2012 Social World of the New Testament

Session 1

Katie Turner (King's College London)

False Impressions: An Impassioned Plea to get the Costumes Right

This paper will look at first-century dress, using the costuming in Passion Plays to frame the discussion. Caiaphas is usually costumed in sacramental robes, creating the (false) impression that the High Priest spent every day wearing attire meant only for specific Temple ritual. This leaves us asking, “What would Caiaphas have worn?” Whilst it is difficult to determine how the High Priest and the rest of the Sanhedrin would have dressed (Jews rarely depicted human figures in their art and artefacts), it is possible to make reasoned suppositions. We should be able to construct a sensible depiction of Jewish dress during this time period using evidence from the Greco-Roman world (mostly archaeological) in conjunction with what we know about the Hellenization of first-century Judea. In the post-Holocaust world we have made distinct progress combating antisemitism in Passion Plays; yet, the continued portrayal of Caiaphas and the other Priests in unfamiliar and potentially bizarre costumes highlights their ‘otherness’ and can result in or contribute to the audience viewing them with suspicion, disdain, or apprehension. A more accurate portrayal, involving historicity, could result in a better reflection of the complexity of the historical context and biblical text.

Whose ‘head’ is offended by whose ‘head’? Rethinking the issue of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11

1 Corinthians 11. 2-16 is not about just any piece of clothing; Paul is solely concerned with head coverings. He tells men to uncover and women to cover their heads while they are praying or prophesying because a counter-action would offend their ‘heads’. This issue raises several questions; in what context were men/women using head coverings in Greco-Roman society? Why were they asked to employ different usages of a head covering on the same occasion? Who were their ‘heads’ and why would they be offended? What was Paul’s main intention in asking men and women to perform such customs? Finally, how important were head coverings given that they caused all this trouble?

This paper aims to answer all these questions and possibly others in light of archaeological and literary evidence from Greco-Roman culture. I intend to approach the subject from the head covering’s angle; therefore, I will not be focusing only on one gender. I will try to prove that Paul was aware of the different meanings of a head cover for both genders, and utilised this difference as a tool to maintain social order.

Session 2

David S. Harvey (University of Manchester)

Challenge, Riposte and Upside-Down Honour in Galatians

This paper highlights some interesting interpretive possibilities made available if Galatians 2 is considered using Pierre Bourdieu’s model of challenge and riposte in an honour society. Recent scholarly attention on the issue of ‘honour models’ has been criticised for its inherent anachronism as, all too regularly, the models used are borrowed from cultural anthropologists working in modern day contexts. We should not, however, ignore that status concerns dominated the ancient world, particularly the clubs and associations of which the early house-churches would have resembled. Therefore, abandoning these approaches, due to anachronistic fears, would seem premature, as it appears that the models have heuristic potential. It is proposed that applying Bourdieu’s model shows that Paul himself is critical of the issue of honour. Rejecting status concerns, for ‘God shows no partiality’ (2:6), the suggested challenge and riposte structure to Paul’s biographical data presents him as victorious by aligning himself with the upside-down honour of Christ’s crucifixion. The task of this paper is to suggest that Bourdieu’s model highlights an important issue for interpreting Galatians, particularly in relation to the structure and moral formation of the ‘churches of Galatia’, thereby presenting an argument for the continued use of honour models in social-context readings of the New Testament.

Kimberley Slack (University of Manchester)

‘Love Covers a Multitude of Sins’: The Influence of 1 Peter on Christian Cohesion in the Gospel of Philip

The Gospel of Philip (GPhil), traditionally ascribed to “Gnostic” Christianity, makes various uses of the New Testament. Most prominent is GPhil’s use of 1 Corinthians to support the author’s views on the resurrection. In one poignant passage, GPhil employs 1 Corinthians 8:1, “love builds up,” to affirm that love for one’s spiritual brothers and sisters must be prioritised above knowledge. This aspect of GPhil has been somewhat neglected, due to its origin in an early Christian group traditionally understood to value knowledge. The passage ends with the famous 1 Peter 4:8, ‘love covers a multitude of sins’. In 1 Peter’s context, this serves to urge the church community to maintain unity regardless of hostility from non-Christian members of their social setting (see for example Elliott, 1981, 2000, Horrell, 2008). Little is known about GPhil’s audience, but the author evidently seeks to ensure that the spiritually elite, knowledgeable individuals he has in mind do not neglect their brethren. This paper will consider the significance 1 Peter 4:8 may have held for GPhil’s author, seeking to promote unity amongst the Christians he addresses, and explore how 1 Peter’s message can shed light on that which GPhil is communicating to his own audience.

Session 3

Dr Todd Klutz (University of Manchester)

Re-Reading the New Testament after Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’: A Dialogue between Text, Theory, and Category-Construction

The context of the present paper is defined largely by a conversation between scholars who have recently criticised ‘Gnosticism’ as a category too encompassing to be useful for understanding the complexities of early Christianity (e.g., Michael Williams and Karen King), and those who maintain that the category needs little more than some careful redefining and still has potential to be useful in studies of early Christian history and literature (e.g., David Brakke). The present contribution begins with a critique which identifies a blend of strengths and weaknesses in both of those trends. On that basis, the task of redefining ‘Gnosticism’ is judged preferable to a complete repudiation of it; but for that same purpose, a concept used fruitfully in Williams’ major study (1996) – namely, sociocultural accommodation – is analysed in terms of its potential contribution to a new and more useful typological definition. A potentially powerful feature of a typology that includes sociocultural accommodation is that its application would be obligated to give consideration not only to substantivist and thematic issues in the ancient texts (e.g., the foregrounding of knowledge as redemptive) but also to questions about the texts’ social context and ideological functions. The new typology is then employed in a comparative analysis of the first sixteen sayings of the Gospel of Thomas and a range of relevant biblical intertexts. The most significant findings of that analysis are (1) that Thomas differs appreciably from its biblical intertexts by exemplifying both a higher degree of sociocultural accommodation to its assumed context and an ethos that is more individualistic and less group-oriented; (2) that comparative use of the typology employed in the present analysis has power to shed new light not only on the texts from Nag Hammadi but also on the writings of the New Testament; and (3) that both the same typology and its use in future studies of early Christian literature may have value for the practices of contemporary Christian theology, ethics, and politics.