Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Defeat Of Christianities, And The Birth Of Orthodoxy (Part 1)

TWH: The interview Kike Tremiño did with Antonio, which we recently posted here at AtA in eight installments and a brief response by me, generated a lot of interest. We received some emails asking for a little more information about this whole idea of "Defeated Christianities." I've asked Antonio if he would give everyone a little more information about what he thinks about the birth of Christianity, what happened after the crucifixion of Jesus among his disciples, and how there was a theological rumble before the theology of Paul rose victoriously from the other theologies that were moving about the first-century world. Here is Antonio's response.

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AP: So the main book that Kike Tremiño and I were discussing in that interview is Cristianismos derrotados. ¿Cuál fue el pensamiento de los primeros cristianos, heréticos y heterodoxos? (Madrid: EDAF, Madrid, 2007. It's not a short book, but it's not very long either, only 325 pages. It's available here via Amazon.

If someone living in the 21st century could travel back in time to the eastern Mediterranean world of the 2nd century, they would find two things. First, they would see a certain degree of unity around a Pauline interpretation of Jesus among those who were called Christians. Second, they would find that that interpretation of Jesus wasn't the only one. They would find many different ones, at least nine or ten different "christianities." What were they? Let me just summarize them briefly:
1. Christianities that denied Jesus was God (e.g., Ebionites, Nazarenes).
2. Christianities that refused to accept Paul of Tarsus and his doctrine. They said he was a false prophet and a traitor to Jesus and the law of Moses (e.g., the group behind the Pseudo-Clementine literature). 
3. Prophetic Christianities, in which the community was governed not by bishops and priests, but by prophets (e.g., Montanists and Gnostics of the second century). 
4. Christianities that denied the validity, truth, or inerrancy of the Scriptures (e.g., Marcion, Pseudo-Clementines, certain Gnostics, such as those attested to in the texts of  of Nag Hammadi). 
5. Christianities that denied the true incarnation of Jesus (e.g., Docetists, the groups behind the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles). 
6. Christianities that denied the future resurrection (e.g., those groups that are mentioned by Paul 1 Corinthians and the Pastoral Epistles). 
7. Christianities that promoted the independence of women (e.g., groups represented by the Gospel of Mary Magdalene or the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles). 
8. Christianities that denied the flesh and the world, promoting an extreme asceticism, and who were totally opposed to sex and marriage (e.g., groups represented by the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Epistle of Pseudo-Titus, the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles). 
9. Christianities that promoted a free life without any constraints (e.g., the Phibionites criticized by Epiphanius and Irenaeus of Lyon; the Carpocratians mentioned by Clement of Alexandria). 
My book starts from the very beginning of the birth of the Christian movement and sets the backdrop.  I try to explain, in the simplest language possible, what happens from that point in time into the 2nd century, where we find this diversity in positions. And I try to explain how the majority group, namely that of Paul, becomes the most authoritative opinion (i.e., "orthodoxy") and how it is basically strikes down all the others.

Let me just say a brief word about how it seems that Christianity arose. In my opinion, the birth of Christian theology (which is the same as saying the birth of Christianity) only takes place after the death of Jesus. The group of his followers, which were not many, with an effort of great intellectual stature within the Jewish theology, tried to explain to others the identity of Jesus and the mission for which he lived. They had two presuppositions:
1. Jesus, who had been crucified by the Jewish people, had risen from the dead. This meant that God confirmed that he was the messiah. Of course, they needed to explain why the messiah had failed, why he died on the cross, and what the significance of that death was. 
2. The resurrection signified that God has placed Jesus, in some way in the divine realm, at his right hand. From there he will return to the world to complete his messianic task.
This task of theologically explaining the person and mission of Jesus, God's divine plan for him, could only be done by using one tool, namely the Bible. Therefore, the first followers of Jesus eagerly studied the Scriptures to find in it the texts they needed in order to explain what had happened to Jesus.

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