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“Dyadic” Devotional Pattern

December 5, 2011

En route to the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (this year in San Francisco) in November, I stopped for to give invited lectures in Loyola University (Chicago) and Baylor University (Waco, Texas), on “Jesus in Earliest Christian Prayer”.  I enjoyed these visits and am grateful for the interest and interaction of staff and students.

One of the items I mentioned in these lectures and the discussions that followed is that, after frustrating efforts to clarify my use of the term “binitarian devotional pattern” (my description of the early Christian pattern of devotion directed toward God and Jesus uniquely), I’ve dropped the term in favor of what I hope will be a more helpful expression. 

I propose the label “dyadic devotional pattern.”  A “dyad” is a combination of two items linked to each other.  So far as I know, the term has no previous usage in theology or discussions of earliest Christianity (but that may only reflect the limits of my knowledge).  It certainly hasn’t featured very prominently, and doesn’t seem to have any theological “cargo”. 

As I point out in my lecture, the earliest Christian devotional pattern seems to be what I call a “shaped dyad”, meaning that the one figure, Jesus, is defined and reverenced with reference to, and as agent/expression of the other figure, God.  That is, there is a subordination (at least functionally) of the one (Jesus) to the other (God).  (I know, I know, “subordinationism” has a complicated theological history, but I don’t want to get into that, and I don’t intend any importatation of that history into my use of this term.)

In a session held as part of the SBL meeting in which I took part, there was a very interesting presentation in which the origins of the term “binitarian” were placed in the late 19th or early 20th century.  I’ve just done a quick n-gram search of the Google corpus of English-language books (a very interesting tool available online via the Google people), and it’s interesting that the earliest uses identified are from the very early 1900s, with a couple of real “spikes” in frequency 1980-2000.

Anyway, I hope that we can engage the data, and can move on beyond quibbles over terms.  Earliest Christian devotion was directed to the one God of biblical tradition, and to the one “Lord” Jesus.  That is the phenomenon that rightly arouses serious scholarly curiosity, and justifies concerted efforts to map and understand it.

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  1. Annang Asumang permalink

    The “dyadic personality” as a Mediterranean social anthropological category is quite emphasized in textbooks by Malina, Neyrey and other social science biblical scholars. Your adoption of it actually situates the discussion of worship practices much more in the socio-historical milieu of early Christianity and so makes excellent sense

    • Well, actually, I’d like to avoid getting entangled in the sosrts of theories and issues you mention. I’m not talking about hypothetical “personality” types, but the phenomena of earliest Christian devotional practice and discourse, in which we have two linked figures: God and Jesus. That ALL I mean to describe in saying that it represents a “dyadic” pattern.

  2. I really enjoyed Binitarian. It’s a hurtado STAPLE word. There is so much ‘hurtado equity’ built into the term. What were some of the problems people expressed in understanding Binitarian?

    • Essentially, despite my entirely pelucid explanations of what I meant and didn’t mean in using the term “binitarian” to describe the devotional pattern of earliest Christians, others often accused me of trying to sneak in ontological categories from later theological developments. Note: people (esp. scholars!) tend to focus on theological issues and ignore that I’m focused on the worship practices of earliest Christianity. Anyway, since “dyadic” doesn’t seem to have any previous theological usage or cargo, I’m hoping we can proceed to discussions of the data . . . without all the terminological chaff.

      • I think this is a good choice since the use of “binitarian” has been a problem for others who focus on those theological categories. Indeed, “dyadic” (since it’s used by social scientists) does make it clear that you are not talking about theological categories but social practices.

  3. A good choice I think. The only other use of this I am aware of in discussions of early Christianity is in reference to the dyadic (or perhaps better, collectivist) orientation of ancient persons.

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