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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Weiß, Alexander


Soziale Elite und Christentum. Studien zu ordo-Angehörigen unter den frühen Christen.


Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2015. VIII, 245 S. m. 5 Abb. = Millennium-Studien, 52. Geb. EUR 99,95. ISBN 978-3-11-037380-6.


John S. Kloppenborg

The »New Consensus« articulated by Wayne Meeks (The First Ur­ban Christians, New Haven 1983) and Abraham Malherbe (Social Aspects of Early Christianity, Baton Rouge 1977) held that at least for the first century, Christ groups included on the one hand, the middle of  Imperial society, but on the other, no aristocrats, no senators, equites, or decurions, and none of the desperately poor, no agricultural slaves and no hired day workers. This »consensus« replaced the older view that the earliest Christians were uniformly poor, a view usually (and wrongly) associated with the name of Adolf Deissmann (at least Deissmann in the later editions of Licht vom Osten), but revived in Justin Meggitt’s Paul, Poverty and Survival, Edinburgh 1998.
Alexander Weiß challenges two aspects of the New Consensus: that there were no members of the ordo in the first and early second century; and that the presence of higher statused persons in Christ groups can be explained by recourse to a theory of status dissonance – the mismatch between the ascribed status and achieved status. On this view, freedmen, wealthy commoners, and eventually marginal elites, blocked from exhibiting the status typical of the elite, sought other lesser venues such as Christ groups in which they could exhibit the roles of patrons and benefactors enjoyed by the elite.
To begin with the final chapters of W.’s book, there is little doubt that in the second and third centuries, not only decurions and equites but also some senators were Christian. To W. Eck’s list of seven known clarissimi prior to Constantine (Das Eindringen des Christentums in den Senatorenstand bis zu Konstantin d. Gr, Chiron 1, 1971, 381–406), W. adds another four suggested by M.-T. Raepsaet-Charlier and a further five who he judges to be »sichere oder sehr wahrscheinliche christliche Angehörige des ordo senatorius« (395–96). Fewer equites can be identified as Christian, but more decurions before Constantine, many in administrative positions (200–208). Even if one might disagree with one or other judgment, and in spite of the relatively small numbers of elite Christians prior to 312 CE, what his list shows is that the standard view, that the cultic responsibilities of office-holders would have excluded Christians from high office, cannot be true. »Die Amtspflichten eines Magistraten mögen für einen Christen gewisse oder sogar erhebliche Schwierigkeiten mit sich gebracht haben. Doch wenn man die historischen Zeugnisse in ihrer Breite (und Vielfalt) berücksichtigt und sich nicht ausschließlich auf einige Texte der Kirchenväter beschränkt, dann sieht man, dass die Bekleidung von Ämtern für Christen nicht gänzlich ausgeschlossen oder gar ›verboten‹ war« (212). Indeed, one might go further than W. and suggest that membership in the curial class in many cases did not pose serious problems for Christians at all, and that many Christians could not agree with the dogmatism of figures like Tertullian who urged a complete separation of Christians from pagan society, especially its cultic activities.
While W. has made a strong case for elite participation in Christ groups in the Severan and later periods, some readers will find his attempt to find elites in the first century much more problematic. Of course, he does not claim certainty, but he does devote more than half of the book (29–154) to arguing that Sergius Paullus (Acts 13,4–14), Dionysius of the Areio Pagus (Acts 17,16–34) and Erastos of Corinth (Rom 16,23) were Christians who belonged to the curial classes. He dismisses, however, three other names that are some-times mooted as Christian: Pomponia Graecina, the wife of Aulus Plautius, consul suffectus for 29 CE, and the consul Flavius Clemens and his wife, Flavia Domitilla, executed by Domitian for »atheism« (Cassius Dio 67.14.1). (Nor can a credible case be made for Acilius Glabrio, executed by Domitian for the same alleged crime, Cassius Dio 67.14.3).
The cases for Sergius Paullus and Dionysius of the Areio Pagus are not as clear as W. makes out. Both are from Acts, written at least a half a century after the events they purport to relate, and both display Luke’s tendency to associate Paul with persons of high status, despite the fact that Paul was decidedly not elite. In the case of Sergius Paullus, the »conversion« of a proconsul to an obscure Eastern cult and one that could have no possible benefit to his career is, despite Luke’s claim, highly improbable. Indeed, as Arthur Darby Nock once commented, »The proconsul’s conversion, which would have been an event of the first importance, is just stated as though it were that of a washerwoman […] No Church is said to have been founded at Paphos […] The conclusion to which one is driven is that Luke has some definite tradition which he has incorporated tant bien que mal« (Paul and the Magus, K. Lake/F. J. Foakes-Jackson, ed., The Beginnings of Christianity 5: The Acts of the Apostles, London 1933, 187–88). That the Sergii Paulli were in Cyprus is beyond doubt; but that Q. Sergius Paullus or L. Sergius Paullus had any contact with Paul is likely only in Luke’s imagination.
Erastos of Corinth offers a different problem. W. argues that it is likely that he was freeborn and belonged to the decurial class. In view of Steven Friesen’s paper (The Wrong Erastus: Ideology, Archaeology, and Exegesis, in S. J. Friesen/D. N. Schowalter/J. C. Walters, eds. Corinth in Context: Comparative Studies on Religion and Society [NovTSup 134], Leiden 2010, 231–56), this Erastos can no longer be identified with the aedile of I. Corinth. Kent 232, which belongs to a period after Hadrian. But against W., it is also not clear that Erastos of Rom 16,23 was not a slave or freedman – some oikonomoi tēs poleōs were servile in the imperial period. And the fact that Paul names Erastos towards the end of his list of Corinthians rather than at the beginning suggests rather strongly that Erastos is neither a patron nor an especially prominent member of the Christ group.
Some disagreements notwithstanding, W.’s book is exceptionally well argued, and does much to problematize the New Consensus. His critique of status dissonance as a sociological explanation of the conversion of elite and semi-elite is convincing, but he offers no-thing in its place. Even if there were no senators or equestrian Christians in the first century, one needs a convincing account of why elite would eventually adhere to the group, and why it was that almost twice as many women as men elite became Christians before Constantine.