Early Christianity 2019 programme

Early Christianity Chairs: Dominika Kurek-Chomycz and Francis Watson

Session One

Jacob A. Rodriguez, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, ‘“What We Have Heard, We Write to You”: Modelling Reception in the Gospels of Luke and John and in the Epistula Apostolorum’

Francis Watson has reshaped the landscape of Gospels studies by his provocative and seminal claim that Gospel writing before c.200 CE was a singular process of reception involving the Gospels that eventually became canonical and those deemed non-canonical. Watson, and a growing number of scholars building on his hypothesis, have argued that the same dynamics that are at play in the Gospel of Matthew’s reworking of the Gospel of Mark, and possibly the Gospel of Luke’s reworking of both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, are also involved in the rewriting of Jesus traditions in other Christian literature such as the Gospels of Thomas and Peter, and Tatian’s Diatessaron. Watson postulates that there is nothing intrinsic to the four proto-canonical gospels that would distinguish them from Jesus books on the other side of the canonical divide—a construct that Watson attributes to late-second and early-third century Christian theologizing. The present paper will critique Watson’s hypothesis by comparing three Jesus books in which the author gives a candid portrayal of his own act of gospel writing: the Gospels of Luke and John, and the Epistula Apostolorum. All three of these early Jesus books describe the process of taking earlier traditions—both written and oral—and reworking them for didactic and evangelistic purposes. These books describe the process of listening, remembering, writing, and distribution (e.g. Luke 1:1-4; John14:23-26; 20:30-31; 21:24-25; Ep. Ap. 1.1-2.3; 31.10-12). However, contrary to Watson’s analysis, Luke and John do so in a mode categorically different from the Epistula Apostolorum. The present paper will make this case based on the differences between third-person and first-person discourse, the techniques used in combining multiple prior gospel sources, the tenor of discussion about previous acts of gospel writing, the use of the pseudepigraphal genre, and the appeal to a previously written gospel in the Epistula Apostolorum (I will critically engage with Watson’s exegesis of the Ethiopic text of Ep. Ap. 1.1-2.3).

Julia Lindenlaub, University of Edinburgh, ‘Disciple Authors and Their Texts: A Johannine Model for Competitive Authorial Claims in Epistula Apostolorum and Apocryphon of James

Exemplifying competitive tensions incited by gospel plurality in the second century, Epistula Apostolorum and Apocryphon of James (NHC I, 2) notably valorize representations of Jesus’ disciples as authors of written texts for contrasting purposes. In Ep. Ap., the threat of ‘false apostles’ prompts rendering of Jesus’ teachings in a new composition certified by collective apostolic authorship. In Apoc. Jas, Jesus’ disciples write individual accounts that are dramatically relativized by exclusive revelation given to James and Peter and textualized by James alone. In both, disciple authorship and emphatic textuality undergird competitive claims—whether in continuity with the apostolic witness of extant Gospel writings (Ep. Ap.) or through an alternative authority figure’s subversion thereof (Apoc. Jas). Moreover, in both texts legitimacy for these authorial claims is substantiated by the authors’ specialized roles as characters within their own compositions.

I propose that a model for such depictions of these authors as recipients of privileged revelation and their competitive deployments in a milieu of rival gospels can be found in a common precedent: the Gospel of John. As both Ep. Ap. and Apoc. Jas draw upon the Gospel of John, they can be viewed alongside the ‘Longer Ending’ of John 21 as examples of early readers and users of this gospel exhibiting comparable authorial claims—applied to the Beloved Disciple, the ‘Eleven’, and James. I suggest that all three attribute parallel roles to disciples as authors, invoke shared assumptions regarding the textualization of Jesus tradition, and situate their contributions to gospel writing with similar sensitivity to prospective competition. Thus bridging the ‘canonical/non-canonical’ boundary, Ep. Ap. and Apoc. Jas can be shown to share conspicuously ‘Johannine’ proclivities in ascribing competitive currency to their representations of disciples as authors and fixating on the textualization of their accounts.

Session Two

Panel Discussion of Andrew Gregory, The Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Ebionites (Oxford Early Christian Gospel Texts; OUP, 2017)

Candida Moss, University of Birmingham; Darrell Hannah, All Saints Church, Ascot; Andrew Gregory, University of Oxford

Session Three

Julia Snyder, University of Regensburg, Germany, ‘Prooftexting from Other People’s Scriptures? The “Prophets” in Acts of Philip 5–7’

In the Acts of Philip, a prominent ‘Jewish’ antagonist named Aristarchos invites the apostle Philip to debate about Jesus. In the debate, both cite ‘prophets’, For those accustomed to thinking of Israel’s scriptures as part of the Christian canon—and of ‘Philip’ as Jewish—this might not seem particularly striking. Isn’t Philip just citing his own authoritative texts? Certain elements of the narrative suggest that the apostle may actually be arguing on his opponent’s terms, however, and that the texts may not have the same status for him as for his interlocutor. The paper will reflect on the status attributed to ‘the prophets’ in the narrative, and more broadly on what it means to prooftext from what could be described as ‘other people’s scriptures.’ The Acts of Philip challenges the assumption that the mere citation of Jewish scriptures indicates that they always had a robustly ‘authoritative’ status for Christian authors. To support this reading, I introduce analogies from other sources, including a debate between Nestorian patriarch Timothy I and Abbasid caliph al-Mahdī, in which the Christian Timothy cites the Qur’an to support arguments about Jesus, and Nag Hammadi Exegesis on the Soul, in which quotations from the Odyssey are included alongside HB and NT passages. More broadly, I argue that the phenomenon of citing ‘prophets’ while discussing claims about Jesus should be seen as a practice to which a range of different meanings were assigned by different Christians over the centuries. An early Jewish writer such as Paul will naturally have connected claims about Jesus to the Jewish texts and traditions that had shaped his worldview. Later Christians who had not been socialized in a Jewish context inherited and continued the same practice, but not always with the same sense of what they were doing and why.

Kelsie Rodenbiker, Durham University, ‘Constructing the New Testament: the Problem of the Catholic Epistles in the Fourth Century’

This paper investigates the status in the fourth century of the Catholic Epistle collection among the developing New Testament canon. Contrary to conceptions of the formation of the New Testament that characterize the now-canonical 27-book collection as having progressed toward and come to a halt with Athanasius’ famous Easter Letter of 367, I argue that the Catholic Epistles, due to their unresolved status into the fourth century, present a unique case study through which to view the state of the New Testament canon in the late fourth century and its contingent process of becoming. Focusing here on the roles of Eusebius, Athanasius, and Jerome, I compare and contrast their diverging conceptions of the Catholic Epistles in the New Testament collection. While the Catholic collection is disputed earlier on by Eusebius, among others, on the basis of the questionable authenticity of James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, by the time of their general acceptance in the late fourth century their positive reception is, curiously, not accompanied by arguments in favor of their genuineness. Both Athanasius and Jerome accept all seven letters, but where Athanasius mentions nothing of their previously disputed status (Epist. fest. 39.18), Jerome is explicit with regard to the questions that remain surrounding their authenticity and that they were nevertheless ‘reckoned among the holy scriptures’ (cf. De vir. 1, 2, 4, 9, 18). The later lack of affirmation of the apostolic authenticity of all seven Catholic Epistles indicates, I argue, that ‘apostolicity’ could be claimed on the basis of a text’s association with an historical apostolic figure, orthodox content, and generations of use, while historical genuineness lessened in importance—even, perhaps, for Athanasius.