New Testament and Early Christianity


The doctoral program (Th.D. and Ph.D.) in New Testament and Early Christianity involves the multidisciplinary study of Christian literature (canonical and extracanonical, from the first to the fourth centuries), history, religion, and theology within the broader context of the ancient Mediterranean world. The principal focus of this doctoral work is twofold: 1) to analyze ancient texts (including material culture) and to place these within a critical historiography of the ancient Mediterranean world; 2) to gain familiarity with a range of interpretive frameworks and critical approaches toward scriptures, ancient texts, and the scholarship of the field.

The program offers particular strengths in diverse approaches to the field (feminist and postcolonial studies, hermeneutics, rhetoric and ethics of interpretation, and the analysis of the material culture of antiquity, [including archaeology and papyrology]), and diverse texts, including those of the New Testament (especially the Pauline Epistles, the Gospels, Acts, Revelation, 1 Peter), Nag Hammadi and other Coptic literature, as well as apologetic, apocalyptic, and martyrdom literatures.

Recent and current dissertation topics include:

  • The Body of Christ as Demos: Democratic Discourse of the Ekklesia in 1 Corinthians
  • Carnal Resurrection: Sexuality and Sexual Difference in Early Christianity
  • Ecclesia Laus Corinthiensis: Negotiating Ethnicity under Empire
  • Gender is Secured to Them: Discourse on the Body and Women’s Practice in Tertullian
  • The Socioeconomic Status of Jewish and Christian Women in Asia Minor 50–200 C.E.
  • 'This man performs many signs' (John 11:47): Political Controversies over the Raising of the Dead
  • The Transfiguration of Jesus and Its Trajectory during the First Two Centuries of the Christian Era
  • The First Apocalypse of James: Martyrdom and Sexual Difference
  • The Religious Practices of the Enslaved: a Case Study in Roman Ephesos



Required Seminars: Students generally pursue coursework during their first two years in the doctoral program. In addition to two seminars required of all first and second year doctoral students in the study of religion, doctoral candidates in New Testament/Early Christian Studies will participate in Religion 3420hf/HDS 1980: Seminar for Advanced New Testament Students.

Languages: Doctoral candidates are required to demonstrate competence in Greek at an advanced level by passing the department’s Greek qualifying examination, and intermediate to advanced competency in at least one additional ancient language appropriate to their plan of study (usually Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, or Syriac), as well as reading facility in two modern research languages relevant to their area of study (usually French and German). Prior language preparation is a significant factor in doctoral admissions. Once students have passed the advanced Greek examination, they will pursue a Greek reading course offered by the department, or, in rare cases, upon consultation with their advisors, can be exempted from this course for an alternative Greek course (e.g., in Classics) or a course in another ancient language relevant for their research. The above are only minimum requirements, since candidates will find they will need to use all of these languages currently in their studies and research; furthermore, each candidate's interests will usually dictate familiarity with several additional languages, ancient and modern.

General Examinations

General Examinations in the field of New Testament and Early Christianity follow the required structure of three written examinations (of three hours each) plus an oral examination prescribed by the Committee on the Study of Religion and the Faculty of Divinity. Ph.D. candidates are additionally required to take a fourth examination in Method and Theory; Th.D. candidates are strongly encouraged to include this examination as well. In conversation with his/her faculty examiners, the student will develop a bibliography tailored to the student’s interests that encompasses a breadth of relevant sources and scholarship. Such breadth should include ancient texts with a variety of religious affiliations and genres, and a geographical range in the Ancient Mediterranean world.

In addition, invaluable assistance to the program is also given by faculty from cognate fields across Harvard’s Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences and throughout the Boston Theological Institute.