E-Mail Questions and Comments, RelSt 535 (Apocalyptic), Fall 2005

[added to the file in reverse order, most recent first; simple notices of minutes posted are not included]


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Date:         Tue, 4 Oct 2005 14:29:27 -0400
Subject: Questions

Forwarded message:
> Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005 11:43:22 -0400
> From: Christine Myers <cmmyers@sas.upenn.edu>
> To: kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu
> Subject: Questions

> I did not get a chance to ask these questions in class last week, so here they are now:
> As far as you know, was there any dialogue between Philo and the early Christians?

No. Eusebius knows of a tradition that Philo and Peter met in Rome -- here is the main passage (from Eusebius, Church History 2.16-17):

16.2. And the multitude of believers, both men and women, that were collected there [Alexandria] at the very outset, and lived lives of the most philosophical and excessive asceticism, was so great, that Philo thought it worth while to describe their pursuits, their meetings, their entertainments, and their whole manner of life.
17.1. It is also said that Philo in the reign of Claudius became acquainted at Rome with Peter, who was then preaching there.396 Nor is this indeed improbable, for the work of which we have spoken, and which was composed by him some years later, clearly contains those rules of the Church which are even to this day observed among us.
2. And since he describes as accurately as possible the life of our ascetics, it is clear that he not only knew, but that he also approved, while he venerated and extolled, the apostolic men of his time, who were as it seems of the Hebrew race, and hence observed, after the manner of the Jews, the most of the customs of the ancients.
. . .
22. These things the above-mentioned author has related in his own work, indicating a mode of life which has been preserved to the present time by us alone, recording especially the vigils kept in connection with the great festival, and the exercises performed during those vigils, and the hymns customarily recited by us, and describing how, while one sings regularly in time, the others listen in silence, and join in chanting only the close of the hymns; and how, on the days referred to they sleep on the ground on beds of straw, and to use his own words,\418/ "taste no wine at all, nor any flesh, but water is their only drink, and the relish with their bread is salt and hyssop."
23. In addition to this Philo describes the order of dignities which exists among those who carry on the services of the church, mentioning the diaconate, and the office of bishop, which takes the precedence over all the others.\419/ But whosoever desires a more accurate knowledge of these matters may get it from the history already cited.
24. But that Philo, when he wrote these things, had in view the first heralds of the Gospel and the customs handed down from the beginning by the apostles, is clear to every one.

But the Philonic description in question -- of the "Therapeutae" near Alexandria -- almost certainly refers to a Jewish group similar to the Essenes (whom Philo describes in similar terms). Here is what the editor of the above translation has to say:

 This tradition that Philo met Peter in Rome and formed an acquaintance with him is repeated by Jerome (de vir ill. 11), and by Photius (Cod. 105), who even goes further, and says directly that Philo became a Christian. The tradition, however, must be regarded as quite worthless. It is absolutely certain from Philo's own works, and from the otherwise numerous traditions of antiquity that he never was a Christian, and aside from the report of Eusebius (for Jerome and Photius do not represent an independent tradition) there exists no hint of such a meeting between Peter and Philo....

see further http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.vii.xviii.html
[see also the minutes for today's class for some followup]

> I ask this because I have a particular interest in the affect the
> philosophies of Plato and the pre-socratics, and I suppose just Greek
> philosophy in general had on the NT and early Christianity.  It seems
> there is certainly some evidence of connectedness in some parrallel
> stories (such as Epictitus speaking of how one should take a lower seat
> at a feast and wait to be asked to move up).  Also, it seems that the
> Gnostics were very philosophical in their Christian outlook in their
> very Plato-like anti-material philosophy.

I doubt that such an obvious rule for conduct as Epictetus (himself a former slave!) enunciates is necessarily reflecting Jesus traditions -- it sounds like the sort of tactic that would be passed along in certain cultural circles (what my mother taught me?), and perhaps picked up from there by both the Jesus tradition and Epictetus.

Yes, some of the "gnostics" appear to be influenced by Platonic philosophy, and certainly authors such as Justin (the martyr), Clement of Alexandria, and Origen were too (they even name names!). In the earlier Christian writings, it is often supposed that the author of the book of Hebrews operates from a Platonic perspective, and the letters ascribed to Paul often make use of typically Stoic language. The Paul described in the book of Acts also converses with Greek philosophers in Athens. Probably any semi-educated Greek in that world would have some indirect acquaintance with philosophical ideas that influenced everyday discourse and life (such as Platonic-Stoic patterns for living). Direct influence is more difficult to substantiate, although certainly not impossible.

> Thanks!
> ~Christine

Thanks for asking!

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Date:         Wed, 14 Sep 2005 21:10:53 -0400
Subject: Some Medieval Apocalyptic Bibliography, etc.

I've updated the links to primary sources (in translation) on the course web page. Please let me know if you find any more that are broken.

Meanwhile, some of you may be interested in the following information, posted on the Medieval Religion list:

Forwarded message:
> Date:         Wed, 14 Sep 2005 11:27:59 -0400
> From: "Long, Thomas" <LongT@TNCC.EDU>
> Subject: Re: [M-R] Last Judgement

> Our correspondent who initiated this thread had asked, if memory serves me, for bibliographic suggestions, for which I offer the following:

> Backus, Irena. Reformation Readings of the Apocalypse: Geneva, Zurich, and Wittenberg. Oxford, 2000.

> Bevington, David, et al. Homo, Memoto Finis: The Iconography of Just Judgment in Medieval Art and Drama. Early Drama, Art and Music Monograph Series, 6, Medieval Institute. Kalamazook, 1985.

> Bynum, Caroline Walker, and Paul Freedman. Last Things: Death and the Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Philadelphia, 2000.

> Carey, Frances, ed. The Apocalypse and the Shape of Things to Come. London, 1999.

> Emmerson, Richard, and Ronald B. Herzman. The Apocalyptic Imagination in Medieval Literature. Philadelphia, 1992.

> ---, and Bernard McGinn. The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY, 1992.

> Van der Meer, Frits. Apokalypse: Die visionen des Johannes in der europaischen Kunst. Herder, 1978.

> Dr. Thomas Lawrence Long
> Professor of English and Chancellor's Commonwealth Professor
> Thomas Nelson Community College
> 99 Thomas Nelson Drive
> Hampton, VA 23666 USA
> longt@tncc.edu
> 757.825.3663 (voice)
> 757.825.3842 (fax)
> http://www.tncc.edu/faculty/longt
> Rescuing Reading Project
> http://www.tncc.edu/rescuingreading
> Editor-in-Chief, Harrington Gay Men's Fiction Quarterly
> http://www.haworthpress.com/web/HGMFQ/

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Date:         Thu, 8 Sep 2005 01:26:51 -0400
From: Robert Kraft <kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: Getting Started in RelSt 535

I've made some progress constructing the web page for the "Apocalypticism" class for which you have registered. The web page is the glue that holds the class together and the guidelines for our work together. Please familiarize yourself with it, especially the assignments for the first four weeks (the rest is still pretty much under construction!). The class page is linked from my home page, URL below.

For those of you who do not yet have a general background in early Christian history and thought, you might do well to check the RelSt 135 web page and the materials (e.g. class minutes) available there. If you traditional books to internet information, I can make recommendations (e.g. the Ehrman textbook) or provide advice on books you may already have in hand.

Welcome aboard. See you Tuesday.


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Date:         Tue, 18 Jan 2005 22:23:01 -0500
From: Robert Kraft <kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu>
Subject: Gnosticism and Apocalyptic

After class, Virginia raised the following questions that will be of general interest:

> The question I was trying to think of had to do with the relationship
> between gnosticism and apocalyptic in early Christianity.  The two seem
> to share some important features:
> 1.  the present world is viewed as utterly corrupt;
> 2.  God is removed from this present reality;
> 3.  salvation must come about by an act of God;
> 4.  only the elect will be saved;
> 5.  there is some kind of special revelation made to a particular person
> concerning the salvation of the elect.

> There also seem to be some important differences:
> 1.  The present world is corrupt in its essence/being for Gnostics; the
> world is corrupted by wicked men for apocalyptic.
> 2.  The elect are saved by sharing in the divine nature and becoming
> removed from this world for Gnostics; while the elect are saved by the
> judgement of God in apocalyptic.
> 3.  Salvation is a change in the nature of the elect (soul to spirit, or
> ignorant to knowing) for the Gnostics.  That is, salvation is
> individual.  Salvation involves a purification of the world in
> apocalyptic, and therefore applies to the community of the righteous.
> 4.  For Gnostics, salvation is spatial/dimensional, they are removed
> from the physical world into a spiritual one.  In apocalyptic, salvation
> is temporal, and will occur in some (end of historical) future.

Robert M. Grant is credited with the theory that Gnosticism is a development from frustration with apocalyptic hopes. A quick google search led to Michael Kaler's review of Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (2003), with the following comments on this subject:


Furthermore, the hypothesis that Gnosticism arose from a failed Jewish apocalypticism, which Ehrman presents, is by no means certain. The two literary genres certainly have a great deal in common, and as far as we know apocalypticism does predate Gnosticism, and gnostic works (particularly Sethian) use a great many apocalyptic motifs. However, is this a case of Gnosticism being created by frustrated apocalypticists to explain why the eschaton did not come as planned or a case of literary borrowings between two groups with similar concerns? The latter idea is at least as possible as the former. There is at present no convincing consensus on the origins of Gnosticism: the apocalyptic derivation is one possibility among many and should have been signaled as such.

[and his footnote 3: For a good summation of the similarities, and also for a critique of the well-known theory of R. M. Grant that Gnosticism developed out of frustrated apocalyptic hopes in the aftermath of the first Jewish Revolt, see Keller, "Das Problem des Bo"sen in Apokalyptik und Gnostik," in Gnosis and Gnosticism: Papers Read at the Seventh International Conference on Patristic Studies (Oxford, September 8thoe13th 1975) (ed. M. Krause; NHS 8; Leiden: Brill, 1977), 70-90.]

[back to RAK] My recollection is that Grant abandoned that explanation -- Jean Danielou is said to have agreed with "the early Grant" idea, in a presentation at the Messina congress, I think (anecdotal evidence!). My own take on it is that (1) it sounds like a stretch, and (2) what sort of evidence could be offered for such a development among the actual participants? Perhaps Mani comes close, with his interest in apocalyptic texts and his radical dualism. And it needs to be said that there are so many varieties of "apocalyptic" attested in the surviving materials that it would not be an impossible development to expect cosmic eradication to take place enroute to the reunification of the scattered sparks of deity (and perhaps for later adherents to drop the apocalyptic aspects?). To put it another way, certain types of apocalypticism do not seem incompatible with certain types of gnosticism, although actually showing historical (not just conceptual) derivation of the latter from the former would seem difficult. Let's look for possible evidence as we read the texts. (I suppose I'll have to return to this in the "Early Christian Apocalypticism" course next fall!)


> Thanks,
> Virginia

My privilege. Let the floods (of email questions) begin! -- and remember that if you hit the reply button to class messages, your reply will go to everyone on the list, not just to me.