 387M • Gnosticism

43320 • Spring 2015
Meets TH 1230pm-330pm BUR 436A
(also listed as MES 386)

“Gnosticism” and Early Christianity“What is Gnosticism?” asks a well-known book on the topic. Some scholars view Gnosticism as a religious phenomenon that surfaces from time to time within or alongside Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Others use the category more narrowly to designate a group of Christian “heretics” active in the second and third centuries. A skeptical minority understands Gnosticism to be a polemical category constructed by unsympathetic interpreters from the second through the twentieth centuries. In this class we will consider the multiple answers given to the question of Gnosticism by familiarizing ourselves with the ancient texts often regarded as gnostic, surveying the various scholarly treatments of these texts, and discussing critical issues in class. While this course will focus chiefly on early Christianity, it will also make brief forays into later purported manifestations of Gnosticism in other religious and intellectual traditions by examining medieval Jewish mysticism, Sufism, and the thought of analytical psychologist Carl Jung. This course will move freely between the poles of historical study and theories of religion. 

R S 387M • Coptic

44680 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 930am-1100am MEZ 1.104
(also listed as MEL 383)

The origins of the Coptic language are somewhat mysterious. It emerged in the first and second centuries CE, when a small group of linguistic innovators began to transliterate the Egyptian language into Greek characters along with a few letterforms borrowed from demotic. The language increased in popularity and flourished from the fourth through seventh centuries among Christians in Egypt. Many late antique Egyptian Christians read the bible in Coptic translation, and composed literature, magical texts, and private letters in the language as well. Coptic was even used sporadically as the language of bureaucracy. While Coptic is no longer spoken today, it lives on as one of the liturgical languages of the Coptic Orthodox Church. This course will introduce students to the fundamentals of Coptic grammar and familiarize them with many of the texts that survive in the language. Students will also become familiar with the circumstances of discovery and contents of some of the major hoards of Coptic manuscripts, such as the finds at Dishna, Kellis, Nag Hammadi, Oxyrhynchus, and the monastery of the archangel Michael and the White Monastery. Finally, students will become acquainted with topics of special interest among Coptic scholars today, such as paleography, dialectology, and bilingualism.

Required course books include, but are not limited to:

Walter E. Crum, Coptic Dictionary (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2005)

Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar: With Chrestomathy and Glossary. Sahidic Dialect (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2011)

Bentley Layton, Coptic in 20 Lessons: Introduction to Sahidic Coptic with Exercises and Vocabularies (Peeters Publishers, 2007)

Richard Smith, A Concise Coptic-English Lexicon. Second Edition (Society of Biblical Literature, 1999)

Curriculum Vitae


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