2016 Social World of the New Testament

Session 1 & 2 (Joint session with Early Christianity): 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

Social Worlds of the Bible: A Panel on Contextual Bible Study

Tiffany Webster 

University of Sheffield

Susan Miller 

University of Glasgow

Helen John 

Exeter University

Contextual Bible Study highlights not only social worlds which created the Bible, but also the subsequent social worlds in which the Bible is read.  We will have three panellists Tiffany Webster (Sheffield University), Susan Miller (Glasgow University) and Helen John (Exeter University) who will be sharing their respective experiences of conducting CBS sessions in industrial and urban contexts in Britain and in rural African settings.