REL 407/507 Mary

Mary in Early Christianity

MW, 14:00-15:20

Professor: Dr. Stephen Shoemaker
Office: 348 Susan Campbell Hall;  Office Hours: MW 3:30-4:30 (or by appointment);  Telephone: 346-4998; Email: sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu

Course Description

This course will analyze a wide range of scattered and often overlooked evidence for early Marian piety, which demonstrates, contrary to a prevailing narrative of ancient Christian history, that Marian devotion was in fact a vital part of early Christianity’s development. The course covers the period from the beginnings of Christianity up through and including the events of the Council of Ephesus (431), the Third Ecumenical Council, where Mary was famously proclaimed as “Theotokos,” that is, the one who gave birth to God. Nevertheless, since there is practically no evidence of any Christian devotion to Mary prior to 150 CE (or, for that matter, to any other figure besides Jesus), as a practical matter the study focuses primarily on the period from the latter half of the second century to the first half of the fifth. By evaluating devotion to Mary within the broader context of the emergent Christian cult of the saints, one can see that it was a phenomenon of particular significance within this broader development in Christian piety.  Marian piety in fact took a great diversity of forms in ancient Christianity, and exploring these variations will be an important focus of this class.

Requirements and Estimated Workload

1.     Preparation of reading assignments prior to class and active participation in seminar (30% of grade).

2.     Each student will be responsible for initiating class discussion during one session. Students will be expected to summarize the main points of the readings for that class and raise specific issues from the material for class discussion (20% of grade).

3.     A research paper or comparable project (ca. 8-10 pgs.; 12-15 pgs. for graduate credit) due 12:30 Wed., Dec. 10. in 348 Susan Campbell Hall. Topics to be chosen in consultation with the instructor (50% of grade).

Students will be expected to read between 100-150 pages each week, depending on the difficulty of the readings. This should require about 6 hours per week. In addition, preparation for the class discussion should require several additional hours for that session, and the research paper should require 40-50 hours to complete.


  • Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (Fortress, 1999). ISBN: 9780800631666.

Many of the reading assignments will be found either on the internet or on Blackboard (, as indicated in the schedule of readings below.  Please print these out and bring them to class.

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course should be able to:

  • describe Mary’s significance in ancient Christianity and the influence of broader social, cultural, and political elements on early Christian devotion to Mary
  • analyze primary texts critically and discuss their significance for understanding Christianity in the ancient world
  • evaluate the role of cultural exchange and religious dialogue within Christianity, as well as in relation to other religious traditions
  • demonstrate the ability to complete independent research on a topic to Mary’s significance in ancient Christianity and to present this research analytically in a research paper.

Expectations and Regulations

1.  Preparation:  You are expected to come to class having completed the reading assignments for that session.  You should be prepared to discuss and ask questions about the assignments.

2.  Participation and Class Attendance: You should come to class prepared to ask questions and to discuss the readings for that session.  Regular class attendance is required, and attendance will be taken.  If you expect to miss class doe to illness, observance of religious holy days, or other extenuating circumstances, please notify the instructor in advance after class or by email.

3. Cell phones may not be used in class. If I see you using a cell phone, it will affect your final grade.

4.  Plagiarism or Cheating: Students caught plagiarizing or cheating on any assignment will be reported to the Student Conduct Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students.  Students who are aware of cheating or plagiarism are encouraged to inform the instructor.  If you are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism (or other forms of academic dishonesty), please consult this helpful guide from the UO library concerning plagiarism, as well as the UO’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty.

All students are subject to the regulations stipulated in the UO Student Conduct Code This code represents a compilation of important regulations, policies, and procedures pertaining to student life. It is intended to inform students of their rights and responsibilities during their association with this institution, and to provide general guidance for enforcing those regulations and policies essential to the educational and research missions of the University.

5.  Appropriate accommodations will be provided for students with documented disabilities. If you have a documented disability and require accommodation, arrange to meet with the course instructor within the first week of the term. The documentation of your disability must come in writing from the Accessible Education Center in the Office of Academic Advising and Student Services. Disabilities may include (but are not limited to) neurological impairment, orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, chronic medical conditions, emotional/psychological disabilities, hearing impairment, and learning disabilities. For more information on Accessible Education Center, please see

6. Mandatory Reporting: UO employees, including faculty, staff, and GTFs, are mandatory reporters of child abuse and prohibited discrimination. This statement is to advise you that that your disclosure of information about child abuse or prohibited discrimination to a UO employee may trigger the UO employee’s duty to report that information to the designated authorities. Please refer to the following links for detailed information about mandatory reporting:


A: Excellent. Assignment is without errors in both technical matters and content, with distinction. Shows high degree of fluency with content and technical skill, with evidence of creativity and originality. A grade of A+ is rare, and indicates work that demonstrates rare mastery, originality, and polish.
B: Good. Assignment is technically sound and accurate in content. Shows all-round solid grasp of methods and subject matter.
C: Satisfactory. Errors in technical matters and/or content that are limited in scope. Shows essentially sound grasp of subject matter and methods.
D: Inferior. Significant flaws in technical matters and/or content that are wide-ranging. Shows weak grasp of subject matter and/or methods.

Course Outline

Week 1

9/29 Introduction


10/1: Issues and Questions in the Study of Early Marian Piety


  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Introduction (Blackboard)
  • Leena Mari Peltomaa, “Towards the Origins of the History of the Cult of Mary,” Studia Patristica 40 (2006): 75-86 (Blackboard)
  • John McGuckin, “The Early Cult of Mary and Inter-Religous Contexts in the Fifth-Century Church,” in The Origins of the Cult of the Virgin, ed. Chris Maunder (London: Burns & Oates, 2008), 1-22 (Blackboard)

Week 2

10/6: Mary in the New Testament: Paul, Mark, Matthew


10/8: Mary in the New Testament: John and Luke


Week 3

10/13: Mary in the Early Church Fathers


10/15: The Protevangelium of James & the Beginnings of Marian Devotion


  • Gaventa, 100-145
  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 1, pp.  14-35 (Blackboard)

Week 4

10/20:The Third-Century Fathers and an Early Papyrus


10/22: Mary in Christian Esoteric Writings


Week 5

10/27: The Book of Mary’s Repose 1


  •  Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 3, pp. 1-20 (Blackboard)
  • The Book of Mary’s Repose 1-36 (pp. 290-310) (Blackboard)

10/29: The Book of Mary’s Repose 2


  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 3, pp. 20-25 (Blackboard)
  • The Book of Mary’s Repose 36-77 (pp. 310-32) (Blackboard)

Week 6

11/3: The Book of Mary’s Repose 3


  •  Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 3, pp. 25-35 (Blackboard)
  • The Book of Mary’s Repose 77-136 (pp. 332-50) (Blackboard)

11/5 No Class – Instructor attending Byzantine Studies Conference

Week 7

11/10: The Six Books Dormition Apocryphon


11/12: The Six Books and the Kollyridians


  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 4, pp. 20-42 (Blackboard)
  • Epiphanius, Panarion, Heresies 78 & 79 (Blackboard)

Week 8

11/17: The Cult of the Virgin in the Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries: The  Church Fathers


  • David Hunter, “Helvidius, Jovinian, and the Virginity of Mary in Late Fourth-Century Rome,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 1.1 (1993): 47-71 (Blackboard)
  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 5, pp. 1-14 (Blackboard)
  • Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, 38-78 (Blackboard)

11/19: The Cult of the Virgin in the Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries: Liturgy and Archaeology


  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 5, pp. 14-42 (Blackboard)
  • Hymns from the Jerusalem Georgian Chantbook (Mode 1) (Blackboard)
  • Shoemaker, “Let Us Go and Burn Her Body”: The Image of the Jews in the Early Dormition Traditions,”Church History
    68. 4 (Dec., 1999), pp. 775-823 (Blackboard)


Week 9

11/24 No Class – Instructor attending AAR/SBL conference

11/26 No Class –Instructor attending AAR/SBL conference

Week 10

12/1: Mary and the Council of Ephesus


12/3: Marian Veneration, Pulcheria, and Nestorius’ Downfall


  • Richard M. Price, “Marian Piety and the Nestorian Controversy,” in The Church and Mary, ed. R. N. Swanson, Studies in Church History 39 (Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 2004), 31-8 (Blackboard)
  • Proclus of Constantinople, First Homily on the Theotokos (Blackboard)
  • Shoemaker, St Mary, Ch. 6  (Blackboard)

Paper Due: 12:30 Wed., Dec. 10

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