Please note: The call for papers for the next Annual Meeting on Christian Origins (September 26–28, 2019) is not yet open. The Programme Units listed below refer to the 2018 edition of the conference. More information and updates coming soon.
Programme Units (2018)
Programme Unit chairs and contact are indicated in parentheses. Programme Units are listed in alphabetical order.
Anthropology of Religious Forms and Identities
Religion and Politics in Cultural Encounters
This panel will address the relationship between Christian religious representations and political dynamics in cultural encounters, from ancient to contemporary times. Religious texts and practices historically furnished the models of interpretation of alterity in situations of conquest, clash and colonial encounter. Many cultural agents, in particular missionaries, have played a central role in setting the line between ‘human and non-human’ and in differentiating between moral and immoral behaviours. At the same time, many so called acculturated people have often domesticated Christianity to produce movements and practices swinging between mimesis and resistance. Through the analysis of texts, arts, social activities and movements the papers will explore the ambiguous role played by religious representations and conducts, in the metropolitan and non-metropolitan contexts, as well as the heritage of these representations in past and contemporary era.
Christian Origins and Epigraphy
(Chair: John S. Kloppenborg)
We invite papers and/or workshop presentations on the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions and other forms of material culture, in particular their bearing on the understanding of the practices of Christ groups in the first three centuries of the Imperial period.
Christian Origins: Modern Myths and Historical Representations
(Chair: Luigi Walt)
The section invites papers dealing with the birth of modern scholarship on early Christianity. The main purpose is to reconstruct the ways in which covert apologetic agendas, both religious and secular, may have led to the construction of different myths of Christian origins. In particular, we seek proposals on: (a) the emergence in early modern Europe of a specific interest in the problem of origins; (b) the historical investigation on Early Christianity and “biblical” Judaism as a mirror of doctrinal disputes; (c) the modern rediscovery of apocryphal texts and traditions; (d) the contributions of Catholic and Reformed intellectuals to the rise of the comparative study of religion; (e) the relationship between modern religious imagery and the historical or pseudo-historical representation of Christian origins.
⇒ This year the session will host a special panel devoted to Jonathan Z. Smith (1938-2017).
Conflict and Competition in and with the Bible
This unit examines the ways that biblical texts have been cultural resources for ideological conflict and competition. On the one hand, biblical texts show evidence of social conflict and competition in the period in which they were written. First Corinthians, for instance, suggests that Paul’s audiences experienced numerous forms of conflict and competitiveness among themselves, which Paul tried to manage in his letters. On the other hand, early Christian groups routinely viewed themselves in conflict with outsiders as well, as the Apocalypse of John illustrates with its particularly violent language. By attending to these features of the texts, we learn more about the social dynamics of early Christianity and the challenges that they faced. To study conflict and competition in the Bible is therefore to examine the propulsive forces of socio-political development in early Christianity. We can, moreover, also attend to how biblical texts have been deployed in more recent settings for conflicted and competitive political ends. The dispute over same-sex marriage in the U.S., for instance, shows how people on both sides of political debates easily try to appropriate the authority of the biblical texts. Thus, while containing evidence for ancient conflict and competition, the Bible continues to be mobilized for more contemporary political and ideological purposes—situated in their own modern contexts of conflict and competition.
⇒ This unit will include some invited papers, as well as some selected from submissions to the call for papers.
Discussion of Books
The presentations held in the Annual Meeting on Christian Origins in Bertinoro are focused on recent books with a fresh approach to Second Temple Judaism texts, practices and beliefs, as well as to the historical Jesus and to texts and materials more or less explicitly linked to the early groups of Jesus followers (1st-2nd cent. CE). These presentations are also open to innovative methodological approaches to the study of religions according to sociology, cognitive science of religion, anthropology, literature, psychology, archaeology. Another important field is the history of the research on the historical Jesus from the Late Middle Ages to nowadays.
Early Groups of Jesus’ Followers
This research unit aims to re-explore the social world of the early groups of Jesus’ followers (1st–2nd cent.), re-describing the emergence of Christianity in terms of anthropology, social history, and cultural studies. Proposals are welcome on any aspect related to the social forms and composition of the early Christian groups (types of gathering, in-group and out-group relationships, gender dynamics), their continuity or discontinuity with Jesus’ practice of life, their relationship with other groups and institutions of the ancient Mediterranean world (forms of cohabitation, negotiation, and conflict), their production and use of texts, their conceptions of space and time, as well as the reconstruction of their communicative networks. Preference will be given to papers focusing on new methodological approaches or addressing under-explored subjects.
Experiencing and Narrating the Body:
Ascetic Discourses and Practices in Early Christianity
Given the strong ascetic tendencies spreading through the ancient Mediterranean world during the first three centuries of Christianity, the relationship between the individual and his body ended up playing a central role in the process of shaping Christian identity. For some Christians, at any rate, the body might function as an exemplary artifact that could be displayed to their audience. After its removal from existing social and moral entanglements, it could become an instrument to be used against the world.
This panel aims (1) to explore the experiences that underlay the religious action related to the body and (2) to identify the relevant discourses. Papers should address the following questions in relation to literary texts of the first three centuries of Christian era: how did eschatological tension shape the use of the human body in everyday life? How could this tension be related to the choice of embracing an ascetic way of life? Did the ascetic individual possess a specific awareness of his bodily functions? How was this self-awareness expressed? Which specific bodily effects did it produce? Was the ascetic discourse a result only of individual experiences or did it also involve shared or collective reflection? How could this specifically Christian relationship with the body be more broadly contextualized within the non-Christian environment?
Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi, and Gnosticism
This unit welcomes contributions on the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Nag Hammadi texts and other Gnostic documents (e.g. Codex Tchacos, Codex Bruce, Codex Berolinensis). The unit is open to contributions that address both specific and cross-cutting issues, from whatever critical perspective (literary, socio-anthropological, historiographical, etc.). Interdisciplinary approaches and methodological renewal are strongly encouraged. Among the topics that are particularly welcomed, we mention (for example): a) contents, composition, milieu of Thomas; b) the context of the Nag Hammadi codices; c) concepts conveyed by Gnostic texts and traditions.
⇒ This unit will include both invited papers and proposed papers (applicants must submit an abstract to the unit chairs).
(Chair: Fernando Bermejo-Rubio)
Although Jesus research is often so repetitive and boring like turning a prayer-wheel, there are still some issues which deserve to be tackled: 1) The notion itself of a “historical Jesus unit” and the focus on Jesus to the detriment of his followers, analogous figures and contexts, seem to betray a theological tic. Approaches to this first-century Jew which do not isolate him as a unique figure are welcome. 2) In the last years there has been a revival of books denying the historical existence of Jesus (the so-called “mythicists”). Are their arguments so desperately crazy and irrelevant as mainstream scholarship assumes? Or is there anything in the most sophisticated of these views to be salvaged? 3) The traditional criteria approach has been subjected to serious criticisms from different quarters. Is this critical approach compelling or is it a storm in a tea cup? Contributions on methodological issues in the light of (or resisting) these criticisms are encouraged. 4) It goes without saying that, if Jesus of Nazareth existed, he was an intensely religious personality. At the same time, compelling arguments have been set forth unveiling the political dimensions of his (and his group’s) message and activity. We welcome contributions on Jesus’ religious experience, but also on the relationship between “political” and “religious” aspects in Jesus (and his group’s) preaching. 5) Research carried out in recent years has made increasingly plain that the three quests model, through which the Leben-Jesu-Forschung has been (mis)represented at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, is badly in need of replacement. Proposals to understand in a more lucid and comprehensive way the history of Jesus research are much needed.
⇒ This year’s session will consist of invited papers and we will issue a call for papers.
History of the Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman Period
In the first years, the panel “History of the Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman period” has been focusing on relationship and dialogue of Jews with other cultures and on Jewish identity in ancient world. In the years 2017-2019 the focus will be on the dialectics within the Jewish world and, in particular, on groups, sects and trends which animated the Jewish world in the centuries I BCE – I CE. Recent studies have definitely undermined the traditional image of a sectarian Judaism. So a complex and lengthy process of redefinition of the “parties” started and today the making is in progress.
Intellectual Context of Early Christianity
(Chair: John S. Kloppenborg)
We invite papers that discuss aspects of the intellectual, literary, rhetorical, and political contexts of the early Christ cult in the first three centuries.
Issues of Method: New ‘Secular’ Approaches to the Analysis of Early Christ Religion and Early Christian Texts
The principal aim of this unit is to promote cross-disciplinary research characterized by a common agenda: a radical de-metaphysicization of the explanatory narratives of the processes of creation, transmission, blending, memorization, and survival of religious representations, experiences, and practices documented by Jesus followers across the ancient Mediterranean world between the 1st and 4th century CE. Since we are persuaded that the epistemological combining of different perspectives is necessary to account for the complex formative dynamics of any large-scale symbolic system, the unit programmatically resorts and appeals to ‘secular’ approaches which are too often opposed to each other – like cognitive and evolutionary approaches, historical discourse analysis, post-colonial studies and model-based sociological exegesis. More generally, we would like to contribute to the creation of a trans-disciplinary area where a new scientific policy in the research on Christian origins can be successfully pursued. This year’s our unit will be particularly interested in discussing spatial approaches to early Christ religion and early Christian texts – with ‘spatial approaches’ we refer both to the deployment of a socio-spatially informed analysis of the history of early Christ religion and the use of geographical imagination and spatial thinking in general to interpret early Christian texts.
⇒ The session will consist of invited papers and we will issue a call for papers.
Luke and Acts in Their Historical and Literary Context
(Chair: Dorota Hartman)
Luke-Acts occupy a prominent position among the Early Christian writings and, in addition to their theological importance, there is a constant scholarly interest in the literary craftsmanship of their author. It has been more times observed that Luke was the first Christian literary writer, concerned with his style and narrative technique.
The aim of this unit is to appreciate the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles in a larger historical and literary context. Thus we are mainly interested not with the source-critical issues, but we would like to approach the Lukan works as a narrative.
We welcome papers dealing with any aspect of interpretation of the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, paying special attention to the literary and redaction history, orality, narrative criticism, and intertextuality. We are interested also in exploring the most critical questions in the study of Luke and Acts as for example the challenge to the unity of the two works, or their historical value. Especially welcomed this year will be proposals that address the relation and possible links of Luke-Acts to other ancient narratives, as ancient novel and Graeco-Roman historiography.
Mark and the Other Gospels
(Chair: Mara Rescio)
Aim of this unit is to provide an interdisciplinary forum for ongoing research on both canonical and extra-canonical Gospels. We encourage papers that employ innovative reading strategies, suggest new areas of inquiry, and/or offer new perspectives on enduring questions. Especially welcomed will be proposals on: (a) The reconstruction and localization of Mark’s sources; (b) The reception of Mark in the first three centuries; (c) Gospels and method: current trends in biblical studies; (d) The relationship between canonical and extra-canonical materials; (e) The socio-cultural context of miracle stories in the gospel tradition; (f) Women and the Jesus movement: gender issues in gospel texts.
Oral and Written Sources of the Gospels and of Early Christian Texts
Aim of the unit is the reconstruction of the sources used by the authors of apocryphal and canonical Gospels and other early Christian writings. Also relations between sources of early Christian writings and groups of Jesus’ followers can be taken into consideration. Particularly welcomed will be papers about: (1) materials used by the authors of the Gospels concerning Jesus and / or his disciples (a. single sayings or collections of sayings of Jesus; b. stories about Jesus’ actions; c. information of any kind coming from individuals or groups); (2) texts drawn from the Hebrew Bible and its ancient translations or from any early Christian writing used as a source; (3) Bible testimonia; (5) faith and liturgical formulas; (6) non-canonized Jewish works circulating in the different Jewish groups of the 1st and 2nd centuries used as sources.
⇒ The unit will be introduced by a paper of M. Pesce with a response of E. Norelli.
Papyrology and Early Christ Groups
(Chair: Peter Arzt-Grabner)
This unit is aimed at investigating the use of papyri, ostraca and related material to illuminate the text, language, society, and thought of early Christ groups during I and early II CE. Regarding documentary papyrology, we invite papers dealing with the methodology of comparing texts in general as well as with particular genres (e.g., private and official letters, deeds, contracts etc.) and topics, and how and inasmuch they can be compared with New Testament and other early Christian writings or passages. Of course, also papers on recently identified or edited papyri and parchments containing texts of the New Testament and other early Christian literature as well as subliterary or documentary Christian texts are more than welcome.
Re-dating the Early Christian Texts
This unit aims to (re)discuss the date of composition of the Gospels and other proto-Christian texts according to / in dialogue with recent scholarly suggestions.
⇒ The unit will include both invited papers and proposed papers (applicants must submit an abstract to the unit chairs).
Religious Practices and Experiences in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism and Early Christianity (2nd Century BCE – 4th Century CE)
Traditional exegesis focused on producing literary and theological profiles of ancient Jewish and/or Christian authors and groups and based upon such efforts a view of the history of Judaism and ancient Christianity as processes of evolving debates and ideological conflicts on ‘orthodoxy’ matters. As far as historical sources allow it, we shall attempt instead to identify and describe the multifarious religious practices documented for Jewish and early Christian groups between the 2nd cent. BCE and the 4th CE, both in the context of the social formations they developed and as integral part of the wider Graeco-Roman environment. Moving beyond the classical literary and narrative paradigm, scholars are therefore invited to look at texts as complex socio-cultural artifacts and therefore present papers aiming at ‘seeing’ through texts, and reconstructing baptismal praxis as well as other initiation rituals, banquets as well as cultic meals and gatherings, teaching practices, experiences of contact with the world of numinous power (visions, heavenly journeys, dreams, glossolalic phenomena, divination and prophecy), prayers, dietary habits, healings and exorcisms, funerary rites, and so on. Finally, particular attention will be reserved to discursive modalities through which Jewish and/or proto-Christian religious experiences are re-codified and rendered in cognitive as well as in cultural terms.
⇒ Papers (20 minutes, plus 5 minute discussion) will be delivered partly on invitation, partly by application and submission of an abstract.
Roman Law and Early Christianity
(Chair: Leo Peppe)
The Process of Paul of Tarsus
The latest research on the last years of Paul’s life has not increased in a truly innovative and, above all, convincing way the knowledge of this part of his life: his legal episodes in Judea and in Rom, his period in Spain, the date itself of the death remain quite uncertain. One has even doubted his possession of the Roman citizenship: fact not irrelevant for the procedural mechanisms. In these years surely crucial moment is the process in Rome or — according to the prevailing the view — the two processes; from this we draw, anyway, the only unambiguous fact of these years: Paul’s beheading in Rome. The participation in the scientific debate of historians of the Empire and, especially, of legal scholars has allowed to contextualize in a more documented way what is known about Paul’s judicial proceedings and to make available some legal elements of background: elements that could be proposed as firm (as possible) points of reference to the other scholars.
⇒ Given the strictly technical approach to the subject, the unit will include only invited papers.
Studying Jesus and Early Christians in Modern Times: New Perspectives & Methods
Since the late 15th century several different historical factors influenced the research of the Christian past and the analysis of the figure of Jesus. The increasing refinement of philology fueled by Humanism and the study of ancient texts proved to be relevant in readdressing theological questions concerning the nature of early Christianity. The Reformation set forth a religious conflict that rekindled ancient polemics and, in turn, the study of antiquity. The search for the most authentic religious experience of Jesus and the Christian community became one of the most relevant topic of different religious groups. Thanks to technological innovations such as the rise of print and the amelioration of communication infrastructures, ideas and texts circulated widely both in print and manuscripts disseminating new representations of Jesus and the early Christianity. As a result of the inception of new science and the discoveries linked to the age of exploration, new notions of religion appeared and greatly influenced the understanding of the history Christianity. Furthermore, we wish to break the scholarly periodization which separates the early modern and the modern period, aiming to connect them in order to assess when and how new notions about the study of Jesus emerged and how they accordingly changed in relations to the rise of different epistemological paradigms.
⇒ This unit will include some invited papers, as well as some selected from submissions to the call for papers.
The Johannist Constellation: Systemic Questions and Different Answers
— Sources, Locations, History
(a) In early Christianity it is possible to distinguish a constellation of groups and writings that could be provisionally defined as ‘Johannist’. This is constituted, not only by John’s Gospel and 1-3 John, but also by the Apocalypse of John, the Gospel of Thomas, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Apocryphon of John, the Dialogue of the Savior and the Gospel of the Savior among others. (b) Common to these writings is a series of systemic questions which derive from the cosmic opposition ‘above/below’, as well as from a cosmic fracture (and/or a series of cosmic fractures) that separate the earth from the habitation of God; and related to such opposition in each of these works is a high christology. Fundamentally at stake is the way in which human beings can overcome the cosmic opposition, so as to unite with God and recognize (as well as construct) their own selves; and each writing gives a different answer to this problem, resulting in diversity between them. (c) The literary and historical relationships between these writings can be demonstrated, not only by their common systemic ideas, but also by their sources. Thus, tracing those sources (e.g., the sayings of Jesus) can illustrate their historical relations (for instance, between Thomas and John, between John and the Ascension of Isaiah, between John and the Apocryphon of John). (d) Furthermore, identifying the geographical locations of these groups and writings can offer an explanation of the relationships existing between them. And (e) an account of the relations of such groups with other early Christian groups could offer new insights into the history of early Christianity.
⇒ This year’s session will include invited papers, but seeks further proposals addressing these issues.
Transmission of Jesus’ Words
(Chair: Mara Rescio)
Reconstructing the transmission of Jesus’ words is nowadays at the centre of the scholarly debate on Christian origins. First of all, it is necessary to study all the available materials, overcoming the anachronistic distinction between apocryphal and canonical sources. Materials coming from ancient Christian literature (especially in Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian) still require close attention: we also need to reconstruct their trajectories and areas of transmission. Equally necessary would be a critical theory of memory, memorization, and the oral and written modes of transmission. Finally, how the shift from Jesus to Christianity has resulted in a change of the words of the historical Jesus, is yet another question of great importance, where current research once again measures itself against the exegesis of the 19th and 20th centuries.