Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


A two-way approach to Early Christianity

Markus Vinzent

By writing counter-clockwise, beginning from the Medieval Ages moving backwards towards the beginnings of Christianity. Based on the restrospective account that has been introduced by How to write Early Christian History. From Reception to Retrospection (CUP, 2019), and tested by four case studies, the present book studies early Christian historiographers, asking two questions: How did these authors depicted the origins of Christianity, and what kind of material did they use to create their reconstructions. Leading the reader from later to earlier times is not simply a reversal of the timeline, it dissolves continuities, evolutionary assumptions and challenges those evidences that textbooks and historians commonly make use of. A new theory of sources and a questioning of the beginnings of Christianity, as we know it to til today, evolves through reading the various attempts of historiographers of the first millennium. After looking into  Vincent of Beauvais’ (ca. 1184/94 – ca. 1264) Speculum Historiale, chapters are dealing with the Frankish and Greco-Roman imaginations of Gregory of Tours (ca. 538 – 594), the even firmer Roman provenance as developed by Orosius in the early fifth century, on behalf of Augustine. The big question, why, if Christianity was core to Roman identity and cult, Christ had chosen to arrive in the Roman province, finds explanation in the divine wish to inscribe himself into the Roman tax register. How can one become more Roman than to subscribe to and pay tribute to the Emperor’s treasury? This narrative is supported by the fictional, but highly valued letter exchange between the Roman philosopher and satirist Seneca, born in Hispanians Córdoba, and Paul, the Apostle. It is not only the financial link between Christians and Romans, it is also the mind set that joins Stoic and Christian wisdom. The basis for this integration of Romanitas and Christianitas had been built by Eusebius of Caesarea, particularly in his historiographical works, the History of the Church, and the Chronicles from the early fourth century. In these, Eusebius astonishingly rarely draws on the canonical writings that are paramount for modern early Christian historians. Instead, he choses Flavius Josephus (37–100) as his main guide, quoting from his works more frequently than from all the New Testament writings put together. To Josephus he adds a correspondence between King Abgar of Odessa and Jesus that Eusebius himself claims to have discovered in the Archives of Edessa and which he translated from Syriac into Greek. Josephus, according to Eusebius, “the most celebrated of Hebrew historians” also serves him as a witness to the census, on which Orosius did draw. Moving further back into the third and second centuries, the fictional accounts become more and more part of the heated debates about orthodoxies and heresies. Instead of one beginnings, we find competing beginnings that are being told, each to support claims for one’s own orthodoxy at the expense of others. The book ends with open beginnings as an invitation to the readers to rethink their own reconstructions.

Resetting the Origins of Christianity By Markus Vinzent

About The Author

Markus Vinzent

Markus Vinzent is Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at King's College London and a Fellow of the Max-Weber Kolleg, University of Erfurt. A recipient of ...

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