The Christianity Seminar, founded by Bernard Brandon Scott (chair), Nina Livesey, and Lane McGaughy, proposes to adjust the picture of early Christianity while integrating the findings of the Paul and Acts Seminars into the work done by the Jesus Seminar.
The Christianity Seminar’s goals include keeping to the fore the larger Mediterranean context, particularly the machinations of the Roman Empire, the lost actors of early Christianity (especially the female apostles), Second Temple Judaism and the emergence of rabbinic Judaism, the rise of the apostolic tradition, and the journey to canon and orthodoxy. The first papers inaugurated the new agenda and experimented with a new timeline for studying the early Christian communities.
The spring meeting featured Elaine Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton University and a longtime Fellow of the Westar Institute. Pagels’ 2012 book Revelations: Vision, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation was the subject of a daylong study. In response, Arthur Dewey’s “Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum: Worlds Colliding and Created” and my “Roman Apocalypticism: Death, Doom, and Delight in the Early Empire” located Christian apocalyptic within the larger context of Roman Imperial propaganda. Dewey, a founder of the Paul Seminar, argues for the pivotal role of prophecy in the interpretation of Paul’s mission. He also emphasizes Roman efforts to advertise the dawn of a new saeculum, which would legitimate the empire’s own rise to Mediterranean power.
In many accounts of early Christianity, some voices have been stifled or marginalized. The Christianity Seminar aims to ensure that those voices are heard at every step of the discussion. A session of the spring meeting was devoted to papers that turned up the volume on women’s voices in the early Christian communities. Nina Livesey’s “Women in the Authentic Letters of Paul” urges a more careful reading of Paul’s letters, one which would mark later interpolations and reveal Paul’s high regard for women. She argues that the “authentic” Paul, shorn of such later additions as 1 Cor 11:3–16 and 14:33b–36, would show his equal treatment of female and male and his identification of women as potential leaders.
At the fall 2013 meeting the Christianity Seminar initiated the discussion of some seminal items. Central to the work of the new Seminar is the issue of how dating Acts to the second century forces a reinterpretation of the foundational mythology of the church. Moving Acts to 125–130 ce shakes our confidence in the conventional dating of other documents. Joseph Tyson, a doyen of Acts studies, co-chair of the Acts Seminar and author (with Dennis E. Smith) of Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report (Polebridge 2013), takes on this thorny problem in his “Second Century Christianities.” In equating the portrait of Paul in Acts with the Marcionite heresy in his Marcion and Luke-Acts: A Defining Struggle (2006), Tyson helped define another key issue for the Seminar: to what degree have the tensions between heresy and orthodoxy shaped the Christian vision?
“By the Books: Canon Formation among the Romans” is my attempt to step outside the confines of Christianity and see canon as a concern for the new masters of the Mediterranean as well as for peoples under their sway. This is in line with the Christianity Seminar’s emphasis on situating Christianity in the context of Empire.
As the Christianity Seminar continues to reveal how limiting the canon is as an instrument for taking the measure of the Christian communities, expect some surprises in these pages.
Ball State University
Dewey, Arthur J. “Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum: Worlds Colliding and Created,” 7–23.
Shea, Christine. “Roman Apocalypses: Death, Doom, and Delight in the Early Empire,” 25–42.
Livesey, Nina E. “Women in the Authentic Letters of Paul,” 43–78.
Tyson, Joseph B. “The Old Testament and Second-Century Christians,” 79–89.
Shea, Christine. “By the Book: Canon Formation among the Romans,” 91–103.