In Search of the Early Christians

In Search of the Early Christians: Selected Essays

WAYNE A. MEEKS
ALLEN R. HILTON
H. GREGORY SNYDER
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npn08
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  • Book Info
    In Search of the Early Christians
    Book Description:

    A central figure in the reconception of early Christian history over the last three decades, Wayne A. Meeks offers here a selection of his most influential writings on the New Testament and early Christianity. His essays illustrate recent changes in our thinking about the early Christian movement and pose provocative questions regarding the history of this period.Meeks explores a fascinating range of topics, from the figure of the androgyne in antiquity to the timeless matter of God's reliability, from Paul's ethical rhetoric to New Testament pictures of Christianity's separation from Jewish communities. Meeks' introduction offers a retrospective on New Testament studies of the past thirty years and explains the intersection of these studies with a variety of exploratory and revisionist movements in the humanities, embracing social theory, history, anthropology, and literature. In an epilogue the author reflects on future directions for New Testament scholarship.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13010-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. EDITORS’ PREFACE
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. AUTHOR’S PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. REFLECTIONS ON AN ERA
    (pp. xi-xxx)
    Wayne A. Meeks

    The essays gathered in this volume represent three decades of trying to understand the New Testament—and the people who wrote and first listened to and used the writings out of which the New Testament came into being. Looking back over that career, all this labor to understand such a small book seems odd even to me. Yet I have hardly been alone. These essays constitute but a drop in the sea of ink that has spread around those few pages of Greek text in nineteen centuries. There must be something odd about these old documents themselves—or, rather, about...

  6. PART ONE: READING AND WRITING THE PAST
    • THE IMAGE OF THE ANDROGYNE: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity
      (pp. 3-54)

      When Maximus the Confessor (seventh century) takes the “corners” of the Jerusalem wall (2 Chronicles 26:9) as a type of “the various unions (ὲνώσεις) of the divided creatures which were effected through Christ,”¹ we might once have assumed that he is indulging in rhetorical fancy. Similarly, we might have dismissed his chief example of such unions as the hyperbole of a Byzantine ascetic: “For he [sc. Christ] unified man, mystically abolishing by the Spirit the difference between male and female and, in place of the two with their peculiar passions, constituting one free with respect to nature.”² Now, however, the...

    • THE MAN FROM HEAVEN IN JOHANNINE SECTARIANISM
      (pp. 55-90)

      The uniqueness of the Fourth Gospel in early Christian literature consists above all in the special patterns of language which it uses to describe Jesus Christ. Fundamental among these patterns is the description of Jesus as the one who has descended from heaven and, at the end of his mission which constitutes akrisisfor the whole world, reascends to the Father. Not the least of Rudolf Bultmann’s enduring contributions to Johannine studies was his recognition and insistence that any attempt to solve the “Johannine puzzle” must begin with this picture of the descending/ascending redeemer. Moreover, he saw that it...

    • EQUAL TO GOD
      (pp. 91-105)

      John 5:18 says that the plot to have Jesus killed began because Jesus was “making himself equal to God.” This assertion can hardly be historical, so we must seek an explanation for it in the history of the Johannine circle. It was not only the Johannine Christians who made such connections, of course. Already in Mark hostility against Jesus is first aroused by his claim to exercise a prerogative—to forgive sins—that is God’s alone (Mark 2:7), and the actual plot against his life springs, as in John, from a Sabbath healing (3:6). Christians prior to John had appropriated...

    • THE MAN FROM HEAVEN IN PAUL’S LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
      (pp. 106-114)

      In Helmut Koester’s enormous contribution to the history of early Christianity, one of the things of which he has never tired of reminding us is the exuberance of Jesus’ followers that created, in the first decades of the movement’s existence, the wildest diversity of mythic portraits of him.¹ Students of the New Testament had often been blinded to this diversity by confusing the church’s canon with the canon of the historian. However, we do not have to look beyond the canonical documents to see one of these developments that is among the most astonishing of all: the subject of this...

    • BREAKING AWAY: Three New Testament Pictures of Christianity’s Separation from the Jewish Communities
      (pp. 115-138)

      We have now become accustomed to say that earliest Christianity was a sect of Judaism. This is useful language: it helps us avoid some kinds of anachronism, and it may assist Christians to approach the painful history of Jewish-Christian relations with appropriate humility. Moreover, there is ancient support for this terminology. It was Josephus who depicted the “Jewish philosophy” as made up of three or four “sects” (αìρέσεις,Ant.13.171;Vit.10–12;B.J.2.162; their members αìρετισταì,B.J.2.119, 124; cf.Ant.18.11, Φιλ0σ0Φíαι, “philosophies”). And the book of Acts, which like Josephus speaks of Pharisees and Sadducees as...

    • “AND ROSE UP TO PLAY”: Midrash and Parenesis in 1 Corinthians 10: 1–22
      (pp. 139-152)

      The logic of Paul’s counsel to the Corinthian Christians about “meat offered to idols” has long troubled interpreters. A particularly difficult problem has been the relation of 1 Corinthians 10:1–22 to the rest of chapters 8–10. In these verses Paul appears to adopt an absolute prohibition of contact with pagan cults, but that accords ill with his more lenient stand in chapter 8 and in 10:23–31. Moreover, the sequence of thought in 10:1–22 has not been completely clear, either. How are the scriptural examples connected with the paraenetic warnings? How is the consoling statement about temptation...

    • JUDGMENT AND THE BROTHER: Romans 14:1 – 15:13
      (pp. 153-166)

      The Letter to the Romans is, by ancient epistolary standards as well as our own, very long. No wonder the latter chapters have often been neglected. In the early church, a shortened version circulated, presumably because the document seemed more universally applicable if one removed all those names and personal greetings of chapter 16. Some modern scholars have performed the same surgery. More often, commentators have treated Paul’s discourse about the status of Israel in chapters 9–11 as a kind of personal excursus, interesting for insights into Paul’s problems but not of much relevance to ours. The real message...

    • THE CIRCLE OF REFERENCE IN PAULINE MORALITY
      (pp. 167-182)

      For Aristotle, the context in which character is formed and the arena in which virtue is exercised is thepolis.¹ For the sect or cult of early Christianity, obviously thepolisdoes not have the same force, but what precisely took its place? The first groups that emerge clearly into what little light is cast by our surviving sources are the communities to which Paul wrote his letters. Because those letters are primarily instruments intended for moral instruction and formation, they are particularly precious sources for questions about the scope of moral perceptions and obligations in the Christian movement, at...

  7. PART TWO: RESPONDING AND REVISIONING
    • A HERMENEUTICS OF SOCIAL EMBODIMENT
      (pp. 185-195)

      When Krister Stendahl’s article “Biblical Theology” appeared in theInterpreter’s Dictionary of the Biblein 1962, it caused no little consternation in some circles. He insisted that the primary intellectual task of the biblical scholar was to make a clear distinction between what the textmeantin its original setting and what itmeans.That ran directly counter to the practical aims of the dominant interpretive schools of the day, which wanted, as Karl Barth had once said, to dissolve “the differences between then and now.”¹ Today the distinction for which Stendahl argued so lucidly is taken for granted in...

    • THE POLYPHONIC ETHICS OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
      (pp. 196-209)

      InEthics and the Limits of PhilosophyBernard Williams has reminded us that moral conviction is not the same thing as certainty, nor can it be reduced to naked existential decision. What is required for a robust ethical life, writes Williams, is “moral confidence,” and moral confidence “is basically a social phenomenon.”¹ The study of the work of Paul acquires a new accent if we consider his letters in light of the question suggested by Williams’s argument: What is the social process by which a religious movement like that of the early Christians undertakes to instill moral confidence in its...

    • ON TRUSTING AN UNPREDICTABLE GOD: A Hermeneutical Meditation on Romans 9–11
      (pp. 210-229)

      One of Paul Meyer’s colleagues has shown us how important is the issue of finding a “coherent” Paul among the Apostle’s varied responses to the “contingencies” of his situation.² Yet, for anyone who still hopes to find some guidance from the Bible in trying to form a Christian life today, there is a more urgent question: not whether Paul is consistent, but whether God is. This question is at the center of Romans 9–11, and Paul Meyer has clearly articulated it: If God’s action in Christ was as radical as Paul (and subsequent Christian faith) claims, “what then becomes...

    • VISION OF GOD AND SCRIPTURE INTERPRETATION IN A FIFTH-CENTURY MOSAIC
      (pp. 230-253)

      Sometime in the reign of the iconoclastic emperor Leo V “the Armenian” (813–820), a monk named Senouphios “in the hills of Nitria in Egypt” heard a voice from heaven directing him to go “to the monastery in Thessaloniki called ‘of the stonecutters’ (Λατóμων).” Senouphios “had been begging God for a long time to be allowed to see him as he would come to judge the earth”; hearing this clear answer to his prayer, he set off at once with only his cloak and staff. After many adventures he arrived in the distant metropolis, only to be told by the...

  8. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 254-262)
    Wayne A. Meeks

    The essays collected here illustrate some of the tasks that my generation of New Testament scholars have found before us: the retrieval of the ordinary out of the silence imposed by centuries, exploring the dialectic between surviving fragments of ancient language and the other social forms in which they were once embedded, discovering the ways by which emerging communities invented moral practice and moral intuition, understanding the multifaceted Jewishness of the early Christian movement. The New Testament scholar’s vocation thus came to intersect with a variety of exploratory and revisionist movements in the humanities, embracing social theory, history, anthropology, and...

  9. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED
    (pp. 263-284)
  10. SOURCES
    (pp. 285-286)
  11. INDEX OF BIBLICAL REFERENCES
    (pp. 287-299)
  12. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 300-308)
  13. INDEX OF MODERN AUTHORS
    (pp. 309-314)