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The Letter of First Clement: An Overview

I received a request recently about one of the “Apostolic Fathers.”  This term does not refer to just any of the post-canonical writers of early Christianity, but to a specific group of ten (or eleven, depending on how you count) authors who were later considered “authoritative” in some sense by proto-orthodox thinkers, but were believed to have been writing after the NT period.  They include letters by Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna, and texts called 1 and 2 Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the letter to Diognetus, and the fragments of Papias and Quadratus.

This is one of the most understudied corpora of early Christianity, and I’ve been intensely interested in the texts for well over twenty years.   About fifteen years ago I produced a new translation of them for the Loeb Classical Library (2 vols., Harvard University Press, 2004), including versions of the Greek (and a bit of Latin) texts, my translation, introductions, and a few notes.

Many lay folk have never read the writings of this corpus – or even heard of them!  But there are some fascinating, and important, parts to them.

In any event, here was the simple request

 

REQUEST

I would love to read your thoughts on the dating of 1 Clement.

 

RESPONSE

To make sense of what I want to say about when 1 Clement was written, I need first to explain what the text is, and what we can say about its author.  This will take a couple of posts.  First, an overview of the text.    I have taken this from my Introduction in the Loeb edition

*************************************************************

The “First Letter of Clement” is a misnomer, as no other letter from the author survives:  “Second Clement,” which is not a letter, comes from a different hand (see Introduction to Second Clement).  Moreover, the present letter does not claim to be written by Clement, who, in fact, is never mentioned in its text.

Overview of the Letter

The letter is addressed by the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, and is written in order to …

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Did a “Pope” Write the First-Century Book of 1 Clement?
Is There Sarcasm in the New Testament?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    snf7893  August 10, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Out of both the old and new testament, which book/chapter/event/character do you think is underrated? In other words, what said book/story isn’t talked about much in mainstream churches but is nevertheless really funny/has an interesting take home message?

    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      I suppose my favorite is Ecclesiastes. In the NT, I think Mark is undervalued.

  2. Avatar
    forthfading  August 10, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Why are the Apostolic Fathers so understudied? Also, who would you consider (apart from yourself) to be the top scholars in this area of study?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      The are too “late” for most New Testament specialists (who want to focus mainly on the books of the canon) and too “early” for most scholars of early Christianity (who tend to focus more on developments in the fourth century and later. Lots of top scholars — but the number in the dozens (maybe hundreds? I doubt it) rather than the thousands, as for the NT. In the English speaking world they include people like Michael Holmes, Clayton Jefford, Paul Forster, Andrew Gregory, Christopher Tucket, adn lots of others.

  3. Avatar
    toejam  August 10, 2018

    Quick question, Dr. Ehrman. What is your view on the debates between evangelicals over ‘Annihilationism’ (that the fate of the unsaved is simply annihilation / non-existence), vs. ‘Eternal Conscious Torment’ (the unsaved will suffer forever, consciously, in hell)? I’ve been following this debate as an outsider. I don’t hold the view that ‘the Bible’ is anything more than the product of men nor that it is teaching accurate theology / eschatology, etc. However I do enjoy following the debate and seeing the different perspectives. I’ve investigated many of the key passages. In my view, I think some verses teach Annihilationism (indeed, I would say these are the majority), and others, Eternal Conscious Torment. It seems to me that this is the common view of non-evangelical scholars. But what is your view? Do you think there are any passages in the Bible (particularly, the New Testament) that are probably teaching something along the lines of ‘Eternal Conscious Torment’?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      Which verses to you think teach Eternal Conscious Torment?

      • Avatar
        toejam  August 12, 2018

        Judith 16 seems to teach it, in which worms and fire from God are said to cause eternal weeping (whether or not this counts as ‘in the Bible’ will be treated differently by Christians).

        Matthew 25’s references to “eternal fire” and being cast into “the fire prepared for the devil and his angels”, which lines up with Revelation 20’s “lake of fire” into which the devil is cast and said to be “tormented day and night forever” points to it by way of implication. (To quote Bob Price: “If the wicked are just incinerated like Jews in Auschwitz (bad enough!), why does the fire need to burn eternally?”).

        Mark 9’s “If [body part x] causes you to stumble, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God [without body part x] than to be thrown into Gehenna where one’s worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” While it is true that Mark is partially quoting Isaiah 66, and that Isaiah 66 has these eternal worms feeding on carcasses, I do find it interesting that Mark, like Judith, omits the carcasses reference when speaking of these eternal worms. Can we be sure Mark is not also taking the ‘eternal worms’ and ‘unquenchable fire’ motifs in an ECT direction, given that we know Judith has done something similar?

        I would also add that Daniel 12’s reference to those being “awoken” to “eternal contempt” is certainly leaving itself open for an ECT interpretation.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 13, 2018

          Can’t imagine too many evangelicals being convinced by Judith. 🙂 In my view Mark 9 talks about eternal worms eating corpses. But the corpses are dead. So too with unquenchable fire. The fire doesn’t go out, but that doesn’t mean the people in it are alive feeling its effects forever. When a person is executed by burning, they stop breathing long before the fire goes out — they aren’t screaming ten days or ten millennia later. For me the most interesting is Matthew 25. Maybe I’ll post on that, as I’ve just been writing about it. Short story, though, I don’t think any where in the NT is eternal conscious torment is taught (except for non humans: the devil the beast and the false prophet in Rev. 20:10)

          • Avatar
            Nichrob  August 28, 2018

            Please post on Mathew 25. I would like that very much. Please explain how Matt: 25:46 is either supporting or not supporting “eternal” punishment…. The author seems to end every point with “ and there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth”…. (Maybe it simply means dentistry will be a great profession in the afterlife…)

          • Bart
            Bart  August 29, 2018

            Ah, good idea. I do have a firm opinion about that!

  4. Avatar
    ardeare  August 11, 2018

    I have heard you mention Polycarp in some of your debates. It is said that he was a follower of John the Apostle. Is there a divide among scholars as to the authenticity of this claim or do we have a general consensus that he indeed followed and had been taught by John the Apostle?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      Yes, the claim is made by Irenaeus at the end of the 2nd century, who claimed ot have known Polycarp himself. It’s certainly possible, but seems a shade unlikely. If he did know John he would have had to be very, very young, since he died in 155 or so. In any event, one of the most interesting things about Polycarp’s letter that survives is that it quotes a bunch from the other Gospels, and Paul, and otehr parts of the NT, but never ever the Gospel of John! go figure.

  5. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  August 11, 2018

    I’m glad you’re posting on this. I wouldn’t mind it if you posted on all of the Apostolic Fathers.

  6. Lev
    Lev  August 11, 2018

    “In particular, the letter functions as a kind of “homonoia (= harmony) speech,” a rhetorical form common among Greek and Roman orators for urging peace and harmony in a city-state experiencing internal strife and disruption.”

    I really appreciate how you’ve briefly unpacked this. It’s absolutely fascinating – this is the sort of insight into these texts that I love learning about.

    Do you think Paul used a similar rhetorical device in his epistle to the Romans? Much like 1 Clement, it seemed to be about establishing harmony (by uniting the gentile and Jewish factions), and he also doesn’t seem to reveal the purpose of his letter until near the end (Rom 15:5-7).

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      Paul certainly wanted to achieve that end, but he did not, in this letter, follow the rhetorical pattern of a homonoia speech. Some have argued that he does, however, in 1 Corinthians.

  7. Avatar
    John Uzoigwe  August 11, 2018

    If Jesus followers were actually performing miracles. Then why couldn’t Paul heal Trophimus?

  8. Avatar
    wje  August 12, 2018

    So where does the name Clement come from, and who gave this letter this name?

  9. Avatar
    prestonp  August 12, 2018

    Higher Critics do not use or study the New Testament. The New Testament includes many miracles. The New Testament proclaims that Jesus is God. They rely upon sources that do not contain miracles and do not support the concept that Jesus is God. There is no God.

    They could call it: “A Two Thousand Year Old Fable Of Frolicking Fun For Families And Friends”

    But, it cannot mention, to name a few:

    Calming the stormy sea

    Raising a widow’s son

    Healing a withered hand

    Healing a paralytic

    Healing a centurion’s servant

    Healing a leper

    Catching a large number of fish

    Healing the sick during the evening

    Healing of Peter’s mother-in-law

    Healing of the possessed man in Capernaum

    Healing of the royal official’s son

    Changing water into wine

    Calming the stormy sea

    Healing the Gerasene demoniac

    Virgin birth

    Resurrection

    Raising Jairus’ daughter

    Healing two blind men

    Healing a 38 year invalid

    Healing a mute demoniac

    Feeding 5000 men and their families

    Walking on water

    Pete walking on water

    Miraculous healing of many people in Gennesaret

    Healing a demoniac girl

    Healing a deaf man with a speech impediment

    Feeding the 4000 men and their families

    Healing a blind man

    Healing a man born blind

    Healing a demoniac boy

    Catching a fish with a coin in its mouth

    Healing a blind and mute demoniac

    Healing a woman with an 18 year infirmity

    Healing a man with dropsy

    Healing 10 lepers

    Raising of Lazarus

    Healing Bartimaeus of blindness

    Jesus curses the fig tree with no fruit

    Restoring a severed ear

    The resurrection of Jesus

    Catching a great number of fish

    The ascension of Jesus

    Pentecost

    Bart, do you know any publishers who might be interested, who may want to give it a shot? The title is flexible. I imagine it will have wide, penetrating marketing value. It will be the first book of its kind that only features the bare minimum of what’s left after the New Testament is stripped of nearly everything. It will be lighter, shorter, and easier to read, perfect for students who prefer not to bother with all the superfluous nonsense and fairy tales and demented religious nuts.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      Higher critics don’t study the New Testament??? Uh, how many higher critics do you know? Do you really want to say that I, for example, have never studied the NT? Really???

      • Avatar
        prestonp  August 12, 2018

        Of course not. You rely on something that omits a major portion of the N.T. It cannot be the N.T. because the N.T. includes the miracles mentioned above and many more. The miracles don’t exist for historians. Therefore, whatever Higher Criticism does, it doesn’t examine the N.T.

        We can’t read every third sentence in a book and say we’ve read the entire book. Didn’t you say that although textual variants may not impact theology, if several books of the bible were suddenly missing, that would profoundly change the bible?

        The miracles comprise a significant and meaningful contribution to the N.T. You study something you call the N.T. but it is not the N.T. It cannot be the N.T. by definition.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 13, 2018

          Are you *trying* to be insulting? Or do you really not know what it means to be a scholar of the Bible? I’m having a feeling that you have no clue. Someone with a PhD in New Testament at my stage of a career has been reading the NT intensely thinking about every word for over forty years — not on a Saturday afternoon now and then, but as what they *do* with their lives.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 13, 2018

            Trying to be insulting? What did I say? Why would you say that? Historians cannot consider miracles. Isn’t that you just explained to us? Miracles are not part of the equation. They are dismissed right off the bat. They simply don’t exist to the historians. You just told us about this. Miracles cannot be included in what historians do.

            “Yesterday I started to talk about why historians cannot demonstrate that a miracle such as the resurrection happened because doing so requires a set of presuppositions that are not generally shared by historians doing their work. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this question, and have tried to explain on several occasions why a “miracle” can never be shown, on historical grounds, to have happened — even if it did.” Bart

            “you cannot presuppose perspectives on the world or on reality that are not widely shared among other historians investigating the same phenomenon.” Bart

            “This final point is really important. No historian will be taken seriously who makes historical claims that require views of reality not widely shared among other historians. .. To establish something as historically probable, you have to play the game of history following the rules…These presuppositions include: that there is a God, that he sometimes intervenes in this world, that Jesus was uniquely pleasing to this God, that God suspended the natural order to make Jesus come back to life, that Jesus then became immortal, that Jesus now dwells with God as an immortal being.” Bart

            They cannot even look at the major tenets of Christianity because they are based on the miraculous. How can historians evaluate the N.T. when they conclude beforehand that the miracles it describes cannot be part of the material?

            I have no doubt you’ve studied the Bible, Bart. But, you insist that you and your fellow scholars cannot even begin to include much of what it says and stands for, the very essence of the Gospel. The entire N.T. promotes the miraculous. You ignore all the miraculous.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 14, 2018

            You said that critical scholars obviously never read the NT. Ridiculous. As to the miracle stories, I have studied them intensely for forty years.

          • Avatar
            DavidNeale  August 14, 2018

            Preston appears to think that if you don’t believe in the literal truth of a story, you must not have read it. This is a very strange claim. I suppose that in Prestonland, anyone who doesn’t believe in the literal existence of Bilbo Baggins must not have really read Tolkien.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 14, 2018

            Well I’ve read him, and I *do* believe in Bilbo!!

        • Alemin
          Alemin  August 14, 2018

          prestonp, I think you’re misunderstanding what historical study is. See Bart’s recent posts on that. You said, “The miracles don’t exist for historians. Therefore, whatever Higher Criticism does, it doesn’t examine the N.T.”

          It DOES examine the NT, it just doesn’t necessarily ACCEPT everything in the NT is TRUE until that can be reasonably established. This is how history is done! NOTHING is a given until it’s well-established. Not only “the miracles don’t exist” until proven, the people, places and events don’t exist until proven. Fortunately it’s much easier to show that ‘Jerusalem’ probably existed then, so most people accept that. But to show that Peter’s mother-in-law actually had a fever and actually had it leave her? How does anyone establish that beyond reasonable doubt?

          Historians treat the NT like they treat any other historical document. You come in with skepticism, and see what can be reasonably established or most likely. They do that with Josephus, or Herodotus, or Eusebius. ‘Believers’ on the other hand assume that everything that Saul of Tarsus says is ‘true’, and then look for ways to confirm that, but not ever falsify it.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 15, 2018

            Of course they have read the N.T. Listen carefully, everyone, if you are interested. I have said several times that Bart’s knowledge of the N.T. is uncanny. It is unbelievable. My brain would explode with all he knows. Literally, it would burst if you poured what he knows into my pea shooter. Got it? GET IT! lol, okay? That is not my point.

            He has told us that historians do not include the miraculous when they do history. Check on that. No, I can’t read, but mother reads to me and I can hear. Just look. I’ve copied his statements, ok?

            My point is so simple. I’ll try again. One cannot say that one examines the N.T. to reach an understanding about its contents, its meaning, when it was written, by whom, what motivated them, sifting through what belongs in it and what doesn’t, when, before one begins one’s review, one is already discarding/dismissing/eliminating/not including/rejecting a sizable proportion of the contents of the book.

            It is simply not the N.T. any longer. It is Jefferson’s Bible.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 15, 2018

            It’s pretty easy, really. I’m not a Christian, I don’t believe in God, and I don’t think miracles happen. The thing that makes me different from the millions of other people like that is that I’m a scholar of the Bible. And why not? There are scholars of all sorts of things, e.g., scholars of Islam who are not Muslim, scholars who study Das Kapital but are not communist, scholars of Mein Kampf who are not Nazis, and and and….

    • Avatar
      mannix  August 13, 2018

      prestonp: I think it’s already been done! Thomas Jefferson published a re-write of the NT which focused on parables and precepts. I have not read it myself, but it sounds something like what you want.. It’s called the Jeffersonian Bible, runs about 100 pages, and you can get it in paperback for about $5.

      You’re welcome.

  10. Avatar
    jrhislb  August 12, 2018

    How do you submit request? I would love a series on the parables of Jesus.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 12, 2018

      Request noted!

    • Lev
      Lev  August 12, 2018

      I concur – especially if such a series looked at the coming Kingdom / apocalyptic themes within the parables of Jesus.

  11. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 13, 2018

    A friend, an Orthodox priest, publishes a blog and his most recent post concerns the veneration of Mary as “Theotokos ” He claims his personal research during his seminary days point to the conclusion that followers of Jesus always venerated her. I find his arguments wanting. Have you examined this aspact of Christian antiquity and, if so, when and how (or why) did Christians begin to venerate Mary as the mother of God?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 14, 2018

      It completely depends on what one meant by “venerated.” As you probably know, she’s not mentioned in most of the books of the NT, and in some books wehre she is mentioned teh focus is not at all on her but on the child she bears.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 16, 2018

        I particularly object to the claim they called her “Theotokos” — God bearer, from the time they believed Jesus had been raised. It presumes (a) that they immediately concluded Jesus was divine, (b) that he had been divine while in his mother’s uterus, (c) that carrying a divine human would make her the mother of his divine aspect without herself being divine—unless (d) the divinity of Mary was an early “heresy” that was later corrected. I’ve never heard or read any such claim as (d).

        • Bart
          Bart  August 17, 2018

          Yes, there’s no way she was called Theotokos in the first couple of centuries.

  12. Avatar
    Matthew Herrada  August 14, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman.

    The usage of the Danaids and Dircae in chapter 6 establishes the ambiguous nature of the surrounding text.

    Can you explain and break down your view on the euphemistic language of the apparent martyrdoms of Peter and Paul? Are they martyrdoms, or were they simply “testimonials by mode of witnessing?” Should the passage be understood in the sense that they died/went to heaven because of the jealousy, or that they earned their reward because of jealousy? Do you think the “great multitude of the elect” refers to Neronian persecution (why does he not say all of the elect instead of a great multitude of them)? Also, why does the author of this epistle make a distinction between the Old Testament witnesses and begins to use euphemistic language to those “closest to our present age?”

    What do other scholars have to say on the subject?

    It would be great if you gave a condensed yet intellectually rich analyzation on the subject matter. I have a hard time finding good material on apostolic fathers these days!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 14, 2018

      I”m not sure the language is hugely ambiguous. For Peter, for example, it literally says “and after being martyred, he went to the place of glory he deserved” And I would not call the phrase “closest to our present age” a euphemism. The author is distinguishing between ancient, biblical figures who witness to the faith and those more recently did it — to their deaths.

  13. Avatar
    Steefen  August 14, 2018

    Why was Emperor Domitian retroactively baptized?

    In Ephesus, there was a temple to Domitian with a very tall statue of him. Christians added a cross to it. Maybe the professor who recounted “retroactive baptism” was just speaking about adding a cross to the statue, the head of which is in the Museum of Ephesus.

    You’ve visited the Museum of Ephesus, yes? How great is it? I would love to spend time inside there–and go to the gift shop–I guess.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 14, 2018

      You don’t mean literally baptized do you? It was common for Christian vandals to put crosses on statues to pagan divinities. I don’t recall being in a museum in Ephesus, but I’ve been at the ruins four or five times. Fantastic.

  14. Avatar
    Steefen  August 14, 2018

    I just sent a message to Professor Kenneth W. Harl / Tulane University, asking him if he meant it literally when he said it in his The Great Courses – The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity, Lecture 3.

    A large head of the Emperor Domitian statue is there with his left forearm and hand. // This is what I found by googling again about the museum:

    It is a modern building with good collection. / The museum is open daily till 7 p.m. It is a modern building with good collection and multimedia. The most popular Selcuk Pidesici Cafe is near the Museum.

    Modern well presented museum / This museum in Selcuk is full of wonderful artifacts from Ephesus including intact statues of the many breasted Artemis.

    Beautiful displays / This little museum is outstanding, with great explanations in English and Turkish, excellent organization, beautifully-displayed artifacts, and the unmissable Artemis statues. It takes less than an hour, was only 10 TL, and I was the only visitor. Highly recommended. I went after visiting Ephesus but it would also be fine to do this first.
    ===
    On the way home, NPR said the exchange rate is really good for US tourists. I could cry at the thought of living the life of being an Ephesus tourist. May I get my life in order to fulfill that.
    = = =
    Hope you stop in the museum the next time you’re in Selcuk or Selcuk Pidecisi.

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 16, 2018

    Sounds much like a letter appropriate for the last church I attended.

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