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The Collection and Synthesis of “Tradition” and the Second-Century Invention of Christianity*

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract The following paper argues that “Christianity” as a discursive entity did not exist until the second century CE. As a result, the first-century writings that constitute the field of inquiry for “Christian origins” are not usefully conceived as “Christian” at all. They were, rather, secondarily claimed as predecessors and traditions by second-century (and later) authors engaged in a process of “inventing tradition” to make sense of their own novel institutional and social circumstances. As an illustration, the paper looks at the ways that a series of second-century authors cumulatively created the figure of Paul as a first-century predecessor, and how this process has affected the way the first-century Pauline materials are read. At issue in all of this are our imaginative conceptions of social entities (including “religions”) and what they are, and of how canons and notions of social continuity attendant on them are formed.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, University of Regina Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2 Canada


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