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Diversity, part 2: Judean diversity fits with plurality of Jesus groups

One heads-up to mention for the coming week and for the rest of the course is something some of you may or may not know: Namely all forms of Jesus adherence in the first centuries are in some sense Judean or Jewish. In other words, the Jesus movements emerge as marginal movements within Judean culture. Take a step further back and realize that Judean culture (or “Judaism” as it’s often labelled as though it is merely a religion) itself was extremely diverse in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. There were numerous different groups with different approaches to using Judean scriptures and to living generally and there were many many arguments and struggles within that context. If Judean culture was extremely diverse with many competing groups and approaches, then it’s no surprise that marginal movements within it (the Jesus groups) would be too. Furthermore, the whole question of how a movement that was now including non-Judeans was to make sense of the Judean roots was not straight-forward.

The situation lying behind Paul’s letter to people in Galatia embodies that conundrum quite well. So keep a sharp eye out for Paul’s OPPONENTS and try to see what their position was on certain aspects of Judean culture and what Paul’s position was in the debate about including non-Judeans (“Gentiles” = Greeks and Romans) in a Judean movement (“Christianity” as it later gets labelled),

Reflections from the Diversity of Early Christianity course, part 1: Invested sources

Without providing a lot of context, I thought I’d share here on the blog some of my reflections and comments to students in my Diversity of Early Christianity course (fourth year) as I go along.  This may perhaps resuscitate the blog in some limited way (do people even read blogs anymore?).  I may even reflect on the process of teaching remotely by zoom once in a while.

Here is the first installment that I posted in our course forum:

One of the things that stood out to me from our discussion and from student observations this past week is that the ancient sources we look at are written from very specific perspectives of particular people in particular places, people who are highly invested in the claims they make. For this reason, we as historians need to be careful not to identify with particular positions that we are studying. Instead we want to understand the various positions rather than taking sides and we need to pay attention to those being excluded in the rhetoric of ancient authors. And so a person like Eusebius (in the fourth century) or Hegesippus (in the second century) will freely characterize other followers of Jesus as “demonic” or as inspired by Satan while firmly asserting that they hold the true position, namely that they are the orthodox (people holding correct belief and, implied, practice) and others are the “heretics” (wrong-choosers). This itself is the process of formulating orthodoxy (us) and defining heresy (people who claim to be “us” or insiders but who are really “them” or outsiders). This process is the process whereby diversity is made to appear as unity by exclusion. There is a sense in which this (the “us” and “them” dynamics of self-identification) is really a more widely witnessed sociological phenomenon. I think it was Simon (our Simon, not the “heretic”) that compared some the identity dynamics with politics in the US.

Overall, I hope you all got the three different historiographical ways of looking at Christian origins, with the first claiming that orthodoxy or a movement united around “truth” was there first and that heresies (or diversity) came later (Acts, Eusebius); the second that there was a Peter (Jew) vs. Paul (Hellenistic Jew) battle from the outset (F.C. Baur); and the third that there was diversity from the get go and the process of formulating “orthodoxy” was a gradual process of exclusion (Walter Bauer, with an e).

New research project on Ethnicity, Diaspora, and Ethnographic Culture in the Greco-Roman World

With word that I and my collaborator Maia Kotrosits (currently at Denison University) have received an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2019-2024), much of my research, teaching, and online efforts will be heading in a somewhat new direction.  (Don’t worry, I won’t forget that associations exist.)  Minorities and immigrants have of course occupied me significantly before, but this will be a new concentration that we hope will help to reshape our understanding of ancient Mediterranean societies.  Maia’s expertise in diaspora, postcolonial and race theory (among many other things) combined with her detailed knowledge of the ancient world will be indispensible for this project.

The title of this ongoing project is: Ethnicity, Diaspora, and Ethnographic Culture in the Greco-Roman World.  It’s aim is to take a new approach to making sense of ethnic interactions, stereotypes, and hierarchies in the ancient Mediterranean, and the research will encompass peoples devoted to the Israelite or Judean god (including Jesus adherents) but without privileging them.  Scythians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Phrygians, Egyptians and other peoples will also be central.

Online, I also plan to renew attention to this blog and likely a new series of podcast episodes with the study of minorities and subject peoples in antiquity at the centre.  You will notice that the title of my website has changed to reflect this new direction.  I have also retitled my podcast in anticipation of future episodes: Ethnic Relations and Cultural Life in the Ancient Mediterranean Podcast.

More coming soon!