Dec 082013

“Walking on Water,” found at Dura Europos

When studying early Christianity, literature tends to take center stage. Critical editions of texts rule. So much so that knowledge about the physical remains of early Christianity, apart from a few celebrated examples, tends to be overlooked. This collection of links regarding the papyrology, epigraphy, and archaeology of Christianity in the first four centuries AD is presented here with a minimum of editorial comment to facilitate the reader’s exploration of this data.

1. Paleography and Papyrology … 9/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … 9/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … us-papyri/ … 7/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … 5/mode/2up … 9/mode/2up … 4/mode/2up … 90&f=false … OxyPap.htm … 04&f=false … 22&f=false … 22&f=false … d_Straight … papyri.pdf … laeography … -analysis/
http://scribalhabitsofpapyrus46.wordpre … liography/ … sment.html … pyrus-p52/ … 52&f=false … misuse.pdf … apyri1.pdf … raries.pdf

(The rest of this collection of links, below, does not regard paleographical methods of dating manuscripts.) Continue reading »

Dec 052013

historical-jesusI have dusted off this old post to Usenet, with some parts whittled out, for republication.

“Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one.” – Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (1927).

I once railed against the ‘mythicists’ as being irrational to the point of absurdity. I am now willing to grant that it is reasonable for someone not to believe the historicity of Jesus.

As there are sometimes ambiguities, I have attempted definition of the “historical Jesus” (as distinct from the “Gospel Jesus”) and what constitutes “the historicity of Jesus.” It does not mean that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, or rose from the dead.  A believer in the historicity of Jesus may affirm these things, but that is not necessary to be a historicist.  Rather, for me to say that Jesus existed means that a sizeable subset of the core mundane claims in the Gospels are authentic with a single historical individual.  These “core mundane claims” include that his name was Jesus, he was baptized by John the Baptist, he was an itinerant preacher in Galilee, his message centered on the Kingdom of God, he performed acts deemed miracles by his contemporaries, and he was crucified by Pilate c. A.D. 30 (non-exhaustive).  I say a “sizeable subset” because not every “core mundane claim” must be true, only enough that we are talking about a person with more substance than, say, Hercules or Robin Hood. Continue reading »

Dec 022013

58423028_640This is not the post for arguing in favor of any of the metanarratives that frame thinking about Christian origins or, indeed, for their disposal. It’s just a little visual representation of the two most dominant ways of organizing Christian origins.

The first is quite ancient, going back to the mid-to-late second century struggle to define Catholic Christianity over against the schools (“heresies”) that were generally characterized as Gnostic. It continues to find adherents and can be considered the most popular metanarrative. Continue reading »

Nov 252013

wikipedia college creditNot just another Wikipedia rant: it’s worth thinking a little about what what makes the world’s largest encyclopedia tick, what’s different about academically-oriented writing, what the relative strengths of the two are, and why it matters.

In the words of Dr. House, “everybody lies.” When it comes to research, everybody has a bias.

Like the bacteria living in your stomach, some of them are the kind that are benign. These dispositions actually motivate you to digest information thoroughly, exercise critical thinking, and build a product of research that represents the subject matter faithfully and reflects on it intelligently. Others are less helpful and are the kind to consider as possible sources of error.

Continue reading »

Nov 242013

identitycrisis copy_860I’ve been sitting on the idea presented in this post for a couple weeks. As an idea, it sets off red flags. It’s comparing a text known only from a few fragments to another text known only from a few fragments, which both reduces the amount of potential evidence and increases the amount of room for speculation. It’s positing an identity between two given names of writers, writers that are widely known in some circles (they are both in presentations of church history aimed at a secondary school level) and conflating them, which seems a bit pat.

Frankly, I didn’t like these red flags, and that’s why I felt it necessary to mull it over a bit before offering it to others for consideration. My own understanding of the evidence has not changed, so I’m giving the idea up for scrutiny that others might help me change it if I have erred.

The idea arises from the background material presented in earlier posts:

Putting Papias in Order

Chasing Hegesippus

The second post, about Hegesippus, concludes that the author’s name was unknown (having been assumed to be Josephus and then corrupted to be Hegesippus), that the author may have been known solely from his fifth book (from which the title was ascribed), and that the author wrote during the reign of Antoninus and specifically between 138 and 148 AD. The conclusions reached when “Chasing Hegesippus” lead to the question of the author’s identity. Continue reading »

Nov 192013

stylo_logo.pngI was wandering around the Internet when suddenly an interesting approach to gender and (assumptions regarding) writing style appeared:

I have to admit that I thought it was a girl too based on the exaggeration and wording…”as if… universe.” Even the introducer sounded like a female because based on my original assumption that the submitter was a girl, I assumed that a man wouldn’t say, “smack some sense into”. Gosh! I had no idea that make such wild subconscious assumptions! actually, thank you for pointing that out. And I agree with the other person, we need a gender neutral pronoun. I usually employ ‘they’ even in the singular sometimes.

Signed “Kim,” a wonderfully ambiguous name that lets us speculate about the author’s own gender.

Sure enough, I decided to google “smack some sense into” and the result of this informal survey is that the first two pages are mostly from female authors. (No, not entirely. No, this is not the main point here; keep reading.) Continue reading »

Nov 132013

saint_polycarpIt doesn’t receive much direct investigation, but given how little actually survives from the second century of early Christianity, any text with a claim to such antiquity should receive attention, including the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Godfrey Gets Me Wondering…

Recently Neil Godfrey offered a couple arguments for a third or fourth century context to the famous Martyrdom of Polycarp (also called the Letter of the Smyrnaeans). They are worth considering. One of them:

Quintus [in the text of the Martyrdom of Polycarp] was one who rushed to martyrdom. He believed Christians should actively seek out martyrdom. … It may be significant, too, that Quintus is singled out as a Phyrgian. It was in Phrygia that the anarchic Montanist movement began from around 168 CE. The Montanists were notorious for their wild prophetic utterances and zealous seeking of martyrdom.

The problem of suicidal volunteering for martyrdom was a phenomenon of the late second and third centuries. Polycarp was supposed to have been martyred 155 CE. Continue reading »

Nov 122013

The-Seven-Ecumenical-Councils1There is a long history of looking back to the New Testament and other writings of the era for information on leadership positions and their titles. The Reformation took this study up in earnest when attempting to discover the proper hierarchy for the contemporary church. The results have been various. Variety is indeed what comes through in the sources. This table of leadership roles (more properly, of the terms given to them) in the early Christian writings has been compiled in an attempt to capture a sense of this variety.

I have already released A Table of Christological Titles and also A Table of Self-Identifications. These looked at some ways of referring to Jesus, some ways in which early Christian writers distinguished their group from other people, and where these are attested.

This table has a similar purpose. It is a way into the sources. It is also a way to organize a study of the sources so that the student can trace the development of an idea or relate it to other ideas also found in the same texts. Because of the layer of interpretation that takes place in making a table like this one, as well as the possibility of error, I encourage reference back to the sources if there is any question of how a particular entry in the table relates to the texts themselves. Continue reading »

Nov 092013

ChristianSymbolsWhich texts refer to Catholic or Gnostics, to Christians or to Nazarenes? Which texts mention the Gospel, Knowledge, or Belief? Where do we find Synagogues and Churches mentioned? Discussion of the way, of the spiritual, or of the kingdom? Who refers to insiders as brothers, holy ones, or chosen?

Earlier I produced A Table of Christological Titles in Early Christian Writings. This table concerns the kind of references found in these texts to refer to insiders and their distinguishing characteristics. Sometimes I’ve had to note substantial differences in the reference such as, for example, when a term is mentioned in a negative context. Several of the entries involve a layer of interpretation instead of a simple word search, so please compare always against the original texts for an exact sense of what this table is supposed to represent.

The New Testament results were obtained with a search on the Greek lemma in the Bibleworks program. The other results came from a search for the English equivalent or synonyms in English translation. One desideratum, of course, is to found all the results on an original language footing. I may be able to do this when I revisit particular columns for closer examination.

As before, I welcome corrections of my errors quite eagerly, as I know there are mistakes in the table.

Continue reading »

Nov 072013

M30fd1eb86edf375c8ec8f32307b782bdThere are good presentations about Hegesippus online already, particularly that of Ben C. Smith’s Text Excavation. I’d like, however, to present the possibility that Clement of Alexandria or Origen preserve fragments of Hegesippus alongside those fragments that are more commonly attributed to him.

There is at least one known case of the names “Josephus” and “Hegesippus” being confused, in the direction traveling from Josephus to Hegesippus. That is the text known to be from “Pseudo-Hegesippus,” a Latin text also known as “On the Ruin of the City of Jerusalem” that recycles much material from Josephus’ Jewish Wars, which some scribes have attributed to a “Hegesippus.”

This should at least alert us to the possibility of the names being confused at times. For patristic references to Josephus, if they don’t cite the particular context or book or work of Josephus and don’t mention material that is otherwise attested in the manuscripts of Josephus, we should be ready to consider the possibility that the person being called Josephus is in fact another author. One of the most likely authors to be confused with Josephus is someone called Hegesippus. Continue reading »

Nov 052013

pub-475x350One day in 90 AD, Justus of Tiberias was sitting at his favorite tavern in the city of Rome, minding his own business, when in walks his sworn enemy Joseph.

Smirking, Joseph asks, “Hey, Justus, how’s it going for you?”

Justus shoots back, “What do you expect? Lousy.”

Joseph taunts, “Sucks to be on the losing side? You should have seen the writing on the wall, bud.”

But Justus sighs, “No, that’s not it. That’s not it at all. It’s book sales! My book’s been out for months, and I’ve only been able to get you, my mom, and the imperial librarian to make copies of it.”

Joseph says, “Actually, come to think of it, my own books haven’t been selling all too well either. I mean, not as bad as yours have, but still, not as well as I’d like.” Continue reading »

Nov 052013

papias… yet another collection of the fragments of Papias, indebted to Chronicon and Text Excavation and Hypotyposeis and, of course, the giants whose shoulders they stand on. The translations are copied from T.C. Schmidt’s Chronicon page and Ben C. Smith’s Text Excavation page except where otherwise indicated; those translations that are under copyright are presented here under the fair use doctrine. Please refer to these sources for more information about the quotes, their translations, and some of the original language texts.

The purpose of this list is that a different arrangement, by book and subject matter in Papias, could help me study the fragments of Papias better. I hope it helps others also. I have tried to err on the side of caution when attributing references to a certain book in Papias, going by the indications in the writers who quote Papias instead of devising a hypothesis about the scheme of the author’s work, which must be derived from such data.

I’ve made an attempt at being inclusive regarding hypothetical and even dubious claims of fragments belonging to Papias, which are presented for the reader to test for themselves and keep what is good.

See also the Early Christian Writings page on Papias.

Continue reading »

Nov 042013

albert_einsteinWhen we come to the second book of Irenaeus, where he argues from tradition and the Gospel of John that Christ “did not then wont much of being fifty years old,” the modern reader generally has one of two base reactions. On the one hand, the reader that does not think much of the patristic writers generally will harbor a suspicion regarding Irenaeus that he is a man of small mind, much as Eusebius describes Papias owing to the latter’s chiliast opinion of a 1000-year paradise on earth (an opinion shared by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Victorinus of Pettau). On the other, the one that exalts the Church Fathers will find a way to harmonize Irenaeus with the dominant post-Nicene church tradition and interpretation of the New Testament, whether that is by misunderstanding or marginalizing the author. One finds a hard time getting through the impasse created by the polemicist who giggles and the apologist who gags Irenaeus. Still it is the only genuine option open to us as critics that we steer clear of the gaping errors on both sides here and press on to reach an understanding of Irenaeus in his historical context.

I’ve used the picture of Einstein simply because the photo is a modern representation of a mature, noble “master” of a man, the very kind of picture of Jesus that Irenaeus held. We can understand the argument of Irenaeus more clearly by looking at similar church tradition and by comparing it with knowledge about the stages of life current in the era. Continue reading »

Nov 022013

mapOfGalileeVespJosephus writes:

There was one Judas, a Galilean, of a city whose name was Gamala, … (Antiquities 18.4)

Again, Josephus:

Judas the Galilean was the author of the fourth branch of Jewish philosophy. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. (Antiquities 18.23)

Josephus calls it a fourth branch that arose later than the sects of Sadducees, Essenes, and Pharisees. Some have noted that the appearance of self-identified “Zealots” occurs during the first Jewish revolt, indicating that the Zealots may have formed their identity in the 60s AD in the events leading up to the revolt, though Josephus cites prior rebels as founders of their movement.

The author of Acts mentions this Galilean:

Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. (Acts 5:36-37)

The references in Josephus and Acts do not prove the connection, but they certainly raise the question whether the consistent reference to “Judas the Galilean” may have been taken by others to denote his cause as “Galilean,” even if only by misunderstanding. The question then is whether the term Galilean ever functioned as another name for Zealot, even if it does not so function in Josephus or the New Testament. Continue reading »

Oct 282013

claudius_etal3Polycrates of Ephesus gives us a description of John:

and there was also John, who rested upon the breast of the Lord, who became a priest who wore the plate, both martyr and teacher; he sleeps in Ephesus.

ετι δε και Ιωαννης, ο επι το στηθος του κυριου αναπεσων, ος εγενηθη ιυρευς το πεταλον πεφορεκως και μαρτυς και διδασκαλος, ουτος εν Εφεσω κεκοιμηται. (from Ben Smith’s Text Excavation)

Many have taken το πεταλον as a reference to the “plate of pure gold” of the high priest’s Tzitz, which in the Septuagint of Exodus 28:36 is translated into Greek as πέταλον (leaf) χρυσοῦν (of gold) καθαρὸν (pure).

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD.

καὶ ποιήσεις πέταλον χρυσοῦν καθαρὸν καὶ ἐκτυπώσεις ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτύπωμα σφραγῖδος ἁγίασμα κυρίου

The high priest was to wear it when entering the holy of holies.

This is a possible understanding of the Greek, but there is another image that would come to the mind of hearers among his audience in second century Roman Asia Minor. That image is the dress of Greek priests at the time. When this fact is compared against what we know about John otherwise, which would not suggest his participation in a Greek cult, the description is seen to suit a person who held the distinction of being both a Jewish priest by birth and a Greek elder by rank.

Continue reading »

Oct 272013

The epistle 1 Clement has several features that show up on a close reading:

  • Disjointed indications of date, with different parts suggesting conclusions both before and after the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • Difficult and long perambulation to the letter.
  • Doxologies punctuating the letter abruptly.
  • Digressive material that interrupts the flow of the argument.
  • Doctrinal concerns of Judaism addressed in a Jewish way.
  • Defense of the resurrection from nature and the phoenix.
  • Divergent aims and vocabulary at the start and finish absent in the middle.

And so to the problems that face us, I wish to throw my own hypothesis into the ring. I’ve placed my reconstruction below today, and I welcome comments. I will gather my thoughts about the various arguments surrounding the epistle in a later post on another day, hopefully informed further by any helpful comments. Continue reading »

Oct 222013

Domitian_denarius_sonRevelation 11:8 has a passage that has troubled some interpreters with the conflicting indications of the place mentioned in this verse, which could be taken as Jerusalem or Rome based on the text of Revelation itself. While most interpreters settle on seeing it as Jerusalem out of seeming necessity, this necessity can be obviated with an alternative interpretation of the crucified one being mentioned here.

The alternative interpretation starts from the manuscripts that read “ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν,” i.e., “the Lord of them” or “their Lord,” along with a few premises of convenience better suited to another essay.

Premise (1). The text is a unity. This is possibly wrong, but it did achieve its final form at some point, and I don’t have confidence in recovering a possible original.
Premise (2). The text speaks of a beast in terms of the Nero Redivivus myth and was written between 70 AD and 96 AD (most likely, under Domitian).
Premise (3). The text implies the identification of Babylon as Rome (as both destroyed Jerusalem).

I’m sure there are plenty of people that reject the premises, but let’s follow through on them. Continue reading »

Oct 182013

deteringA conversation between Hermann Detering and one of his critics has been rediscovered and arranged here. It bears the title, added at a later date, “A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems Regarding Paul,” which must be understood as a dispute arising over the authenticity of the letters attributed to the apostle Paul.

In the middle of a discussion between Detering and one of his students regarding the references to the letters of Paul in 1 Clement and the epistles of Ignatius, the critic steps forward and declaims, “I can’t help but think that all of these points have long ago been hashed out by authorities of the past such as Harnack, Lightfoot, and Zahn. I would want to find these authors in English translation and read their arguments as well before coming to a decision on the authenticity of 1 Clement and the seven Ignatians.”

Noticing the earnestness displayed by his critic, Detering responds, “For a long time I was thinking like you. But when I wrote my dissertation I found that the arguments used by Harnack and Zahn defending the authenticity of 1Clem and Ign are rather poor and superficial. So if you read these authors you should also read the original texts of F.C. Baur, Van Manen, A.D. Loman or G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga etc. to get an impression of the power of their arguments.”

And Detering adds a cautionary statement, “Generally I think that any kind of scholasticism is dangerous. At least it is better to trust our own eyes and our own rationality than the results of our ‘glorious fathers’.” Continue reading »

Oct 162013

strangegods-1024x705Moyer V. Hubbard puts it remarkably well:

Greek society, as the apostle Paul observed of Athens, was indeed ‘very religious’ (Acts 17:22 NIV). Religion was integral to community life, family life, and the private aspirations of individuals. Most civic celebrations contained overtly religious elements, as did the grand ceremonies of state. Family traditions, along with the mundane duties of daily life, were performed under the watchful eyes of the household gods, and if calamity struck the family or the city, the first order of business was to determine which of the gods had been offended and what must be done to appease him or her. Christianity entered this milieu and made some rather startling claims. In contrast to the conventional religious conceptions of the day, the followers of Jesus claimed that there was only one God, who created everything. This God cared about humanity to the point of sending his own Son in the flesh to atone for their sins. Even more preposterous, this atoning self-sacrifice took place through the shameful spectacle of crucifixion—a death reserved for slaves, criminals, and enemies of the state. The figure of Jesus was certainly an oddity in the religious smorgasbord of antiquity. Amid the plethora of divinities being worshiped in the first century, it is remarkable that anyone would dare to add a crucified Jewish peasant to this list, and even more remarkable that the primitive Jesus movement would snowball into an empire-wide phenomenon. (“Greek Religion,” The World of the New Testament, p. 122)

If there is one impression that we can gather from the references to Christians in our non-Christian sources, one common theme that that runs through Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the YoungerLucian, Marcus Aurelius, Galen, Celsus, and Philostratus, it is the inherent oddity they ascribe to the group. The only real exception in the literature of the era that stands out is that attributed to Mara Bar-Serapion. Continue reading »

Oct 152013

AtlanticRoadIt’s a good question why an agnostic would study early Christianity. I can’t answer for everyone, but I can answer for myself. Even after I have disengaged myself from believing the content of the Christian faith, I have never fully given up the interest in it that was ignited in me through a Catholic education. I still remember fondly my first church history teacher, typically Dutch in his enthusiasm for the somewhat arcane and eccentric subject. This subject did not stop being of interest to me after I was no longer a believer.

I also remember sitting in another church history class while in college, when the news of the election of the successor to John Paul II was announced, with the tittering and excitement people felt, most of whom were not themselves Catholic. There is a certain fascination with the subject globally even in people who don’t believe. In Japan, fictional stories incorporate Christian beliefs as an exotic motif. In Russia, where grown men have gotten into barroom brawls over Kant, they also have interest in speculation on the subject, which casts its shadow over the whole history of the Western world. And in California, where I live, a Persian friend of mine who is a Muslim had been himself wondering whether he should rather be a Christian. Suffice it to say that people of many backgrounds have found the subject of Christianity interesting.

My wife, who has a Lutheran background, has a story not that much unlike my own, except for all of the most nerdy bits. She also had passionate involvement with the church in her youth. She also continues to have a level of attachment and fascination, as I do. She also has no desire to be a part of any church. Of course, she has even less a desire to take up the academic approach to the study of religion as a hobby. It takes a certain kind of nerd to appreciate that. Continue reading »