This issue of the Forum offers four related essays devoted to the role of rhetoric and language in the early Christian situation, particularly as these are reflected in a broadly scattered assortment of literary sources. In this respect our authors move from the insights of Paul in his missionary activities of the first century, to interpretative positions of Justin Martyr and Marcion of Sinope in the second, and finally, to monastic witnesses in the later institutional church of future years.
Here one may detect something of a connection between the outer essays of Livesey and Larsen in distinction from the inner essays of Wilhite and Miller. Livesey and Larsen each focus on the different ways in which rhetoric and language create conceptual spaces. Paul, for instance, posits a confrontation with opponents who threaten his audience in Galatia as a way to formulate gentile life without circumcision and other aspects of Torah regulation. Through rhetoric he is able to speculate and indeed carve out new relationships with the divine. As Nina Livesey notes: “Christianity began, not with small groups of people looking up to heaven asking where Christ had gone and when he would return, as the book of Acts would have it, but instead among literate groups, among ancient religious thinkers who indulged in creative speculations.” Similarly, Lillian Larsen offers a complex analysis of family life and imagery as found throughout ecclesiastical writers of the late third through fourth centuries. Offering a survey of authors from Egypt, Cappadocia, and Syria, Larsen concludes that imagery of “sons/daughters” ultimately incorporated household relationships anticipated among monastic disciples and other faithful. As she observes, in the final analysis: “Whether fictively or factually construed, in the fourth century, as in the first, household roles remain a persistent locus of negotiation.” In this respect, early Christian images of family that were inherent in institutional affiliations formed a rhetorical bond between people of faith who otherwise often had little to share in common. With Wilhite and Miller the settings are slightly altered. David Wilhite shines clear light on how the image of Jesus was understood from polar extremes within the second-century church. On the one hand, Marcion of Sinope offered a Jesus that was an alien figure “descended without warning . . . to rescue tormented souls from this imperfect world. . . . All this [Marcion] concludes without any reference to or need for the Jewish scriptures.”
In contrast, Justin stood in direct opposition to assumptions of the “Jewish-less” Jesus. In his Dialogue with Trypho, he sought to indicate exactly how the confessed savior is the fulfillment of what Jewish tradition had long misunderstood. In essence then, these figures appear as “mirror opposites,” yet both contribute to what Wilhite defines as YHWH christology in the rise of early Christian theology. Finally, Robert Miller explains how it is that Justin’s Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish scriptures. According to Miller, Justin’s Jesus was prophesized, but not from passages derived from traditional Jewish sources. Justin’s Jesus is developed instead from a testamonia source, which otherwise could not have adequately withstood exegetical scrutiny. While this source was similarly deployed by other Christian writers of his day, the christology it evoked was particularly anti-Judaic. Justin was effective in his efforts and today remains as a primary exemplar of anti-Judaic rhetoric of his times. In a word, much of what is now recognized as the foundations and evolutionary heritage of the early Christian setting relies largely on rhetoric and the use of rhetorical imagery and tropes. From Paul to Marcion, from Justin to the monastic authors, rhetorical language served a solitary function in the development of faith as it struggled through the battles of orthodoxy and correct confessions. These four essays seek to demonstrate that every movement.