Gregory H. Snyder (ed.): Christian Teachers in Second-Century Rome. Schools and Students in the Ancient City (= Vigiliae Christianae. Texts and Studies of Early Christian Life and Language. Supplements; Vol. 159), Leiden / Boston: Brill 2020, IX + 219 S., 20 Farbabb., ISBN 978-90-04-42247-6, EUR 115,00
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This volume is a welcome addition to recent efforts to locate Christians in the cultural and social environment of the 2nd century and to shift attention from communities to individuals. Redescribing Christian teachers in these terms renders them less unique and more comprehensible. Such redescriptions supply more plausible contexts and motives for their activities and dissolve artificial divisions between Christian, Jewish, and pagan teachers. At the same time, they prompt radical rethinking of the character and aims of much early Christian literature.
Underlying the chapters by Judith Lieu ("Jewish Teachers in Rome?") and Einar Thomassen ("Were there Valentinian Schools?") is the question of how to define and recognize a 2nd-century "school." When Jewish and Christian schools are not directly attested, what activities reveal their presence?
Lieu argues from epigraphic and literary sources that Jewish teachers must have been part of the "mixed economy of ... philosophical exchange and guidance" at Rome (12). If Christian teachers debated theology and how to read classic texts alongside Jews, their participation in those debates is not a sign of separation from the Jewish matrix, but "part of a shared venture and shared assertion of the place of the Scriptures in the intellectual marketplace" (43).
Thomassen concludes that Valentinian communities likely did engage in teaching activites. Valentinian texts imply a program of instruction from prebaptismal catechesis to advanced study, including explication of systematic treatises, scriptural exegesis, and philosophical diatribe. He resists the label "schools", however, a term applied by heresiologists to deny them the name ekklesiai.
Christian Markschies ("Esoteric Knowledge in Platonism and in Christian Gnosis") argues that while Gnostic Christians laid claim to esoteric knowledge, their esoteric teachings are not found in any extant writings. Many Gnostic texts profess to reveal secret knowledge, but Markschies reserves the term esoteric for oral teaching delivered in private to an initiated elite. Any written teaching is thus exoteric by definition. This move rests on a strained view of philosophical usage of "esoteric" and "exoteric;" on Markschies' own citations, Aristotle and Clement of Alexandria call both unwritten and written teachings for initiates "esoteric." We end at a conundrum: Gnostic texts can be interpreted only "on the basis of a reconstruction of their 'actual' esoteric teachings, for which we have no written sources" (55). The argument is bold but not always clear; according to a postscript, it is a compressed preview of arguments to be developed more fully in a future work.
Robin Jensen ("Visual Representations of Early Christian Teachers and of Christ as the True Philosopher") traces the absorption of the iconic look of classical philosophers into Christian visual idiom. 2nd-century teachers use it to signify rejection of worldly commitments and Christianity's status as true philosophy. On 3rd-century sarcophagi it casts the deceased as a learned reader. Finally, it comes to be applied especially to Christ. Pictured as a beardless young healer in pre-Constantinian art, by the mid-4th century Christ is commonly depicted in the guise of a philosophical teacher. Jensen argues that this shift does not represent a turn away from seeing Christ as a savior of the lowly and uneducated. Rather, iconography has caught up to culture, a visual realization of a long-held Christian claim to represent true paideia.
Heidi Wendt ("Christians as and among Writer-Intellectuals in Second-Century Rome") advocates a reorientation from putative groups to individual actors. She argues for imagining the canonical gospels not as the work of communities, but as an artifact of competition within networks of freelance religious experts who wrote to assert and defend their authority as Christ-specialists. While her argument does not require it, Wendt favors recent moves to date the canonical gospels to the 2nd century. Placing the gospel writers in the "variegated field of intellectualizing religious experts who enlisted texts and exegetical practices to common ends" (102) yields "a more plausible account of why and to what ends some early Christians took up literary activities" (99). Her chapter could be fruitfully put in conversation with Chris Keith's work on competitive textualization of the gospels.
Fernando Rivas Rebaque ("Justin Martyr as an Organic Christian Intellectual in Rome") offers an alternative, but not incompatible redescription. Drawing on Antonio Gramsci, he proposes that Justin Martyr and other apologists acted as "organic intellectuals" in 2nd-century churches. Standing on the margins of the dominant culture, they were able to employ traditional paideia to articulate Christian needs and agendas in its terms, while using their expert authority to police the community's boundaries.
Winrich Löhr ("Problems of Profiling Marcion") surveys the state of play in Marcion studies. His Marcion is one of Wendt's freelance religious experts: a teacher of Christian philosophy engaged in critique of scripture, he moved to Rome to spread his doctrines, which were debated and developed by his students and rivals, in murky relationship with the local church. For Löhr, the most pressing problem is the relationship between Marcion's Antitheses and his bible, i.e. between Marcion as theologian and editor. Harnack's view of Marcion as a dogmatic proto-Protestant reformer has been abandoned and recent scholars have challenged the heresiological portrait of Marcion as editor. New proposals make the Antitheses either the theological groundwork for Marcion's gospel (Vinzent) or polemic against its canonical rivals (Klinghardt, BeDuhn). We now have two Marcions: an author/editor of scripture and a second-century theologian and teacher. Löhr regards this division as unsatisfactory, but concludes that for the present it is safest to deal with the two Marcions separately.
Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui ("Tatian Theodidaktos on Mimetic Knowledge") finds in Tatian a distinctive theorization of teaching. A teacher himself, Tatian minimizes the role of teachers in favor of being taught directly by God via scripture. His Oratio critiques imitation (mimesis) as a derivative, false mode of intellectual and moral formation, rooted in admiring wonder (thauma) and suffering (pathos) rather than discovery. Tatian sees his activity as an expounder of scripture as mimetic of God's role, the only legitimate form of imitation. While Tatian is often maligned as a disorderly writer, Herrero de Jáuregui stresses the originality and consistency of his thought, which appropriates philosophical concepts to strike at the heart of 2nd-century intellectual culture.
H. Gregory Snyder ("Shoemakers and Syllogisms") brings the obscure Theodotus "the Cobbler" into new focus. He imaginatively situates Theodotus in the Roman leatherworking and book district around the Sandalarion, and among the prosperous cobblers attested in 2nd-century epitaphs. He also suggests that Theodotus crafted his image in the tradition of Simon the Cobbler and Paul the tentmaker, invoking the trope of the""cobbler-philosopher" whose freedom from normal social constraints yields special wisdom.
Together these essays offer thought-provoking reevaluations of early Christian teachers and texts, and persuasive snapshots of their intellectual, social, and physical place in 2nd-century Rome.