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Switch to Forum Live View What is the Xn Origins Task?
7 years ago  ::  Nov 26, 2007 - 11:03AM #1
chuckj
Posts: 443
Some of the dialogue on the Jesus and Paul threads has me thinking again about the nature of the task of a historian who sets out to study Christian Origins.

Here's my thought:

We have a large body of written information about Xnty that dates from the second century.  This body of literature explodes out of nowhere, with very little literature preceeding it.

One of the most striking things about this literature is that is it the product of a well-formed religion.  Second century Xnty has doctrines, ethics, stories (including the Uberstory of the incarnation, death and resurrection), and authoritative texts.  Theological debates are going on within the religion, as are disputations with members of other religions.  Certain doctrines and beliefs are considered essential to the identity of the religion.  The criteria for how somebody joins the religion and what one does to be a faithful adherent are well-formed.  Oh yeah, and it's geographically wide-spread.

This is the picture not of the beginning of Xnty, but of its young adulthood.

In contrast, there is a paucity of documents that purport to be from or about the founding stages of this religion.  And those documents contain enough variety and ambiguity that they are open to multiple interpretations, including multiple interpretations about when and where and why they were written.

So, it seems to me that the task of an origins historian is to take this paucity of information and propose scenarios that best explain as many of the details as possible of our well documented picture of second century Xnty.

The questions we ask about founder stuff--matters concerning Jesus, James, Peter, Paul, etc.--should be rooted in an attempt to explain how second century Xnty came to be what is was.

Various historical reconstructions--all of which might be possible--should be embraced or rejected based on their ability to explain the second century.

Analogies seem to get me in trouble, but I think of astronomy, which noticed the speed, position and trajectory of the galaxies and worked backward to the Big Bang.

And I think of Darwin looking at biological variety and working backwards to a theory that best explained what was observable in the present.

I'll stop here to see if anybody thinks I'm making any sense, or whether this train of thought is helpful.

Chuck
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 26, 2007 - 1:34PM #2
chuckj
Posts: 443
Okay, I said I'd stop.  But I add this (which I think should be a separate post at any rate).

Here is the most startling characteristic of the young-adult religion we encounter in this large body of second century literature:

It understands itself to have originated in Judaism and to have been founded by the Jewish Messiah, but it is populated exclusively by Gentiles.

How in the hell did that happen?

This is the single weirdest thing that an origins reconstruction must explain, it seems to me.

Chuck
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 26, 2007 - 4:22PM #3
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
Chuck, you are correct about an explosion of literature. Stating there was an explosion of literature does not mean there was an explosion of Christians, only literate Christians. (See my re-posting at the end of this.) At any rate, you state “This is the picture not of the beginning of Xnty, but of its young adulthood.” This is identical to one of the Dutch Radical conclusions. But, Chuck, it is about the Paulines and it is the reason they are placed in the second century. These writings form a basic theology, soteriology and a Christology. Not only do they do this, they ASSUME a wide and far ranging Christian religion of Gentiles by the fifties.

Philippians not only greets the holy in Philippi, but the bishops/overseers and the deacons/servants. Galatians greets the churches (plural) in Galatia. Second Cor. Extends greetings to ALL the churches in Achaia, not only the church in Corinth. First Corinthians extends this to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Romans their religion is “proclaimed throughout the world.” I think that this is more astonishing than, and probably makes larger claims than the second century writers, at least the ones I have read.

If one takes the Paulines to be written generally in the decade of the fifties, “one of the most striking things about this literature is that it is the product of a well formed religion,” as you say. In, for instance, 1 Cor (and I’ve posted this before), chapters:
1. Parties and divisions in the church
2. Authority of the apostles
3. Unchastity
4. Married and unmarried life
5. The eating of what has been offered to idols
6. The veiling of women
7. Love feasts
8. Spiritual gifts
9. Resurrection

When you talk about a well-formed religion, this is it. And, there is nary sign of the teachings of Jesus, if this is first century. Furthermore, there is a general rejection of “the Jews.” There is no sign of a narrative to be found about the “founder,” and just a bit of name dropping, which really signifies nothing. The Paulines are Gentile writings, according to the author of Galatians, for the Gentiles. It is not even a Jewish religion in the middle first century, Chuck, if one puts the Paulines in that time frame.

So, if you are so worried about second century Christianity having to build on something, perhaps we need to be looking at the Hasmonean or early Herodian days to find the building blocks for Paulianity, which is essentially what Christianity was by the end of the second century, early third. (Of course, Ellegard has already advanced that thought.)

So, can you begin to apply the same rationale you have toward the second century literature to the vast Pauline corpus? If you do, you'll see a Pauline Gentile church having really nothing to do with a historical living and breathing Jesus and you'll wonder why the writings are placed in the first century, you'll wonder what happened to "the Jews," and how such a cult was formed so quickly that had nothing to do with the aforementioned!
Dennis

“Forum,” 4.2, James Veitch, “The Church as Community.) Using data from Keith Hopkins and/or Rodney Stark, the population of Christianity was about .0126% of the Roman population (around 7530 people) at around 100 ce. Around 200 ce, it was .36%. At 250 it was 1.9%, and by 300 it was around 10.5%. Apparently in the third century, there was a disease that killed half the population, which had something to do with it.
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 26, 2007 - 9:56PM #4
GeneStecher
Posts: 556
Chuck wrote: "...it seems to me that the task of an origins historian is to take this paucity of information (1st century) and propose scenarios that best explain as many of the details as possible of our well documented picture of second century Xnty."

Gene replies: To me this is a quite persuasive approach to the task!


DDC wrote: "So, if you are so worried about second century Christianity having to build on something, perhaps we need to be looking at the Hasmonean or early Herodian days to find the building blocks for Paulianity, which is essentially what Christianity was by the end of the second century, early third. (Of course, Ellegard has already advanced that thought.)"

Gene replies: We don't need to look too much farther than the personal experience of the primary author of the Pauline writings.  This person was unequivocally devoted to perfection under the Jewish law.  That threw him into a psychological breakdown, and he came out of it devoted to a savior religion, under the name Jesus, which annhilated the legal barriers between Jew/Gentile.  The rest, as one would say, is history!

DDC wrote: “Forum,” 4.2, James Veitch, “The Church as Community. Using data from Keith Hopkins and/or Rodney Stark, the population of Christianity was about .0126% of the Roman population (around 7530 people) at around 100 ce. Around 200 ce, it was .36%. At 250 it was 1.9%, and by 300 it was around 10.5%. Apparently in the third century, there was a disease that killed half the population, which had something to do with it.

Gene replies: It's beyond me how anyone could speak with certainty about this matter, but taking the numbers above, if a congregation averaged 50 persons, that would be 150 congregations throughout the mediterranean in 100 CE, if the average was 100 persons then 75 congregations spread across the area.  That seems to be enough for 10 to 20 churches in each major geographical area.  If one halves those numbers for mid-century figures, it would still seem to be a reasonable accounting for the plural references in the Pauline letters, which could mean as few as two or three in a territories like Galatia, Achaia, etc.

Gene
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 27, 2007 - 5:29AM #5
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
So, Gene, you would not apply the same criteria Chuck would use with second century literature with the Paulines? That would be a stance rooted not in common sense or in any procedure, but in a need to be a caretaker of the religion. Fact is, if we use the criteria of Chuck, that of a developed (big C) Church with many members, organization and so on, that is perhaps seen in the Paulines more than in the second century writers. As far as your concerns about Paul's stance on Judaism, their is sufficient evidence of supersessionism in the Paulines, to say nothing of anti-Judaism, but that wasn't part of the original argument, other than "where were the Jews." Good question. One could ask that of "Paul."

As far as the population goes, I cited the reference for one to look up, to say nothing of this being the fourth time I have posted it in a two or three year period. Your quarrel is with Veitch. I thought he made good points,obviously. Part of the supersessionist myth is that Christianity "spread like wildfire," from the beginning.  One needs to realize that this is an untenable stance, looking at the dearth of outside references and the consummate lack of effect on a Jewish audience. (Veitch didn't discuss that, but used various research done on population.)

Dennis
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 27, 2007 - 9:03AM #6
chuckj
Posts: 443
The Paulines are a part of a very small body of Xn literature that claim to be written in the first century and address formational church issues.  This sets them apart from the huge body of 2nd cen ANF literature.

For example, in the Paulines whether Gentiles should be circumcised to become Xns is in debate.  In the ANFs the matter is settled.  (I didn't say it wasn't discussed; I said it was settled.)

The fact that the Paulines claim to be written in the first century doesn't mean that they were--it just means that studying them is by nature different from studying the 2nd cen ANFs.  And it means they potentially have great value in helping us propose scenarios for how the 2nd cen church got to be the way it is.

The key question for the Paulines, regardless of when we decide they were written, is What can they tell us about the formative period of Xnty, i.e., events that preceded the 2nd cen and led to the well formed religion we find in the ANFs?

(This is also true, of course, for the other literature that has its purported setting in the 1st cen [I II Pet; James] or addresses the formation of Xnty [the gospels; Acts]).

Chuck
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 27, 2007 - 9:12AM #7
chuckj
Posts: 443
[QUOTE=chuckj;95074]Okay, I said I'd stop.  But I add this (which I think should be a separate post at any rate).

Here is the most startling characteristic of the young-adult religion we encounter in this large body of second century literature:

It understands itself to have originated in Judaism and to have been founded by the Jewish Messiah, but it is populated exclusively by Gentiles.

How in the hell did that happen?

This is the single weirdest thing that an origins reconstruction must explain, it seems to me.

Chuck[/QUOTE]

Any reactions to the idea that the primary task of Xns origins historical reconstruction would be to explain how in the hell Xnty was populated exclusively by Gentiles who called the Jewish Messiah their Lord, worshipped the Jewish God, used the tanakh as scripture, and called themselves the New Israel?

Talk about something that would have shocked an ancient Rip van Winkle!  (Okay, Rip bar Winkle.)

Chuck
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 27, 2007 - 9:18AM #8
chuckj
Posts: 443
[QUOTE=MisterC;96791] Part of the supersessionist myth is that Christianity "spread like wildfire," from the beginning.  One needs to realize that this is an untenable stance, looking at the dearth of outside references and the consummate lack of effect on a Jewish audience.
Dennis[/QUOTE]

The question of how large Xnty was in 2CE is best answered by looking at the 2CE Xn literature.  The quantity of the literature, its geographical bredth, and any content that directly or indirectly addresses this issue would be the best data we have, right?

Chuck
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 27, 2007 - 10:46AM #9
LAMII
Posts: 123
Many scholars (e.g., Bart Ehrman) have pointed out that for “Christianity” to grow from 20-100 followers of Jesus during his lifetime to an estimated three million in 300 years did not require massive conversions, but simply a steady stream of converts.  This growth represents about 40% every 10 years (which also happens to be, according to Rodney Stark,  the growth rate of the Mormon Church over the 20th century).  The really enormous expansion began with Constantine and then became even greater within the Roman Empire when Theodosius I (374-395 CE) made Christianity the official state religion.

Lloyd
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7 years ago  ::  Nov 27, 2007 - 11:02AM #10
GeneStecher
Posts: 556
Chuck,

What do you think of starting with how Paul used the OT and seeing what connections can be made to various 2nd century sources?  The toughest question would be, is their evidence to show that 2nd century sources used the Paulines, or is it the other way around, or do they run parallel? 

How many books would it take?  Maybe we could handle one very circumscribed topic, though.  Staying with the basic seven, please double-check me, but I couldn't find any direct OT quotes in Philippians, I Thessalonians, or Philemon.  Interesting, huh, when we're talking original Paul!  The following are basically only direct quotes, not allusions or other indirect references:

Pentateuch:
Ro 6:23, 9:15, 17, 27;10:5, 19; 12:19, 13:9, 15:10
1 Cor 8:4, 9:9
2 Cor 4:6, 6:16, 8:15

Isaiah:
Ro 2:24, 9:28-29, 33; 10:11, 15-16, 20-21; 11:8, 26-27, 34; 14:11, 15:12, 21
1 Cor 1:19-20, 2:9, 8:4, 13:21
2 Cor 6:2, 17; 12:9
Gal 4:27

Jeremiah:
Ro 8:22, 11:17, 27
1 Cor 1:31
2 Cor 6:18, 10:17

Hosea:
Ro 9:25-27
1 Cor 15:55
2 Cor 6:18

Joel:
Ro 10:13

Job:
Ro11:33-35

Proverbs:
Ro 12:20

Psalms:
Ro 3:4,10-18, 4:7-8, 10:18, 8:31, 36;11:9-10, 33;15:3, 9, 11
1 Cor 15:27
2 Cor 9:9

Adam story
Ro 5:12-19
1 Cor 15:21-22, 45-49

Abraham/Isaac story:
Ro 4:1-25, 9:6-13
Gal 3:6-29, 4:21-31

Moses story:
2 Cor 3:15-16

Elijah story:
Ro 11:3-4

The Story of the Law
Ro 5:13, 20-21; 7:1-25, 9:30-33; 10:5
Gal 3:10-25, 4:21-31, 5:14

The Israel story:
1 Cor 10:1-11
Ro 9:2-5, 10:1-11:32


Gene
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