Here’s a very brief Twitter discussion with Julia Baird. She wrote a lovely piece for the NYTimes the other day about Queen Victoria (I blogged here). Twitter is a medium that encourages quick hits, but this is just not correct.
One piece of paper, even dated to the minute after Jesus died, would not “prove” anything. In this case, there’s just a debate about the authenticity of the document and its provenance.
But here’s the real thing – due to the nature of Christianity as an oppressed religion, pockets of belief were able to develop in isolation from each other and go in radically different directions. Moreover, when groups disagreed about interpretations about, well, about pretty much everything, there was no coercive force that enforced orthodoxy. All Christians were more or less equally persecuted or not (actually mostly not) by the Romans. So while one strand of belief could drive another out of town, ideas proliferated and split and divided and spread.
There are a few major known strands that became dominant into the second and third centuries that provided the major debates of the fourth (once legalized). But in those early centuries, if you can imagine a position on any debate: The nature of the trinity, of Christ’s human-divine essences, on marriage and sex, on women in the priesthood, on priesthoods, on the world-spirit dichotomy, on whether to wear matching socks or not … on anything! There was a group that believed just that.
This scrap of paper might offer us a tiny shred of evidence for the range of how those thoughts worked since it perhaps speaks to a group that did not emerge as dominant. Mostly, though, it’s just evidence for itself.
Not as sexy a headline or a tweet – but real. And important.