Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

By Judith M. Lieu | Go to book overview
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2 Text and Identity

That there is a relationship between identity and textuality should by now be evident: it is both the foundation of this study and the arena of its interrogation. In the chapters that follow we shall be exploring the various ways in which texts construct identity through their poetics. Here our focus is a narrower one: first, to introduce the ways in which early Christianity, like early Judaism, (re)produced itself through text-making; but, secondly, to ask how it is that texts acquire this pivotal role, so that they both shape and are shaped by communities' dynamic self-understanding. What are the ways in which texts function, but also can be manipulated, in the creation and maintenance of identity?

Averil Cameron, albeit discussing a period later than ours, has indicated very trenchantly the direction in which we shall go: 'But if ever there was a case of the construction of reality through text, such a case is provided by early Christianity . . . Christians built themselves a new world. They did so partly through practice—the evolution of a mode of living and a communal discipline that carefully distinguished them from their pagan and Jewish neighbours—and partly through a discourse that was itself constantly brought under control and disciplined'; and, again, 'As Christ “was” the Word, so Christianity was its discourse or discourses.' 1 What her account emphasizes is not only the way that Christian thought, behaviour, attitudes, values, and self-understanding were forged textually, but also the way that the multiple self-representations we encounter in the texts are themselves constructs, as is any representation. Yet, while we

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