A. Kristendommens udvikling i antikken


Faculty of Theology

Theme 1: The discursive fight over religious texts in antiquity

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A. Development of Christianity in antiquity

The project focuses on the factors that played a role in the development of a normative Christian scripture tradition and Christianity’s response to a legitimate interpretation of this tradition. Christianity developed from being a charismatic movement to becoming institutionally more organised. The close relationship between Judaism and Christianity changed, and Christianity manifested itself as a separate religion. Also the development of a number of alternative interpretations of Christianity generated a demand for an authoritative collection of texts, binding doctrines, regulations, dogmas and officials.

This institutionalisation and a variety of more anonymous processes have influenced the canon of Christian scriptures. Many texts were already used at church services and in teaching, which also contributed to the formation of the Christian canon. Another characteristic feature is that religious groups have consolidated their identity and thus distanced themselves from other religious and social groups by favouring certain collections of texts. Some texts were considered to have a greater degree of truth than others. This meant that certain texts were perceived as generating the norms and values for the religious group’s ethics and world view. Eventually, the development of liturgical uses of the texts and the social process of using these texts for identity making meant that these texts contributed to the shaping of the criteria that legitimated their own normative status.

This development included a shift from oral to written tradition. As written narrative to a lesser extent than oral narrative can be adjusted to the expectation of the audience, this tends to lead to dissonance between the values and views of ancient texts and the values and views of readers in a subsequent age. To overcome this disagreement and to justify the normative role of the text, it became necessary to develop special interpretation strategies. In particular four factors should be mentioned:

Christianity’s relation to Judaism

How did the relationship between ancient Christianity and Judaism effect the Christians’ perception of the biblical texts and their interpretation? How did the Jewish canonisation of certain texts and the Jewish debate about which texts belonged to this canon influence the Christian debate? How did it influence the formation of a canon of Christian writings that Christians were also using scriptures of Jewish origin?

Christianity’s relation to ancient Graeco-Roman culture

How did the relation to Graeco-Roman culture in general contribute to the formation of a Christian literature and to which extent was this literature shaped by an idea of Christian written tradition as an alternative basis for a new culture? How have the ancient texts affected Christianity? These issues include both the Christian religion’s use of Greek philosophy and of Greek mythology and iconography.

Christianity’s influence on the Graeco-Roman world

To which extent have the Christian scriptures affected Graeco-Roman social conditions, such as politics, law and ethics, and to which extent can such influence be ascribed to the special normative status attached to these texts?

Christianity’s development towards orthodoxy

understood as the dominant doctrine of church institution. In the first stage of the Christian era (1st-3rd centuries) the conflict between the church’s main stream and heterodox interpretations (e.g., montanism and gnostic currents) was due to disagreement about the fixation of the scripture, its canonic status and interpretation. The Nag Hammadi sources have helped us to shed light on interpretation and the meaning of texts in the relation between orthodoxy and heresy. In the later stage of the history of ancient Christianity (3rd-6th centuries), however, there was consensus about the canonical status of a rather fixed corpus of texts. Now the conflict was only about interpretation. This lead to internal dogmatic disputes. All these conditions give rise to a systematic-theological discussion of the concept of legitimate and justified interpretation.

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Revised 2010.03.04