15. The Anachronism of "Early Christian Communities"
Sarah Rollens [+]
Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee
It has long been common to speak of “early Christian communities”, and especially to assume that particular communities were associated with texts with supposed unique theological ideas (e.g., “Matthew’s community” or “the Roman Christian community”). Stanley Stowers has shown that many scholarly portraits of these communities rely on idealizations from the Book of Acts and Eusebius’ writings. This essay argues, in a similar vein, that presumptions of “early Christian communities” are anachronistic, because they depend on—indeed embody modern understandings of religious identity: in particular, that religion is a private, interior matter that is shared among a wider “community” of believers who all orient their collective identity around these beliefs. These features of identity should not be taken for granted in non-modern contexts, and there are more nuanced ways to understand the group identity generated by many proto- Christian texts.