Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World

Synopsis

'I am a Christian' is the confession of the martyrs of early Christian texts and, no doubt, of many others; but what did this confession mean, and how was early Christian identity constructed? This innovative study sets the emergence of Christian identity in the first two centuries, as it isconstructed by the broad range of surviving literature, within the wider context of Jewish and Graeco-Roman identity. It uses a number of models from contemporary constructionist views of identity formation to explore how what comes to be seen as 'Christian' literature creates a sense of what to be'a Christian' means, and traces both continuities and discontinuities with the ways in which Jewish and Graeco-Roman identity were also being constructed through their texts. It seeks to acknowledge the centrality of texts in shaping early Christianity, historically as well as in our perception ofit, while also exploring how we might move from those texts to the individuals and communities who preserved them. Such an approach challenges more traditional emphases on the development of institutions, whether structures or credal and ethical formulations, which often fail to recognize therhetorical function of the texts on which they draw, and the uncertainties of how well these reflect the actual practice and experience of individuals and communities. While building on recent recognition of the diversity of early Christianity, the book goes on to explore the question whether it ispossible to speak of a distinctive Christian identity across both the range of early texts and as a pressing historical and theological question in the contemporary world.

Excerpt

The seeds of this book were sown when I was asked to give a paper for a seminar on 'Identities in the Eastern Mediterranean in Antiquity' in honour of Fergus Millar, held at the Australian National University, Canberra (November 1997: the papers from the seminar were later published as Mediterranean Archaeology 11 (1998)). The challenge to reflect on my own specialism, early Christianity, in the company of historians of the ancient world, a challenge I had already encountered among my colleagues in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University, marked the beginning of an exciting journey from some relatively naive thoughts about identity to an awareness, if no less naive, of the complexities of the endeavour. I am grateful to initial respondents to that paper, those at the seminar and elsewhere, including, especially, Mark Brett (Melbourne) and Kath O'Connor (Sydney), for hints that were to prove very fruitful. Since then there have been many who, in response to papers on 'work in progress' or in conversation, have further stimulated my thinking; chief among these are colleagues and students in Ancient History at Macquarie University, and more recently those in Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London, and to them I also record my thanks. The anonymous readers for Oxford University Press also gave valuable advice. Yet this project also builds on my earlier interests, on the interaction between Jews, Christians, and their polytheistic neighbours, however we label them, both socially and in their representations of each other. I am fortunate in having had access to a range of good libraries in Sydney and London, without whose commitment to real books in a world of Information Systems and virtualia little of this could have been done. Particularly important have been the friends and colleagues outside the academic world whose interest and encouragement have confirmed me in my belief that seeking to understand Christian identity in the earliest centuries really

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