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Nov 23, Books in Little , Reviews. Baylor University Press, Hurtado, the New Testament scholar and Emeritus Professor Edinburgh , explored the processes which included both oral and written testimonies by which Christian believers came to accept and then proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians

The focus in each prior work was more internal to the evolving canon of scripture and community of Christian belief, but in his new work, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World , Professor Hurtado switches the frame-of-reference more to the external, focusing more on what Romans thought of Christians than on what Christians thought of themselves.

To the extent that Christianity has lost this distinctive identity in any time or place, this has been because of not always willing accommodations made by the culture to the practice of the Christian faith, and compromises made by Christians between the practice of their faith and the prevailing culture.

The earliest condemnations of Christians in the Roman world involved accusations of atheism—that Christians did not venerate any gods in any of the temples of the empire. Christians were seen to be different. Professor Hurtado examines the Roman reaction to this distinctiveness and identifies four principle themes in observation, themes that would result in a revolution in Roman culture in less than three centuries:. The religious life of the Roman Empire offered a cafeteria of options for citizens, a range of choices tolerated under the umbrella of the cult of imperial divinity.

Christian distinctiveness was quickly identified, therefore, as a threat to civic life. Sophisticated Romans viewed Christianity not simply as unbelievable but as utterly incompatible with their own beliefs. It need not, because rather than emphasising a single element confrontation — namely, Christianity versus paganism , the Christian movement is studied as one of a number of variegated religious options in Roman society cf. Sanders Having said that, it is only fair to observe that Christianity was the one option which was not compatible with traditional religion, since its followers were expected to refuse to make sacrifices to, and acknowledge, the gods of Rome.

It was, then, logical to expect some sort of social pressure to be applied to conform to traditional mores cf. Rives — Suffering and martyrdom Although suffering and martyrdom are not necessarily the most outstanding characteristics of Christian identity, they are important ones in early Christian experience.

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Phlp —22; Ep 8. Jn —25; Mt , 38 and par. The two concepts of mysticism and martyrdom are intimately related in Ignatius, who is heavily influenced by the apostle Paul. Ignatius, in turn, influenced the younger Polycarp, when the Bishop of Antioch visited him on the way to his martyrdom. Galen, court doctor to Marcus Aurelius, is the only Roman source who writes somewhat favourably of the Christian attitude to death cf.

Clark ; Wilken — A recent work, Dying to be Men Cobb , affirms that an emphasis on suffering did not actually help the Christian agenda, since the martyrologies depicted the Christians as being oblivious to pain. Christians ultimately aimed at perfecting Roman virtues Ibid. For him, martyrdom, which is based in the passion of Jesus, and therefore provides the closest link with Christ, affects three areas: solidarity with, and the pursuit Rm 6.

Martyrdom is not, for the Antiochean Bishop, a mere characteristic of a close union with Christ; it is also a sign both to the world in general Rm 3. Ignatius, being fearful that, in his visit to the churches on the way to his martyrdom, he might be urged by good-willed Christians to seek a way out of his situation Rm 7. Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God.

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Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God mimht! Later on, Clement of Alexandria c. MartPol continues: And so afterwards we took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place; where the Lord will permit us to gather together, as we are able, in gladness and joy and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom for the commemoration of those that have already fought in the contest, and for the training and preparation of those that shall do so thereafter.

Such an epiphany served to reinforce the identity of the group that Polycarp led, conferring boldness on it. The theme of imitation, which is so prevalent throughout Philippians, returns once more to centre stage in relation to such a period.

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Such imitation consists of suffering lived in joy, although, for some, such imitation is only a symptom of the anxiety that prevailed in the epoch in which they lived. Thompson — Riddle comments: 8. Riddle Starting with his own prejudices and antagonism towards any religious manifestation, as if they were solely based on the irrational, Riddle is unable properly to justify the making of such a statement.

Clark — Stark presents an interesting element in his study of the experience of conversion. Accordingly, within the small group of Christ-followers, we might perhaps expect strong familiar bonds that serve to reinforce the overall conduct of the in-group. Certainly then, the Christ- phronesis that Philippians proposes is not merely an ideological programme, but a way of living out the common faith, based on the experience of renouncing self-interest on behalf of seeking out the good of the group, and even of a society that is hostile to such a lifestyle.

For Paul, the clearest example of such behaviour was that of Christ Phlp —11 , who did not shy away from presenting his own life as paradigmatic Phlp It could be that, by the end of the first century AD, suffering namely martyrdom had started to become one of the strongest reinforcements of such a life-orientation. The martyr is the man who resists this interference, who claims that his resistance is based on other and higher sanctions, and who will not concede a point even if compliance would save him from the consequences of his previous disobedience.

Often he welcomes the opportunity of bearing witness to the faith which is in him. Nock 11 9. Stark applies what is called rational choice theory. The presupposition of the theory is that religion provides compensation in place of the desired rewards, which are either scarce or unavailable 35— Compensators are the means of arriving at such a reward.

Thus, the promise of eternal life points to something beyond earthly existence, and supposes a deep desire for immortality, which is common to most people Lane Fox ; Wilken Traditional Romans were repelled by the Christian insistence on death and the dead, although death had a place in common parlance. Philosophers offered advice on coping with pain and death, which was to be brought into perspective by reason. Later Christians were accused of rejecting reason by demanding faith beyond reasonable grounds. It is obvious that the image of the martyr presents an extraordinary mental and emotional strength in the history of the Mediterranean.

In Christian circles, the martyrs were thought to provide early evidence of the resurrection Clark It is not strange that the type-symbol becomes the model to imitate, sometimes leading to incredible excesses. Clement of Alexandria, as mentioned earlier, provides extensive coverage of martyrdom in the fourth book of his Stromata. Clement praises the way of the martyr, as it embodies the unflinching desire to follow the Lord, and martyrdom as a unique way open to all i.

However, he is concerned about the abuse of such a phenomenon: Now some of the heretics who have misunderstood the Lord, have at once an impious and cowardly love of life; saying that the true martyrdom is the knowledge of the only true God which we also admit , and that the man is a self-murderer and a suicide who makes confession by death; and adducing other similar sophisms of cowardice. To these we shall reply at the proper time; for they differ with us in regard to first principles.

Index of Cults and Religions

Now we, too, say that those who have rushed on death for there are some, not belonging to us, but sharing the name merely, who are in haste to give themselves up, the poor wretches dying through hatred to the Creator — these, we say, banish themselves without being martyrs, even though they are punished publicly. Str IV The influence of the martyr went beyond the celebration of triumph over tragic death.

It also created and affirmed a particular Christian identity in the face of persecution, which was a witness to society.


However, martyrdom was in danger of becoming trivialised, as it was covered by layers of folkloric belief. Their remains were held in high esteem, with the stories of such relics becoming tokens of respectability for the newly built temples. A quick historical review shows that the first centuries of the Christian era combined periods of relative peace with others of state-wide persecution of Christ-followers, especially at the beginning of the third century AD Clark — What separated the two groups of believers, in principle, was the willingness of the members of one group to suffer for the sake of the Name.

There was, from then on, no need for Christians, apart from those missionaries who worked in dangerous places, to witness to Christ with the sacrifice of their own life. The image of the martyr then became even more important than it had been before. Ways of actualising martyrdom As with any religious and sociological phenomenon, martyrdom made both a lasting impact in the church, and became a token of pride and abuse. Worse yet, in some cases it was trivialised and became void of its original purpose.

Once persecution had ceased, Christians were to recall the powerful symbol of the martyr in such alternate ways as are alluded to below. Such martyrdom was perhaps a reaction to a Church which was becoming increasingly established and hierarchical, as well as to a society that failed to meet the needs of many. Such a reaction took the form of a life of self-renunciation, which eventually influenced society. As the importance of martyrdom was underplayed, Tertullian had to look elsewhere in search of criteria for his New Prophecy, which could be applied to those who no longer aspired to end their accommodated lives in the way in which Perpetua had done Brown — His answer was simple and profound: sexual continence, which consisted of the renunciation of any future sexual activity in the light of the grace of the Spirit.

Tertullian advocated a life of austerity, although such a life needed not to be lived in isolation from society. Although his teachings were conservative, his call, both to sexual renunciation and to a life of austerity, became theological topoi Clark The Life of Antony , which was written by Athanasius, describes the life of an accommodated man who ventured into the desert at the beginning of the fourth century, in response to his coming to understand the words of Matthew as a personal appeal Vit Ant 2—7.

In the desert, Antony shared the company of others who had had similar experiences 3. The Life of Antony witnesses to a pattern of behaviour that became practised quite extensively, especially in the Egyptian desert. Such practitioners made themselves available to visits by the neighbouring peoples, who sought out the advice of the former, which was no longer available from the established church or society. Lives such as those of Antony had a remarkable impact on the people of the time. Our chief concern in this regard is linking such a phenomenon to a form of martyrdom whether it be labelled anachoresis , eremitism , askesis , monasticism , or the like.

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  4. The Life of Antony provides an excellent example of such a linkage. Some Christians, who had When the news of such pending judgment reached Antony and his fellow monks, they emerged from their cells in the desert in order to aid their brothers and to spend time with them, as they waited in prison to be executed.

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    The passion and zeal of the monks was such that the judge ordered that they should not be allowed to attend the court cases concerned. Shallowness of approach and an ill-placed focus on the cult of personality then crept in quickly, 15 resulting in an urgent need to return to the true message of the Gospel Castillo The theology of the consecrated life satisfies these two facets. On the other, such a life is aimed at imitating his life, in keeping with his form of kenotic love.

    Such is the folly of love, which can only be understood and desired from such a loving point of view. The cruciform life The Protestant tradition, with its emphasis on the universal priesthood of believers, perceives martyrdom if at all in terms of the logic of the cross. What is lacking in outer symbolism in terms of consecration, vows, and continence is gained through a strong ideological emphasis, which sometimes tends toward taking the form of a rather amorphous manifesto of goodwill.

    The language of martyrdom has long lost its appeal in Protestant circles, preventing any possibility of the use of reward language. Perhaps, for such reasons, it seems as though the period of history under review belongs to a past era from which we have nothing, or little, to learn. My aim is not to assess such, and other, perspectives in depth.

    Despite the possibility of our being critical of some historical projections, we know that the thousands of Christians who ventured into the desert from the second to fourth centuries lacked a pre-established plan and were inadequately organised to become what we might term clergy today. They merely sought solitude in which to find their true selves and in which they might be more faithful to the authentic gospel message. Such a factor is important.

    Other religions and peoples practised the same form of solitude seeking. What is novel in this regard is the emphasis on fidelity to the message of the gospel, rather than in the form that such behaviour eventually took. Back to top Whether we can benefit in our present context from the experience of the early Christians is open to comment. Early Christians understood suffering as the locus of divine love. Secondly, the experience of martyrdom invites the church to a fresh reading of Scripture.

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    Yet at the same time there were common values and expressions of belief. For me, this goes back to how the gospel can challenge our culture and cultures, and transform them into communities that reflect the kingdom of God. What is the significance of the Salutaris Inscription that was in Ephesus for understanding these two strands and how they might have interacted?

    PT: The Salutaris inscription shows that a person named Salutaris established a procession of statues of the gods which would have happened every two weeks or so in Ephesus. It clearly displays some of the reality of life in Ephesus on the ground: the worship of Artemis and the emperor, alongside other deities, and the very public nature of ancient religion.

    If we think about reading 1 and 2 Timothy in this context, we see that these letters strongly maintain belief in the one God, but also use some of the language of the city, even language used in the Salutaris inscription, to express their faith. This is a form of contextualising the gospel in the city of Ephesus. By contrast, the Johannine letters seem to be more insular and testify to a community that is concerned with the vitality of its own life, and not engaging to the same extent in the wider city.

    But probably the Pauline strand and the Johannine strand of Christian life in Ephesus would have recognised each other as somewhat different, but definitely part of the one early Christian movement. TB: You also make the argument that the two Christian communities had different responses to the surrounding culture of Ephesus, differences that can be traced in the letters themselves. What significance might this have both for how we conceptualize the phenomenon of Early Christianity, and for how we read these letters today? PT: This underlines some features of the diversity of early Christianity.

    They shared much in common the centrality of Jesus Christ, the outpouring of the eschatological Spirit and much else but also responded in some different ways to their wider culture, and expressed their faith in different language. The letters encourage us today to grapple with the issues of how we relate to our wider cultures, and how we express the gospel of Jesus Christ in our different context, using different language to express the one gospel.

    His citizenship of heaven means that he belongs there, is secure there, and is answerable to the ruler of heaven for his conduct. This citizenship trumps if I may use the term! This means that we value our sisters and brothers from other nations—not least, nations with whom our nation is in conflict—and love and support them in ways we can. It means, for those who have the privilege of living in a democracy, that we press our leaders to act justly and to value people of all nations, to alleviate and reduce poverty, and to keep doors open for the Christian gospel as much as is possible.

    TB: Finally, have the three of you planned a follow up volume to this one? Are you each individually working on further research into the urban world and the early Christians? SW: I am working on the Word Biblical Commentary on Acts , and so using insights from this work in my discussions of the various urban settings where churches were planted and grew in writing commentary on the relevant passages from Acts. DG: I am continuing research on the classical world, although my most recent book, published in October , is a biography of the archaeologist and museum curator, Winifred Lamb, my predecessor when he worked at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

    As a licensed lay minister in the Church of England, it is a privilege to try and bring these biblical texts alive both through preaching and in smaller Bible study groups. This will look at the development of early Christian life in the context of the large city of Ephesus, the third or fourth largest city of the ancient world. It will include discussions of Christians negotiating their life within the challenges of the polytheistic Graeco-Roman city.

    Get your copy now to access fuller, richer discussion from all three editors above, and more essays by other world-class biblical scholars, archaeologists, classicists and more. The interview is here. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email.

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