|Ismo Dunderberg, Professor in New Testament Studies (University of Helsinki)
Early Christian Intellectuals after Conflict Theories
Early Christian scholarship has been traditionally focused on conflicts rather than on cases of recognition. The conflict model has been so dominant that sometimes it seems scholars have seen, and even created, conflicts between early Christian groups even in cases where the evidence for their mutual interaction is meagre. The conflict model has also directed the scholarly attention to issues over which Christians debated with each other. The (sometimes unexpected) instances of mutual recognition have not be considered as important as debates. The conflict-driven approach has led to wrong kinds of essentialization and polarities that should be critically reviewed.
My research projects seek to find instances where 1) Christian teachers not agreeing with each other acknowledge and occasionally approve of some views held by the opposed party; and 2) where conflict theories can and must be replaced with other modes of explanation.
The evidence for the first proposal comes from the interaction between early Alexandrian theologians, including Valentinus, Heracleon, Clement and Origen. The articles I’m writing on these theologians and their interaction draw on my previous study on Valentinian Christians, but the focus is now more clearly on responses to their theology.
The case in point for the latter proposal are the Johannine epistles. In the scholarly commentary I prepare on the latter set of texts, I seek to replace the conflict model that has determined much of the earlier scholarship on them. My aim to write an argumentative commentary with a close attention paid to two features as pertinent characteristics of the Johannine community (and the epistles as bearing witness to it). I seek to place this community in the context of (1) ancient textual communities and (2) ancient groups of the learned as therapeutic communities, that is, conceiving of themselves as offering a location where moral improvement was sought by practices of reproof and confession of errors.