In “The Wilderness Narrative in the Apostolic Fathers,” Clayton Jefford outlines the references to wilderness traditions and narratives set in Israel’s wilderness found in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. His central contention is that the uncertainty of the ancient Israelite motif of wilderness wandering appealed little to non-Jewish, second-generation Christians who were more interested in identity formation than wilderness theology. Jefford begins by tracing three major New Testament associations with wilderness: 1) that true prophets receive revelation in a wilderness context; 2) that God’s self-revelation to Israel occurred in the wilderness; and 3) that the wilderness exists as a threatening presence. He then examines references to the wilderness in 1 Clement 43 and 53, arguing that both scenes are tied to the issue of “correct governance and civility within the structure of the church.” (162) Clement’s larger purposes, therefore, led him to visit these particular passages and draw on the example of Moses. Continue reading
This post concludes a brief series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.
The Divine Quest: East and West provides an engaging, insightful, and balanced approach to considering the Ultimate in three (or four) major religious traditions. From the perspective of one most familiar with Christianity, I especially appreciated the way in which this book uses that tradition as something of a starting point for engagement with two traditions I am less familiar with, those of “Hinduism” and Buddhism. Throughout, I have been impressed by Ford’s consideration of context, conceptual development, and attention to methodological concerns involving reflexivity and the use of appropriate definitions and categories. The commitment to nuanced language and constant reminders of contextual contingency and the purposefully limited claims of this work have been both thought-provoking and helpful guides for my own work. While it would have been interesting to devote a bit more time to Judaism and/or Islam, I believe The Divine Quest will serve as a useful guide for exploring conceptions of ultimacy and the process of tracing the development of various religious imaginations. Continue reading
Contemporary readers of the New Testament are often struck by the overwhelming influence of the Apostle Paul. After not appearing at all in the gospels and barely appearing in the first half of Acts, he comes to dominate most of the rest of the New Testament canon. Despite his popularity, however, Paul remains a controversial figure, the historical interpretations of his thought incredibly varied and the history of his influence remaining uneven across time. Nowhere is this contestation more evident than in current Pauline Studies, that field of New Testament and Biblical Studies which focuses on understanding the life and theology of the Apostle to the Gentiles. In contribution to this realm of inquiry comes John G. Gager’s latest monograph, Who Made Early Christianity? The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), which pushed back against conceptions of Paul and early Christianity which simultaneously sound the triumph of Christianity and the decimation of Judaism. Continue reading
Magnum opus remains a term best reserved for the crowning achievement of a scholar’s life and work, the pinnacle at the top of decades of research, writing, and sharpening arguments. These great works comprehensively examine and engage their field of work and, at their best, even redefine the field for years to come. Such is Larry W. Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. 746pp.). Hurtado’s magnum opus—now approaching fifteen years old—not only transformed the field of early Christian studies, but also continues to offer insights and ways forward for contemporary scholars. Continue reading
Adolf von Harnack
The great Adolph von Harnack was a forerunner in both general canonical studies as well as specific considerations of Marcion, with his works setting the tone for the years of scholarship since. His fullest treatment of Marcion came in Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God, in which he not only treated Marcion’s theology and offered a reconstruction of Marcion’s writings, but also argued that Marcion’s canon became the originator of the later canon of the Great Church. Arguing that Marcion was influenced by the syncretism of an early Christianity formed between the influences of Greek philosophy, Jewish scriptures, Judaism, Greco-Roman syncretism, Jesus’ disciples, and the apostle Paul, Harnack understood Marcion to proclaim God as an alien force at work leading the world out of the oppression of the creator god.  For Marcion, the “Christian concept of God must therefore be stated exclusively and without remainder in terms of the redemption wrought by Christ. Thus God may not and cannot be anything other than the God in the sense of merciful and redeeming love.” Marcion’s novel idea was his rejection of the Jewish scriptures, where the alien nature of the true God was not found, and the implementation of the new books of the gospel and Paul against the old writings. Because the Jewish god could not be understood as the God of Jesus, Marcion concluded that there the writings of Paul included elements of Judaism, they must have been corrupted, as had at least one narrative account of Jesus’ life. Continue reading
From Tertullian’s writings emerge several implications for Marcion’s conceptions of scripture, canon, and authority. First, from his Prescription against Heresies it seems that Marcion in some way undermined the existing authority structures of the Catholic Church by appealing to sources of authority outside those which were typically employed. These sources at least appear to be sources imbued with philosophical thought that moves away from what Tertullian references the teachings of Christ and ‘rule of faith.’ Second and also from Prescriptions, Marcion appears to have used and distorted existing Christian scriptures. This could mean a number of things, but from Tertullian’s claims that Marcion rejected the apostolic and Jewish roots of Christian faith it seems to indicate that Marcion had rejected some writings and manipulated others in an attempt to present a unified authoritative corpus of some sort. Continue reading
In comparison to all other extant ancient works, the writings of Tertullian of Carthage against Marcion remain the fullest and most precise rejection of Marcion’s theology. Tertullian composed as least six works against Marcion, including his Prescription against Heresies and Five Books against Marcion which are extant today. In the Prescription against Heretics, Tertullian made a number of accusations concern Marcion’s use of scripture, canon, and authority, perhaps the most clear being that Marcion had induced a schism within Catholic church authority. Writing somewhat generally, Tertullian wrote that Marcion introduced new material to the Christian faith, formed a theology based on philosophical thought that moved beyond the teachings of Christ and the ‘rule of faith,’ twisted and distorted Christian scriptures, and had moved Christian faith away from its Jewish and apostolic roots to a new theology. Continue reading
One of my academic projects includes working toward a historical G.U.T. (Grand Unified Theory) of the early history of Christianity. This type of project is by no means a new endeavor, though this doesn’t stop me from pouring over timelines and historical reconstructions to appropriate information for my own work.
As a starting point for this work, I’ve crafted two timelines of early Christianity: one reflecting the Scholarly “Consensus” (recognizing the difficulty of using that term) and one reflecting an alternative chronology. Continue reading
In her chapter “Ephrem, Athanasius, and the ‘Arian’ threat” of Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem’s Hymns in Fourth Century Syria (CUA Press, 2008), Christine Shepardson compares the anti-Arian rhetoric of these two great defenders of Nicene Christology, arguing that both deployed anti-Jewish rhetoric and language against the Arians in their efforts to defend Roman ‘orthodoxy’. This essay reflects upon her arguments in this chapter, noting some convincing and unconvincing facets of her perspective. Continue reading
In some ways Marcion was a rather popular figure among Christians during the mid to late second century, as numerous writers and apologists made reference to his beliefs and churches. These treatments of Marcion, however, were far from positive in their understandings of his theological system. We are fortunate to have extant several major writings of the Early Church Fathers concerning Marcion. Of these, Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies appears to have been the earliest written, sometime around 180 CE. This was followed later by Tertullian of Carthage’s anti-Marcionite writings, of which at least six books are extant. Also available to us are the writings of Hippolytus of Rome and several references by Eusebius of Casarea to works of Marcion and his followers, as well as several references to works against Marcion that are no longer extant. As is often the case concerning sources in antiquity, it remains unfortunate that the writings of one of Marcion’s direct contemporaries, Justin Martyr (d. 165), have not survived the perils of time although numerous ancient authors reference his work. Continue reading