Mapping Fringes and Reinforcing Centers: Canonical Biases, Romanticized Histories, and the Treatment of the Apocryphal and Non-Canonical

Schaff Full

The Quotation

I love to read older scholarship. In part, it’s the antiquarian in me, the historian, and the “I wish I was Doctor Who” (why don’t we have little blue boxes that are bigger on the inside? I so want to time travel). But also, I find that reading older works offers insights into myopic tendencies in current scholarly paradigms (and I use “paradigm” very much in the sense of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, albeit with a dash of Foucault thrown in). Scholarship is a product of not just research, but also conceptual frameworks that direct, authenticate, normalize, and challenge such scholarship. Rarely do we recognize the biases that drive our engagement with “facts” (not only with regard to facts-as-constructs, but also narrative frameworks that enable the factuality of facts).

This week I was re-reading a section from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2: Ante-Nicene Christianity (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1886). This classic work in church history by one of the great church historians of the 19th century is a product of its time, but it is also a window into our own presuppositions and prejudices (to evoke a well-known Bultmannian distinction). In the opening of volume 2 of this massive history, leading into a discussion of second-century Christianity up to the Great Persecution, Schaff has this to say:

“We now descend from the primitive apostolic church to the Graeco-Roman; from the scene of creation to the work of preservation; from the fountain of divine revelation to the stream of human development; from the inspirations of the apostles and prophets to the productions of enlightened but fallible teachers. The hand of God has drawn a bold line of demarcation between the century of miracles and the succeeding ages, to show, by the abrupt transition and the striking contrast, the differences between the work of God and the work of man, and to impress us the more deeply with the supernatural origin of Christianity and the incomparable value of the New Testament. There is no other transition in history so radical and sudden, and yet so silent and secret. The stream of divine life in its passage from the mountains of inspiration to the valley of tradition is for a short time lost to our view, and seems to run under ground. Hence the close of the first and the beginning of the second centuries, or the age of the Apostolic Fathers is often regarded as a period for critical conjectures and doctrinal and ecclesiastical controversy rather than for historical narration.” (p. 7)

The Problem

The compartmentalization of early Christian history with such a distinction between the “Apostolic” or “New Testament” or “primitive church” era of the first century and the “Apostolic Fathers” of the second is well known—and used—by academics (note, e.g., the Loeb Classical Library’s volume The Apostolic Fathers; even with Bart Ehrman’s revised edition the same classification/grouping is maintained). But what is at stake in such compartmentalization? Schaff evokes several assumptions about the history of early Christianity typical of his (and alas, our) day. Here are a few of these assumptions/implications:

1) The New Testament period is clearly distinct from the post-Apostolic period and, therefore, these periods should not be confused or conflated. (One is the domain of biblical scholarship, the other of church history or Patristics.)

2) Consequently, the key figures and texts of each period need to be treated uniquely. For example, Paul and Ignatius are not in the same league and thus we, as modern readers/historians, need to treat them differently. (One represents divine revelation, from a period of supernatural origins, the other noble human piety building on that foundation.)

3) The earlier period is essentially one of creativity, revelation, and purity. The latter period, however, lacks creativity or divine revelation. Rather, this is a period of teaching, consolidation, and conversion. Errors can—and accordingly do—arise in this latter period. Doctrinal purity is quintessentially a characteristic of the apostles not the Apostolic Fathers.

4) Each period is self-contained and largely homogeneous. This is an important characterization of the biblical material, especially for Protestants who appeal to a primitive “New Testament” church, though the historical narrative framework is not atypical of other Christians. There is no chronological overlap and thus these periods, along with their respectful materials, belong in distinct disciplinary loci.

5) Applying this distinction to early Christian literature necessarily evokes a distinction of sacred (or canonical) texts and ecclesiastical (or non-canonical or extra-canonical) texts. Canon—the New Testament canon—is authoritative, whereas the non-canonical writings of the Fathers are noble, important, but flawed human productions generated in the face of (a) ecclesiastical conflict, (b) the threat of heresy, and (c) the defense/propagation of Christianity. The former represents a period of supernatural foundations, the latter of human attempts to preserve that foundation in the face of heterodoxy and dogmatic confusion.

(6) Note the role of the supernatural in this historical framing. Schaff clearly notes the revelatory/human distinction, but also claims that “[t]he hand of God has drawn a bold line of demarcation between the century of miracles and the succeeding ages….” thereby establishing as a divine act an unquestionable division between the “work of God” and “the work of man”. The claim for the supernatural origins of Christianity, along the lines set out by Schaff, again helps to establish a disciplinary distinction; i.e., New Testament studies is part of a “divine science” whereas Patristics (= early church history) is an “historical” or “human science”.

A Protestant/Catholic Conflict

Some readers will recognize in these assumptions a classic polemical move made by many Protestants over the centuries. In challenging Roman Catholicism, many Protestants have harkened back to a “golden age” in the first century, where a pure adherence to the teachings of Jesus and the experience of “the Church” (and yes the singular and the upper case are important here) was held by those leaders—apostles and prophets—close to the origins of the movement. It is in this period, it is often asserted, that the New Testament writings were all (or nearly all) produced by those closest to Jesus or his initial followers (e.g., Luke and Mark). Given the supernatural origins or the experiential encounter with the resurrection (to evoke Luke Timothy Johnson), this period is often seen as an uncorrupted articulation of Christian “truth”; with the textual embodiment of that articulation, consequently, being clearly trustworthy.

Following this model, the idea is that the church lost its purity, or its focus, in the second century, with the ongoing erosion “of truth” intensifying as the years passed. Thus, what the Reformers in the 15th and 16th centuries faced was not “Christianity” as known to James, Peter, and Paul, but rather a warped corruption with layers of errors baked onto a dying religion.  Truth had given way to ecclesiastical embellishment and exploitation. Human fallibility has obscured supernatural revelation, a revelation safely preserved in the biblical writings. Thus, the drive was to “return” to a pure period, that of the New Testament.

Of course, we know today that there was no “New Testament Church” in the sense of a singular, pure tradition—doctrinally, ritually, or sociologically. A simple reading of the New Testament texts themselves will illustrate the intra-group conflict that drove developments in the various “Christianities” vying for normative status (e.g., just look at 1 Corinthians or the opening letters of Revelation!). The romanticized view of the first century, in part, is due to an uncritical reading of Acts, where the anonymous author attempts to create far greater coherence than we find in, for example, Paul’s letters (e.g., compare the differing presentations of Paul and Peter’s relationship in Acts and Galatians 2; Acts exemplifies more of the idealized collegiality of the two founding figures such as we find later in, e.g., Eusebius, e.g., in Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5-8). The first century was a much messier period than some may wish to remember.

What we learn, however, is that one framing mechanism for church history has been to project later/modern conflicts back to the founding period of Christianity. Given the ecclesiastical conflicts between Protestants and Catholic even up to the 21st century, it is not surprising that “history” is constructed in such a way as to justify one side of the modern conflict by locating their claims within a romanticized division of the Apostolic and the Apostolic Fathers. Among those scholars who study Gnosticism, and heresy/orthodoxy more generally, this insight has helped us to recognize the role of modern dichotomies in the study of ancient sects. Orthodoxy and heresy effectively have served as rhetorical tools of legitimizing and delegitimizing normative positions, not only in antiquity but, perhaps more so, in modern scholarship.

Dating

But there is also the problem of the dating of texts. The New Testament is certainly not a homogeneous collection, as if they were “chapters” in a cohesive saga or in a systematic theology. Neither are these texts undoubtedly from the first century, despite what most scholars and intro textbooks will say. Yes, Paul’s letters certainly are pre-70 CE, especially if we consider 64 CE as the traditional date of his martyrdom in Rome. The undisputed letters seem to have been written in the 40s (at the earliest) and 50s (perhaps into the early 60s). The four canonical gospels also seem to be first-century products, with the latest being John’s gospel, often dated to the 90s, and Mark’s gospel, being at the earliest dated just prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, but more comfortably dated to after 70 CE along with Matthew and Luke dated up into the 80s (assuming Markan priority, of course). But other dating of these texts can be put forward, placing much of the New Testament into a late first or early to mid-second-century date.

Recently some scholars have argued that Acts dates to the second century not the first. Such a move, of course, raises questions about Luke—if indeed we hold to the idea that Luke-Acts constitutes a two-volume work written by the same person. If Acts was produced in the second century, then Luke must also come from about the same period. And if Luke could fit into a second century context, then perhaps also Mark and Matthew could have been produced closer to 100 CE than usually assumed, given the literary relationship between the three “Synoptic Gospels”. In other words, although the NT gospels can be dated to the first century (between ca. 70 and 90 CE), there is no definitive reason to date the NT gospels to the first century. They could just as easily have been produced anytime up to ca. 110 CE (and I’m not even getting into additions to the gospels, such as the Johannine account of the woman caught in adultery, a Jesus tradition not included in the Gospel of John until about the fourth century).

Other texts are also uncertain as to dating, notably the Petrine epistles, James, and Jude. Often dating issues are centered on whether traditional attribution is accepted or not (e.g., 1 Peter could not have been written after ca. 64 CE, as that is about when Peter is to have died during the Neronian persecution; thus, a date to ca. 80 CE or even 100 CE would necessitate pseudonymous authorship, which, for some biblical scholars and theologians calls into question the veracity of scripture). Who wrote and when they wrote the Johannine letters (if even the same author for all three) is also a contested matter. And the undisputed letters of Paul could range in date anywhere from Paul’s day to the opening of the second century, with the Pastoral epistles most likely moving closer to the mid-second century. And even Paul’s undisputed letters circulated in edited form within a Pauline corpus at the opening of the second century (note, for example the partition hypotheses with regard to not only 2 Corinthians but also Philippians and Romans). To look at Paul’s letters in their final form and as part of a larger corpus is to look at them not as occasional writings of the 40s or 50s, but as general, authoritative texts of the second century when Paul became a central historical figure for establishing and maintaining Christian identity. Thus, even Paul’s letters could fit two dates without contradiction (this point on Paul’s letters is often overlooked in exegetical analysis of the Pauline letter tradition).

The criteria for dating early Christian texts includes:

(1) Manuscript evidence (i.e., what are the earliest and best manuscript witnesses for these texts);

(2) Earliest citations or utilization by other texts that can be somewhat firmly dated (e.g., Polycarp’s use of 1 Peter in his Letter to the Philippians would set the terminus ante quem to ca. 112 CE, depending on the dating of Polycarp’s letter); and

(3) Internal indications that would help situate the text within a plausible context (e.g., the use of the title “Christian”, an anti-Jewish polemic, or developed ecclesiastical structures may fit better a second than first century period). When we look at the corpus of diverse texts falling under the label “New Testament”, there really is very little to firmly place them—at least in final form (e.g., Paul’s letters)—in a first-century context. Or, at least not all of the New Testament texts neatly fit the first century, many certainly or plausibly fit a second-century context (especially the Pastorals and perhaps Acts), or could fit into both periods simultaneously (e.g., the Pauline corpus).

In a sense, therefore, the “New Testament” writings—as a collection no less—really are a second-century invention, based on materials from the first century. By the end of the second century (e.g., Irenaeus and also the Valentinian Interpretation of Knowledge), we clearly have a canon developed with, at the core, the four gospels and a collection of Paul’s letters. This development may have been in part due to internal disputes, such as with Marcion (who seems to have developed the first New Testament canon), or intensified conflict with emerging Rabbinic Judaism (the so-called “parting of the ways”; note, e.g., the intense anti-Jewish and pro-Roman polemic in many texts from the second and third centuries). In a sense, the New Testament qua the New Testament seems to have been a product of the second century rather than a precursor to the second century.

William Arnal, in a seminal study (“The Collection and Synthesis of ‘Tradition’ and the Second-Century Invention of Christianity,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 23 [2011]: 193-215), has gone so far as to argue (insightfully, I would add) that Christianity is a second-century phenomenon or set of phenomena that projects its “origins” back to the first century to authentic itself against competing inter- and intra-group identities. Personally I think that Arnal’s study offers us fresh ground for re-conceptualizing a “history of early Christianities”. It also challenges the entire use of “dating” to establish a New Testament period of revelation and an Apostolic Fathers period of human reflection on a divine foundation. Our texts don’t fit neatly into set periods. They “bleed” into each other, with complex compositional histories, uncertain dating, and diverse moments of reader reception (and redaction).

Yet we continually find conservative—indeed apologetic—biblical scholarship pushing for earlier dates for the New Testament texts and later dates for the non-canonical texts. Literary dependence is often established with such a chronology, with non-canonical texts being dependent upon/derivative of the canonical material. Such clean dates and interpretative claims nicely fits the confessional claims we find in such quotes as found above by Schaff.

Framing

However, beyond dating of canonical material, what else is at play with Schaff’s comment? One thing that immediately comes to mind is the delegitimization of other early Christian texts as part the legitimization of the authoritative status of canonical texts. Often labels such as apocryphal, non-canonical, extra-canonical, pseudonymous, or, in more benign treatments, positive categories such as Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and Ante-Nicene set certain texts apart by means of category construction or narrative/historical framing. As I’ve told my students on many occasions, categories are not benign. They act to empower and disempower, to obscure and to elucidate. Whenever we create a “center” we also create a “fringe”, even if unintentional. To establish an authoritative voice necessarily establishes the non-authoritative voice. When we look at framing mechanisms, it is important to ask such questions as: Who gains and who loses in such framing, where has power been located?

But what would happen if we broke down the categories, or, more accurately, treated the categories as historical data rather than explanatory categories? For Schaff there is a distinction of unity and diversity, of (pure) orthodoxy and (the threat) of heterodoxy. That distinction shapes his history, directs his readers’ gaze along certain paths while obscuring particular data that may not fit neatly into those paths. Perhaps we might learn that our histories—including, of course Schaff’s history—is coded (or meta-coded) to resonant with modern concerns, be those concerns a Protestant/Catholic conflict (or resolution to such conflict), an Enlightenment view of “religion”, or a debate over canon (e.g., those fighting to defend Christianity or those contesting the “establishment” of Christian religion through the use of apocryphal literature).

Of course, several non-canonical materials could be dated as contemporary with the New Testament texts. Critical analyses of, e.g., the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas, have raised questions about earlier, underlying sources that may pre-date the Synoptic Gospels (and here I’m discussing underlying sources or traditions; I am not suggesting earlier dates for the final forms of these two gospels). And my own work on the apocryphal epistle to the Laodiceans raises a question as to whether this early second-century letter may preserve, in part, an earlier version of Philippians than canonical Philippians (see Tite, The Apocryphal Epistle to the Laodiceans: An Epistolary and Rhetorical Analysis [Brill, 2012], especially 120-23). But if we re-date material from the first to the second century, or nearer to the second century, then some of our New Testament texts might have more in common with our second century texts than they do with other New Testament texts. In the 1980s, Dennis R. Macdonald made just such a suggestion in exploring the relationship/competition between the Pastorals and the Acts of Paul and Thecla; i.e., as two contending claims on the figure “Paul” (Macdonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon [Westminster Press, 1983]). I would suggest that the same kind of analysis should be done, though on a broader historical scale, with Acts and the Acts of Paul (if we date the former to a later date). Acts ceases to be a tool for reconstruction Paul’s life (i.e., as an early documentary source for reconstructing Paul’s life in comparison with the Pauline letters) and more one example of a construction of his legacy vis-à-vis other constructions (i.e., as a narrative appropriation and presentation of “Paul the character” for a second-century readership and that readerships processes of identity formation), such as we find in the Acts of Paul or the various apocalypses of Paul. Thus, Acts is no more or less a narrative portrait than documentary source for “Paul” than the non-canonical Pauline traditions.

 Rethinking the “Non-Canonical”

An important point to make here, though, is that by relegating some texts to the “not canon” and some to the “canon” categories, historians/biblical scholars (such as Schaff) obscure the importance of the apocryphal and non-canonical. Just look at the flurry of publications every year dedicated to “canonical” material in contrast with other early Christian writings. Hundreds of books and articles appear annually on the New Testament. There are at least twenty or thirty journals dedicated to biblical texts, with only a smattering of non-canonical material directly addressed in those same journals, whereas there are very few journals dedicated strictly to other Christian texts (e.g., Apocrypha, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Early Christianity, Gnosis, and Zeitschrift für Antikes Christentum / Journal of Ancient Christianity), even though there are far more pages written outside the New Testament corpus than inside (e.g., the Shepherd of Hermas is about as long as the entire New Testament!).

I recall working on the Pauline prescript a few years ago (my essay, “How to Begin, and Why? Diverse Functions of the Pauline Prescript within a Greco-Roman Context,” in Paul and the Ancient Letter Form, edited by Stanley Porter and Sean Adams [Brill, 2010], 57-99). I spent days on end researching book after book, journal after journal, commentary after commentary, thesis after thesis, just to cover my bases in Pauline research. That essay came to over 40 pages in published form, with a massive footnotes throughout, yet at the time I realized that I had only skimmed the surface of Pauline scholarship (and I had limited myself to just the undisputed letters!). I had a similar experience when I worked on 1 Peter and the Gospel of John. However, when I worked on the Interpretation of Knowledge and, later, Laodiceans, I found that I could read all the major (and most if not all of the minor) scholarship on these texts within about a week (and reviewers of my work have often noted how comprehensive my bibliographies are).

The point is that there is a clear canonical bias pervading biblical scholarship, one that frames and thus directs scholarship, along with impacting the allocation of economic resources, faculty hires, promotions, course offerings, and prestige points (and academic live and die on their prestige points). It’s no secret that the Bible sells. And in a fragile economy where universities face continued declines in finances and student interest in the humanities, it is necessary for institutions to meet “market demand” if those institutions hope to survive. But what Schaff illustrates for me is something beyond economic pressures (though those pressures are real and have an impact). There is also an ideological or paradigmatic preoccupation with canonical material. And such preoccupation is still in line with the assumptions underlying Schaff’s comments from a hundred and thirty years ago!

Specifically, I have noticed in the past fifteen or so years an increase in conservative scholarship in our field. Not only do people mostly focus on the Bible (they always have, of course), but they do so along the same historiographic lines that Schaff presented. A few years ago I published a review of Riemer Roukema’s Jesus, Gnosis & Dogma (T&T Clark, 2010) in the Toronto Journal of Theology. One of my main criticism of the book was that it simplified the sources along historical trajectories of canon/not-canon so as to articulate a normative valuation of Nicene Christianity in contrast to the “heretical” (in this case, “Gnostic”). For instance, in his concluding comments, Roukema claims that ‘‘a greater degree of historical reliability must be attributed to the New Testament testimonies about Jesus than to the various gnostic view on him’’ (191). Roukema uses totalizing categories of “New Testament” and “Gnostic”; indeed, he presents a set of trajectories of extremes (the adoptionist and the Gnostic) set a part from the earliest stratum in Christian tradition, the New Testament (and he doesn’t deal with the complexity of compositional histories or the messiness of dating ancient texts). In other words, by presenting a set of trajectories, Roukema attempts to demonstrate that the “orthodox” (= Nicene Creed) remained true to the New Testament by taking a non-extreme (= heretical) position, with the New Testament in turn being true to the life and teachings of Jesus. Thus, for Roukema, like with Schaff, the orthodoxy of Christianity is maintained by an appeal to an historical framing of his sources. In the end, Roukema’s book is more a defense of Nicene Christianity for modern Christians than an elucidation of early Christianity.

Similarly, in a blog post I responded to a post by Larry Hurtado who had claimed that the ancient Gnostics were not “intellectuals” like more “orthodox” thinkers of late antique Christianity. For Hurtado, the Gnostics are treated not as philosophers, theologians, or thinkers, but rather esoteric peddlers of “mumbo-jumbo” that made little or no sense even in late antiquity (unlike, for example, the Patristic Fathers). Note the following quote from Hurtado’s original blog post:

“It’s perhaps a natural mistake for people who haven’t read the texts, given that ‘gnostic’ comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means ‘knowledge.’ But in the case of those called ‘gnostics,’ the kind of ‘knowledge’ that they sought wasn’t ‘intellectual,’ but (to put it kindly) what we might term ‘esoteric,’ secretive truths expressed typically in cryptic, riddling form, deliberately intended to make little sense as expressed. Put unkindly, one might characterize it as a bunch of ‘mumbo-jumbo’ with no attempt to present them reasonably and in terms of the intellectual climate of the time.”

As I pointed out in my response, this caricature of Gnosticism nicely fits modern apologetic concerns along a “heresy/orthodoxy” model and less with social and philosophical dynamics of late antiquity. Nor does Hurtado’s post take into consideration current scholarly challenges to the use of the very category “Gnosticism” (e.g., by Karen King, What Is Gnosticism? [Harvard University Press, 2003], which very nicely demonstrates that much of our dichotomous categories are modern ideological tools for modern rather than ancient concerns).

Hurtado and Roukema are both well-trained, respected scholars of early Christianity (and it is not my intention to knock them down here). But they both—and there are many others who could be added to this list—situate their sources and craft their arguments in such a way that a pure, orthodox Christianity is preserved for the modern reader. Often such historiography (such as some reactions to the Gospel of Judas upon its initial public release, including in the public media) presents the canonical works at coming from a first-century context, whereas all the other early Christian texts are dated to the second century onwards. While there is nothing wrong with a later date for a text (or version of a text), for example the Gospel of Judas (which I would date to the late second into early third century given the particular Sethian motifs in this gospel), to simply “lump” texts into canon/not-canon taxonomies is highly suspect.

Rather than articulating historical or thematic/generic qualities, the taxonomies end up serving confessional agendas that are more in line with modern sensibilities than ancient historical “happenings”; though, to be fair, much of that “lumping” reflects a similar discursive move by Eusebius in his monumental Ecclesiastical History, where he articulates a tripartite typology of sacred texts, useful texts, and spurious/heretical texts. Modern scholars often uncritically fall into using Eusebius’ typologies, perhaps unconsciously, treating rhetorical categories as equivalent to historical realities (a not uncommon fallacy in historical-critical work). I also suspect that such “lumping” evokes other elements from Schaff’s comment; i.e., the distinction of revelation vs. teaching, purity vs. corruption, unity vs. heterodoxy.

As historians, however, all texts of whatever date or orientation are worth equal treatment as human products arising from contingent, social interactions. The validity of a taxonomy or the value of a given text is only relevant when it comes to the usefulness of that text/taxonomy for addressing the research questions posed by the historian. Even the category of “canon” or “sacred” or “scripture” in antiquity (or today!) is nothing more than a datum for the scholar to study; i.e., to study the very construction or deconstruction of those categories so as to give us greater insights into the social dynamics at play among ancient social actors. The truth of such insider truth claims (e.g., this is scripture) is set aside, not because it’s truthfulness is in question (nor the falsehood of such a claim), but because the question is irrelevant to the historian’s research question. All scholarly treatments of sources are heuristic, valid only within the confines of a given research agenda.

In recent years, there has been a move toward appreciating non-canonical texts along just these lines (rather than treating such texts as only “worth” studying if they gives us insights into the canonical texts; this has been one way that scholars have used non-canonical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas). Among North American scholars, for instance, the annual York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium (and each published proceedings) comes readily to mind, along with the recently established North American Society for the Study of Christian Apocryphal Literature (NASSCAL), the e-Clavis Apocrypha project, and the More Christian Apocrypha translation project (the first volume to appear later this year) all have helped pushed forward the value of studying these texts in their own right for our greater understanding and explaining of the historical and social dynamics at play in early Christianity and beyond (e.g., the MNTA project purposefully includes later apocryphal texts).

The religious studies theorist in me, though, also sees great value in identifying such a nostalgia for a religious tradition’s origins. Schaff, Roukema, and Hurtado (among others of course) all serve as data in their own way for our understanding and explaining current social and ideological dynamics—and, in these instances, dynamics in the very production of knowledge. Knowledge production is never separated from historical contexts. Knowledge is never “pure” or ahistorical, though it can often be seen as such even by those producing and consuming such knowledge. This is a point that I’ve tried to stress in other blog posts. It’s an important lesson to learn. Origins is a romantic concept. To identify an origin is to identify what is pure, normative, authentic, and thus authoritative. Such identification is an act of empowerment/disempowerment through essentialism. We see such a move not only with biblical scholars, especially so-called conservative scholars, but also with other religious traditions and texts. I’m reminded of how Qur’anic scholarship often hearkens back to an authoritative, pure—indeed, romanticized—period of the first Muslim community. I’m also reminded of resistance by some Islamic scholars to alternative historical models for how the Qur’an came into being a century after the death of Muhammad (on such debates, see Aaron Hughes’s Theorizing Islam: Disciplinary Deconstruction and Reconstruction [Acumen, 2012]). And often treatments of early Christian texts will harken back to just as romanticized and authoritative a period, evoking in that case a distinction of revealed canon and community (the New Testament Church) and subsequent fallible human engagement with that revealed period (the Apostolic Fathers onward). Such a romanticized view of the New Testament, beyond the historical errors produced, tell us far less about the ancient world and more about modern interests, interests often wrapped in the cloak of scholarship. And a study of such interests can be just as exciting and insightful as the study of late antique communities.

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