VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MARCH 13: Black smoke billows out from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating that the College of Cardinals have failed to elect a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's successor is being chosen by the College of Cardinals in Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. The 115 cardinal-electors, meeting in strict secrecy, will need to reach a two-thirds-plus-one vote majority to elect the 266th Pontiff. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 163737604

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN – MARCH 13: Black smoke billows out from a chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel indicating that the College of Cardinals have failed to elect a new Pope on March 13, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 163737604

We are just wrapping up my undergraduate course at Brown University entitled “How the Bible Became Holy.”  I have earlier posted a syllabus for this course, which can be found here.  This was the third time I taught the course and was far larger than in previous years.  As in past years, the course will close with a historical simulation that tries to make more alive for students the dynamics, costs, and benefits involved in the ultimate “orthodox” Christian decision to canonize the Bible.  While I have posted the guidelines I have used in previous classes, I have tweaked them a bit and reproduce them below, in more or less the same form as what my students are working with.

An interesting twist this time is that given the size of the class we will be running three simulations simultaneously on May 19, from 2-5 EDT.  We hope to be live tweeting them all under the hashtags #FakeSynodA, #FakeSynodB, and #FakeSynodC.

Here are the guidelines:


We are sometime in the fourth century CE in Constantinople. The Roman emperor, a devout Christian (and also a practical ruler), spurred by the bishops in his court and concerned about both growing Christian diversity and his own eternal salvation, has recently convened a series of synods to hash out “orthodox” Christian theology. They have not gone particularly well. While some bishops were able to develop creeds that they could live with, other participants left angry and alienated. Chastened by the limited success of these synods, he has decided to address an issue that he hopes will be significantly easier to resolve: the confusing state of “scripture” within the Church. Does the Church need a canon, and if so, what should be in it? Primarily of interest to the bishops is whether, should it be decided that a canon is desirable, any parts of the Hebrew Bible should be included.

You have been summoned to participate in this Synod. Representatives of the competing parties will attend; the emperor expects you all to arrive at an agreement. Representatives of the Jewish community have also been invited to participate.

[N.B. This Synod is a historical fantasy. There was no Synod convened at this time to canonize the Christian Bible. If there was, Jews would not have been invited and some of the other participants would have been long dead. This is pretend.]


The Emperor

The Bishops within the Royal Court






Prior to class on April 22: Read background material (noted on the syllabus). Note your role on Canvas and begin independent research on your role. Since we will be running this simulation in three simultaneous groups note also whether you have been assigned to the A, B, or C group.

N.B. Some individuals within groups may have been assigned roles that require somewhat different objectives from their groups. These roles and instructions will be communicated privately and should not be revealed to other group members.

April 25: Prior to this class, read up on your group. Begin with the sources listed on the “Simulation Resources” but feel free to go beyond them. You might also want to do some research on your opposition. Both today and on April 27 you will report to the classroom indicated by your group.

In class you will be meeting in your groups to formulate your “victory objectives.” This should be a list of three to five goals (outcomes of the Synod) that align with your role. Each objective should be assigned points; the sum of all the points should be 100. At the end of the Synod the groups will be scored based on these objectives in order to determine who won.

Assignment Due: Each group will submit their victory objectives (one file per group) in the appropriate place on Canvas.

April 27: Class time will be spent crafting strategies and opening statements in groups. Remember that the more that you can surmise about the victory objectives of others, the better chance you stand of achieving your own!

Assignment Due: The third paper is due. This is the opening speech that you, in character, would deliver at the Synod. This is individual, not group, work, and your group presentation might well differ. It should run about five pages.



  1. Each group (beginning with the emperor) will denote a representative to deliver its opening statement. The statement should run 5-7 minutes, no less. Each statement will be followed by about 5 minutes of questioning;
  2. After the opening statements, groups will meet/negotiate for about 30 minutes;
  3. A second round of statements (which can be shorter than the first), each followed by Q&A period;
  4. A shorter round of negotiations (10 minutes);
  5. A vote (each group except for the emperor gets one vote; the emperor gets two votes) to determine if the Rabbis will get to vote (the Rabbis themselves do not vote);
  6. Each group or “team” of groups gets to make a proposal;
  7. Vote on the proposals (following the rules in [5]; whether Rabbis vote or not depends on the outcome at that stage);
  8. The emperor gets to deduct up to a total of ten victory points from any group or combination of groups;
  9. Calculation of winner, followed by general discussion.


Submit an assessment of the simulation – how did it go from your perspective and what did you learn?.