Volume 13 (1975-76)


Current Approaches to Christian Origins


Co-chairs: David Efroymson (LaSalle) and Ross Kraemer


(13.1, October 7, 1975)

John Gager, Kingdom And Community, with response by Howard Kee


(13.2, November 18, 1975)

Samuel Laeuchli, The Drama Of Replay, Samuel Laeuchli


(13.3, January 27, 1976)

Van A. Harvey, How New Is The “New Quest”?


(13.4, February 24, 1976)

Richard A. Rubenstein, My Brother Paul, with response by Gerard Sloyan


(13.5, April 20, 1976)

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul, with response by Samuel Laeuchli





Topic for 1975-1976: Current Approaches to Christian Origins.

Meeting of October 7, 1975, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.


The initial session of the 1975-76 Seminar was convened by coordinator Robert A. Kraft. He explained that the current topic is an examination into some recent approaches being attempted in Christian origins with discussions on how they are bearing fruit, and what problems are involved. At each session, the author of some significant and recent work will present his/her methodology for response by some other scholar, and for discussion. Chairpersons for this topic were announced as Ross Kraemer and David Efroymson. The first meeting is to consider Kingdom and Community (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1975) by John Gager of Princeton University, with a response and critique by Howard Kee of Bryn Mawr College.


John Gager , Kingdom and Community,


Professor Gager explained the origins of the work as his attempt to understand why the study of early Christianity, as normally practiced, seems so different from the study of more “exotic” religions, in which the insights of anthropologists and sociologist are brought strongly to bear. In order to avoid possible misreadings, several things must be made clear:


(1) The study of the NT and early Christianity appears to be the most conservative and traditional field, in terms of methodology, in academic departments of religion. In his apprehension that the study of the NT may be becoming a moribund field, Prof. Gager felt that something both personal and professional was a stake.


(2) In this work, there is no attempt to identify with any single methodological point of view in terms of social anthropology, or with social anthropologists in general. Their insights, however, are desperately needed to salvage the field of Christian origins, and to make it a fit area of study for university departments of religion.


Prof. Howard Kee (Bryn Mawr) offered a critique and summary of Prof. Gager’s work:


This book serves as a reminder to those in the field of religious studies in general, and NT studies in particular, that there is unfinished business in the process of seeing early Christianity as an historical reality. W. Bauer, and later Koester and Robinson, led the way by pointing out the diversity of early Christianity, and by showing that early Christianity was a process, and not a single event. Gager, in the same line, attempts to avoid the three traps of NT studies: (1) the tendency to harmonize diversities, (2) the tendency to compartmentalize, and see each facet as a separate object, and (3) the tendency, in tracing a development, to settle on a particular fixed point as a norm or criterion. What has been missing in NT studies has been serious attention given to the interplay among: (1) the historical events which are reflected; (2) the religious ideas or aspirations expressed in the event and by the actors, and (3) the socio-economic-political setting. The tendency has been to concentrate on either or both of the first two, and to neglect the third. There seems to be nothing in the religious history of early Christianity similar to the treatment by Rostovtsev in The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire (Oxford: Clarendon, 1926, 1957(2)). Even those who have called for attention to the Sitz-im-Leben have been content with mere labels, and have not given real attention to the whole historical situation. The result has been the common employment of static, inaccurate, and inappropriate labels which obscure rather than define or clarify. Prof. Gager’s book is an important pointer to a more responsible and comprehensive way to look at the rise of Christianity.


In his introductory chapter, Prof. Gager declares his starting point in the words of J.Z. Smith: “The study of early Christian materials has been characterized by an overemphasis on a literary-historical and theological point of view to the detriment of the sociological” (p. 3). Following the perspectives of Peter Berger, K.O.L. Burridge, and others, Prof. Gager has attempted to recover the social world constructed by the emerging new religion of Christianity. In his terms, “Religion…is that particular mode of world being that seeks to ground its world in a sacred order, a realm that justifies and explains the arena of human existence in terms of the eternal nature of things” (p. 10). Looking at Christianity in its formative years, the emphasis he sees is on the construction of a social world in which old symbols are given new meaning, a new community is defined, and a new order of the sacred and new rituals are instituted. This all leads to a an integrated world view characterized by its own theology, its Christology, its view of scripture, and a set of sacred offices. Prof. Gager’s methodological perspective is necessarily a process and not a finished product, always subject to revision. It is to be differentiated from the polemical, ideological interpretations of F.C. Baur, Marx, and others.


The first study, “The End of Time and the Rise of Community,” is an attempt to apply the methodology of social anthropology, as evidenced in the studies of Melanesian cargo cults and other millenarian sects by Peter Worsley, Kenelm Burridge, I.C. Jarvie, and others, to the phenomenon of early Christianity. By the standards of analysis set up by the social anthropologists, it seems evident that early Christianity was of a millenarian nature, with a special emphasis on the community’s image of the prophet, in this case, Jesus. However, since one of Jarvie’s traits of a millenarian movement is its short-lived nature, it is also necessary to attempt to understand how Christianity survived this early stage. Here, the insights of L. Festinger and others, the theory of cognitive dissonance, comes into play. Early Christianity responded to disconfirmation by engaging in zealous missionary activity and by seeking identification with the group. It transformed itself through zeal and myth into a new entity, which was then able to survive as a community.


The second study, “The Quest for Legitimacy and Consolidation,” follows the insights of Max Weber and others that charismatic authority and the rise of institutional structures are complementary, and not antithetical. Likewise, controversy, both inside and outside a community, can lead to the establishment of legitimacy. Conflict with Judaism confirmed the church as true Israel; conflict with paganism confirmed Christianity as true wisdom; conflict with other Christians (heretics?) confirmed orthodoxy as a faithful representation of the faith of Jesus and the apostles. Through such conflict, a social world of Christianity was established.


“Religion and Society in the Early Roman Empire,” a study originating in PSCO 6.4 (1969), shows that by the 4th century social change had brought the lower and middle classes to the fore in Rome, while at the same time the church was moving toward an appreciation of Greek and Roman tradition. This mutual convergence prepared the way for the establishment of the church with the institutional and ideological systems necessary for survival in future centuries.


The final study, “The Success of Christianity,” points out a twofold set of distinctive factors which facilitated the ultimate triumph of Christianity. External factors, political and religious, were totally beyond the control of the emerging religious community. The internal factor was the radical sense of Christian community, with the figure of Jesus at its center.


In summarizing his reactions to Prof. Gager’s work, Prof. Kee noted the possibility that there might be some overreaction involved in this “social anthropological” approach. Careful exegesis is still essential for access to the NT; and since for many the NT is not merely an historical document, it should be handled with care. Prof. Gager should accept the challenge to continue his studies on his level and approach, and to clarify or criticize details of his or other studies. The approach is a valid and necessary one.




Following the presentations, the Seminar discussed various methodological aspects of Kingdom and Community. Basically, four questions were considered:


A. Specifically, how are sociological and anthropological insights applied to the field of early Christianity?


Perhaps the clearest example of this is in Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails (New York: Harper & Row, 1956) in chapter 2, while trying to determine why early Christianity survived when its basic millenarian premise was shown to be false. The theory of cognitive dissonance is applied to the situation. Cognitive dissonance occurs whenever an individual or community finds itself in a situation in which an important belief component is called into question and undermined by another belief or an event. When the belief component is solid and has social support, there are predictable paths which the individual or community follows to resolve the obvious contradiction. This theory was applied to the question of why early Christianity was so missionary in its outlook. When the church’s eschatology, its lack of political or societal connections, and its experience of the death of Jesus are considered, the theory of cognitive dissonance points to the heavy proselytizing and evangelizing as an attempt to resolve the dissonance; and in this case a quite successful one.


B. Where and how did this particular methodological insight begin? If it started with a personal problem with the available resource material on early Christianity, was it then a hit-or-miss process hoping to find something which would lead the study of early Christianity out of its impending morbidity? Does this sort of thing ever start with a theory, and then try to prove it; or could it be an extended attempt at verbalizing an implicit personal theory?


In this case, there was some aspect of a hit-or-miss process in determining which theories seemed most helpful. Available resources and theories gave direction, but did not hinder the excitement of discovery in the process itself. There was no attempt at verbalizing implicit theories, or uncovering a hidden agenda. Prof. Gager enjoyed a fine balance between playing with new and interesting ideas, and in following borrowed insights as an aid in the search. It was a matter of the mood of the former, and process largely of the latter. The two are not alternatives, but must be used together -- a convergence of unresolved problems and methods which seem illuminating.


C. What were your assumptions? Have they changed from what they were before you began the study?


There are no really new assumptions developed from the work, but there are two basic assumptions which should be stated: (1) We can no longer assume that there are fundamental distinctions between Christians, pagans, and Jews in the era of early Christianity. The practice of historical particularism has prevented us from developing an interest in what these groups shared, and kept us in the less fruitful study of what were their differences. (2) There is a sense in which religious experience is universal. This is not in the terms of the phenomenologists, who act as though other than ritual and mythic facts were not existent. To assume eternally constant religious symbolism tends to distort the phenomena themselves. Economic and political factors are fundamental to human activities, but are not the essence of religion. However, the range of human religious responses is necessarily finite, even though they vary according to the situation. Among these responses we find the universality of religious experience.


D. What is the place of theory in this or any investigation of early Christianity?


It is virtually impossible to operate without some sort of theory. What is needed is good theory, which is subject to control, as opposed to bad theory which creates its own thought world and is not subject to control. The history o religions schools, for example, implicitly claim that the other religions in the Graeco-Roman world had a causal influence on Christianity, rather than all sharing the same world or worlds. Another test case could be that of the schools of Bultmann, which utilizes its theory in order to universalize human experience in terms of a particular model of existentialist thought. In dealing with the NT, this tends to cause a sloughing off of that material which does not seems to conform to the theory, with a dangerous self-corroborating effect. Social anthropology, however, has often developed a pattern of human self-understanding based on the dynamic process of social movements as they emerge, change, and adapt, and which makes sense of the material. These theories, at their best, are explicit and correspond to what can be observed; i.e. they deal with the evidence. It is interesting to note that some pioneers in the field of early Christianity, e.g. A.D. Nock and E. R. Dodd, shared an aversion to sociology which prevented them from making explicit some of their best insights. Good theory gives perspective to one’s work, but theory may also create a sort of tunnel vision which narrows excessively one’s point of view.


Respectfully Submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1975-76: Current Approaches to Christian Origins.

Meeting of November 18, 1975, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.


The session of the 1975-1976 Seminar was convened by coordinator Robert A. Kraft. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard and discussed a presentation by Samuel Laeuchli of Temple University on his article, “The Drama of Replay,” in Freedman, Burke and Laeuchli, Searching in the Syntax of Things (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972) 71-126.


Samuel Laeuchli, The Drama of Replay


Were it written today, the article would bear an introduction containing a structure of analysis of the field of patristic studies. Such studies operate within a framework of a series of polarities:


(1) As throughout the entire world of science, there is a tension between the hermeneutic and the positivistic. At one level, we must be faithful to the positivistic structure inherited from the 19th century, but at another level, we must translate into our own structure, and create our own hermeneutic, in order to understand it.


(2) We are caught in the inevitable tension between reenactment and reduction. While we must reduce in order to express ourselves, e.g. we often confine the study of an historical personage to certain critical issues, we must nevertheless reenact in order to bring the person or place or time back to life for study.


(3) There is a tension between the diachronic and the synchronic. As regards the former, it is obvious that there must be constructed a sequence in history, to determine the sources of ideas and movements etc.; i.e. “pure history.” However, it is also necessary to see synchronically, so that a person or his time is seen as a unity, enabling us to analyze the relation of ideas or words, beyond the ideas or words themselves.


(4) Underlying these three tensions in the field of patristics is the basic tension between science and art. It cannot be resolved -- only compromised. The analysis of a patristic personage or his time requires cool scientific confrontation, seeking hard proofs. The expression of the result of study requires an artistic synthesis, putting things together in a way that communicates and even excites.


In understanding and teaching history as drama/event, the event of understanding is as much an event as is the original work which is the focus of the study. With different students, the event may change, as individuals and their backgrounds and talents differ. Again, issues change, and the event of understanding is affected, as in the introduction of social-scientific value judgments into patristics. A successful method of teaching patristics involves a series of steps, in which an interaction takes place between people confronting a document. The essence of the method is not in any one of these steps, but in their totality. Determined by both the nature of the source material and the nature of the students, the steps deliberately go back and forth from diachronic to synchronic -- from historical sequence to the unity of structure. By such juxtaposition, the drama of history becomes a drama involving the student and teacher, leading to an understanding of the dynamic of a patristic personage and his times.


The purpose of Searching in the Syntax of Things was to raise radical new questions on how to understand religion, and to show that religion is understood not only by science but by art, with tension leading to understanding. Utilizing art to understand the past is definitely not a mere hobby or the discoveries of a dilettante. It is a quite serious investigation into one of the chief factors in human understanding.


“The Drama of Replay” is an illustration of this approach to history as a drama/event. In this case, the patristic personage is Ignatius. At the risk of gross reductionism, the steps used by Prof. Laeuchli are listed below. The same steps would not apply directly to other studies, but the basic principles would:


(1) The first stage of the methodology is to become conscious of the cultural, intellectual, and personal framework from which I as a student start the work. I must understand the forces which have formed my own outlook, and the hermeneutical processes involved in my own understanding.


(2) The second step is to lay out the background from which Ignatius of Antioch came. This involves a number of contexts: geographic, urban, political, economic, legal, religious, psychological, etc.


(3) Questions must be asked about the socio-linguistic dynamic behind Ignatius, and the individual creativity within him. These questions, both historical-biographical and analytical-structural, are directed toward his linguistic heritage, his linguistic models, and the level of linguistic ambiguity of the man and his times.


(4) Next, the document itself (in this case, the letters of Ignatius). Why were they written? To whom? For what purpose? Units of thought which we call schemata are isolated, based on our own insights into Ignatius’ human expression and social interaction. In this case, there are no schemata of henosis, thanatos, arcaneness, monarchic rule, historical recital, and mythic projection. The last schema is itself divided, since during Ignatius’ era mythic language was in the process of being transformed into or juxtaposed to metaphysic language. These schemata point out the answers to certain historical questions, as well as indicate the ambiguity of the man Ignatius and pluralism of his belief worlds. The ambiguity of his language, as well as language in general, is also evident.


(5) The final step examines Ignatius’ contribution to the future. This involves offering interpretative explanations in larger contexts, leading back to the hermeneutic problem with which the inquiry began. Three problems are involved here: monepiscopacy, martyrdom, and Gnosticism. Interpretative choices are necessary, since the historical evidence is “open” and unnecessarily unfinished. Within the limits of the given structure, the historian experiments creatively in order to understand.


Response, Robert A. Kraft


Following the presentation, a short response was given by Dr. Kraft. He sees Prof. Laeuchli as primarily an aesthetist, who approaches with appreciation the poetry, myth, and drama in history. His method is not so revolutionary or different as it might seem at first, and is quite helpful in analyzing both the process and the pitfalls of the study of history. There may be a tendency toward too quick generalization, without conscious methodological control, but the result certainly leads to better understanding of Ignatius himself. The final step, involving Ignatius’ contribution to the future, may not really be as necessary as the others to the whole process. The problems of the the study of history are clear: life then was certainly as complicated as it is now; it is necessary to work by analogy; there exists some hard data on which to hang our analysis. Somewhere in there must be a clue as to what the particular author being studied is trying to do, and how he sees himself.




The Seminar discussed at length the problem which exists in confusing the two worlds involved in Prof. Laeuchli’s five steps: the world of the student and the world of the studied. It seems obvious that the communication of historical knowledge always involves the life-world of the participant as well as the social world from which he comes, yet it is often too easy to identify this world with the cosmos operative in the person or era being studied. Particular attention must be paid to an encompassing, carefully analytic approach to the reconstruction of an historical cosmos.


The inherent ambiguity of language is a factor which causes confusion of life-worlds of the student and the studied. While not all language is ambiguous, of course, in the areas of myth and religion some ambiguity is almost always present. Even in cases where the ambiguity appears to be under control, or the author is at least aware of it and keeps it in tension, it creates a problem to our understanding of the author’s thought. An important example with Ignatius is that of the ancient primal structure of salvation, in which one is considered to be saved now, but not yet saved until some great time in the future.


Another complicating factor is the tendency of modern scholars to identify certain “timeless categories” of thought which are then transferred from one studied era to another. Obviously, one must assume certain common elements of humanity, so that analogies are appropriate; but one must also assume that there are differentia. The problem comes in sorting them out. Finding universal patterns of human behavior in great abundance, either on a linguistic or a mythological level, can lead to our adducing virtually anything from our own experiences, and thus reducing an author says to mere human psychological/social experiences.


With Ignatius, as with any other historical personage, we begin with a specific event in time and place; in this case the dictation of a series of seven letters. The Sitz-im-Leben is the whole Roman culture, and particularly one aspect of it: the world of Antioch. About Antioch, however, we know comparatively little. This means that we must educe much of Ignatius’ world from his own words. Ignatius, however, is extremely close-mouthed about his own background. He says nothing about his youth, his parents, his culture. He mentions not one woman. His explanation of the monepiscopacy is hardly complete, even though he seems to advocate it so strongly. He give no concrete examples, not even to or about Rome. His letter there is not even addressed to a bishop.


The Seminar discussed also the problem inherent in such studies: that of getting behind the person studied to his intent. In the case of Ignatius, it seems to be a matter of determining his intent, no matter what he might say instead. Prof. Laeuchli’s article tentatively concludes that Ignatius might not be reflecting reality in his letter. There is a good chance that he was not really a bishop, or at least not recognized as such by most of the church. Likewise, there is no real evidence that he was condemned to die. He may instead have been expressing a wish for martyrdom, with its assurance of salvation. At any rate, his wording seems to be hiding something, giving the impression that he is not telling the whole story. His power statements are strangely emotional, rather than practical. Likewise, his statements on martyrdom seem to imply a certain longing to share in that fate, based perhaps on a determination to take the words of Jesus quite seriously, that we should lose our lives to save them. How, in our studies, can we control this problem of intent?


It was mentioned in Ignatius’ defense that these letters appear to be his terminal reflections, and so should be taken more seriously than we might otherwise. This seems to beg the question. Ignatius refuses to become specific about his impending death, except perhaps about the place, and talks only in abstractions. Do we have the right to make an analogy to our times and categories and decide that he was not related to reality?


Respectfully submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary.





Topic for 1975-1976: Current Approaches to Christian Origins.

Meeting of January 27, 1976, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.


The third session of the 1975-1976 Seminar was convened by coordinator Robert A. Kraft. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar discussed with Van A. Harvey of the University of Pennsylvania the article “How New Is the ‘New Quest of the Historical Jesus’?,” written by Prof. Harvey and Schubert M. Ogden, and published in The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ (ed. C. A. Braaten and R. A. Harrisville. New York: Abingdon, 1964).


Van A. Harvey, How New Is the “New Quest”?


The article in The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ came as the result of inquiries into certain theological concerns: (1) the understanding and articulation of the context of Christian belief; (2) the ascertaining of the legitimacy of particular Christian claims. Biblical criticism has come as a kind of revolution for the Christian consciousness in that it has introduced the justification of historical claims into a realm otherwise characterized by judgments of faith. The original inquiries for the article were into what historians were doing; i.e. their methods in handling faith materials, and kinds of assent which can be given to historical utterances. Inquiries were also made into the relationship of fact to interpretation; i.e. the relationship between historical claims and faith claims.


A suitable source for such inquiries ought to be the historical research into the life of Jesus, in which theologians have actually handled the problem, and in which they have attempted to overcome the embarrassment which Biblical criticism offers to the Christian faith. A New Quest of the Historical Jesus by James Robinson (London: SCM, 1959) seemed at first to herald a new technique for historians, and to give us a new possibility of reconstructing the historical Jesus; i.e. through the search for the “existential selfhood” of Jesus. Robinson posits that what was preserved in the NT is just what was expected to be retained by those who shared Jesus’ self-understanding. By utilizing insights of Rudolph Bultmann which he himself tended to subconsciously suppress, but which his students had brought to the fore, it should be possible to get at Jesus’ understanding of his own selfhood. Unfortunately, Robinson appears to have failed for several reasons: (1) He has misunderstood Bultmann by dividing his theology into a “classical position” and an “undercurrent,” the latter supposedly developed by Bornkamm, Kasemann, Ebling, Fuchs, and others. A thorough examination of Bultmann’s writings does not reveal such a division, but shows that the theologian was aware of the historiographical implications of his thought. (2) Even if Robinson were correct, the whole business is misconceived on historical and theological grounds. A search for Jesus’ own existential selfhood must be based on even harder data than that involved in the “old” quest. It requires chronological and biographical data not available, and hinges ultimately on why and how Jesus met his death -- questions requiring faith judgments which are beyond the limits of mere historicity. Bultmann, at least, was seeking the understanding of human existence encountered in the sayings of Jesus from the oldest layer of the synoptic tradition; Robinson seeks to go beyond even that to Jesus himself. It is even less possible to determine exactly what Jesus thought himself to be than to determine exactly what he said and did. We cannot know Jesus’ own faith: what he felt was his relationship to John the Baptist; why he did not falter on the way to the cross. Bultmann sought to involve the reader existentially, but as an individual, not as an historian. Historicity has rendered the “new” quest problematic at best.


The Seminar considered the relationship of hard historical fact to faith. It may be that the quest for fact, as we understand it, dates only from the 16th century, as a spinoff from the awakening historical consciousness. In this century, theologians appear to need the fact of Jesus, perhaps even more than historians do. The believer wants myth to be true, in a modern sense, and can be disillusioned if what seems to be history turns out to be a useful, if less than factual, image, hinging on the function of the story rather than on the historical. A full symbol system keeps the question of facticity in the background. The modern desire for “truth” leads to the realization that truth itself is internal to a category system, and that even the system which defines “literal truth” is relative. The new hermeneutic, faced with the same historical consciousness, bases itself on the premise that there is no “real truth,” and that there is not just one reading of a given text. To the less sophisticated, this can be shattering, and people resist being shattered. It appears possible to do theology on the basis of a less than complete facticity, but in the current era this has been for the most part somewhat less than successful.


Perhaps the difficulty may stem in part from a shift in the social location of theology. In this country, NT scholars have taken on the ethos and cognitive norms of the pluralistic university, whereas in Europe such work is often still done within the context of the church; i.e. it is not neutral, but tendentiously Christian. The American practice puts a cognitive strain on writing for the faithful. There is no major book on the NT written in America in the last 15 years for both the theological community and the university. Scholars in the universities are not addressing the needs of the theological faculties and the seminaries. The university does not seem to be the place to do normative theology, and the seminaries are alienated from it. Such theology is necessary to a culture, and in our case the only normative theology left seems to be non-religionist. There are notable exceptions. The fundamentalist community still retains cognitive control; i.e. still employs scholarship in the interest of something. Likewise, some Roman Catholic theologians appear to write for both the academics and the faithful, but not necessarily in the same works.


In the universities, the purpose of the search for knowledge appears to be lost. The humanistic interest has been replaced by bureaucratic and career concerns -- movement and promotion within and among universities, rank, money. Unfortunately, this does not justify the existence of the institutions themselves. It may be that departments of religion are the last bastions of the humanistic tradition in the universities.


The Seminar discussed the rather pessimistic thesis outlined above, and several members disputed it. It was averred that, at least in some academic institutions, humanistic concerns are strongly felt, and some “scientific” disciplines are becoming interested in becoming oriented toward humanistic matters, as for example in the move from linguistic studies toward a fuller humanism in some departments of religion. The issue was not resolved when the discussion ended.


Respectfully Submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1975-1976: Current Approaches to Christian Origins.

Meeting of February 24, 1976, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.


The fourth session of the 1975-1976 Seminar was convened by coordinator Robert A. Kraft. After customary introductions and announcements, the Seminar heard a presentation by Richard L. Rubenstein of Florida State University on his book, My Brother Paul (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). The presentation was largely in dialogue with Gerard S. Sloyan of Temple University and others in the Seminar.


Richard L. Rubenstein, My Brother Paul


While participating in Judeo-Christian dialogue, it became evident to the author that Paul was too crucial a figure to be ignored. Although not a NT scholar, Prof. Rubenstein made an extended and serious attempt to get to the classic source of the Judeo-Christian interchange, i.e. to Paul himself through his letters. Following his own psychoanalysis, Prof. Rubenstein no longer felt it necessary to interpret reality within the confines of his own former tradition. No longer an adversary of Paul, he did not feel compelled to defend one view of the reality which Paul thought could only be fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was released from the Judaism of the Pharisaic tradition, which itself came to the fore only through the power needs of the Roman Empire. This does not mean that Prof. Rubenstein no longer considers himself Jewish.


My Brother Paul is a personal approach to the apostle, using insights from the psychoanalytic tradition. Without accepting Paul’s intellectual and theological cosmos and convictions, Prof. Rubenstein has found himself, as one who has gone through many similar psychological experiences, very much allied with him. With this sympathy, an analysis is made in the book of various aspects of Paul’s thought, in terms of the categories of psychoanalysis: “The Womb of Immortality,” “Totemic Atonement,” “The Lord’s Meal,” “The Apostle and the Seed of Abraham,” “The Last Adam.” Prof. Sloyan noted that the book is quite at home in current NT scholarship, in a way that the works of earlier Jewish scholars are not. The author’s instincts about Paul seem quite sound, except perhaps following J. Munck too closely. He does not reflect anger at Christian interpretations of Paul which are often implicitly anti-Jewish. In fact, the Christianity reflected in the book seems entirely faithful to what Christians often see their own faith to be; as, for example, in the treatment of Paul’s Christ mysticism. It is noted, however, that the book calls in question certain of Freud’s rather basic theories; e.g. the factuality of the oedipal instinct, as opposed to a more general generational rivalry. Prof. Rubenstein noted that Freud was not so much a doctrinaire theoretician as an experimental clinician with great theory- and myth-making capacity. His theories and myths are helpful in understanding the true hopes and goals of an individual, and are not to be thought of as ends in themselves.


This study of Paul really began with a study of those portions of the haggada which told the tales and myths of the rabbis. These legends and myths often expressed the most profound hopes and fear of the faithful. To look at Paul psychoanalytically is to look at his implicit goals, and to find a way to take him literally. The psychoanalytical method allows one to be non-judgmental and empathetic with the material, without necessarily identifying with it or being threatened by it. It may be that while we do not have enough material for a psychoanalytical biography of Paul, we do have a record of his expressions and aspirations, hopes, and fantasies. By attempting to give them Paul’s own interpretation, they make sense. The psychoanalytical approach enables us to get at this material and to make sense of it; i.e. to find Paul’s own meaning.


Members of the Seminar noted that, in spite of this radically different approach to Paul, the conclusions seem to point to an apostle not very different from that derived from more traditional disciplines. This raises the possibility that Prof. Rubenstein’s understanding of Paul is actually derived from a careful study of the source materials, and that the application of Freudian techniques to that understanding is helpful mainly to the scholar himself. An ever-present danger in the psychoanalytical approach is the temptation to supply details which are not available in the sources, but which have a ring of psychological truth. Examples from the book are the details of the manner in which Paul fell to the ground at Damascus (p. 48), and the addition of Cain and Abel to Paul’s list of fraternal rivals (p. 138).


It was noted that in My Brother Paul, the apostle seems quite systematic in his theological outlook, while in actuality the Paul of Thessalonians appears to be quite different from the Paul of Galatians. Since the theology of Thessalonians does not appear to fit into Prof. Rubenstein’s system, it may be that the psychoanalytical approach may not be terribly helpful in making sense out of different passages in the Pauline corpus. In reply, Prof. Rubenstein acknowledged that his book neglects the developmental aspects of the apostle. For him, this was a pioneering work, and suffers from a lack of precedents. Were the work being done now, the developmental aspect would be a large concern.


Prof. Sloyan noted that the book seems to imply that Christianity shifted away from the stress on the fatherhood of God to the brotherhood of Christ, and wondered whether this was really the case. Prof. Rubenstein directed the Seminar’s attention to p. 33, in which it is stated that Paul did not give up the idea of obedience to the father, but instead insisted that there is a true intermediary. By identifying with the mediator, Christians can have his merit and reap the benefits of his obedience. Both Judaism and Christianity share the same fundamental problem: how to get right with the father. In Judaism, it is by obedience to the Law; in Christianity, it is by identification with the incarnational son who bridged the gap between the father and the world, and obeyed the father to the death.


In discussing sacrifice, it was noted that the book stresses the symbolism of killing or slaughtering, and eating the sacrifice, but says nothing about the application of blood to the altar. In reply, it was noted that the blood of the Passover lamb on the door lintel was a symbol that the surrogate sacrifice (the lamb) was accepted. The blood is not so important, either in Judaism or in Christianity, as is the killing and eating. Christianity brings to the surface what Judaism has repressed -- that the Passover lamb is a late substitute for a Semitic cannibalistic sacrifice. With Isaac, God did not want the sacrifice; but with Christ, the sacrifice was the most acceptable thing.


Page 106 of My Brother Paul speaks of Paul’s emphasis on the difference between the aborted redemption achieved by Moses and the perfect redemption achieved by Christ. Prof. Rubenstein was asked if this means that, according to Paul, Moses’ redemption will not achieve victory over sin and death. In answer, he pointed out that this is indeed the meaning, and it leads to the whole question of death. To the rabbis, death is punitive, and thus an aborted redemption; while to Paul, death is a perfect redemption with no overtones of punishment. Paul’s idea of the resurrection of the flesh is quite different from that of the Pharisees, even though Paul called himself a Pharisee. It is the difference between an event which one awaits and an event which one looks back upon. The Pharisees saw the resurrection as a future event, and so were not quite so sure. Paul, after Damascus, saw the resurrection as an event which had already taken place, and was thus absolutely certain. Paul’s belief in resurrection was grounded in experience, which is not quite the same as the aspirations of the Pharisees.


Members of the Seminar drew particular attention to the outstanding quality of chapters 7 and 8 in My Brother Paul. Chapter 7, “The Apostle and the Seed of Abraham,” shows that Paul was no apostate from Judaism or betrayer of his people. Prof. Rubenstein explained that when Jews read Paul, they read him as if Christianity were the majority religion, and Paul had set out to persecute the Jews. This view of Paul as the greatest apostate is understandable, since over the centuries the worst enemies of the Jews have been Jewish converts to Christianity. Paul, however, does not fit this category. The power relationships were different then. Paul’s attacks on “Judaism” were actually an in-house struggle, not unlike those reflected with great vehemence in the attacks of one sect upon another in the Qumran texts. It was only later that Paul’s words were used outside the family.


Chapter 8, “The Last Adam,” is a marvelous treatment of Rom 5:12 and 1 Cor 15: 20-24. It explains how, according to Paul, Christ as the last Adam undoes the damage wrought by the first Adam, and that this is an expected function of the messiah. Our attention was drawn to Sabbatai Svi, a 17th century Jew who declared himself the messiah, attracted many followers, and later to save his life became a Muslim; i.e. an apostate messiah. A Sabbaddian theology developed for Jews who persisted in believing in him, included not only the idea of Sabbatai Svi as the last Adam, but an antinomian doctrine of salvation by faith and the messiah. There is a certain dialectic to messianism which keeps surfacing, even in wildly different circumstances.


The suggestion was made that the Freudian models used in Prof. Rubenstein’s analysis made it difficult to understand how so many women were attracted to early Christianity, since so many of the models were male oriented. Prof. Rubenstein remarked that the “masculine bias” of Freud is probably exaggerated (vz. Juliette Mitchell. Psychoanalysis and Feminism. New York: Pantheon, 1974). There was in the doctrine of Christ as the end of the Law a liberating element for women that must be taken seriously, even if it was quite short lived. The status of women in Judaism is clearly prescribed; if the age of the Law is completed, women have the option to be free. Baptism, as a replacement for circumcision, is sex-inclusive, and shows this liberating influence. The early church, however, probably shared with Judaism the idea of the father God, which reflected their fear of feminine deities and a defense against the cannibal mother.


Respectfully Submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary





Topic for 1975-1976: Current Approaches to Christian Origins.

Meeting of April 20, 1976, 7 p.m., Williams Hall, University of Pennsylvania.


The final session of the 1975-1976 Seminar was convened by coordinator Robert A. Kraft. After considerable discussion, the Seminar determined a topic for the 1976-1977 season: “Magic: the Phenomenon and Issue in the Greco-Roman World,” chaired by Howard Kee and David Efroymson. The Seminar then heard a presentation by Elaine Pagels of Barnard College and Columbia University on her book, The Gnostic Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), with a response by Samuel Laeuchli and discussion by members of the Seminar.


Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul


The Gnostic Paul project began with a study in the history of hermeneutics, specifically on how certain scriptures are interpreted to fit the purposes of particular peoples. While dealing with gnostic exegesis of the gospel of John, it suddenly became apparent that Heracleon, Origen’s chief gnostic opponent, was using Paul as the basis of his arguments. However, anyone who knows NT scholarship knows that the gnostics were Paul’s greatest enemy, and that Paul wrote his letters, especially 1 Corinthians, as an attack on them. This picture, as advocated in this century by Bultmann, Bornkamm, Schmithals, Wilckens, and others, has Paul using “gnostic” terms to refute “proto-gnostics.” Later, Paul’s ideas were used by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, and others to refute the Valentinian successors to the original opponents of Paul; i.e. Ptolemy and Heracleon. (See schema 1.)


An easy temptation is to assume that the gnostics used distortions of Paul’s thought without understanding him or it. However, discoveries at Nag Hammadi and elsewhere show that the gnostics, especially Valentinian, not only used Paul extensively, but in fact refer to him as “The Apostle,” the great gnostic teacher. Even more striking is the extensive gnostic use of the “anti-gnostic” 1 Corinthians in such works as the Epistle to Rheginos or a recently published Valentinian homily on 1 Corinthians 12. That the gnostics were using Paul as a basis for their theology seems evident, upon hindsight, from the anti-gnostic complaints of 1 Pe 3:16, Irenaeus, etc.


The Valentinians claimed that their theology was based on the secret doctrine of Paul, taught to Valentinus by Theudas, pupil of Paul himself. To them, Paul taught in two ways at once, to two different constituencies. The written, exoteric meaning was meant for the psychics, or incomplete Christians. To the complete, or pneumatic, Christians, acquainted with the oral teaching of Paul, esoteric meanings could be seen through the written words. The basic themes of Paul, election and grace, indicate an emphasis on teaching the elect (pneumatics), as opposed to works Christians.


In The Gnostic Paul, an attempt is made to see how the gnostics read Paul. The procedure was to take each verse of the Greek text, and look for references or allusions in the gnostic works now available, thereby setting forth the evidence for the gnostic interpretation of specific passages. As a result, there is discovered a pattern of gnostic exegesis, and new insight into the posthumous development of Pauline thought. (See schema 2.) Those scholars who see gnostic terms in Paul are actually referring to 2d century evidence for terms themselves -- a potentially dangerous tactic. H. Conzelmann, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, finds it more satisfactory to label this terminology that of Jewish wisdom, used against various opponents, and not presupposing gnostic opponents at all.


Following Paul, the Pauline tradition developed in different directions, each emphasizing a different aspect of his character.


(1) The Paul of Acts: an apostle, in harmony with the twelve.


(2) The Paul of the pastoral letters: an organizer of the orthodox ecclesiastical community, defender of the disciples, and an antagonist against all heresies.


(3) The Paul of Ephesians and Colossians: a mystic, praising the gifts of wisdom and gnosis, referring to the mystery of God, stressing that the Christian is already with Christ.


In the 2d century, two images of Paul surfaced: the anti-gnostic Paul of the pastorals and the gnostic Paul. When Valentinian and other gnostic teachers interpreted Paul, they preferred to use Ephesians and Colossians along with the genuine Pauline letters, and ignored the pastorals. They went further than Ephesians and Colossians and interpreted Paul as a visionary and a teacher of secret mysteries. Irenaeus, outraged at what he saw as a false interpretation of the apostle, revived the image of Paul as an “orthodox” advocate. He adapted the pastoral letters as his chief source in claiming that Paul was on his side, an anti-gnostic. This latter image of Paul is the one that has persisted, as the church and NT scholars have continued in the tradition of Irenaeus and other “orthodox” fathers. Our study has shown that the anti-gnostic Paul and the gnostic Paul are each caricatures, reflecting different directions in which the early church interpreted the apostle.


Prof. Laeuchli’s response consisted of several observations:


(1) The Gnostic Paul is not a book on Paul at all, but on sentences by Paul, transmuted and quoted for a polemical and didactic purpose. Harnack has said that it was the gnostics who taught the church how to exegete, and he is probably right. Gnostic, and other, exegesis of Paul is more interested in quoting Paul than in finding the human being behind the writings.


(2) The gnostic Paul is a translation of sentences from one cultural framework to another; from a 1st century Jewish Christian polemic to another polemic wholly outside the Jewish-Christian milieu. Paul’s contention between Christian and Jew became a struggle between pneumatic and psychic. The Pauline external conflict was internalized, to the extent that the gnostic writers were not interested in polemics at all. It became a matter of an aggressive, exclusive, restrained orthodoxy set against a non-aggressive, inclusive, “free” Gnosticism. Orthodox political arrogance was set against gnostic intellectual arrogance.


(3) We should note the extraordinary internalization of the cosmic problem in gnostic exegesis. There is no external problem at all; the world has been reduced to a mental framework, and gnostics live as though the world did not exist. The demiurge has been inserted as a means of explaining polarities, and reducing the ultimate conflict.


(4) There is something extraordinarily bloodless in the gnostic Paul -- no arrogance, no deceit, no passion. He is not presented as a mystagogue, nor as a person at all. Paul has become a construction, a scheme, a gnosis not human: incoherent and poetic sentences logical only in their lack of logic. This may be gnosticism, but it is not Paul anymore.




The discussion following the presentation and response covered varying aspects of Pauline Gnosticism.


H. Schneemelcher (ZKG 4.13: #75(1964) 1-20) has written of the eclipse of Pauline theology between 2 Peter and Irenaeus. Even the orthodox did not discuss Paul as a theologian during that period, but only as a churchman and martyr. There is, however, no textual evidence of gnostic usage of Paul during this period either, except in that orthodox writers came to speak of Paul as the “apostle of the heretics.” Irenaeus saw the need to recover Paul from the heretics, and to use him as a weapon in his polemical arsenal. The Seminar raised the question as to why orthodoxy would want to reclaim Paul at all, since his theological reputation had become so tarnished. Several suggestions were made:


(a) Earlier Jewish Christian polemic had put Paul on the side of the angels, and this reputation had not really been forgotten.


(b) The tradition of Paul as a locus of power and authority had been kept alive, as well as the narrative dimension of Paul in Acts. He could not be neglected by the orthodox if heretics were using him to advantage.


By the 2d century, the Greek church had become embarrassed by the tradition of Jesus the storyteller. They needed a theoretician, and found one in the already established figure of Paul, with an existing corpus of source material. The apostle may have been more gnostic than they at first realized, but they needed him nevertheless.


It is rather evident that Paul was ripe for exploitation by gnostics. There is a strong mystical element already in his writings, reflecting the mystical elements of Judaism in his day. Paul, in his rabbinic tradition, was a practitioner of the rich and imaginative use of texts taken out of context and exploited for his own use, in an attempt to make scripture functional in his new time and community. Gnostics applied the exegetical techniques of a beloved Christian leader to his writings, and for the same purpose. It is not at all unlikely that there really was a line of teaching from Paul to Theudas to Valentinus. Paul claimed to have conveyed secret teachings to certain groups, although there is no need to equate such esoteric teachings with Gnosticism. It is also reasonable to suppose that the “gnostic” language used by Paul was developed by gnostics into their own technical terminology. It is anachronistic to put second century meanings into Paul. In his own context, he may have originated their use.


Other thoughts from the Seminar:


It is not quite true to say that the gnostics were not polemical. Their Paul was a highly sophisticated individual; their polemic was against the simple Christians who had not achieved the highest level. Their very enterprise was polemic against ignorance. In gnostic writings, the bishop becomes the social equivalent of the demiurge; all the orthodox epithets of the bishop become epithets of the demiurge. Since an esoteric discipline is transmitted orally (face to face), the structure of the hierarchical church was strongly resisted.


In the same line, the gnostics carefully avoided any suggestion of a hierarchy, or indeed, of any permanent church government. Theirs was a true democracy of all pneumatics, with no difference between clergy and laity. Officers were chosen by lot for particular meetings only. This lack of specific leadership is reflected in the Nag Hammadi literature -- no names, no offices. Within the orthodox church, however, gnostics could and did infiltrate the power structure, since among the lower ranks of Christians such equality was not a factor.


Sentence exegesis was not only the technique of gnostics, but was the standard Greek exegetical tradition. Even while Irenaeus was attacking gnostics for their exegetical methods, he was using the same methods himself in rebuttal.


Respectfully Submitted, Robert V. Hotchkiss, Recording Secretary


Schema 1


Bultmann       Paul opposes ------>        (“proto”) gnostics       50-60 CE

G. Bornkamm    uses “gnostic” terms          |                      70

W. Schmithals  to refute them                |                      80

V. Wilckens    |                             |                      90

               |                             |                      100

          2 Peter: certain “ignorant        Theudas (disciple       110

          and unstable” persons twist        |of Paul teacher of Valentinus)

          Paul’s words “to their own         |   Marcion            120

          destruction” (3:16)                Valentinus             130

               |                             |                      140

               |                            Valentinian gnostics    150

             Irenaeus    use Paul            Ptolemy  Heracleon     160

             Tertullian  to oppose                                  170

             Hippolytus  Gnosticism                                 180




Schema 2


                    Paul -- encounters -->opponents (various)          50-60 CE

                    uses Jewish (wisdom?)                              70

H. Conzelmann       terms to deal with them                            80

E. Pagels                            |                                 90

                                    / \                                100

                                  /     \

“deutero Paul”       Timothy/Titus  Ephesians/Colossians               110

                        |                |        Hebrews              120

                        |                |

                        |             Theudas      Alexandrian canon   130

                        |             (disciple    Rom/Cor/Gal/Thess   135

                        |              of Paul)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Eph/Phil/Col/Hebr

                        |                |                  “gnostic” Paul

“anti-gnostic”          |                |         Marcion             140

 Paul               Irenaeus       Valentinus                          150 incorporated       Tertullian

into the           Hippolytus 

“Catholic”              |  (use Tim/Titus  

tradition               |   to oppose          Valentinians: Ptolemy   160

                        |   gnostics)          (G. Truth     Heracleon 170

                        |                       G. Philip

                        |                       Reginos

                        |                       Prayer of Paul         180

                        |                     Int. of Gnosis)



                  canon of epistles

                  Rom/1-2 Cor/Gal/Eph/Phil


                  1-2 Pet/James/1-3 John





Paul as                 |

“anti-gnostic”  Bultmann