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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Kiel, Nikolai


Ps-AthenagorasDe Resurrectione. Datierung und Kontextualisierung der dem Apologeten Athenagoras zugeschriebenen Auferstehungsschrift.


Leiden u. a.: Brill 2016. 806 S. = Vigiliae Christianae. Supplements, 133. Geb. EUR 215,00. ISBN 978-90-04-30268-6.


Anders-Christian Jacobsen

This book is a major contribution to research in the De resurrectione of Athenagoras/Pseudo-Athenagoras. All future research on this text will have to engage with this book. Contrary to normal praxis, I will begin the review with listing the most important results of the research presented in this book: De resurrectione is not written by the apologist Athenagoras who lived in the second century. Nikolai Kiel does not attribute the text to another known author but argues for its pseudonymity. According to K., the text is written between 178/180–245/248 AD and probably during the first part of the third century. He reaches these conclusions after extremely detailed and comprehen-sive studies described on 736 large pages including hundreds of footnotes.
The book has two parts. In the first part, K. studies how De resurrectione is located in time and in the history of theology. In the second part, he underpins the results reached in the first part by the help of very specific studies of Ps.-Athenagoras’ understanding of human resurrection.
The first part has a chapter on the authorship of the text (chapter 1) where the conclusion is reached that Athenagoras was not the author of the text. In chapter 2, K. gives an overview of De resurrectione, its construction, its addressees, etc. In a longer chapter 3, he tries to identify the opponents and their positions against which Ps.-Athenagoras argues in the text. These opponents argued against the idea of the resurrection of the body. K. identifies the main opponent as being Celsus – famous for his treatise The True Logos, to which Origen replied in his Contra Celsum. Identifying Celsus as Ps.-Athenagoras’ main opponent is the cornerstone of K.’s argument. In chapter 4, the historical development of the discussion of what happens when meat from one living being is eaten by another living being. This discussion is central in De resurrectione. By identifying at which stage of the development of this discussion Ps.-Athenagoras fits in, it is possible to decide more precisely the date of De resurrectione. Chapter 5 is devoted to Ps.-Athenagoras’ arguments (De resurrectione, chapters 5–8) against those who claim that the possible distribution of one human being’s flesh to other human beings via food chains (where one human being has been eaten by, e. g., fish which are then eaten by other human beings, etc.) makes the idea of the fleshly resurrection impossible. In this chapter, K. identifies Galen as one of the sources of Ps.-Athenagoras’ arguments. This is important for the dating of the treatise because Galen’s ideas were only widespread after the turn of the third century.
The second part of the book opens with a chapter on Ps.-Athenagoras’ arguments from creation theology (chapter 6, cf. De resurrectione chapters 12–17). This chapter investigates how creation and resurrection of human beings are connected according to Ps.-Athenagoras. The basic argument is that created human beings are transformed by the resurrection. This is the theme of chapter 7. This understanding of the resurrection as transformation (Gr. μεταβολή) constitutes a certain phase of interpretation of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 and is therefore important for dating the treatise because De resurrectione can be placed at a certain stage of the development of this idea. According to K., Ps.-Athenagoras’ understanding of the resurrection as transformation is similar to how Tertullian, The Letter to Rheginos, and Origen understand this idea. Ps.-Athenagoras’ De resurrectione were therefore probably written in the period between 208/212 when Tertullian wrote his treatise De resurrectione and 245/248 when Origen wrote his Contra Celsum. In chapter 8, K. adds another argument in support of the dating just mentioned. This argument is based on the last part of De resurrectione (chapters 18–25) where Ps.-Athenagoras seems to modify or refine the argument from justice for the bodily resurrection. Among the apologists and other theologians from the second century AD, it was common to argue for the bodily resurrection by pointing to justice: what human beings had suffered by injustice on earth should be vindicated through the bodily resurrection. This argument was developed by Ps.-Athenagoras. His claim was building on Plotinus that a soul can only act wrong-ly when it is connected to a body. The punishment of such wrongdoing therefore also demands a body. Hence, the soul must be connected to a body at the resurrection. The development of this idea can also be dated to the first half of the third century because of the influence from Plotinus.
Is it not too much to write 736 pages + bibliography to argue that the text under scrutiny is not written by the apologist Athenagoras but by an unknown person given the name Pseudo-Athenagoras and that the treatise was therefore not written in the last part of the second century, but rather in the first half of the third century? In this reviewer’s opinion, the answer is yes because the results could have been substantiated using much less space. This makes the reading tiresome, and from time to time, so many details are listed that it becomes difficult to see and remember what is central and what is peripheral. In many cases, K. follows sidetracks, which are interesting in themselves and related to the theme of the book but unnecessary for the argument. In chapter 3, K. has a quite long chapter in which he identifies Celsus as the author of the critique of the bodily resurrection to which Ps.-Athenagoras answers. This chapter in itself is long, which is acceptable because a basic argument is established, but the chapter includes a number of page-long passages where K. explains different connected but unnecessary things, e. g., the relation of Celsus to Plato (168–171). Later, in chapter 7, where the theme is the transformation of the body at the resurrection, K. adds a longer paragraph (601–608) about how this idea of transformation has developed in the time after Ps.-Athenagoras’ De resurrectione. Again interesting but unnecessary. In addition to this, the book has many and often very long footnotes (e. g., footnote 25 on p. 15, footnote 26 on p. 16). With this heavy load of information, the book has almost developed into a handbook of the theology of the resurrection in the second and third century. According to the title of the book, this was not the intention, but nevertheless, scholars who intend to study the theology of the resurrection in these centuries must read at least parts of this book.
These quibbles do not diminish the importance of this book, however, in that two much-debated research questions – the dating and the authorship of De resurrectione – have now been authoritatively answered.