A.4 Ancient Christianity

A.4 Ancient Christianity

Presiding: Harold Attridge, Yale Divinity School

E. Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Early Christian Liturgy and the Didache

The Didache seems to reflect an early form of Christian liturgy; one which does not yet recognize the Resurrection doctrine. A similar position is attested in other texts, notably the Epistle of James and the hymn in Philippians 2.

On the basis of several unambiguous references, the Didache has been thought to be post-Matthaean and thus late, a conclusion which is inconsistent with its generally early content. I find that the Matthean affinities of the Didache are due to interpolation, and that the older parts are close to what is taught by, or anticipated by, Jesus in the earlier Gospel of Mark. They are also largely consistent with the doctrines which were so energetically opposed by Paul.

The Didache may thus be regarded as further documenting, in greater detail than is available from other sources, a pre-Pauline phase in the evolution of Christianity.

Stephen L. Young, Brown University

“I am a Son From the Father”: The Afterlife Services of Marcosian Christians and the Bacchic Gold Tablets

This paper explores aspects of the Marcosian “redemption” death ritual recounted in Irenaeus (1.21.5; c.f., 1.13.6). In particular it focuses on the Marcosians’ notion of the ascending soul requiring preparation to navigate obstacles after death in order to achieve the ideal afterlife. I will contextualize this aspect of the Marcosian ritual by situating it alongside other sources displaying similar ideas about the afterlife, particularly the Bacchic Gold Tablets – a comparison that, surprisingly, has thus far received little attention. The Bacchic Gold Tablets not only provide comparanda that share this notion of the deceased needing preparation to navigate afterlife obstacles, but also afford the opportunity to examine these ideas among their associated practices, practitioners, and practical settings. This comparison will elucidate how the Marcosian redemption ritual would have been recognizable to people as the afterlife service of ritual specialists who wove together various recognizable myths and afterlife related notions to explain and establish the efficacy of their services. In this way the ritual was comparable to the services offered by the Orphic initiators behind the Bacchic Gold Tablets – and presumably to the offerings of others in the ancient Mediterranean who trafficked in, among other things, afterlife services. This comparative exploration not only furthers our knowledge of the Marcosian ritual in its ancient settings, but also contributes to (re)describing the practices of certain Christ devotees in the mid to late 2nd century CE as recognizable practical religious activities within the “ordinary” social settings of ancient Mediterranean life.

Alexander Perkins, Yale Divinity School

Inscribing Holiness: Martyrology as an Epitaphic Genre

In this paper, I discuss how the discourse of martyrdom, much like that of epic and history, can rightly be described as monumental and epitaphic. Yet the bodies within these accounts do not become the cold stones of the Iliad. Rather, martyrdom is a genre of discourse that transforms the souls of its subjects into living texts. These texts subvert the Roman imperial mechanism of public humiliation and torture. They turn the brutal deaths of believers into loci of resistance that allow communities to recall and iteratively perform the transformative moments they narrate. As an intertext with the epitaphic tradition, I utilize the instantiation of the genre par excellence, the Athenian epitaphios logos. Illuminating the characteristics shared by each genre will bring the epitaphic qualities of martyrdom accounts into sharper focus and provide some fascinating insights into the identity formation of Early Christian communities.

Drawing on the observations of Loraux (2006) regarding the funeral oration, I begin with an investigation of similar rhetorical qualities within the Martyrs of Lyon and the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity. The language of these accounts first to denies the power of words to fully describe the wondrous deeds of their subjects. They then move on to recontextualize the deaths of the figures they laud into the service of the community. Building on Shaw (1996) and Burrus (2008), I show how martyrologies and epitaphs conquer death itself and turn defeat into victory. I then move on to the letters of Ignatius and the Martyrdom of Pionius. In these texts, the figure of the martyr literally transforms into a λόγος that can then perform the “culture making” described by Castelli (2004). This λόγος is, at its root, a memorial to both the suffering and the glory of the martyr that the community could use to reenact and thereby reify the memories of their holy dead. The martyrdom account is an inscription of holiness on the bodies of imperial victims, bodies made as permanent as any stone stele.

Meghan Henning, Emory University

Pedagogical Punishments: the Rhetorical Function of Hell in the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul

Much of the history of scholarship on “hell” has been devoted to tracing genetic relationships between older texts and more recent ones, typically based upon generic elements or the specific features of hell’s landscape.  This paper suggests a new direction for classics and New Testament study, focusing instead on the rhetorical function of hell in antiquity.  This paper argues that the rhetorical devices of ekphrasis, enargeia and periēgēsis were at work in the depictions of Hell that we find in the early Christian apocalypses, namely the Apoc. Pet.  and the Apoc. Paul.  We begin with a definition of these rhetorical devices by examining the Progymnasmata as well as Quintillian’s work on rhetoric.  Next, we will demonstrate that these rhetorical devices were at work in various ancient depictions of Hades (with examples chosen from Greek and Latin authors such as Homer, Plato, Vergil, Lucian and Plutarch).   Finally we will show that this rhetorical technique was also at work in the early Christian apocalypses.  In sum, we will conclude that early Christians, like the Greeks and Romans before them, used these rhetorical techniques in order to “emotionally move” their audiences toward “right behavior.”

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