Harvard’s Conference on “Finding Our Way Forward”

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“Finding Our Way Forward” is the name of a two day conference held by the Harvard Divinity School in December of 2007.

The initial reason for taking notes and turning them into a blog is that they have three speakers at their event, and all three are included in my list of Net Prophets. Harvard has, in effect, ordained them prophets by inviting them to share their ideas on the future of the Church. So this first set of four videos introduces you to three “major prophets” of our present day.

The second reason is my conviction that the topic is a central one today, given the decline of the church in the west: Europe, in North America, and in other English speaking countries.

The third reason is that it is easier to get the gist in a written summary of a series of videos than trying to find out about them from the videos. Videos, by their nature, are not subject to scanning them easily to see what they are about.

Harvard Conference on the Progressive Church Dec 6-7, 2007 4 parts

“Finding Our Way Forward”
Panel members: Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass

Part 1 Opening Panel  with all three 1:29:52
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nuXdl1-Wa8

Part 2  Brian McLaren and Diana Butler Bass  2:00:42
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSKO4DhTRc0

Part 3 Marcus Borg   56:07
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UsXavOeLbQ

Part 4  with all three 1:40:03
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIQsbnJeLFQ

Part 1

Brian McLaren, who led off, said the title “Finding Our Way Forward” implied that we are lost. He laid out eight reasons for being lost:

1 Religious right in retreat so new day for evangelicals.
2 Mainline churches have lost their privileged status.
3 Among Roman Catholics a widespread fear. Clergy abuse, hierarchy cover-up, and Vatican II aborted.
4. Secular world awakened by faith in Secular City to be a failure.
5 America aware of loss of being the only one on the block.
6 The West: despair over the shift in way we think.
7 Global South struggles in finding positive way after end of colonialism.
8 Global struggle with depletion of the planet.

Marcus Borg: A new form of Christianity is being born in North America.

1 It is more about centering in God than in believing.
2 More about this life than the after life.
3 More about a way or path of transformation than about sin, guilt, forgiveness.
4 More about religious meaning of language than a literal, factual meaning of language
5 Tends to be more political progressive than politically conservative or indifferent.

Diana Butler Bass: prepared to focus on congregations covered in her study of 50 vital mainline churches found in her “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. In preparation for this, she as a historian selected three time pictures of the state of the churches in the last 40-50 years.

1 1954: the time of the high water mark of the churches. It was the height of the power and privilege of the church.
2 1976: Evangelicalism comes to the fore, time of Liberation Theology, every denomination brought out new hymnals and prayer books, women ordained. Energizing time.
3. Present moment.

Part 2 Brian McLaren: Three world coexisting on the planet.

  1. Pre-modern or non-modern world.
  2. Modern world.
  3. Post modern or Emerging world.
    Between 1 and 2 Christianity (and Islam) is exploding.
    In 2 a steady modern world, Christianity is declining.
    Where people are entering 3 Christianity is practically non-existent. No one has translated the faith to their thought forms. Two responses to modern atheism.
    Changing the substance of our faith:

1 What is theology: timeless propositions mined from Text? Or an ongoing creative enterprise. C S Lewis poem “A footnote to all prayer.”
2 Nature of the church: Not saving individual souls for heaven, but making disciples for the Kingdom of God. Place for making change agents.
3 Eschatology: what would it look like to be a church that is not looking forward to the destruction of our space-time universe? Change from a religion that makes changes in the first 3 hard to deal with.
4. New reason for reading the Bible. Foundationalism vs post-foundationalism.

Diana Butler Bass Mainline problem is less theological, more structural/organizational. Our structures inhibit change. Four steps in looking at organizations not succeeding.

Example of managed change: video of Church of the Epiphany, Wash D C. The difference is not in programs but in practices.

Part 3 Marcus Borg: Major changes underway in emerging congregations, which are communities of transformation.

Shift from communities of convention to communities of intention. Before the 1960s it was expected that most Americans would be members of churches. Beginning in 1960 that cracked and people began to join the church intentionally.

Second meaning of convention to intention: in first phase the churches were accommodated to and comfortable with being part of the culture around them- from the time of the Empire until recent times. Now, increasingly, churches are uncomfortable with and challenge systems of domination- the dominating system they find themselves in. Examples  slavery: when culture supported slavery, the church supported slavery, segregation, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.

Churches of the new paradigm are churches of transformation.

Needs
1 Churches are communities of Adult Christian Theological Re-education: About the most vital task for the revitalization of the church in our time.
Crucial need for two reasons:
A. For present members living out past realities. a form of Xty that was persuasive for generations is no longer so.Need re-education.
B. For new Christians coming into the church as adults. 20 somethings and 30 somethings have grown up outside the church. Don’t know Bible or tradition. 75 % of his students have had all but no connection with the church. Can’t assume everybody has grown up in Sunday School.

2. Needs to be about the big topics:
A Word God. Interventionist figure. Biblical understanding encompassing Spirit in whom we move and live and have our being.
B Bible content. Origin and authority. Interpreting. Single source of conflict in church.
We have been more clear about what we don’t believe. We have left the Bible to conservatives.

C Jesus,

D Prayer,     

E Christian life.

Way to go about education

Book reading groups

Video series LtQ as one.

Xn formation

Part 4 consisted of dialogue plus Q and As.

“NET PROPHETS”: Adult Christian Education on Youtube

Harvard Conference Future Church

Several years ago while looking on Youtube I found an interesting video. It was on a conference that had been held at Harvard Divinity School. They had brought together what they considered to be three significant contemporary Christian thinkers. They wanted these three to reflect on the Future of the Church. Under the video was an explanatory paragraph:

“On December 6-7, 2007, the Office of Ministry Studies, Harvard Divinity School, held a conference on the progressive church at the First Church in Cambridge, 11 Garden Street. The conference program included an evening opening panel, with three featured speakers, and a full day of presentations and discussions. Speakers included: Marcus Borg, Brian D. McLaren, Diana Butler Bass.”

The videos had only been put up on Youtube on May 27, 2014. I ran into it less than 2 months after it had been posted. It hadn’t drawn many viewers; I think I was about number 36. Even to date, three years later, only about 600 people have watched it since I had.

There were two things that came together that set me off in discovering what other good material might be found on Youtube. The first was my surprise that so few people had found and watched this video of an important issue even though in had been produced by such a prestigious institution. The second came when the three panelists were asked to say what they thought was the greatest need of the church for the future.

Marcus Borg responded saying that for him the greatest thing needed for the renewal of the church today was adult Christian nurture.

What came to me at that point was that there must be talks and lectures on Youtube which could serve that need. If one searched for them, would it not be possible to find material available to any church or church leader? Here were lectures available to anyone who had a computer!

A pastor could select several videos on a topic. No need to take class time to show a lecture, or part thereof, and then have just a few minutes left to discuss it. Church members could watch the videos whenever was convenient, say while sitting in their recliner. Then, having seen the material, they would be prepared to launch into an extended discussion when they gathered for a weekly class.

Someone needed to make an archive of a number of these lectures now available because of computers and Youtube. As far as I can tell, no one else had done it yet. I decided to do so and spent lots of hours searching, watching, and collating. At one point, as I am one who loves puns and acronyms, I first decided that, as these were lectures of contemporary prophets that were found on the internet, I would call the project “Net Prophets”. (That took care of the pun dimension.) Next, I thought of making a structure the videos that would be a program of Christian education and creating what might be called a “Youtube Ecumenical Seminary”, or “Y. E. S.” (That would take care of the acronym.)

The list of twenty persons would make an interesting theoretical faculty for YES.

Old Testament: Walter Brueggemann

New Testament: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Selby Spong, N T Wright

World Religions: Karen Armstrong

Theology: John Cobb, Alister McGrath

Ethics: Stanley Hauerwas

Sociology of the Church: Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass

Parish Practics: Robin Meyers, Rowan Williams

Etc.

However, one of the lectures I watched was by Walter Brueggemann. In the Q and A at the end in response to someone’s question he mentioned two books he would recommend: “Subversive Meals” by Alan Streett, and “Galatians Reimagined” by Brigitte Kahl. I made the mistake of buying and reading the “Subversive Meals” book. Since then, my Net Prophet project had been terribly neglected, lying unused. I got into this Dinner Church thing and the Net Prophets have been ‘without honor’, in the words of the Bible.

So, before getting into blogs on Dinner Church, I want to resurrect my lists of videos of the Net Prophets to let you know about them. They are available for your use. Let me know if you find them helpful in your ministry. They can be found here.

Link to Net Prophet list: https://budtillinghast.wordpress.com/list-of-prophets/

Link to Borg’s lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UsXavOeLbQ

 

Resuming Posting

In the objectives for this Dinner Church Movement I state two. The first is presenting the sites of Dinner Churches that have sprung up in the last few years. We have archived many to date, as found on this page and in the map of Dinner Churches.

Now, perhaps, it is time to develop more fully the second objective, which is to show the First Century antecedents to this Twenty-first phenomenon. What I plan to do is repost the historical and biblical articles that I have written before on this page, and, at the same time, post new ones I am currently writing. This will begin on Monday.

They will be archived here on this blog I maintain at Word Press

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EARLIEST CHURCH: PARTICIPATION

pulpit-wittenburg

(Pulpit Castle Church, Wittenberg Germany. Used by Martin Luther.)

When Oxford University Press decided to publish a research Encyclopedia of Religion on-line they began a search for a group of editors to oversee, and in some cases, write the articles on the topics of their expertise. I can imagine what took place when they looked for someone for the History of Christian Worship. As this was Oxford they didn’t want some ‘wild colonial boy’ to oversee the field. No, instead someone solid and respected by his peers.

Notre Dame University in South Bend Indiana was mostly colonial boys but a prestigious institution. A safe place to look; lots of folk in liturgy to choose from. One emeritus professor is Paul Bradshaw. He had taught the subject for years and had written numerous books in the field. He was up to date in his subject; and a safe choice. He knew that few actually liturgies existed before the 7th century. He wasn’t one of the gang of these wild members of the SBL workgroup on Greco-Roman Meals.

O K, he went along with some of their speculation they had drawn, which had to do with looking at early worship and gatherings through the idea that they used the pattern of the banquets that everyone else in their time used. Namely, that of the ubiquitous association dinners, small groups reclining for leisurely meals followed by a symposium of entertainment or conversation.

But as the wise old man of liturgy he felt it his responsibility to remind this gang that no new textual sources for the early liturgy had been unearthed, like at Nag Hammedi or the Dead Sea Caves which had added materials on the scriptures. They were teasing out more than the data available justified, he felt.

Countering that, Andrew Magowan has interwoven scripture sources looked at through the lens of the association meals with a result that seems not only convincing but provides valuable insight for the contemporary church. Magowan says “Paul’s attempt to coax the fractious Corinthians into better liturgical manners provides the earliest surviving account of a “ministry of the Word” in a Christian assembly: ‘When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.’”

Further, Magowan points out that the sharing of conversation of the Corinthian church is parallel to what took place in many of the symposium parts of those ancient banquets or dinners. The group would have chosen someone to be the ‘symposiarch’, the master of ceremonies for the evening. The symposiarch was responsible to keep order for the conversation. Not all meals had a conversation. Some were mainly entertainment of one sort or another, but when you add that the drinking of wine was done primarily in the symposium half, in many meetings, it took some effort to keep order.

This is all introduction to the discussion of the Church of the Pilgrims, our focus of attention these weeks.You may recall that the write-up of the Church’s worship by the folk from Duke Divinity School was headed by “D C Church changes worship from passive to participatory”.

That could have been Magowan’s title about the ‘worship’ of the Corinthian church. I put the word worship in quotes to be a warning about trying to equate their first century activity with what we point to as worship today. One difficulty we have in looking at an activity or idea in a different century is that of anachronism: believing there is a one to one correlation of what we do or think with what they do or think.

Should I remind us that the meeting of the Corinthians was not only before we had pulpits and altars, but before we had ministers or priests- or scripture, hymn books and the like. The person in charge was responsible for keeping order, not for saying all the words or doing all the liturgy. WHAT A REVOLUTIONARY IDEA FOR THE CONTEMPORARY CHURCH.
As well, I don’t know what your definition of ‘traditional worship’ is, but I think what occurred in the second half of the first century can’t be trumped.

The first characteristic of the early gathering was participation. How you do it well in today’s church is as hard as Paul discovered it was for the early church. Church of the Pilgrims has been trying it. We’ll need to find out how they do that.

McGowan, Andrew B. Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (p. 74). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND THE SBL SEMINAR ON MEALS.

reclining-graphic-copy

First, the Seminar link: http://www.philipharland.com/meals/GrecoRomanMealsSeminar.htm

Then a listing of the Members of the Seminar

Steering Committee

Ellen Aitken (McGill University, Montreal)
Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus (Wheaton College)
Matthias Klinghardt (Technische Universitaet, Dresden, Germany)
Susan Marks (New College, Florida)
Andrew McGowan (Trinity College, University of Melbourne)
Dennis E. Smith (Phillips Theological Seminary)
Angela Standhartinger (University of Marburg, Germany)
Hal Taussig (Union Theological Seminary)

Other Members
Richard Ascough (Queens Theological College, Kingston, Ontario)
David Balch (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary)
Willi Braun (University of Alberta)
Kathleen Corley (University of Wisconsin)
Carly Daniel-Hughes (Concordia University, Montreal)
Arthur Dewey (Xavier University)
Nancy Evans (Wheaton College)
Jennifer Glancy (University of Richmond)
Philip Harland (York University, Toronto)
Lillian Larsen (University of Redlands)
Jae Won Lee (McCormick Theological Seminary)
Carolyn Osiek (Brite Divinity School, TCU)
Jordan Rosenblum (University of Wisconsin at Madison)
Janet Walton (Union Theological Seminary) 

My comments: The first thing that strikes me about the list is its international character. It matches, with one exception, the location of countries of Dinner Church sites on my map. The second thing is the high proportion of Canadians who are on the list in terms of the population of Canada. The third is the absence of any British scholars.  The D C map includes a number of British sites including the most vigorous site in Northern Ireland

Bibliography of the people on the list appropriate to the topic of meals, The description of books is from the publishers as found on Amazon’s website.

Ellen Aitken

The Bible in the Public Square: Reading the Signs of the Times, Ellen Aitken, Ed,  2008

Though the Bible has long enjoyed a place of privilege in the American public square, much of the contemporary discussion centers on the influence of the religious right in national politics and on the principled ‘separation of church and state.’ How might other perspectives on the Bible help us to ‘read the signs of the times’ and move beyond the status quo? In The Bible in the Public Square, renowned biblical interpreters reflect on how biblically informed engagement with political issues, ancient as well as modern, is reshaping the face of contemporary biblical scholarship and challenging the civil religion. This insightful exploration bridges conventional gaps between university, seminary, church, and civic life.

The contributors include: Norman Gottwald, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Barbara Rossing, Allen Callahan, Obery Hendricks, Antoinette Wire, Sze-Kar Wan, and many more.

Matthias Klinghardt

Gemeinschaftsmahl und Mahlgemeinschaft: Soziologie und Liturgie fruhchristlicher Mahlfeiern (Texte und Arbeiten zum neutestamentlichen Zeitalter) 1996

This book, along with Dennis E Smith’s “From Symposium to Eucharist”, broke open the idea that the form of early Christian gatherings were patterned after Greco-Roman Meals. It is strange, then, that it has not been translated into English. It is likely that the high price for this kind of book is probably why no one has ventured a translation.

Andrew McGowan

Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christian Ritual Meals (Oxford Early Christian Studies (Hardcover)) 1st Edition 1999

The early Eucharist has usually been seen as sacramental eating of token bread and wine in careful or even slavish imitation of Jesus and his earliest disciples. In fact, the evidence suggests great diversity in conduct, including the use of foods, in the first few hundred years. This study describes and discusses these practices fully for the first time, and provides important new insights into the liturgical and social history of early Christianity.

Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective Ancient Christian Worship – 2014

This introduction to the origins of Christian worship illuminates the importance of ancient liturgical patterns for contemporary Christian practice. Andrew McGowan takes a fresh approach to understanding how Christians came to worship in the distinctive forms still familiar today. Deftly and expertly processing the bewildering complexity of the ancient sources into lucid, fluent exposition, he sets aside common misperceptions to explore the roots of Christian ritual practices–including the Eucharist, baptism, communal prayer, preaching, Scripture reading, and music–in their earliest recoverable settings.

Ancient and Modern: Anglican Essays on the Bible, the Church and the World Paperback – May 20, 2015

What can we learn from an ancient Church for a modern world? This book explores our most pressing challenges, drawing on the resources of ancient Christianity. It demonstrates how the Bible, and ancient authors such as Augustine and Athanasius, speak to contemporary issues of environment and restorative justice, racism and education.

Dennis E. Smith

From Symposium to Eucharist: The Banquet in the Early Christian World by Dennis E. Smith (Author) 2003 originally 1991, I believe

(Strange. There is no blurb for this in the Amazon listing. It is strange because this is one of two key books on meals.)

Many Tables: Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today by Dennis E. Smith (1990-05-01) by Dennis E. Smith;Hal Taussig (Author)

Meals in the Early Christian World: Social Formation, Experimentation, and Conflict at the Table by Dennis E. Smith (Author), H. Taussig (Editor) 2012

This book provides three categories of investigation: 1) The Typology and Context of the Greco-Roman Banquet, 2) Who Was at the Greco-Roman Banquets, and 3) The Culture of Reclining. Together these studies establish festive meals as an essential lens into social formation in the Greco-Roman world.

Hal Taussig

Many Tables: Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today by Dennis E. Smith (1990-05-01) by Dennis E. Smith;Hal Taussig (Author)

In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation and Early Christian Identity by Hal Taussig  (Author) – 2009

What were the origins of the Eucharist? Taussig, a founding member of the SBL Seminar on Meals in the Greco-Roman World, brings a wealth of scholarship to bear on the question of Christian origins. He shows that in the Augustan age, common meals became the sites of dramatic experimentation and innovation regarding social roles and relationships, challenging expectations regarding gender, class, and status. Rich comparative material and rigorous ritual analysis reveal that it was in just such a swirl of experimentation that the early Christian assemblies, with their “love feasts” and “supper of the Lord,” were born. This cutting-edge monograph sheds new light on the social context of early Christian gatherings, illuminating the origins of the Eucharist and of Christianity itself. Taussig draws important implications for the practice of Christian community today.

Meals in the Early Christian World: Social Formation, Experimentation, and Conflict at the Table by Dennis E. Smith (Author), H. Taussig (Editor) 2012

This book provides three categories of investigation: 1) The Typology and Context of the Greco-Roman Banquet, 2) Who Was at the Greco-Roman Banquets, and 3) The Culture of Reclining. Together these studies establish festive meals as an essential lens into social formation in the Greco-Roman world.

Richard Ascough

What Are They Saying About the Formation of Pauline Churches? by Richard S. Ascough  1998

The early church was made up of a myriad of local churches, each with different settings, problems and ideas regarding how its community should be structured. What Are They Saying About the Formation of Pauline Churches? surveys the different models available in the Greco-Roman period for understanding how Paul’s Christian groups ordered their communities. There are four models: the synagogue, the philosophical school, the ancient mystery cult and the voluntary association. Dr. Ascough devotes a chapter to each model and to the authors who use it to understand Pauline churches. The archaeological and literary data are coordinated with data from the Pauline letters to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the models for understanding these churches. In the end, all four models are helpful and no one model is adequate to explain all the aspects of each Pauline church.

Paul’s Macedonian Associations: The Social Context of Philippians and 1 Thessalonians by Richard Ascough 2003

Richard Ascough uses Greco-Roman associations as a comparative model for understanding early Christian community organization, with specific attention to Paul’s Macedonian Christian communities. Contents include: Introduction, Types and functions of associations, Membership and its requirements, Community organization, The Philippian Christian Community, The Thessalonian Christian Community, Jewish Communities in Macedonia, and Bibliography.

Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess (Paul’s Social Network: Brothers and Sisters in Faith) by Richard S. Ascough  (Author), Bruce J. Malina STD (Editor 2009

Human beings are embedded in a set of social relations. A social network is one way of conceiving that set of relations in terms of a number of persons connected to one another by varying degrees of relatedness. In the early Jesus-group documents featuring Paul and coworkers, it takes little effort to envision the apostle’s collection of friends and friends of friends that is the Pauline network. The persons who constituted that network are the focus of this set of brief books. For Christians of the Western tradition, these persons are significant ancestors in faith. While each of them is worth knowing by themselves, it is largely because of their standing within that web of social relations woven about and around Paul that they are of lasting interest. Through this series we hope to come to know those persons in ways befitting their first-century Mediterranean culture.

Women played a prominent role in the development of the early Jesus communities and formed an essential part of Paul’s social network. Lydia was one such woman. Her heart was opened to Paul’s message, she responded with faith by being baptized, and she offered her home in hospitality to Paul and his companions. But beyond this not much is known of her. In Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess, Richard S.Ascough constructs an image of Lydia based on what is known about the political, commercial, social, and religious norms of the first-century world. Ascough describes the styles of possible dwellings in which Lydia could have lived, the business opportunities that would have been available to her, and the religious cults that held sway in Philippi at the time. With Ascough, readers will find that the importance of Lydia’s story is that she hears the message of God through Paul and responds with faith.

Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook   by Richard S. Ascough  (Author), Philip A. Harland  (Author), John S. Kloppenborg (Author) 2012

Associations in the Greco-Roman World provides students and scholars with a clear and readable resource for greater understanding of the social, cultural, and religious life across the ancient Mediterranean. The authors provide new translations of inscriptions and papyri from hundreds of associations, alongside descriptions of more than two dozen archaeological remains of building sites. Complemented by a substantial annotated bibliography and accompanying images, this sourcebook fills many gaps and allows for future exploration in studies of the Greco-Roman religious world, particularly the nature of Judean and Christian groups at that time.

1 and 2 Thessalonians: Encountering the Christ Group at Thessalonike by Richard S. Ascough 2014

1 Thessalonians provides a fascinating glimpse into the origins and social life of the Christ group in the ancient Roman city of Thessalonike, while 2 Thessalonians reveals how the community developed at a somewhat later time. This Guide narrates the story of the founding of the group by considering the social and cultural contexts, the literary form, the rhetorical strategies, the theologies, and the reception of the two canonical letters. Using the most up-to-date scholarly work on critical matters of interpretation, the book is a readable and engaging encounter with one of the earliest Christ groups.
While centering on the texts of 1 and 2 Thessalonians themselves, Ascough draws widely on literary and archaeological data, giving particular attention to typical group behaviours among small, unofficial associations in the Greek and Roman period. The first four chapters focus on 1 Thessalonians, from the initial formation of the Christ group out of a small association of artisans through to how members negotiated various sorts of relationships: with Paul and his companions, with outsiders in Thessalonike and beyond, and especially with fellow believers within the group itself. The final two chapters turn attention to the shifting circumstances that required a second letter to be written, with its focus on disorder and disruption of social practices and theological beliefs. The epilogue briefly surveys Christianity at Thessalonike beyond the first century.
This Guide presents an overview of the historical development of the Christ group at Thessalonike. Moving beyond treating the canonical letters as simple repositories of theological opinions, Ascough demonstrates how 1 and 2 Thessalonians reveal ordinary life in ancient Roman cities. In so doing, he invites readers to enter the world of one of the many fascinating communities of Christ believers in the first century of the Common Era.

David Balch

Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches  by Carolyn A. Osiek, David L. Balch 1997

What was the family like for the first Christians? Informed by archaeological work and illustrated by figures, this work is a remarkable window into the past, one that both informs and illuminates our current condition.

The Family, Culture, and Religion series offers informed and responsible analyses of the state of the American family from a religious perspective and provides practical assistance for the family’s revitalization.

Roman Domestic Art and Early House Churches by David L Balch 2008

In contrast to most studies of earliest Christianity that focus on texts, David Balch inquires into the visual world of the culture in which early Christians lived and worshipped. Jews and Christians outside Israel lived in Greek and Roman houses and apartment buildings. During earlier Republican and later Imperial periods, artists painted frescoes on the walls of their patrons’ houses. Beginning in the mid-1700s, archaeologists began unearthing brilliantly colored domestic paintings, often of Greek (rarely of Roman) myths and tragedies, especially in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Rome. The author inquires how visual representations seen daily might influence the understanding of Jewish and Christian scriptures read and heard in those same spaces as well as the meaning of rituals performed in domestic worship. Scenes from the tragedies of Euripides as well as visual representations of contemporary gladiatorial games make suffering, sacrifice, and death surprisingly present in Roman houses, themes not first introduced by Christian preaching or the Eucharist.

Willi Braun

Feasting and Social Rhetoric in Luke 14 by Willi Braun  1995

In this original and thought-provoking study, Willi Braun draws both on social and literary evidence regarding the Greco-Roman elite banquet scene and on ancient prescribed methods of rhetorical composition to argue that the Pharisaic dinner episode in Luke 14 is a skillfully crafted rhetorical unit in which Jesus presents an argument for Luke’s vision of a Christian society. His analysis underscores the way in which gospel writers manipulated the inherited Jesus traditions for the purposes of ideological and social formation of Christian communities.

Kathleen Corley

Women & the Historical Jesus: Feminist Myths of Christian Origins by Kathleen E. Corley 2002

For decades scholars have argued that Jesus’ teaching fostered inclusive communities and the full participation of women. Now Kathleen Corley challenges the assumption that Jesus himself fought patriarchal limitations on women. Rather the analysis of his authentic teaching suggests that while Jesus critiques class and slave/free distinctions in his culture, his critique did not extend to unequal gender distinctions. The presence of women among his disciples, she says, is explained on the basis of the presence of women among many Greco-Roman religions and philosophical groups, including the Judaism of Jesus’ own day.

Maranatha: Women’s Funerary Rituals and Christian Origins Hardcover by Kathleen E. Corley – 2010

Kathleen Corley continues her examination of women’s roles at the beginnings of Christianity with this groundbreaking new study of women’s funerary rituals and lament customs in the ancient Roman world. She finds in these rituals important connections with Gospel accounts of women’s visits to the tomb of Jesus and of his resurrection “on the third day.” Examining texts, catacomb art, and inscriptions, she articulates a new and exciting role for women mourners at the heart of Christian origins.

Carly Daniel-Hughes

Dressing Judeans and Christians in Antiquity by Kristi Upson-Saia, Carly Daniel-Hughes 2014

The past two decades have witnessed a proliferation of scholarship on dress in the ancient world. These recent studies have established the extent to which Greece and Rome were vestimentary cultures, and they have demonstrated the critical role dress played in communicating individuals’ identities, status, and authority. Despite this emerging interest in ancient dress, little work has been done to understand religious aspects and uses of dress. This volume aims to fill this gap by examining a diverse range of religious sources, including literature, art, performance, coinage, economic markets, and memories. Employing theoretical frames from a range of disciplines, contributors to the volume demonstrate how dress developed as a topos within Judean and Christian rhetoric, symbolism, and performance from the first century BCE to the fifth century CE. Specifically, they demonstrate how religious meanings were entangled with other social logics, revealing the many layers of meaning attached to ancient dress, as well as the extent to which dress was implicated in numerous domains of ancient religious life.

Philip Harland

Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations: Claiming a Place in Ancient Mediterranean Society, by Philip Harland 2003

Ephesus, Galatia, Troas, and Pergamum are familiar names to readers of the New Testament. But what made this region such fertile ground for early synagogues and congregations of those who followed Christ? How did the earliest churches and synagogues organize themselves? How did other voluntary associations operate within the Roman empire? How did such organizations relate to the constraints of imperial religion? These are some of the questions that Philip Harland addresses in this stimulating look at first-century Roman Asia. He surveys the various forms of guilds and associations in the eastern Roman empire. Asia Minor is one of the primary regions of Paul’s journeys described in Acts, and it provided the context for several New Testament books, especially the Pastoral Epistles, 1 Peter, and Revelation. The author’s fresh look at ancient inscriptions reveals new insights about the formation, operation, and functions of congregations and synagogues within the larger framework of voluntary associations in the Roman world.

Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians by Philip A. Harland  2009

This study sheds new light on identity formation and maintenance in the world of the early Christians by drawing on neglected archaeological and epigraphic evidence concerning associations and immigrant groups and by incorporating insights from the social sciences. The study’s unique contribution relates, in part, to its interdisciplinary character, standing at the intersection of Christian Origins, Jewish Studies, Classical Studies, and the Social Sciences. It also breaks new ground in its thoroughly comparative framework, giving the Greek and Roman evidence its due, not as mere background but as an integral factor in understanding dynamics of identity among early Christians. This makes the work particularly well suited as a text for courses that aim to understand early Christian groups and literature, including the New Testament, in relation to their Greek, Roman, and Judean contexts.

Inscriptions pertaining to associations provide a new angle of vision on the ways in which members in Christian congregations and Jewish synagogues experienced belonging and expressed their identities within the Greco-Roman world. The many other groups of immigrants throughout the cities of the empire provide a particularly appropriate framework for understanding both synagogues of Judeans and groups of Jesus-followers as minority cultural groups in these same contexts. Moreover, there were both shared means of expressing identity (including fictive familial metaphors) and peculiarities in the case of both Jews and Christians as minority cultural groups, who (like other “foreigners”) were sometimes characterized as dangerous, alien “anti-associations”. By paying close attention to dynamics of identity and belonging within associations and cultural minority groups, we can gain new insights into Pauline, Johannine, and other early Christian communities.

Associations in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook by Richard S. Ascough, Philip A. Harland, John S. Kloppenborg 2012

Associations in the Greco-Roman World provides students and scholars with a clear and readable resource for greater understanding of the social, cultural, and religious life across the ancient Mediterranean. The authors provide new translations of inscriptions and papyri from hundreds of associations, alongside descriptions of more than two dozen archaeological remains of building sites. Complemented by a substantial annotated bibliography and accompanying images, this sourcebook fills many gaps and allows for future exploration in studies of the Greco-Roman religious world, particularly the nature of Judean and Christian groups at that time.

Jae Won Lee

Paul and the Politics of Difference: A Contextual Study of the Jewish-Gentile Difference in Galatians and Romans by Jae Won Lee 2014

(Though Ms. Lee is listed as part of the meal seminar, her book is about the empire setting. So there is some cross-fertilization.)

Paul lies at the core of the constant debate about the opposition between Christianity and Judaism in biblical interpretation and public discourse as well. The so-called new perspective on Paul has not offered a significant break from the formidable paradigm of Christian universalism vs. Jewish particularism in Pauline scholarship. This book seeks to liberate Paul from the Western logic of identity and its dominant understanding of difference, which tend to identify Pauline Christianity as its ally.

Drawing attention to the currency of discourses on difference in contemporary theories as well as in biblical studies, the author critically examines the hermeneutical relevance of a contextual and relational understanding of difference and applies it to interpret the dynamics of Jew-Gentile difference reflected particularly in meal practices (Galatians 2:1-21 and Romans 14:1–15:13) of early Christian communities.

This book argues that by deconstructing the hierarchy of social relations underlying the Jew-Gentile difference in different community situations, Paul promotes a politics of difference, which affirms a preferential option for the socially “weak,” that is, solidarity with the weak. Paul’s politics of difference is invoked as a liberative potential for the vision of egalitarian justice in the face of contemporary globalism’s proliferation of differences.

Carolyn Osiek

Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches  by Carolyn A. Osiek, David L. Balch 1997

What was the family like for the first Christians? Informed by archaeological work and illustrated by figures, this work is a remarkable window into the past, one that both informs and illuminates our current condition.

The Family, Culture, and Religion series offers informed and responsible analyses of the state of the American family from a religious perspective and provides practical assistance for the family’s revitalization.

Jordan Rosenblum

Food and Identity in Early Rabbinic Judaism by Jordan D. Rosenblum 2010

Food often defines societies and even civilizations. Through particular commensality restrictions, groups form distinct identities: those with whom ‘we’ eat (‘us’) and those with whom ‘we’ cannot eat (‘them’). This identity is enacted daily, turning the biological need to eat into a culturally significant activity. In this book, Jordan D. Rosenblum explores how food regulations and practices helped to construct the identity of early rabbinic Judaism. Bringing together the scholarship of rabbinics with that of food studies, this volume first examines the historical reality of food production and consumption in Roman-era Palestine. It then explores how early rabbinic food regulations created a distinct Jewish, male, and rabbinic identity. Rosenblum’s work demonstrates how rabbinic food practices constructed an edible identity.

A Book: “The Foods and Feasts of Jesus”

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I ran across something out of the ordinary from what I usually post. This won’t interest all of you, but there are some, like the folks at Simple Church (Zach and Kendall), who might like to incorporate it into their work. Others of you might like incorporating an authentic meal or two, with their recipes, into some celebrations during your Church Year events. I remember a church I served where the youth group invited the church to their meeting the Sunday after Easter to recall the Emmaus Supper from the day’s lectionary reading.

 

From Amazon:

The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus eating with people—from extravagant wedding banquets to simple meals of loaves and fishes. The Food and Feasts of Jesus offers a new perspective on life in biblical times by taking readers inside these meals. Food production and distribution impacted all aspects of ancient life, including the teachings of Jesus. From elaborate holiday feasts to a simple farmer’s lunch, the book explores the significance of various meals, discusses key ingredients, places food within the socioeconomic conditions of the time, and offers accessible recipes for readers to make their own tastes of the first century. Ideal for individual reading or group study, this book opens a window into the tumultuous world of the first century and invites readers to smell, touch, and taste the era’s food.

Reviews:

Everyone knows that Jesus fed thousands with just a few fish and loaves, but what did people of the first century eat on an everyday basis? According to Neel and Pugh, the ancient Middle Eastern diet has much in common with the region’s contemporary foods despite 2,000 years of changing tastes and technological innovations. Jewish dietary proscriptions may have limited consumption of some foods, but the presence in Jerusalem of Roman occupation forces and other gentiles would have meant some diversity at table. The authors inventory available grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish. Holidays of the era, most tied to the cycle of planting and harvesting, had their own specific traditions for feasts. For those who want to recreate a seder, the authors offer a sample Passover meal and its ritual prayers in both Hebrew and English. Recipes enable anyone to recreate entire meals that Jesus might well have enjoyed. (Booklist)

Neel, an Episcopal priest, and Pugh, a CPA, are both serious experts on ancient foodways. This enjoyable and tasty book is an insightful culinary study of Jesus’s time and the role played by the preparation of food and its consumption. Their book allows the reader to ‘study, taste, and experience the culture of the first century Holy Land.’ The 50-plus recipes included permit the reader to incorporate these delicious and healthy foods into their own meals and celebrations. The authors see food as a gift from God and believe that in its preparation and consumption we create community. The authors not only present the recipes but also explore the significance of food in biblical times from everyday repasts to the specific meanings of food choices at rituals such as wedding feasts, religious gatherings, and Shabbat. The recipes feature the fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, olive oil, and fresh spices that were used at the time and will enable readers to experience this important aspect of biblical studies. VERDICT This book is ideal for anyone looking for different and inspiring recipes as well as an excellent introduction to life in the first-century Holy Land. Highly recommended. (Library Journal)

The Earliest Church Gatherings: I Voluntary Associations 

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Or: “How to find meaning when your world has collapsed and the Empire has taken over.”

by the Rev. Bud Tillinghast    This is the initial article on the historical and Biblical background of the Dinner Church. (first draft)

You’ve seen them so many times that your eyes may not catch it. It is a sign posted near when you enter almost any town in the U S. It’s probably just before the city limit sign that announces the name of the town its population, and its elevation. I remember my home town of Sebastopol, California. The city limit sign gave the town name, Sebastopol, the population, in those days, was 3,601 and the elevation was 81 feet.

But the sign I’m referring to was just before it, made of wood stained dark. And on it were recorded all the town’s clubs and service organizations, Masons, Odd Fellows, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, and the like, with their locations and meeting times. Some towns, in a similar way list the churches to be found there.

We take for granted these voluntary organizations and non-profits, the many more that are part of our social structure landscape: Red Cross, A. A., S.P.C.A., the Grange, Portuguese Holy Ghost Society…. There are hundreds, no, thousands of them. But we take them for granted because they have always been there.

On the other hand, I remember my brother reporting back in the midst of spending several years in post-USSR in Novosibirsk, Siberia. Stan is a physician and was seconded by the Kaiser Health system, for which he worked, to help the Russian health system make the transition from the Communist to the post-Communist world. One of the realities he encountered was discovering that, other than the Communist Party, with all its substructures, there were simply no voluntary organizations in the country. So when the Party collapsed, the people were left with no social net of protection, no free hospitals to care for you, no Odd Fellows lodge to help with funeral expenses, no A. A. to help the despairing turn from alcohol, few churches because they had been suppressed under an atheist government. He discovered that his medical colleagues in Russia had a salary the equivalent of $100. per month. That is, when they were paid, which wasn’t a certain thing.

All that supportive network that we take for granted just wasn’t there.

Go back 2500 years and you find a situation very similar in the Mediterranean world. There had been a similar collapse, but it was the opposite from that experienced in the USSR. The Soviet Empire had provided the social, economic, and cultural web for people. Now they had to figure out how to survive, how to raise their families, without that web.

For those in the ancient world the movement had been in the opposite direction. After millennia of living in what had been the default social structures, they had to face the realities of living in an empire. From Burton Mack’s “The Lost Gospel”:

“The Greco-Roman age also brought to an end the civilizations of the ancient near east that had been in place for three millennia or more. The social system basic to these cultures was what we now call the temple-state, a model that had been honed to perfection and replicated over and over again, whether in a more stable elaboration such as Egypt enjoyed, or as the more vulnerable near eastern kingdom.

The temple-state centered, defined, and maintained the society’s myths, rituals, codes of recognition, patterns of thought and behavior, social hierarchies, national boundaries, system of education, round of festivals, social ethics, laws, and the meaning of a people’s labor, production, and exchange. In the wake of Alexander, temple-states crumbled and the social structure supporting these cultures was destroyed.” (page 65)

So we have an interesting parallel in two opposing situations. In the case of Russia, they had to deal with the collapse of an empire and its structures that had provided the social glue. In the case of the Mediterranean world, we have a collapse of social structure because of the new situation of the imposition of empire and the collapse of the social structures that had served humans for several millennia.

What happened to provide the new glue for our Mediterranean ancestors? Evidently, there weren’t too many options available. My knowledge is too limited to know what these other options were. My research has made me aware only of what they turned to.

Present in the Hellenic world (ancient Greece) which preceded the Hellenistic world (post- Alexander the Great) was a social structure, but its use was limited to the elite, the wealthy, and the educated. Anyone who has read Plato’s “The Symposium” has encountered that structure. But because we encountered The Symposium in our college philosophy class, we know more about what was said than we do about what was done in the social context in which the conversation took place.

So while you are reminiscing about those days long ago when you mused about the good, the true, and the beautiful, let me break in to describe a bit of that social setting. For that is what was adapted to fill the social/cultural void caused by first the Greek and then the Roman empires.

With the gift of adaptability that has served the human race so well, over years of time, the social meeting which as first used by the elite of society became the means by which the ordinary person was able to find a replacement for the social system that had been destroyed by the empires.

What did that social structure look like? Though it was used by all kinds of people (as I will show in the next blog posting) there was a common pattern which included two features. It began with a leisurely meal, during which the attendees reclined on couches. It was followed by what was called, from Plato’s days, the symposium. This latter took different forms. It could be informal with simply drinking and conversation. It could be a scholarly discussion led by a teacher. Again, more in the next blog.

This social structure is referred to with different terms. Some current scholars call it a voluntary association; others use the term the Greco-Roman Meal. You could call it a ‘supper club’ or a banquet. But within its two-fold pattern, people struggling to find meaning in a new day- while trying to hold on to some old traditions- were able to make sense of their lives.

More relevant for our day, this is posited by Biblical scholars as the earliest form of meeting and worship for the earliest followers of Jesus. For those who say that the earliest Christian gatherings were influenced by the synagogue I have a question for you. How do you know what the first century synagogue looked like? You are in for a surprise- the first century Jews borrowed the same Greco-Roman meal/symposium pattern that was used by Jesus’ followers. (See: “Meals in Early Judaism: Social Formation at the Table” by Marks)

For further reading:
“Voluntary associations in the Graeco-Roman world” John Kloppenborg
“Associations in the Greco-Roman World” Richard Ascough

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