The Christian letters and, we may add here the Apocalypse and Didache were conceived as ritual objects useful to the performance of sacred pilgrimages and Eucharistic gatherings. Indeed the generalized address of most early Christian letters e.
Paul clearly expected his letters to be read out to the whole community of addressees 1 Thess 5, The social structure of urban Christian communities was, on all the evidence, quite decen- tralized, a challenge to any would-be episcopal overseer. Plenary gatherings of Christians in a city are difficult to imagine. The Pauline correspondence strongly supports the supposition that within a community over which Paul might claim apostolic precedence not all extended households would have acknowledged his patronage cf.
On the other hand, such a situation would allow for considerable mobility and brokerage within local networks. Sending, receiving and sharing letters and their more-or-less accredited bearers could thus play an important role in the politics and diplomacy of affiliated churches in any one urban locality as well as between rival Christian cities.
When the epistolary and therefore ritual character of early Christianity is taken seriously, another quality of the extant, distinctively Christian letters asserts itself: their length. It is possible that some of the New Testament documents represent edited compilations of originally shorter letters, notably behind the Corinthian correspondence. It remains the case, however, that the early Christian letters are long and argumentatively complex trea- tises, notwithstanding that many of them were really sent.
The dispersed, sustained and repeated reading out of such massive letters performs what the letters were meant to signify. The ritual of self-representation is even more evident to us in the production and recep- tion of pseudepigraphal letters.
Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton
Henderson occasioned much apologetic about cultural attitudes to intellectual property. The practice of Christian forgery confirms, however, the ritual, performative quality of the epistolary tra- dition: such letters could command enhanced authority, an assured audience and a context of performance and interpretation within a textual-cultic community. Were the Gospels designed or initially received as ritual texts? Michael Goulder systematically, but unconvincingly es- sayed the hypothesis that each Gospel was composed to provide a particular proto-Chri- stian community with an annual festal lectionary analogous to that supposed for pre- Rabbinic Judaism.
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Of the narrative gospels in general, Gamble states: [t]he careful literary crafting of each, however, and the small size of individual Christian congre- gations in the first century make it unlikely that any of the Gospels was composed for the strictly local and intramural use of a single community. Broader dissemination in Christian circles, if not beyond, must have been intended from the outset.
More fundamental is the critical recognition that texts existed largely as scripts for performance and that opportunities for performance were ritualized, probably cultic occasions. Who really did possess a bible?
Where could such texts be bought? Which manuscripts or codices were used by an average Christian community? Which canonical texts were at the disposal of an ordinary layman, and which could one find in an average community library? Part of the interest of early Christian literature is that few of its writers Luke or the author to the Hebrews signal any likelihood that they would have written books apart from the occasion created by a widely dispersed Christian readership.
There is no evidence that early Christians promoted Greek literacy or defined it differently than their neighbours. In a society where few could read or write, few Christians could read or write. Still, Christian adoption of the codex is analogous to Christian preference for the lingua franca as a choice markedly combining the utilitarian with the sacred.
Neither option can be seen as the result of a centrally-ratified, consciously political decision, like the decision to forego circumcision of non-Jews. On the other hand, Christian preference for the codex-form seems more marked than Christian preference for actually or eventually canonical texts: codification in the narrowest sense seems a stronger impulse than canonisation. Luke-Acts especially Lk 4 seems to have been composed before Christian abandonment of the scroll-form became a marked choice.
Unfortunately we know very little about liturgical reading, whether in Jewish or in Christian contexts, though both communities did eventually ritualize collective reading of the Jewish scriptures. Henderson Notwithstanding such gaps, the foregoing has been meant to suggest that, although the characterisation of early Christianity as a textual religion may be inevitable, the relations- hip among texts, books and ritual behaviours was always intimate and complex.
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As a material aspect of identity formation and maintenance, early Christian literacy was inten- sely ritualized from its beginnings. Early Christian texts were not designed or received as literature, but rather pragmatically as performative texts supporting individual and group identity and cult. If even Christian textuality is to be linked performatively with other aspects of Christian ritual, then the way is clear for a New Testament exegete to reconsider Greco-Roman Jesus-devotion precisely as an agglomeration of rituals.
On the other hand, the central rituals of earliest Christian cult, baptismal in- itiation and eucharistic commensality, present interesting history-of-religions problems. The two ceremonies seem to have become and to have remained almost universally nor- mative in Jesus cult. Yet both rituals seem arbitrarily dis continuous with Jewish practices and both rituals early came into conflicting textual representation. Something similar might be said of exorcism as a significant feature of Christian interaction with the world, both expressive and performative of a Christian world-view and therefore heavily represented in texts, yet conspicuously under-ritualized by comparison with the two emergent sacraments.
Thus baptism is surely grounded in various Jewish rites of immersion, including the Jordan-immersions of John the Baptist. None of this, however, provides an adequate basis for explaining how an immersionary rite so soon and so uni- versally became an important aspect of Jesus-devotion. Likewise, eucharistic eating is thickly represented in the early Christian texts, but in ways which expose the frailties of historical reconstruction. As for exorcism, the drama- tized contest with the demonic is textually represented in its basic ambiguity, as a battle ground on which Jesus-cult may well have won many victories and yet as an operation in which the demons themselves could successfully mimic Christian performance.
Eucharist, baptism and exorcism were all strongly communicative gestures, socially transformative actions as well as rich sources of theologoumena. Yet all three are known to us through textualizations so particular as to undermine reconstructions of what Jesus-devotees actu- ally did, either habitually or on any one occasion. Such diversity is then thought of in the tradition of F. Baur as an indication of the developmental importance of internal as well as external conflict. In early Christian circles, certain shared eating was ritually intensified and given weighty symbolic reference.
Such eucha- ristic commensality is probably the best-attested early Christian cultic practice. That a group should dine and then drink together and that their dinner-parties should have more- or-less cultic overtones is hardly a marked phenomenon in either Jewish or Greco-Roman contexts. Christian and even outsider textual representation of such ritual eating, howe- ver, do not make it easy to determine how in practice commensality among Jesus-devotees differed from other comparable patterns.
In the space available it is impossible to survey the sources adequately, even less to do justice to the prodigious bibliography. A paradig- matic distinction is often drawn between two eucharistic traditions. Henderson redactor. The main positive ritual reference of John 13 is then to baptism, acting out 13,1—11 and then interpreting ethically 12—20 the logion of Luke 22, Did Jesus use a final meal to interpret his impending death in terms of covenantal renewal?
Did this take place in the immediate or only in the general context of Passover ritual? John D. Crossan and Burton Mack along with the Jesus Seminar have prominently argued that the Pauline-Synoptic Last Supper tradition is a pre-Pauline oral- traditional retrojection. It is simply that their dual existence renders most unlikely a Last Supper with its passion symbolism institutionalized and commanded to repetition by Jesus himself on the eve of his death.
Both Crossan and Mack attempt to reconstruct a pre-textual, egalitarian ritual evolving through textualization toward more hierarchical rites. Beyond romanticist reconstruction, however, they rightly point to the intense interaction of ritual eating and ritual reading and writing.
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Clearly commensality was one of many locations for conflict inside the Corinthian communities in touch with Paul. On the other hand, Paul clearly does not expect that his Last Supper aetiology for Christian collective eating will be in itself unknown or controversial.
Jacob Druckman (1928-1996)
The Corinthian correspondence in general suggests that Paul was not always successful in his attempts to regulate in-group and inter-group conflicts by letter. The attempt to regulate anti-social eucharistic behaviour by textual narration is not such an obvious failure. Eucharistic performance must be ima- gined quite differently if it is happening within the patronal hospitality of a domus than if it is happening in the cramped mutuality of an insula.
Henderson improvisation. Thus readers are positively enjoined to permit the prophets to improvise as much as they want in their eucharistic prayer 10, In Didache the tension between scripted and improvised lang- uage is much more closely related both to eucharistic ritual and to distinctions among differing types of religious specialists than in the Pauline texts. On the other hand these distinctions reflect much lower intensities of conflict than suggested by the Ignatian cor- respondence.
The Synoptics and Paul suggest that Jesus redirected the meaning of a Passover seder. Whether pious fiction or authentic memory, the image of Jesus modifying in mid-performance a central Jewish festival ritual presents an interesting model of ritual innovation.