Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module THEO3771: Competing Gospels: Jesus Inside and Outside the Canon

Department: Theology and Religion

THEO3771: Competing Gospels: Jesus Inside and Outside the Canon

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to the wide range of early-Christian “Gospel” texts both inside and outside the biblical canon.
  • To encourage students to critically evaluate the genre of “Gospel” literature.
  • To provide students with the opportunity to assess differing early-Christian presentations of Jesus, and the reasons for subsequent prioritising of particular texts.


  • This module explores the important genre of Christian “Gospel” literature, but with a broader focus than simply the New Testament canon. While the four biblical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) will feature to a degree, the module introduces students to Gospel texts falling outside of the New Testament, such as the famous Gospels of Thomas, Judas, Mary, and Philip.
  • As well as providing a more comprehensive picture of early-Christian understandings and representations of Jesus than is typically gained from studying the New Testament Gospels alone, this module will also encourage students to engage critically with scholarly debate relating to the precise genre of “Gospel” itself.
  • In addition, the module will address questions relating to canon formation and the privileging of particular texts over and against others within developing Christian tradition. It will offer students a forum to consider why certain Gospel texts, such as those from the so-called “Gnostic” collection from Nag Hammadi, have been traditionally viewed as “heretical” subversions of the Christian message.
  • A portion of each week’s class will be devoted to seminar-style discussion of a different Gospel text, and students will be encouraged to focus on one of these texts for their summative essay, allowing the opportunity for detailed engagement with primary texts that may previously have been unfamiliar.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An awareness and critical understanding of both the varied landscape of early-Christian presentations of Jesus in “Gospel” literature, and what constitutes a “Gospel”.
  • Ability to evaluate scholarly views of key texts, especially in relation to how the categories of canonical and non-canonical have affected interpretation.
  • Detailed study of selected Gospel texts.
Key Skills:
  • Skills in comprehension and evaluation of key information from lectures, reading, research, and discussion, as well as presenting information in a structured, written format.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures will provide subject-specific information and critical approaches to studying the topic, enabling students to gain a clear understanding of the topic and its scholarly landscape, while improving skills in listening, and processing and evaluation of information.
  • A portion of the 1.5 hour contact time each week will be devoted to seminar-style analysis of a key text, for which students will prepare prior to class. This will develop skills in sourcing and evaluating relevant secondary material, as well as promoting awareness of different interpretations and providing the opportunity to build confidence in group discussion.
  • The formative essay enables development and consolidation of subject-specific knowledge and evaluation, in addition to research skills, information processing and evaluation, and continued improvement at presenting information in a structured written format.
  • The summative essay will assess student comprehension of subject-specific knowledge and understanding, as well as skills in research, information processing and evaluation, and presentation of information in a structured written form.
  • The examination assesses subject-specific knowledge and understanding, in addition to student ability to present relevant information in written format under time constraint.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture and Integrated Seminar 20 1 per week 1.5 hours 30
Preparation and Reading 170
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Written Examination Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Written Examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Summative Essay Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative Essay 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay (2000 words) in Michaelmas Term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University