Hypothesis and Main Themes

The working hypothesis of the project is that ritual innovations and modifications of earlier ritual practices played an important role in the emergence and stabilization of the early Christian movement. This hypothesis runs against the grain of most analyses of Christian origins; scholars have usually focused on other aspects, ignoring the ritual dimensions of the movement or failing to recognize their innovative nature.

The hypothesis will be tested against three potentially relevant areas of ritual life in the Jewish and early Christian world: (1) practices related to death, burial, and the remembering of deceased family members; (2) rituals related to purification, conflict resolution, and forgiveness; and (3) meal practices – the most important form of social gathering in antiquity. The assumption is that that many of the key rituals in the early phase of the Christian movement can be organized under these themes, and that the analysis of these ritual practices will lead to a better understanding of the rise and the stabilization of the Christian movement.