Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

15. The Anachronism of "Early Christian Communities"

Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

Sarah Rollens [+-]
Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee
Sarah E. Rollens is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College, Memphis TN, USA. She is the author of Framing Social Criticism in the Jesus Movement: The Ideological Project of the Sayings Gospel Q (Mohr Siebeck, 2014) and has also published on the synoptic problem, violence in early Christianity, and Greco-Roman associations. She is currently working on her second monograph treating violence in early Christianity. She has taught courses on the study of religion and early Christianity at the University of Alabama, the University of Toronto, and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.


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.

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Rollens, Sarah. 15. The Anachronism of "Early Christian Communities". Theorizing Religion in Antiquity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 307-324 May 2019. ISBN 9781781793572. Date accessed: 25 Feb 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27975. May 2019

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