Saturday, December 12, 2009

in the meantime

The last month has been a bit of a blur, making it difficult to find time to blog. Now the semester is over (well, final exams are next week; but classes have finished), and all I have left is grading and preparing for next semester.

Since I finished reading through my Greek New Testament nearly a month ago, I've been working through the Apostolic Fathers in fairly unsystematic fashion. I've managed to acquire a number of helpful resources: For those with only a tenuous grasp of Greek, I've found Rodney A. Whitacre's A Patristic Greek Reader (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007) a very helpful introduction to the Greek texts of early Christian writings. For the complete text of the Apostolic Fathers I've been reading Michael W. Holmes's The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (third edition; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007). I also have the first volume of Bart Ehrman's revised Loeb Classical Library edition, The Apostolic Fathers (two vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003 [volume 1; volume 2]), but I have stuck mostly to Holmes's one-volume edition.

In the last month I've read the Didache, 1 Clement, and Ignatius' epistle To The Romans. What has struck me thus far is the different ethos with respect to biblical tradition that characterizes those three texts. The Didache (an early church manual with strong resonances with Matthew) sounds a lot like a NT text, though considerably more focused on the life of the church. As a NT scholar, I'm used to inferring the church's conduct from gospel texts; the Didache, even more than the NT epistolary texts, explicitly addresses how the church ought to pray, celebrate the Eucharist, welcome itinerant missionaries, etc.

1 Clement, on the other hand, reads a bit more like a Pauline epistle (with considerable differences, to be sure). But 1 Clement, like the NT texts, lives in a world defined by and filled with Hebrew biblical traditions. Here Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Job, and others appear not just as characters but also reference points for apprehending and interpreting late-first-century realities and responding appropriately to them. In 1 Clement the church continues to find nourishment and succor from her Israelite roots.

Ignatius, however, strikes me differently. Granted, I've still six Ignatian letters to read through, and I don't know what I'll encounter there. But in To The Romans, Ignatius doesn't take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Hebrew biblical traditions to make sense of and respond to his impending martyrdom. He clearly does understand what will happen to him, but Israel's story doesn't seem to play much, if any, role in how he understands it. I'm wondering, in other words, if Ignatius, unlike the author of the Didache, Clement, or the NT authors, distinguishes between the stories of Christ and of Israel.

7 comments:

Don said...

I'm pleased you are reading Whitacre—he was my NT Exegesis prof in seminary (Trinity School for Ministry, Abridge, PA).

My sense about Ignatius is that he contributed to the demise of OT scholarship and theology in the Church. I, for one, do not believe we can be Christians without understanding that we are grafted in to the Jewish vine—as you say, not just characters, but reference points. I will be interested to hear your assessment of more of his epistles.

Philo said...

" I, for one, do not believe we can be Christians without understanding that we are grafted in to the Jewish vine . . . ."

Really?

Don said...

Yeah, really. Well, I suppose "tree" would be more accurate, Romans 11 being the text that most readily comes to mind.

JAS said...

" . . . without understanding . . ."

Again, really? One's being a Christian is dependent on *understanding* the Jewish heritage? Galatians anyone?

Rafael said...

Thanks, Don. I am enjoying my foray into Patristics, though in some ways its a whole new world.

Philo and JAS: I agree that Don has stating things a bit strongly, perhaps even more strongly than I would. This boils down, I think, to the questions, (i) What is the gospel? and (ii) What are the cultural accoutrements through which the gospel is expressed. It's fairly easy to recognize that some features at the heart of Western expressions of Christianity that are not necessary aspects of the gospel. But what about Jewish features? Are those necessary to the gospel itself, or are they merely the first cultural contextualization of the gospel? I find it significant that both Don and JAS have cited Paul in this debate, especially since I cannot help but think Paul was thoroughly and persistently Jewish in his expression of Christianity (an anachronism, of course).

My own sense is that we can be Christians without understanding that we're grafted into the Jewish tree, but that such an understanding is so basic to what it means to being a Christian that it doesn't take long at all to bump into the effects of that grafting (not least that our Bibles have some texts we call "Old Testament" and that the God to whom we profess faith is Israel's God, that the messiah's name is Yeshua‘, and that the concept of messiah itself finds its significance in a Semitic context).

Probably not the last word, eh?

Don said...

"Probably not the last word, eh?"
Well, of course not! I love to hear myself talk, even as I love to read myself write... er... ing.

OK, Yes: Hyperbole 'R' Us, I suppose. Rafael, you said,
"My own sense is that we can be Christians without understanding that we're grafted into the Jewish tree, but that such an understanding is so basic to what it means to being a Christian that it doesn't take long at all to bump into the effects of that grafting...."
I absolutely (yes!) agree, and that is in essence what I was feebly attempting to assert in my own Benevolent Bluto fashion.
And while I'm thinking of it: Congratulations on the publication of Structuring Early Christian Memory! Gives me joy when I think of you in my own memory.

Rafael said...

Again, thanks, Don. I have equally fond (if not fonder) memories of you. And Susan. And Debbie.

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