Diversity in Early Palestinian Christianity, Some Archaeological Evidences -- By: James F. Strange

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 12:3 (Summer 1983)
Article: Diversity in Early Palestinian Christianity, Some Archaeological Evidences
Author: James F. Strange


Diversity in Early Palestinian Christianity, Some Archaeological Evidences

James F. Strange

[James F. Strange is Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.]

ONE has several options in examining early church history. First he or she needs to define the objectives of the study. But, with those firmly in hand, one then needs to decide what to allow as “evidence.” It is my contention, and more and more the contention of many others in diverse disciplines, that we will approach history most profitably from many dimensions. In fact I would appeal to Wilhelm Dilthey as a spiritual forbear in my attempt to develop a comprehensive understanding of culture and history, “... die Totalität der Erlebnisse nach dem Strukturzusammenhang” (Dilthey 1961: 279). It was he who pointed out, long before it was fashionable, that the Geist of a country, region, or century impressed itself upon literature, art, monuments, and tools, but also, I would add, on clothing, graffiti, culinary arts, and road systems (His “Lebensaeusserungen” of the third type, Dilthey 1961: 205ff.; Ermarth 1978: 272f.).

In other words, to understand something so difficult to define as “early Christianity,” we consider at least two kinds of evidence. The literary evidence is traditionally what the specialist focuses upon. Remains of the material culture, again by tradition, engage the attention of someone else.

One must enter one caveat about that: Literary traditions in the nature of the case tend to canonize their own ideas, perceptions, understandings, and prejudices. Therefore, since the production of literature in the ancient world involved the investment of considerable training, time, education, and energy, it is in the nature of the case elitist, and therefore limited in its view. One implication is that, if we wish to gain a more comprehensive understanding of any ancient phenomenon of mankind, we dare not rely solely on the literature. In other words, we take seriously the fact that the working ideologies of a people, their values, religious views, and beliefs will leave their imprints on the material culture. As Dilthey indicated, monuments themselves are embodiments of values, not merely of planning (“The Wirkungszusammenhang” is permeated by values, Dilthey 1961: 155).

Since the writer is not an expert in the literature of the early centuries in Judaism and Christianity, he will confine his remarks to the kind of deductions that archaeolgists are more accustomed to make. In other words,

this paper will attempt to infer some patterns of belief, value, and ideology from the archaeological reco...

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