Aliens and Sojourners

Aliens and Sojourners: Self as Other in Early Christianity

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 192
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Aliens and Sojourners
    Book Description:

    Early Christians spoke about themselves as resident aliens, strangers, and sojourners, asserting that otherness is a fundamental part of being Christian. But why did they do so and to what ends? How did Christians' claims to foreign status situate them with respect to each other and to the larger Roman world as the new movement grew and struggled to make sense of its own boundaries? Aliens and Sojourners argues that the claim to alien status is not a transparent one. Instead, Benjamin Dunning contends, it shaped a rich, pervasive, variegated discourse of identity in early Christianity. Resident aliens and foreigners had long occupied a conflicted space of both repulsion and desire in ancient thinking. Dunning demonstrates how Christians and others in antiquity capitalized on this tension, refiguring the resident alien as being of a compelling doubleness, simultaneously marginal and potent. Early Christians, he argues, used this refiguration to render Christian identity legible, distinct, and even desirable among the vast range of social and religious identities and practices that proliferated in the ancient Mediterranean. Through close readings of ancient Christian texts such as Hebrews, 1 Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle to Diognetus, Dunning examines the markedly different ways that Christians used the language of their own marginality, articulating a range of options for what it means to be Christian in relation to the Roman social order. His conclusions have implications not only for the study of late antiquity but also for understanding the rhetorics of religious alienation more broadly, both in the ancient world and today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0181-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction: Aliens, Christians, and the Rhetoric of Identity
    (pp. 1-24)

    At the close of the first century C.E., the early Christian text 1 Clement (c.93–97) opens with a greeting from one group of Christian aliens to another: “The church of God residing as aliens (paroikousa) in Rome to the church of God residing as aliens (paroikousē) in Corinth.”¹ This was not the first text to characterize Christians in terms of their status as aliens or sojourners. But as the first century came to a close and the second century progressed, the trope proved to be an increasingly useful one. Other Christian writers made use of it in epistolary prescripts...

  4. Chapter One Citizens and Aliens
    (pp. 25-45)

    What kind of “other” was the resident alien within the various discursive fields of the early Roman Empire? What might a designation of “alien,” “sojourner,” or “foreigner” have meant to various audiences or readers in this context? In the second century C.E., Lucian of Samosata (or whoever the author of this epigraph may be) could offer a straightforward remark about the reproach of alien status with no need for further argument or explanation, confident that his readers would understand and agree. But what sort of reproach? Was the category of the alien a relatively neutral civic descriptor—in which case...

  5. Chapter Two Going to Jesus “Outside the Camp”: Alien Identity in Hebrews
    (pp. 46-63)

    Early Christians talked about themselves as aliens and outsiders. Often it was with just a few words or phrases, as in 1 Peter or some of the other examples surveyed in the Introduction. But sometimes the trope was developed more extensively, becoming a major theme in exhortatory treatises and epistles. Among the books that were eventually included in the New Testament canon, the other text besides 1 Peter that makes significant use of the alien topos is the Epistle to the Hebrews. Where 1 Peter offers just a few brief allusions to the topos, Hebrews develops an extensive scriptural lineage...

  6. Chapter Three Outsiders by Virtue of Outdoing: The Epistle to Diognetus
    (pp. 64-77)

    In the second century, the designation of the Christian as alien and sojourner remained a useful (and indeed prevalent) category for forging and negotiating identity. Scholarship on the topos has tended to treat second-century materials primarily in terms of their relationship to the earlier canonical sources (1 Peter, Hebrews).¹ But Christians in the second century had their own reasons for turning to the alien topos, reasons not primarily (or at least not entirely) determined by earlier texts. Rather, the alien topos proved helpful for these Christians in advancing their own projects of identity formation, bound up as they were in...

  7. Chapter Four Foreign Countries and Alien Assets in the Shepherd of Hermas
    (pp. 78-90)

    Given the flexibility of alien and foreign status as a trope, early Christians found further uses for it in addition to labeling themselves. As I have argued, the claim to alien status is a relational one, drawing a boundary that defines an outside in relation to an inside. In the traditional valorization of the alien topos (as seen in 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Diognetus), outsider and insider terms get reversed, so that, by claiming the name “alien,” Christians mark their insider status with a revalued language of alterity. But because of this relational dynamic, small differences in emphasis could produce...

  8. Chapter Five Strangers and Soteriology in the Apocryphon of James
    (pp. 91-102)

    Not all early Christians thought that speaking about themselves as aliens was a good thing. While numerous texts of the first and second centuries were making exactly this move (as evidenced by our analysis thus far), this was not the only conceptual option available to Christians as they thought about their identity and what its legitimate relationship ought to be to the rhetoric of alienation. Thus there were (perhaps not surprisingly) voices of protest to the increasingly common strategy of constructing the Christian self as other. These voices were not separate or outside the contested discourse of formative Christian identity,...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 103-117)

    In an important article, Rowan Greer characterizes early Christianity in terms of what he calls “the marvelous paradox of Christians as alien citizens.”¹ That is, Christians are paradoxically “both involved in and disengaged from society.”² Greer surveys the practical outworking of this paradox in both pre-Nicene writers (Diognetus, Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria) and later authors of the fourth-century imperial church (Eusebius of Caesarea, Lactantius, John Chrysostom, Augustine). His conclusion is that, in each instance, “the paradox of alien citizenship can never be put into practice on a social scale. All the figures I have discussed state the paradox...

  10. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 118-121)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 122-160)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-178)
  13. Index
    (pp. 179-184)
  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 185-186)