2016 Early Christianity

Session 1 & 2 (Joint session with Social World of the New Testament): The Grosvenor Museum

Early Christianity and Material Culture

NB: The Friday morning sessions will take place at the Grosvenor Museum, 27 Grosvenor Street, Chester CH1 2DD. The Museum is a 20-minute walk from the campus, or 5/10 minutes by car/taxi. Taxis can be arranged upon request. The nearest public car park is The Little Roodee Coach and Car Park on Castle Drive, a 5-minute walk away from the museum. Detailed directions will be sent to seminar participants after registration.

The Grosvenor Museum houses an interesting Roman archaeology collection, including a nationally important collection of Roman tombstones. It is thus an appropriate venue in view of our topic this year. The focus on material culture, in turn, reflects the growing scholarly awareness of the significance of material evidence for our understanding of early Christianity. This ‘material turn,’ in addition to epigraphy and iconography, includes an increased appreciation of the physical features of ancient manuscripts and their impact on interpretation, hence the second part of this session. 

Session 1


Dr Dominika Kurek-Chomycz 

Liverpool Hope University

Epigraphical Banquets, Gods and Afterlife, from Macedonia to Roman Chester

Peter Oakes 

University of Manchester

Presentation followed by a guided tour of the Roman tombstones gallery.

Visit to the second Roman archaeology collection gallery

Coffee at the Museum

Session 2

Considering Nag Hammadi Codex II as a Product of Fourth-Century Egyptian Monasticism: A Case Study of Gospel of Thomas 100

Kimberley Fowler 

CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université

The texts within the Nag Hammadi Codices have received decades of research into their character, origins, and relationship to wider early-Christianity. However, scholarship is now moving towards an appreciation of the collection not simply as a selection of esoteric second and third-century compositions (traditionally viewed as “Gnostic” by many), but as Christian texts, which could have been ideologically at home in the monastic milieu of fourth-century Upper Egypt. The thirteen leather-bound codices were discovered in 1945 in the desert of the Thebaid, not far from some prominent Pachomian monasteries, and over the years commentators have considered whether the inhabitants of these coenobitic communities could have produced and/or owned the codices. This is supported by certain scribal and codicological features of the collection; however, there are various significant overlaps of ideology between the texts within the Nag Hammadi Codices and the writings of the Pachomian monastic movement. It is worthwhile further investigating this potential relationship, which shows an increased appreciation for the identity of the codices as material evidence for a branch of fourth-century Egyptian monasticism. This paper takes as a case study one saying of the Gospel of Thomas, found in Nag Hammadi Codex II, which contains a redacted version of the popular “render to Caesar” pericope. I argue that the version of this pericope presented in the Gospel of Thomas would have appealed to a fourth-century Pachomian readership, and as such, provides a piece of evidence for Nag Hammadi Codex II having been understood as a spiritually valuable book for this set of Christian devotees.

Constructing Paulinism: Material Culture and Early Christian Commentaries on Ephesians

Benjamin Petroelje 

University of Edinburgh

Both within and without the study of the New Testament, recent scholarship has emphasised the connection between the material features of late-antique letter collections and their interpretation. So, the classicist Roy Gibson has recently argued that ancient letter collections were often arranged by addressee or theme, or 'artful variety' or 'significant juxtaposition' ("On the Nature of Ancient Letter Collections," JRS 102 [2012]: 56-78), a point obscured by the widespread chronological reordering of these very same corpora in the modern era. More recently still, Eric Scherbenske [Canonizing Paul (2014)] has drawn attention to the role that paratextual features (e.g., bioi, prologues, hypotheses, and kephalaia) play in the interpretation of an edition of Paul's letters. This paper draws these two insights together—the hermeneutical impact of both the order and the paratextual features of ancient letter collections—and applies them to the early Christian reception of one letter within the corpus Paulinum, Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In other words, if early Christian readers are not reading Paul's letters as isolated texts, but rather within a specific manuscript, in a particular order, and with certain paratextual features surrounding them, is there evidence that these readers are making use of such features in their interpretation? And what impact does this have on a text like Ephesians and how it is read vis-à-vis Paul, its purported author? After surveying the location of Ephesians within early editions of the corpus Paulinum, as well as those paratextual features most germane to Ephesians, this paper turns to the early Greek and Latin commentary tradition to answer the above questions. Like their modern counterparts, I find that what these ancient readers make of the ‘Paulinism’ of Ephesians is very much a product of what they are reading, and how they are reading it.

Session 3

Mariology and Ecclesiology in the Protoevangelium of James

Justin A. Mihoc 

Durham University

Arguably, very few apocryphal texts have shaped the early Christian thought and doctrine, as has the Protoevangelium of James. My paper attempts to examine mariological and ecclesiological themes, and how these appear to overlap, in this second-century apocryphal text. I shall argue that, in the Protoevangelium, the developed Mariology of the Temple emerges as the locale of the divine, the restored Garden, prefiguring the Church of the resurrected Messiah. Mary becomes the Garden, which bears the divine fruit, the undefiled Garden, which is ready to receive its Creator. This association between the Temple imagery and Mary will develop in the later Patristic tradition into a paradigm: she is recognised by the Church to be the Bride, the Garden, and the locale of the divine Messianic fulfilment. And, while certain literary dependency upon the Gospels of Matthew and Luke can be seen, the Protoevangelium showcases a development of the early Judeo-Christian tradition, one that saw Mary as prefiguring the Church and embodying the restored Edenic Garden. In this paper, I shall attempt to analyse the way in which Mary is being described in ecclesiological terms, and also to showcase the impact that the profound theology of the Protoevangelium had on the later Patristic ecclesiological and mariological developments.

“And This Was Not New”: Identity and Legitimacy in 1 Clement

Mina Monier 

King's College London

As a letter designed to settle a dispute in Corinth, 1 Clement is often read as a struggle to define appropriate Christian practice. However, in addition, by means of the question of which correct liturgical practice is to be followed, the author demonstrates an apologetic tone. The letter appears to provide a response to accusations similar to those of Celsus and other later writers. A key criticism is that Christianity is a novelty that is disrespectful to its ancient (Jewish) roots. In this paper it will be proposed that 1 Clement offers an apologia pro ecclesia through which legitimacy is asserted in the light of the Jewish foundations of Christianity. It will be argued that the concept of the Temple is a tool Clement used to construct his argument for legitimacy. Comparing the epistle with its key resources (Hebrews and 1 Corinthians) shows how the author has carefully edited these in order to preserve a sense of strong allegiance to the Temple. It will also be argued that the author developed his understanding of legitimacy and the Temple's role in it differently to other contemporaneous forms of Christianity evidenced by the Epistle of Barnabas and Luke-Acts.

Entering the Kingdom of God in Luke-Acts and the Shepherd of Hermas: A Test Case for Analysing βασιλεία θεοῦ in Early Christianity

Brian Bunnell 

University of Edinburgh

In this paper I suggest an alternative approach to studying the idiom βασιλεία θεοῦ in our earliest Christian texts and present a test case to demonstrate the utility of this method. Since the work of Albrect Ritschl modern scholarship has been fascinated with the kingdom of God in earliest Christianity. The kingdom of God has been analyzed in a variety of ways, and despite the research focused on probing this material, the function of the idiom within the earliest years of Christianity remains unexplained. A better approach is to analyze the social-linguistic function of the idiom by taking the entire range of sources in which the idiom occurs as sites of memory that encode early Christian interpretation. Thus, by analyzing the function of the idiom in the various sources one is able to determine the role of the idiom within the broader Jesus movement. To argue for this thesis this paper will be divided into two sections. First, it will present a model for analyzing the kingdom of God idiom in earliest Christianity. This model consists of two elements: 1) a historical-critical approach to the individual sources; and, 2) a historiographical approach that takes the sources as sites of memory that encode early Christian interpretation. The second portion of this paper will test this model in a case study by comparing variations of the phrase εἰσέρχομαι + εἰς + βασιλεία θεοῦ in Luke-Acts with the function of the phrase in the Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 9. By analyzing the social-linguistic function of the idiom in each site of memory, and then comparing the sources to one another, a clearer picture of this phrase in early Christianity emerges, permitting an opportunity for constructive analysis.