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“1 Clement” and Christian Letter-Carriers

December 16, 2015

In my previous posting about Brent Shaw’s recent article on Nero and Roman Christians I mentioned the curious way that he treats the writing known now as “1 Clement” (commonly dated ca. 95-97 AD).  Further to that, I note the newly-published essay by Peter M. Head, “‘Witnesses between You and Us’:  The Role of Letter-Carriers in 1 Clement, in Studies on the Text of the New Testament and Early Christianity:  Essays in Honor of Michael W. Holmes on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner, Juan Hernandez and Paul Foster (Leiden:  Brill, 2015), 477-93.

After reviewing major matters widely accepted about the letter among scholars, Head focuses on the named individuals who were apparently sent with this letter from the Roman church to the Corinthian church:  Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Bito, and Fortunatus (1 Clem. 65:1).  He argues (cogently to my mind) that they are not simply letter-carriers, but important emissaries of the Roman church, who likely had a role in amplifying further the concerns of those who sent them, and may have been intended to have a role also in the resolution of the problem in the Corinthian church.

With previous scholars, Head notes also that the names of these individuals suggest that Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito were likely freedmen of the imperial household.  Their names reflect the family name of Claudius (emperor, 41-54 AD) and his wife Messalina (from the family of Valerius).  Such individuals would have had “a prominent social position” (492), illustrating the early inroads Christianity was beginning to make in somewhat higher levels of Roman society.

Head’s essay appears in the newly-published volume of 27 contributions honouring Michael Holmes, among which my own essay on the papyrus fragments known as P22, mentioned in a previous posting (here), also appears.  My contributor’s copy of the volume arrived yesterday, so I’ve only had time to glance through it thus far, quickly reading Head’s essay because of its subject.

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5 Comments
  1. Andrew T. permalink

    Dr Hurtado, I have been interested for a while in reading some of your books when I have time. But I just want you to answer one thing for me point-blank: did the early Christians of the New Testament period believe that Jesus was himself God (equal to the Father), or did they insist on him being subordinate? In other words, was Athanasius being the traditionalist, or was Arius?

    • Both Athanasius and Arius were working with concepts and categories that weren’t employed in texts such as we find in the NT. So, it’s anachronistic to try to make the NT speak to those later issues.
      NT texts always define Jesus’ divine status with reference to God “the Father,” and define Jesus’ purpose and actions as the agency through whom God works. In that sense at least, Jesus is subordinate to the Father. Arius took this subordination in an essentialist direction, which is to go farther than the NT writings.

  2. Griffin permalink

    The early interventions of the Roman church in Christianity are interesting and sometimes controversial, both to Catholics and to Protestants.

    Some see that Roman influence as not entirely new. But as a continuation of the steady projection of Roman power into this region. Which had begun in earnest in 64 BC.

    • Hmm. Well, there was no support or direct connection of Roman imperial power with Christianity until the 4th century, so that can’t account for 1 Clement!

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