“Interactive Diversity” SBL Session
My article, “Interactive Diversity: A Proposed Model of Christian Origins,” Journal of Theological Studies 64 (2013): 445-62, was the focus of a session in this year’s annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (Atlanta, 21-24 November).
After my summary of the article, three senior colleagues, Paula Fredriksen, Carl Holladay, and Pheme Perkins, gave responses to the article. Thereafter, there was animated discussion involving the panel and a goodly-sized audience. (The pre-publication version of that article is available on this blog-site here.)
In the article, I tackled the now-familiar “trajectories” model of early Christian developments proposed influentially by James Robinson and Helmut Koester, showing examples of how it has involved dubious results. The trajectories model does reflect the sense of diversity in early Christianity, but I contend that it is inadequate as a model in allowing for the complexity of that diversity. For it seems to me that all our evidence points to a rich and vibrant interaction of the various early Christian groups.
Sometimes this was of a hostile nature, as in the well-known conflict of Paul and certain other Jewish Christians whom Paul refers to as “false brothers,” and even agents of Satan. Sometimes, however, perhaps more typically, this interaction was of a more positive nature, as reflected in the appropriation of “Q material” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, or the implicit affirmation of Peter in John 21.
Fredriksen’s response was very encouraging, essentially affirming the thrust of my article. I also found insightful her observation that my proposal focused more on the process of early Christian developments, doing better justice to the lively nature of early Christian exchanges.
Holladay seemed a bit more reserved in his view of my proposal, and offered a guarded defence of the trajectories model, while also granting the validity of my examples of its dubious use.
Perkins drew upon her extensive familiarity with scientific theory posing various approaches to model-building and judging that my proposal wasn’t really a fully-fledged model, but instead more of a pointer to the factors that we need to take into account in forming one. That may be a fair point.
We can see what appear to be valid trajectories, such as the widely-held view of a Pauline tradition that produced the Pastoral Epistles. In that and other valid instances, the textual data make it clear that there are connections. But, as I note in the article, there are other instances where a trajectory has been asserted without sound basis in the data. My main emphases in the article are (1) that our models and theories should be based in the data, and (2) that any model should allow for the diversity and the interactivity characteristic of early Christianity.
I’m grateful to the organizers of that SBL session, and to my colleagues who gave their time to study my article and reflect on it.