Aliens and Sojourners
Self as Other in Early Christianity
Benjamin H. Dunning
192 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2009 | ISBN 978-0-8122-4156-3 | $55.00s | £36.00 | Add to cart
Ebook 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0181-9 | $55.00s | £36.00 | About | Add to cart
A volume in the Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion series
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"A significant contribution to our understanding of early Christian collective self-definition. Dunning shows that many early Christians used ideas about foreignness and civic belonging to shape and contest what it could mean to become and be Christian in the pluralistic cultures under Roman imperial rule."—Denise Kimber Buell, Williams College
"An outstanding book . . . assiduously researched and well-argued."—Bible and Critical Theory
"[Dunning's] willingness to engage in ways that contemporary theology uses early Christian literature is a bridge too few New Testament scholars cross and fewer still cross with Dunning's level of insight. The combination of careful textual work and sophisticated methodology makes this book an important contribution to biblical studies and patristics. It also challenges theologians to be more faithful to the complexity of Christian tradition in defining Christian identity in relationship to the wider world."—Reviews in Religion and Theology
"Offers a model that should invite extension of the approach to other writings"—Review of Biblical Literature
"Dunning's theoretical insights mark an important advance for understanding the socio-rhetorical dimensions of early Christian literature"—Religious Studies Review
Early Christians spoke about themselves as resident aliens, strangers, and sojourners, asserting that otherness is a fundamental part of being Christian. But why did they do so and to what ends? How did Christians' claims to foreign status situate them with respect to each other and to the larger Roman world as the new movement grew and struggled to make sense of its own boundaries?
Aliens and Sojourners argues that the claim to alien status is not a transparent one. Instead, Benjamin Dunning contends, it shaped a rich, pervasive, variegated discourse of identity in early Christianity. Resident aliens and foreigners had long occupied a conflicted space of both repulsion and desire in ancient thinking. Dunning demonstrates how Christians and others in antiquity capitalized on this tension, refiguring the resident alien as being of a compelling doubleness, simultaneously marginal and potent. Early Christians, he argues, used this refiguration to render Christian identity legible, distinct, and even desirable among the vast range of social and religious identities and practices that proliferated in the ancient Mediterranean.
Through close readings of ancient Christian texts such as Hebrews, 1 Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Epistle to Diognetus, Dunning examines the markedly different ways that Christians used the language of their own marginality, articulating a range of options for what it means to be Christian in relation to the Roman social order. His conclusions have implications not only for the study of late antiquity but also for understanding the rhetorics of religious alienation more broadly, both in the ancient world and today.
Benjamin H. Dunning teaches theology at Fordham University.