Polycarp's emblematic confession with which we started, 'I am a Christian', affirms what many have assumed to be how Christians understood and presented themselves from the start—whenever that might be. Whereas most of the strategies that we have been exploring might seem to belong to the implicit and functional construction of identity, the use of 'identifying' labels or of exclusive group designators surely constitutes a claim to explicit, external recognition and 'facticity'. No sooner is this said than it can be seen to demand qualification. First, a common distinction that is often made is whether the label is given or is ascribed, whether it is imposed by others outside or is adopted from within. Further, is such labelling provoked by a particular context, perhaps situational or behavioural, or is it based on more general premises? Is it uncontested; or do some reject its ascription to or by others, whether or not they themselves also claim it?
Even these questions are not without ambiguity: groups respond to their categorization by others, particularly but not only by their apparent superiors—indeed, such labelling may generate a group where none previously existed; 1 but a label may also be assigned from outside, even in denigration, and yet be taken up and turned to positive account. Examples of this range from, in recent times, labels such as 'black', or 'dyke', to the 'Quakers' or the 'Assyrian Christians'; these last acquired their name from western Christian missionaries whose purpose was to effect a distinction from 'Nestorians', an implicitly negative label also assigned from outside, but the effect was to stimulate both the construction of a history and the sense of a national and
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Publication information: Book title: Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. Contributors: Judith M. Lieu - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 239.
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