The following paper argues that “Christianity” as a discursive entity did not exist until the second century CE. As a result, the first-century writings that constitute the field of inquiry for “Christian origins” are not usefully conceived as “Christian” at all. They were, rather, secondarily claimed as predecessors and traditions by second-century (and later) authors engaged in a process of “inventing tradition” to make sense of their own novel institutional and social circumstances. As an illustration, the paper looks at the ways that a series of second-century authors cumulatively created the figure of Paul as a first-century predecessor, and how this process has affected the way the first-century Pauline materials are read. At issue in all of this are our imaginative conceptions of social entities (including “religions”) and what they are, and of how canons and notions of social continuity attendant on them are formed.
ArnalWilliam E., '“Doxa, heresy, and self-construction: The Pauline ekklēsiai and the boundaries of urban identities”', in Eduard Iricinschi and Holger Zellentin(eds), Heresy and identity in late antiquity, (Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen2008a) 50-101.
ArnalWilliam E., '“The Gospel of Mark as reflection on exile and identity”', in Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon(eds), Introducing religion: Essays in honor of Jonathan Z. Smith, (Equinox, London2008b) 57-67.
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HurtadoLarry W., '“The earliest evidence of an emerging Christian material and visual culture: The codex, the nomina sacra and the staurogram”', in Stephen G. Wilson and Michel Desjardins(eds), Text and artifact in the religions of Mediterranean antiquity, (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, Ontario2000) 271-288..
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Hurtado2000: 271-88discusses this phenomenon. There is no question that it represents a unifying tendency in the manuscript tradition and one that may be properly designated “Christian.” This does not however imply a retrospective “Christian” identity to the composers of Thomas—only that the text was later claimed as such.
This claim has been made in Arnal2008a. The argument is based to a considerable degree on the better “new perspective” treatments of Paul especially Gager 2000 and Gaston 1987 as well as some recent work on Paul that has laid great stress on the issue of ethnicity including Buell and Hodge 2004 and Hodge 2007; cf. Buell 1999.