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Exile and Christian Authenticity
- Course Dates: Mon 9 March 2020, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
How did early Christians deal with the problem of Christian authenticity when the official imperial persecutions came to an end?
We will examine how Christian authenticity laid claim to its past as a persecuted minority while simultaneously affirming its new status as a violent Christian empire.
The course works with the use of episcopal exile to impose religious conformity points to a consistent dilemma for scholars who work on early Christianity and its role in the Roman empire. The mid- to late fourth century saw a significant change in how Christian bishops—the new, rising Roman elite—were dealt with by the Roman Empire. In this new era, the all-too-frequent outcome of inter-Christian disputes was banishment, not martyrdom. As a prime example, and one that will occupy us throughout the day, Athanasius of Alexandria appears to have fled into exile five times during his tenure as bishop, but it is not always clear why he was expelled or who enforced his expulsions. What is clear is that he is remembered as a persecuted and, therefore, an authentic Christian.
The first half of the day will focus on the history of associating Christianity with persecution and what texts helped shape these ideas. We will read Christian martyr texts as well as key passages from the Christian Bible to help us gain a vocabulary and deeper understanding of this identity claim.
The second half of the day will then turn to how Christians reflected on the transition from an imperially persecuted minority to a divinely ordained majority. By zeroing in on the identity of the exile, we will interrogate how Christian authenticity laid claim to its past of persecution while simultaneously affirming its new status as a violent Christian empire.