2018 New Testament and Early Christianity

Session 1

The Romans, the Temple, and the Waterpot Demons in the Testimony of Truth (NHC IX, 3)

Kimberly Fowler 

CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université

The Testimony of Truth is a Christian so-called “Gnostic” text found as the third tractate in Nag Hammadi Codex IX. The text’s essential purpose is to present its “truth” over and against other Christian “heresies”, with a strong focus on asceticism and criticism of martyrdom. This paper considers the discussion in Testim. Truth 69,32-70,24 of the building of the Jerusalem Temple by King David and his son Solomon, who was aided by demons that were imprisoned in the completed Temple in water jars. The author narrates that when the Romans entered the Temple (likely a reference to the destruction of 70 CE) they discovered the water jars, and the demonic spirits escaped, purifying the jars. It is claimed that each character and feature of the story is symbolic. However, the next part of the tractate is very badly damaged, and it is therefore somewhat a matter of conjecture as to precisely how the author understands each aspect of the narrative. This paper will argue that the Romans can be understood as performing an act of purification on the Temple, which itself was essentially a demonic entity (a view which seems to go further than other early Christian perspectives). In this sense, the Romans act as God’s agents to punish the Jews. I will therefore argue that the Testimony of Truth can be read within the broader early Christian tradition which presented Rome as God’s tool of vengeance against his wayward people. Moreover, I will highlight the more extreme attitude of the Testimony of Truth’s author in comparison to more mainstream Christian opinion on this issue, which contributes to the text’s anti-Judaic, ascetic polemic.

Dreams of Paradise: Early Christian Visions of the Afterlife

Jane McLarty 

University of Cambridge

This paper will focus primarily on two visionary accounts of the afterlife: Saturus’ in the late second century narrative of Perpetua’s martyrdom, and Marian’s, in the third century account of the martyrdom of Marian and James.  In both accounts the scene is not the heavenly city of Christian and Jewish imagination, but a pastoral vision. Allusions to a ‘garden’ recall Eden; but these allusions are overlaid and expanded by description of a rural idyll that seems to owe more to Greek and Latin pastoral poetry, and in particular the topos of the ‘amoenus locus’, the ‘pleasant place’, a phrase that appears in Marian’s account. There is a stark contrast with the privations of imprisonment and suffering of the protagonists’ ‘real life’, and in this sense psychologically the visions are wish fulfilment, a promise of the joys to come after the cup of suffering has been drained to its dregs.

But there is also more going on in these dreams:  for instance, the re-direction of the dreamer’s gaze away from horrors to the delight of verdant countryside means that the reader’s gaze too is directed away from Saturus and Marian as suffering objects, constrained and tormented. They become subjects, free to wander as they wish, and in Marian’s vision become observers themselves of the judgement of others.  More significantly, the dreams say something important about the Christians’ construction of their own cultural identity.  Their pagan torturers delight in inflicting bestial torments, even outraging the decency of the crowd when they bring Perpetua and Felicitas into the arena naked.  The martyrs in their accounts of a pastoral heaven demonstrate that they are not just ethically superior but culturally too: their heaven is one that reflects a delicate, elite sensibility.

Session 2

Resurrection and Eschatology in the 'Epistula Apostolorum'

Francis Watson 

Durham University

The Epistula Apostolorum is a little-known post-resurrection dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, probably dating from the mid-2nd century. In it the pseudonymous apostolic authors provide a fuller account of the events of Easter Day and their implications than is found in earlier, not-yet-canonical gospel literature. The paper will explore the close relationship between this text and John 20, especially its development of the roles assigned to the figures of Mary and Thomas in the earlier text and its blessing on those who have not seen. In rewriting and elaborating John, the Epistula seeks to address its perceived deficiencies especially in the sphere of eschatology.

Session 3

‘His name will be in every place of Israel and of the Gentiles: Saviour’: Christology and Identity in the 'Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs'

This paper will examine how the early Christian text the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs interprets the life and death of Jesus. In The Testaments, Christology and identity are naturally intertwined. As the author/redactor’s work is situated in ancient Israelite narratives, they are automatically forced into a discussion of Christian identity as opposed to Israelite identity. As they attempt to construct identity based on both Jesus and the Israelite heritage, they create a variegated and often contradictory image of Jesus and his ministry. Nine testaments allude to and/or interpret Jesus’s ministry in some way. Together these passages create a specific early-Christian Christology (including soteriology and eschatology), with fascinating and surprising aspects. Jesus’s death and resurrection seems to play no role, for example. These passages have intrigued Biblical scholars for centuries, but while this topic has been the subject of much research, generally this research has focussed on the argument of Jewish or Christian provenance, and how much of these passages are Christian interpolations; not on how this early Christian work interprets the ministry of Jesus, or how this relates to Christology and identity. The Testaments frequently refer to a future saviour (from the patriarchs’ perspective), and in this paper I elucidate the way that this early Christian author/redactor uses the patriarchs to describe the ‘future’ Messiah. In other words, The Testaments demonstrate an early Christology where Jesus’s sacrifice plays only a small role in salvation and Christian identity. Yet at the same time, the coming of the prophesied Messiah is fundamental to the Jewish/Christian identity dichotomy. Thus, I argue, The Testaments should be seen as an important witness to early Christian identity formation.

Defensive and Constructive Identity Formation in the Lives and Times of the Two Quadratuses of Athens

David Evans 

Macquarie University

This paper will explore the function of references to early Christian accounts in the records relating to Quadratus the Apologist (c. 117-125CE) and Quadratus the Bishop (c. 180-200CE), both of Athens. The first Quadratus wrote a defence of the Christian religion to the Emperor Hadrian “because certain wicked men had attempted to trouble the Christians” (Eus. EH 4.3). The extant fragment of his apology claims that the works of Jesus were proven genuine by the people whom he had healed or resurrected and had lived down to “our day”. It will be suggested that as well as verifying Jesus’ miracles, Quadratus used this line of reasoning to differentiate the type of Christ-followers the early Christians were in contrast to the Jews who followed “their king Lucuas” in seditious uprisings in Egypt and Cyrene (the account of which Eusebius narrates before that of Quadratus; Eus. HE 4.2). The second Quadratus succeeded the martyred Publius as bishop of Athens (EH 4.23), and had the difficult job of regrouping the scattered church after a period of persecution. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, wrote an exhortatory letter to the Athenian church, which mentioned Dionysius the Areopagite. It will be proposed that this reference to Dionysius: (1) appealed to the ecclesiastical and urban identity of the Christians, urging them to be like their founding father who stood apart from the crowd and cultural institutions of the day to join Paul in the Christian faith; and (2) raised Quadratus’ profile, identifying him with the first “bishop” and his apostolic links. It will be discussed whether the trajectory from early “close proximity” argumentation to later “textual” argumentation reflects: (1) an increasing recognition of authoritative texts as the second century progressed; or (2) different types of argumentation for insiders and outsiders.