comprised of a list of passages culled from the scriptures that Christians took to be references to Jesus - his life, actions (especially miracles), death and remarkable resurrection.12 Hence the first element in the establishment of the Christian 'written record' was the singularly most significant decision -initially through the reflexive retention of the unquestioned literary authority of the word of God by faithful Jews, and later as a conscious step in literary appropriation by Gentiles who had previously laid no claim to these texts13 -to carry out Christian literary activity under the umbrella of the Torah, the prophets and the writings (see e.g. Luke 24:44). Early Christian literary culture was initially, and, with only few exceptions,14 carried out within the lexical field, plot structure, cast of characters, world-view and theological presuppositions of the scriptures of Israel, predominantly as known in the Greek translation called the Septuagint.
And it was centred on Jesus of Nazareth. In the interval between the death of Jesus (c.30 ce) and the composition of the first gospel (Mark, around 70 ce), the sayings of Jesus, like those of other holy men and philosophers, were remembered, rendered into Greek, retold, revised and recast in such common forms as chreiai (also termed aphorisms, pronouncement stories, and apophthegmata), parables, logia (sayings), apokalypseis (revelations), prophecies, macarisms and woes and gnomai (maxims).15 A similar process took place with narratives about Jesus, including stories of controversy with his contemporaries (now told in the light of the early church's own contentious encounters with its neighbours) and accounts of miracle working. Gradually this process led to the collection of material, sometimes by generic type (such as parables of the kingdom,16 cultic teachings,17 church order instructions,18 wisdom sayings,19 miracle stories20), at other times in larger blocks of material by catchword or topical/thematic link. Elsewhere, the ordering rationale is not apparent at all, as in the Gospel of Thomas, a text which some scholars consider to be an early witness to Jesus' sayings largely independent of the canonical gospels, though others consider it later and derivative.21 The reconstructed
12 See Gamble, Books and readers, 24-8, 65.
13 See, e.g. 1 Cor 10:1 ('our ancestors'); Gal 3-4 and Rom 4 (Abraham, 'our forefather').
15 Berger, 'Hellenistische Gattungen,' 1031-1432; Aune, Westminster Dictionary, 187-190.
16 Mark 4 and parallels.
17 See Betz, Essays, 1-16, 55-69; and his Sermon on the Mount, on Matt 6:1-18 as a 'cultic didache'.
18 Koester, Ancient Christian gospels, 53-4.
20 Theissen, Miracle stories; Achtemeier, 'Pre-Markan miracle catenae'.
21 Koester, Ancient Christian gospels, 75-128, esp. 81; Aune, Westminster dictionary, 465-73 (with further literature).
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