Thursday, July 5, 2007

Student Thesis: Shaping Christian Identity (Kevin Vaccarella)

Kevin Vaccarella has just finished his PhD. Congratulations! He sent me this information about his thesis to post.

If you send me your own thesis information when you finish, I will post it and archive it under Student Theses too.

Name: Kevin M. Vaccarella
Title: Shaping Christian Identity: The False Scripture Argument in Early Christian Literature
University: Florida State University
Advisor: Nicole Kelley

Christian communities in the first four centuries struggled to construct and maintain a sense of social identity in a time when there were no stable descriptions for Christianity or Judaism. Competing social identities emerged among Jewish and Christian groups as various authors worked to construct and maintain communal boundaries regarding acceptable (and, simultaneously, unacceptable) beliefs and practices. While some Christian groups rejected certain traditions, other groups found reasons to adopt them. An author (re)presents the community's values and beliefs, whether real or idealized, not only to establish an identity but also to maintain that identity. An investigation of early Christian texts regarding their attitudes toward the Mosaic law, then, provides a window into the process of identity formation.

This dissertation is an examination of a peculiar scriptural hermeneutic that claims that certain biblical mandates found in the scriptures are false. Any beliefs or regulations contained in the supposed false portions of scripture can be rejected on the grounds that they are not part of God's eternal laws. The distinction between the authentic and the false passages has been revealed by Jesus Christ and passed down to his most faithful followers. The false scripture argument is found, to my knowledge, exclusively within Ptolemy's Letter to Flora, the Didascalia Apostolorum, and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies.

Although there are overlapping tenets, each text presents a unique explanation of the origin and catalogue of the false sections of scripture. The variation in the false scripture argument reflects each author's distinctive effort to construct communal boundaries in the face of social competition. The false scripture argument functions as a rhetorical tool designed to demarcate the author and his community as the true followers of God since they alone possess knowledge of, as well as the means to distinguish, the false passages of scripture. The false scripture argument shapes the community's religious life by barring members from dangerous practices while at the same time validating the traditions accepted by the author and his community.

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