Felix Culpa

Ritual Failure and Theological Innovation in Early Christianity


In Felix culpa: Ritual Failure and Theological Innovation in Early Christianity, Peter-Ben Smit argues that ritual developments were key to the development of early Christianity. Focusing on rituals that go wrong, he shows precisely how ritual infelicities are a catalyst for reflection upon ritual and their development in terms of their performance as well as the meaning attributed to them. Smit discusses texts from the Pauline epistles and the Gospel of Mark, and provides a chapter on Philo of Alexandria by way of contextualization in the Greco-Roman world. By stressing the importance of ritual, the present book invites a reconsideration of all too doctrinally focused approaches to early Christian communities and identities. It also highlights the embodied and performative character of what being in Christ amounted to two millennia ago.

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Peter-Ben Smit is Professor of Contextual Biblical Interpretation at the Vrije Universiteit (Amsterdam), Professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the University of Bern, Professor of Ancient Catholic Church Structures at Utrecht University and a Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria.


1 Ritual Failure—Ritual Negotiation—Ritual Innovation
 1 Early Christian Studies and Ritual Studies
 2 Ritual Failure and Ritual Negotiation

2 Ritual Competition and Ritual Failure in Philo’s De vita contemplativa
 1 Introduction
 2 Philo and the Sympotic Theology of His Day
 3 Competitive Meals in De Vita Contemplativa 40–63
 4 Conclusions

3 Ritual Failure and Circumcision
 1 Introduction
 2 Contours of Circumcision
 3 Circumcision in Paul’s Letters
 4 Conclusions: Ritual Identity and Ritual Failure as a Catalyst

4 Ritual Failure at Early Christian Meals
 1 Corinthians 8: Intercultural Ritual Transgression as a Theological Catalyst
 2 Ritual Failure, Ritual Negotiation, and Paul’s Argument in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34
 3 Concluding Observations

5 Ritual Failure and Baptism
 1 Introduction
 2 Baptism as a Ritual
 3 Baptism and Ritual Failure in Romans 6:1–14
 4 Forms of Ritual Failure and Aspects of Ritual Negotiation in Romans 6:1–14
 5 Conclusions

6 Ritual Failure, Crucifixion and Empire
 1 Introduction
 2 Crucifixion as Ritual Performance of Imperial Power
 3 Philippians 2 as a Case of Failed Imperial Ritual
 4 Conclusions

7 Ritual Failure and Gender
 1 Introduction
 2 Masculinities in the Greco-Roman World
 3 Ritually (De)Constructing Masculinity at the Table in Mark 6
 4 Femininity and Ritual Failure? The Two Female Characters in Mark 6 and Their Ritual Actions
 5 Concluding Observations

8 General Conclusions
All interested in early Christianity, the history of early Christian rituality and identity, the Pauline epistles, the Gospel of Mark and Philo of Alexandria, as well as ritual theory.
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