2017 Early Christianity

Session 1

‘No Cake for Christians’: The Prejudice against Sophisticated Food in Clement of Alexandria’s Paedagogus between Early Christian Asceticism and Graeco-Roman Moral Conventions

Daniele Pevarello 

Trinity College Dublin

The second book of the Paedagogus of Clement of Alexandria opens with a reflection on the correct attitude that Christians should have towards food. Clement urges Christians to avoid sophisticated foods and in particular “the useless art of making pastry” (Paed. 2.2.2). As this paper will argue, Clement’s views constitute a turning point in the early Christian reflection on food. Reaching beyond the concern for ritual and purity of earlier Jewish and Christian reflections on dietary laws, fasting and meat sacrificed to idols (Philo, Paul, Didache), Clement paves the way for later Christian arguments on the centrality of a simple diet for the pursuit of an authentic ascetic life. As the paper will also show, however, while constructing the dietary rules of a new generation of Christian ascetics, Clement’s criticism of culinary sophistication relaunches and develops Greco-Roman conventions on the dietary habits of morally superior characters as well as Graeco-Roman medical notions popular in Clement’s time. 

Session 2

Matter and the Soul: The Bipartite Eschatology of the Gospel of Mary

Sarah J. Parkhouse 

Durham University

The theme of eschatology is not one usually demarcated by exegetes as particularly emphasised in the Gospel of Mary, though it should be. The two primary teachings, the dialogue between the Saviour and his disciples and Mary’s recollection of her vision, are predominately eschatological in nature; the former concerned with the earthly realm and the latter the heavenly. The earthly realm is the created cosmos made of ὕλη; the heavenly is the home of the ψυχή. Despite obvious differences with the Olivet Discourse of Matt 24 and parallels, there are multiple points of convergence with the eschatological teachings within the canonical gospels. From the starting point of the Gospel of Mary, this paper explores connections between eschatological thinking either side of the canonical boundary, paying special attention to the concepts of future, inaugurated and realised eschatology.

Perceiving the Mystery of the Merciful Son of God: An Analysis of the Purpose of the Apocalypse of Peter

Eric J. Beck 

University of Edinburgh

The Apocalypse of Peter is a Second Century text which, according to Clement of Alexandria (Ecl. 41) and the Muratorian Canon, was initially considered scripture by some early Christians before its eventual exclusion from the canon, likely a result of its pseudepigraphic nature. It was nevertheless read on Good Friday in some churches in Palestine even into the Fifth Century according to Sozomen (Ecclesiastical Histories 7.19). The early status of the text as scripture and its place in Good Friday liturgies suggest that several early Christians believed it contained a message of theological significance. Much of the research surrounding the Apocalypse of Peter today, however, shows a greater concern for its provenance or its relationship with other texts than its pedagogical function as scripture in the early church. Scholars that do comment on the purpose of the text tend to focus on its tour of hell and often echo the thought of Bart Ehrman who says, “The ultimate goal of this first-hand description of hellish and heavenly realities is reasonably clear: the way to escape eternal torment is to avoid sin” (Lost Scriptures 2003, 280). This paper contends that the monitory reading of the Apocalypse of Peter proposed by Ehrman and others becomes less clear when the tour of hell is placed within the context of the whole work. The introduction and conclusion to the tour of hell (chapters 3 and 14) and the prologue of the text itself emphasise mercy rather than judgment, suggesting the primary purpose of the Apocalypse of Peter is to encourage compassion for the damned rather than to serve as a warning against sinning.

Session 3

The Books that Became the Bible: Manuscript Evidence for New Testament Canon Formation

Michael Dormandy 

University of Cambridge

This paper contributes to a developing conversation about the NT canon. Trobisch argues that complete NTs were common from soon after the last books were written. Watson, on the other hand, suggests that, prior to the fourth century, there was little to suggest that the four currently canonical Gospels were any more significant than the alternatives. Similar arguments could be made about the other NT corpora.

I consider the way manuscripts combine different works and investigate to what extent, even before canon lists became widespread, manuscripts combined only the works which were later affirmed as canonical. My method is to establish the works contained in all Greek NT manuscripts, approximately dating from before the end of the fourth century. There are a number of cases where only a fragment survives, containing a small part of one work, but where there are also page numbers which enable us to estimate what else might have been present. My results demonstrate that the works which are now considered canonical were rarely combined with works now considered non-canonical. For example, no extant manuscript contains one or more of the now canonical Gospels together with a now apocryphal Gospel. This challenges Watson’s view that it was only in the fourth century that the four Gospels were considered especially significant. However, my findings also challenge the views of scholars such as Trobisch. The large number of fragments which have pagination indicating that they contained only single works makes it highly unlikely that all, or even most, of our fragments originally came from complete NTs. I thus argue for a rejection of both extreme positions regarding the origins of the canon.

Early Christian Communities

The construction of Gospel communities continues in Gospels scholarship despite several warnings. In this paper, I argue that the glimpses of actual early Christian communities from other early Christian literature reveal communities that look different from modern, scholarly constructed communities. The view we get is of connected, complex communities, rather than isolated, distinct communities. Thus, we might legitimately question the usefulness of typical Gospel community reconstructions. The onus would fall on those who wish to suggest that a Gospel community was isolated and distinct to demonstrate this was the case in light of the evidence presented here.