2015 Early Christianity

Session 1


Dr Paul Middleton 

University of Chester

Reports on work in progress and proposals for future programmes

Session 2

Panel discussion of the dating and social location of Acts

Prof. Loveday Alexander 

University of Chester

Dr Andrew Gregory 

University of Oxford

A discussion in dialogue with Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, ed. Dennis E. Smith & Joseph B. Tyson (Salem, OR: Polebridge, 2013) with Prof. Loveday Alexander (University of Chester & Emerita, University of Sheffield), Dr Andrew Gregory (University of Oxford) and Dr Dennis E. Smith (Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, OK)

Joint session: Book of Acts and Early Christianity seminar groups

Dr Dennis Smith has kindly provided the file below which summarises some key exegetical issues and conclusions from Acts and Christian Beginnings, the book being discussed in this seminar session. The papers from Prof Loveday Alexander and Dr Andrew Gregory on the full book will be presented ‘live’, and Dr Dennis Smith will then respond ‘live’ over Skype from Tulsa, OK (USA).

Session 3

Why isn’t Thekla martyred?

Dr Jane McLarty 

University of Cambridge

Thekla, the heroine of one of the better preserved episodes in the Acts of Paul, was a popular saint in the early Christian centuries, with images of her adventures preserved throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond.  The fourth century pilgrim Egeria finds her being venerated when she reaches Seleucia, and the service of her cult was the reason why her story has been preserved as a self-contained narrative.   It has been the centre of much interest in scholarly circles, for what it can tell us about issues such as gender, Christian narrative and identity formation, and intertextuality (with other canonical narratives and with the romantic tradition of the first and second centuries).  

In a session focussed on suffering and martyrdom, it may seem perverse to propose to discuss a figure who survives all that the pagan world tries to throw at her (death by fire, then being thrown to the wild animals in the arena) and emerges unscathed and triumphant to evangelise Asia singlehanded.  However, looking at the nature of Thekla’s ‘martyrdom’ raises some interesting questions about the purpose of this early text.  When we examine her suffering, we see the figure of Paul at its centre: what are we to read into the enigmatic presentation of the apostle in this narrative?  Why does Thekla twice escape death?  Is this simply a narrative device of folk literature, or might it tell us something about the view of suffering held by the creators of the narrative?  This paper will examine these questions to explore whether there might be something more to Tertullian’s disapproval of this work than the fact that it displays women’s ministry:  its approach to the question of suffering and martyrdom.

The suffering of blame: A perspective on Jewish culpability in the Gospel of Peter

Dr Mary Marshall 

University of Oxford

The term “Passion narratives” (applied to the stories of Jesus’s suffering and death in Gospel tradition) suggests primary attention should be paid to the agonies and fate of the central character.  Nevertheless, scholars have frequently been drawn to the supporting cast:  the crowd, the soldiers and Pilate.  Consequently, as they have been read, Passion narratives describe not only the suffering of Jesus but the active and passive culpability of those around him.

This paper examines the Gospel of Peter (which in its extant form corresponds precisely to the description “Passion narrative”) to invite further consideration of this function of such accounts to assign blame. The choice of text is particularly apt since it has attracted a polarised response to the very question of the role of Jews in its account of Jesus’s crucifixion.  For example, whereas J.D. Crossan contends that anti-Jewish invective in the Gospel of Peter is not as pronounced as that in its canonical counterparts; Raymond Brown has argued precisely the reverse.

I demonstrate that the matter of culpability for Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospel of Peter is by no means straightforward and cannot be forced to fit a one-sided agenda.  I give particular consideration to the subsequent response of Jewish characters to their part in Jesus’s death, which involves both repentance and deception.  Passion in the Gospel of Peter comprises not only Jesus’ death but the suffering and victimisation of Jewish characters, alongside their hostility and culpability.  An exploration of these themes in the non-canonical text might, I suggest, offer further insight into the range of Early Christian attempts to explain Jesus’ suffering.