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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Divinity : Divinity

Undergraduate Course: Christianity in Africa to 1500 (DIVI10010)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Divinity CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores key texts in translation by and about early African Christians from the Scillitan Martyrs and Perpetua and Felicity to the classic Ethiopic work on the Queen of Sheba and her descendants, the Kebra Nagast. Writings originally written in Latin, Greek, Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic will be studied, and works by the great early African theologians Tertullian, Augustine, Athanasius, Clement and Origen.
Course description Academic description:

This course aims to give students an in-depth knowledge of some of the greatest early African Christian texts and theologians. The distinctive Christian cultures of Roman North Africa from the early martyrs to the Vandals will be studied, alongside the educational powerhouse of the early Alexandrian Catechetical School. Later sessions will see close study of texts from the Coptic, Arabic and Ethiopic Christian traditions. The centerpiece of the course is the study of Augustine, the wellspring of Latin Christian thought, as a distinctively African theologian.

Syllabus/outline content:

Week 1: Introduction- talking about African Christians

Week 2: Is Christianity to die for? The Scillitan Martyrs, Perpetua and Felicity and Cyprian's On the Lapsed

Week 3: A Culture of our Own: Tertullian's On Idolatry, On the Spectacles, On the Pallium

Week 4: Knowledge, truly so called: Clement, Origen and the catechetical school at Alexandria

Week 5: Why apologise? Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Nations; Lactantius, The Divine Institutes

Week 6: The independent church of fourth-century North Africa: Donatist martyr acta and Tyconius Book of Rules

Week 7: Augustine the African: Confessions, Letters, sermons, City of God

Week 8: Resisting the Vandals: Victor of Vita's History of the Vandal Persecutions

Week 9: Coptic Christianity from Athanasius to Hilaria

Week 10: Arabic African Christianity: the life of Benjamin I, the Thirty-Eighth Patriarch of Alexandria

Week 11: Ethiopic Christianity and the Kebra Nagast

Student learning experience:

The course will be taught in two-hour weekly seminars, with a ten-minute break in the middle. The first hour will be an introductory discussion, the second a close discussion of the text itself. Students will be expected to have read the texts each week. Each seminar will begin with a triage of topics of interest to the students in their reading, and will then move to general seminar discussion of those topics and the topics proposed by the lecturer. Students will make one formal three-minute presentation to the class on a text and week of their choice, with the opportunity for a one-to-one rehearsal with immediate oral feedback from the course lecturer the previous week. Study hours will be spent reading the text(s) for each week and some of the prescribed secondary literature, as well as preparing the essay and presentation.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the content of selected key texts in African Christianity to 1500
  2. Distinguish key elements in their historical and/or theological contexts
  3. Illustrate the way the texts relate to key historical trends in Christianity in Africa to 1500
  4. Demonstrate the ability to summarise and contextualize a key text orally in three minutes, making use of powerpoint slides or a similar medium
Reading List
Indicative Bibliography


The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, ed and tr. Herbert Musurillo, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)

Cyprian, De Lapsis and De Unitate Catholicae Ecclesiae, ed and tr. Maurice Bévenot, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971)

Tertullian, Apology, De Spectaculis; Minucius Felix, Octavius, tr. T.R. Glover and G.H. Rendall, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931

Oulton, John Ernest Leonard, and Henry Chadwick (tr.), Alexandrian Christianity, Library of Christian Classics 2 (London: SCM, 1954)

Origen, On First Principles., ed and tr. GW Butterworth

Arnobius of Sicca, The Case against the Pagans, tr. George E. McCracken (Westminster, MD: Newman, 1949).

Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Translated Texts for Historians 40, tr. Anthony Bowen and Peter Garnsey (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003)

Tilley, Maureen A., Donatist Martyr Stories: The Church in Conflict in Roman North Africa, Translated Texts for Historians 24 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996)

Tyconius, The Book of Rules, tr. William S. Babcock, Texts and Translations 31, Early Christian Literature Series 7 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1987)

The Works of St Augustine, a Translation for the 21st Century ed. John E. Rotelle; New York: New City Press, 2000

Victor of Vita, History of the Vandal Persecution, tr. John Moorhead, Translated Texts for Historians 10 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1992)

Sophronius of Jerusalem, Life of St. Mary of Egypt, tr. Maria Kouli, in Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints Lives in English Translation, ed. Alice Mary Talbot (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996), 65-93

Hilaria, in James Drescher, Three Coptic Legends: Hilaria, Archelites, the Seven Sleepers (Cairo: Imprimerie de LInstitut Français d'Archéologie orientale, 1947)

Benjamin I, the Thirty-Eighth Patriarch. A. D. 622-661, in History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, II, Peter I to Benjamin I (661), ed. and tr. B. Evetts, Patrologia Orientalis I.4 (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1948), 487-518

Kebra Nagast. Translation in The Queen of Sheba & Her Only Son Menyelek, with introduction by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge (London: Medici Society, 1922) (London: Oxford University Press, 1932)


Barnes, T.D., Tertullian, A Historical and Literary Study, rev. edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985)

Barnes, T. D., Lactantius and Constantine, Journal of Roman Studies 63 (1973), 29-46

Brown, Peter, Augustine of Hippo, A Biography, new edn (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000)

Burns, J. Patout, Cyprian the Bishop, Routledge Early Church Monographs (London: Routledge, 2002)

Burns, J. Patout, Jr., and Robin M. Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014)

Burrus, Virginia, The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004)Clark, Gillian, Augustine, The Confessions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Chadwick, Henry, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition: Studies in Justin, Clement, and Origen (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966)

Digeser, Elizabeth DePalma, The Making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius & Rome (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000)

Elm, Susanna, Virgins of God: The Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994)Frend, WHC, The Donatist Church, A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952 (new edn, 1985))

Isichei, Elizabeth,A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present (London: SPCK, 1995)

Merrills, A.H., ed., Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004)

Mikhail, Maged S. A.., From Byzantine to Islamic Egypt: Religion, Identity and Politics after the Arab Conquest (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014)

Munro-Hay, S. C., Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991)

Parry, Ken, ed., The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999)

Robeck, Cecil Melvin, Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1992)

Sage, Michael M., Cyprian, Patristic Monograph Series 1 (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, 1975)

Simmons, Michael Bland, Arnobius of Sicca: Religious Conflict and Competition in the Age of Diocletian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

Wilhite, David E., Ancient African Christianity: An Introduction to a Unique Context and Tradition (London: Routledge, 2017)

Willis, G.G., Saint Augustine and the Donatist Controversy (London: SPCK, 1950)

Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Independence of mind and initiative

Ability to gather, evaluate and synthesise different types of information

Analytical ability and the capacity to formulate questions and solve problems

Writing skills, including clear expression and citing relevant evidence
KeywordsHistory of Christianity; Africa; Ethiopia; Egypt; Axum; Carthage; Alexandria
Course organiserDr Sara Parvis
Tel: (0131 6)50 8907
Course secretaryMr Ross Muir
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