Our Roots and Our Past, Hodgepodge or Contribution?

1.  H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity (pages 309-310):

Whether the emperor or someone else was in power, his first aim was always to serve and preserve the Roman Empire, the Roman idea; and this, I repeat, was inseparable from the old classical ideal of a culture based on great literature.  Never had this ideal been more profoundly venerated than in these latter days.  In the minds of the last of the pagans it took on a mystical flavor, and the classics became even more important than neo-Platonism as the old religion’s last line of defence against the invasion of Christianity…When Anatolius, the prefect of the praetorium and a fervent pagan, arrived in Athens in the course of his pilgrimage through Greece between 357 and 360, he was as much concerned with organizing a debating match as with offering sacrifices and visiting the temples.  And the Christians too…were equally attached to the classical traditions as forming a bond between all mankind.

This goes back to my post yesterday, Sorcery, Fess Parker, Why I Am a Christian, in which I discuss James McGrath’s post,  From The Archives: Why I Am A Christian.  One reason that James McGrath and I are Christians is that we don’t want to sever ourselves from our roots and our past, which have given us identity and have made us who we are.  Similarly, there were Romans who were clinging to their roots, their culture, and their traditions, and they were reluctant to part from those things for a new religion on the block, Christianity.  That’s probably why Christianity tried to show that it was consistent in certain ways with those roots.  It sought common ground between Christianity and paganism, although not everyone agrees on every detail of how it did so. 

Moreover, my hunch is that there were people on the margins of society who were quite willing to dump Roman culture for something new, the Christian religion.  That could be why Christianity attracted slaves, women, the uneducated, and other marginalized people.  And so, whereas James McGrath and I are like the Romans, many of the early Christians were more like the atheists of today, who ditch Christianity because they feel marginalized within it, or because they deem it unreasonable, or because it’s not working for them and they want something new.  That’s not true of all of them, though, for there are many who fit into the Christian sub-culture, yet decided to leave it.

On those who sought common ground, there are Christians who say that various cultures can prepare a person for faith in Christ, and that becoming a Christian doesn’t require the eradication of one’s ethnic or cultural identity, but rather the affirmation of it.  “Becoming a Christian makes you a better Asian, or African,” I’ve heard.

2.  John Van Seters, A Law Book for the Diaspora (page 108): The mixture of forms in the Covenant Code simply follows the sources from which the author drew his material.  It is not the result of redactional layers in the text.

A while back, I did a paper for a class about the Deuteronomistic contribution to II Samuel 7 and I Kings 8.  I identified the Deuteronomistic contribution according to language that appears primarily in the Book of Deuteronomy, and I also thought that it made sense that the Deuteronomist was trying to shift the materials in front of him into a certain ideological direction.  But, as Van Seters notes, there may be time when, say, seeing Deuteronomistic language in the text doesn’t necessarily mean that the Deuteronomist added a contribution in an attempt to shape that text.  Rather, perhaps the text’s author sat down and drew from a variety of sources, the Deuteronomistic source included.  How can we tell the difference?  Some of it may have to do with whether it makes sense to say that the Deuteronomist would have a reason to shape the text.  If we strip away the Deuteronomist language and see a source that makes a degree of sense, and can think of a reason that a Deuteronomist would add a contribution—to clarify the text, or to conform it to his ideology—then perhaps he made a contribution.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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