J. Albert Harrill


Affiliated Faculty member of the Department of History

J. Albert Harrill received the B.A. (highest honors) in religious studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1986), M.A. and Ph.D. in New Testament and early Christian literature from the University of Chicago (1989, 1993).  Before coming to OSU in 2012, he taught for a decade in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he received a distinguished teaching award and directed the College of Arts and Sciences Program in Ancient Studies.  Previously he had taught on the religious studies and/or theology faculties of Boston University, DePaul University, Creighton University, and the Catholic Theological Union.  He has also been a visiting professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago Divinity School. 

Professor Harrill studies and teaches the early Jewish and Greco-Roman environment of Christian origins in order to interpret the New Testament writings in their ancient context.  He approaches the New Testament less from the idea of canon and more from the wider historical perspective of classical culture and Roman imperial society.  Unlike other scholars who separate early Christianity from classical culture and compare the two "social worlds" to see how they are alike and how they differ, Professor Harrill studies early Christianity as fully a part of and implicated in the Greco-Roman world.  

Slavery is one case study in this larger research endeavor.  In The Manumission of Slaves in Early Christianity (Mohr Siebeck, 1995), he identified the pitfalls of moral anachronism that have beset so much investigation of slavery in early Christianity, by focusing on the first known pieces of Christian literature that address the liberation of slaves in order to understand how churches functioned socially within the Roman Empire.  In Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions (Fortress Press, 2006), he examined how Roman slavery shaped the thinking of early Christians, with significant new analysis of the Pauline epistles, the parables of Jesus, late ancient martyrdom accounts, and the modern debates over slavery in the antebellum U.S. South. 

His latest monograph, Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context (Cambridge University Press, 2012), challenges contemporary notions of Paul in traditional biographies.  It first provides a critical reassessment of the apostle’s life by focusing on Paul’s discourse of authority as both representative of its Roman context and provocative to his rivals within early Christianity.  The book then explores the legends that developed around Paul as the history of his life was elaborated and embellished by later interpreters, who remade the figure into a model citizen, an imperial hero, a sexual role model, and even an object of derision.

Professor Harrill is currently researching and writing a historical-critical commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, with attention to forgery and literary deceit in early Christianity.  An associate editor of the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary and Reference Series (Yale University Press), he also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biblical Literature and the international quarterly New Testament Studies.

Selected Awards

  • Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. Münster, Germany (2002-2003)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend (1999)

Courses Recently Taught

  • Classics 2401: Introduction to the New Testament: History and Literature  
  • Classics 3202: Slavery in the Greco-Roman World
  • Classics 3408: Ancient Roman Religion
  • Classics 3407: Paul and His Influence in Early Christianity
  • Classics 5402: Jesus and the Gospels
  • Greek 2110: The Greek New Testament

Publication Highlights


Paul the Apostle: His Life and Legacy in Their Roman Context     Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social and Moral Dimensions. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.     The Manumission of Slaves in Early Christianity. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995. Reprinted in paperback edition, 1998.


“Slavery and Inhumanity: Keith Bradley’s Legacy on Slavery in New Testament Studies.”  Biblical Interpretation 21 (2013): 506–514.

“Accusing Philosophy of Causing Headaches: Tertullian's Use of a Comedic Topos (Praescr. 16.2).”  Studia Patristica 65 (2013): 359–366.

“The Slave Self: Paul and the Discursive ‘I’.”   In The English Bible, King James Version, Volume 2: The New Testament and the Apocrypha, edited by Gerald Hammond and Austin Busch, Norton Critical Editions (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2012), 1448–59.

“Paul and Empire: Studying Roman Identity after the Cultural Turn.”  Early Christianity 2 (2011): 281–311.

“Divine Judgment against Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11): A Stock Scene of Perjury and Death.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130 (2011): 351–69.

“The Psychology of Slaves in the Gospel Parables: A Case Study in Social History.”  Biblische Zeitschrift 55 (2011): 63–74.

“Stoic Physics, the Universal Conflagration, and the Eschatological Destruction of ‘the Ignorant and Unstable’ in 2 Peter.”  In Stoicism in Early Christianity, edited by Tuomas Rasimus, Troels Engberg-Pedersen, and Ismo Dunderberg (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010), 115–40.   

"The Cannibalistic Language in the Fourth Gospel and the Greco-Roman Polemics of Factionalism (John 6:52-66)." Journal of Biblical Literature 127 (2008): 133-158

"The Slave Still Appears: A Historiographical Response to Jennifer Glancy." Biblical Interpretation 15 (2007): 212–221.

"Servile Functionaries or Priestly Leaders? Roman Domestic Religion, Narrative Intertextuality, and Pliny's Reference to Christian Slave Ministrae (Ep. 10,96,8)." Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 97 (2006): 111-130.

"The Metaphor of Slavery in the Writings of Tertullian." Studia Patristica 42 (2006): 385-90.

"The Apostle Paul on the Slave Self: An Interpretation of Romans 7." In Seeking the Self in Ancient Religion, edited by David Brakke, Steven Weitzman, and Michael Satlow (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 51-69.

"The Domestic Enemy: A Moral Polarity of Household Slaves in Early Christian Apologies and Martyrdoms." In Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, edited by David Balch and Carolyn Osiek (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2003), 231-254.

"Paul and Slavery." In Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, edited by J. Paul Sampley (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 2003), 575-607.

"Coming of Age and Putting on Christ: The Toga Virilis Ceremony, its Paraenesis, and Paul's Language of Baptism in Galatians." Novum Testamentum 44 (2002): 251-77.

"The Influence of Roman Contract Law on Early Baptismal Formulae (Tertullian, Ad martyras 3)." Studia Patristica 36 (2001): 275-82.

"Invective against Paul (2 Cor 10:10), the Physiognomics of the Ancient Slave Body, and the Greco-Roman Rhetoric of Manhood." In Antiquity and Humanity: Essays on Ancient Religion and Philosophy Presented to Hans Dieter Betz on his Seventieth Birthday, edited by Adela Yarbro Collins and Margaret M. Mitchell (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 189-213.

"The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Interpretation and Christian Moral Debate." Religion and American Culture 10 (2000): 149-86.

"The Dramatic Function of the Running Slave Rhoda (Acts 12.12-16): A Piece of Greco-Roman Comedy." New Testament Studies 46 (2000): 150-57.

"Using the Roman Jurists to Interpret Philemon: A Response to Peter Lampe." Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 90 (1999): 135-38.

"The Vice of Slave Dealers in Greco-Roman Society: The Use of a Topos in 1 Timothy 1:10." Journal of Biblical Literature 118 (1999): 97-122.

"Ignatius, Ad Polycarp. 4.3 and the Corporate Manumission of Christian Slaves." In Christianity and Society: The Social World of Early Christianity, edited by Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland, 1999), 279-314.

“The Indentured Labor of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:15).”  Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996): 714–17.

Encyclopedia and Reference Works

Articles in: Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception; The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible; Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart; Dictionary of New Testament Background; Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible; Handwörterbuch der antiken Sklaverei

J. Albert Harrill Full CV


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Areas of Expertise
  • Early Christian social history
  • Ancient Mediterranean religions
  • Early Judaism
  • New Testament studies
  • Ph.D. at University of Chicago, 1993

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