This dramatic 'bibliomachy' at the end of the period covered by this volume5 signifies an essential fact about early Christianity: it was a religious movement with texts at its very heart and soul, in its background and foreground. Its communities were characterised by a pervading, even obsessive preoccupation with and habitus for sacred literature. In the pre-Constantinian period, Christians succeeded in composing, collecting, distributing, interpreting and intimately incorporating a body of texts they found evocative enough to wish to live inside of.6 But how did a movement whose founder's only recorded act of writing was a short-lived and unread finger etching on wind-swept soil,7 within a century create, and in turn depend for its life upon, a vibrant literary culture?8
Earliest Christian traditions and 'scripture'
The pivotal figure in this development toward textual traditions was Paul, the earliest Christian author we know by name.9 But Paul himself already stood within and contemporaneous to some existing Christian literary traditions. The shorthand version of the euangelion,10 'gospel message', Paul recounts in i Corinthians 15:3-4 (and says he has himself received) is that 'Christ died on behalf of our sins according to the writings', and 'he has been raised on the third day according to the writings'. The earliest gospel message had texts in it, texts as central to it - in this case the holy scriptures of Israel. The first followers ofJesus ofNazareth had turned to their 'scriptures', the sacred texts of Judaism in the Hebrew and Greek languages, and sought to explain the Jesus whom they had come to know by what they found there. Paul could only have confidently summarised the message that these things were 'according to the scriptures' if he were certain his audience were already familiar with the key supporting texts.11 Because of this, and on the basis of well-attested parallels in both Jewish and Graeco-Roman literary culture, one of the earliest forms of early Christian literature was probably the 'testimonia collection'
5 On the 'battle of the literatures' between Homeric and Hesiodic epic and the Bible of the Christians, see Young, Biblical exegesis, 57.
6 'There was something about the Christian experience that drove [people] to record it in books, to express it, defend it, and explain it' (Goodspeed, History of early Christian literature, vi).
7 John 7:53-8:11 (fittingly, recounted in a textually uncertain passage!).
8 Later Christian authors will retroject authorial status onto Jesus (see Baarda, 'De Christi scriptis").
9 Note that Paul is the only one named by Speratus in our opening epigram.
10 See Mitchell, 'Rhetorical shorthand' .
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