Friday, April 06, 2007

Problems with New Testament Studies

Paula Fredriksen on theological education:

What continues to impress me is that, when people say, "New Testament studies," they think that they're talking about Christian origins, but they are not. The New Testament is a third- to fourth-century anthology. And when people talk about doing New Testament studies, it's in contradistinction to what traditionally has been called "patristics," the writings of the "church fathers" from the second to the fifth centuries. But, in fact, the New Testament is a patristic dossier, and it's a selection of documents made by one particular stream of gentile Christians, who retrospectively chose or cut out a lot of things.

With this in mind, I want to affect how curricula are put together for theology schools. Classically, a theology school has the Old Testament and then the New Testament, and when you go into the New Testament, there are the gospels, and then there's Paul, and all the material is broken apart. I really think that if the goal were history-what these ancient people were actually doing and thinking, as opposed to the way the institution of the church thinks of its past-we'd have to reconceive the project. The cradle of Christianity is Mediterranean culture from Alexander the Great to the coming of Islam. Until we have a sense of what that whole cradle was, it's hard to see how Christianity begins.


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