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Want To Know About the Apostolic Fathers?

Last year we admitted a student into our PhD program last year to work with me, but since I’ve been on academic leave to write my next book, I haven’t  had the chance to teach her.  That’s obviously a problem, since I”m one of the reasons she’s here!  So we agreed that I would go ahead and do a one-on-one independent study with her this semester on an important topic, the Apostolic Fathers.

We meet once a week for three hours to translate Greek texts, discuss the books in question (see below), and talk about scholarly monographs that she is assigned to read each week.  It’s a lot.  But, well, welcome to the PhD!  For many students college is a big leap form high school; a master’s program is a big leap from undergraduate; and a PhD program is a QUANTUM leap.

The “Apostolic Fathers” is a technical term for a group of 10 (or 11, depending on what you include) authors traditionally thought to  have been writing immediately after the books of the NT were completed — that is, early second century — who stood within the proto-orthodox tradition.  That is, these were the forerunners of what became standard Christian belief and practice, in Christianities early years, just after the New Testament.   (So no “Gnostic” writings, etc.) In reality at least one of them was writing at the same time as the New Testament (the author of 1 Clement) and two are probably at the end of the second century (2 Clement and the Letter to Diognetus).

Some years ago I published a two-volume facing-page edition of the these authors, that is, Greek (and where there is no Greek, Latin) on the left page and my new translation on the right page.   The books are highly significant for knowing about Christianity just after the NT period, and so I use the course (which I’ve taught a number of times) to get into key issues of early Christianity:  heresy and orthodoxy, the development of church hierarchy, the role of women in the church, Jewish-Christian relations, persecution and martyrdom, the development of church ritual, etc. etc.

In any event, I thought you mighht be interested in what the Apostolic Fathers are, and what we are doing to discuss them.  The books I’ve assigned her are either classics or cutting edge, on topics some of you may be interested in.   So, here’s the syllabus I gave her.

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  1. Avatar
    amonro  January 22, 2020

    At times over the past 100 years or so, scholars and theologians have written about the “delay of the parousia” problem. Evidence from the New Testament for various positions on the issue has been debated.

    How do the writings of the apostolic fathers discuss the timing of the parousia? Do any of them address concerns about a “delay” (like 2 Peter does, for example)?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Not really. The final chapter of the Didache still has a very enhanced apocalyptic view. Others just deal with other issues.

  2. Avatar
    bamurray  January 22, 2020

    Clearly there’s a lot of preparation for the student for each session! How much preparation do you find that YOU have to do for this at this stage of your career?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Well, I have to reread the Greek and look back over the monographs. But it’s all familiar territory to me ….

  3. Avatar
    nichael  January 22, 2020

    First, thank you for doing this. I always find it fascinating when you present these views into the inner workings of this kind of academic work and training.

    Second, a small (possibly dumb) question about the course description:
    Each of the sessions’ reading assignments includes the note “(in English, several times)”.

    I assume this is saying that an English version of the assigned text should be read “several times”, is this correct? Or is something else happening here?

    [ That is, I kind of assumed that, at this level, having familiarized ones self with the text currently under discussion by carefully reading it multiple time was, more or less, a bare-minimum requirement, so “assigning” this task in so explicit a manner struck me as slightly confusing, so I thought I’d ask. But then, as I say, perhaps it is a dumb question. 😉 ]

  4. galah
    galah  January 22, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman, You mention that the book of Clement 1 was written the same time as some canonical writings. Does this author avoid the use of the word “Christian?” I’ve seen it included and excluded in translation. I couldn’t find it in the Greek text that I was reading. But then, I wasn’t looking at a copy of an original document. I find this particularly interesting because New Testament authors never address fellow believers as such. They just don’t appear to be very fond of the term.
    Also, do you know what period authors begin using the term on a regular basis?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      I don’t know if he avoids it, but he doesn’t use it. Within the communmities they were more likely to call one another “brothers” etc.; For outsiders they would be more likely known as Xns, and tehy sometimes talked about outsiders views of them as Xns (as in 1 Peter)

  5. Avatar
    AndrewB  January 22, 2020

    Fascinating! (Never heard of an H grade). A question that may be on-topic or off, I’m not sure. Would one be able to explore the roots of the idea of complementarianism in the writings of the apostolic church fathers? I’ve recently heard it’s not an original concept of the NT and I’m looking to find out more about how it developed. Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Ah: our graes aer H for high pass; P for pass; L for low pass; F for For goodness sake, try something else with your career.

  6. Avatar
    veritas  January 22, 2020

    That is why I never finished school. Too much for me to absorb. Your ninth session, specifically the final discussion, is that a trick question or an open ended one? Forgive me for asking, I am not being sarcastic. It brought a smile to my face along with your weeping and gnashing of teeth for late turn ins.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      It’s a genuine question! Does it make sense to talk about this group of writers as a group, or to oranize their writings into a collection/canon?

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  January 22, 2020

    A little bit late for this discussion but do you recommend Elizabeth Clark’s book on the First Origenist Controversy?


    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Highly indeed! (She’s one of my closest friends as well!)

  8. Avatar
    darren  January 22, 2020

    Amazing! A crazy amount of work each week, but amazing nonetheless. How often (if ever) do your doctoral or other students produce work with insights that surprise you, or raise points you had never thought of? After so many year teaching, I’m guessing it’s rare

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Yup, it happens with some regularity. But not the undergrads!

  9. Avatar
    forthfading  January 22, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Would you please post some responses to Dr. Tabor’s view that Jesus may have been married or was probably married? I know you have written on the blog before regarding your view on this subject, but that seems to be several years ago and back when Dr. Tabor held the same view. Have you had a chance to examine dr. Tabor latest evidences to why he thinks Jesus may have been married? Paul not mentioning it, the fact that no wives are named, or how the absolute silence regarding the subject is questionable. I think members of the blog would be very curious to know if your views have changed regarding this issue.

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Good idea. I’ll add it to the list of posts I need to re-post! (none of those is among the reasons I doubt it)

  10. Avatar
    cristianp  January 22, 2020

    I have already started the hard task of getting the texts… unless I find “a pious soul… the truth is that it is for my almost an obsession (actually obsessed me)

  11. Avatar
    Bwana  January 23, 2020

    After all that hard work, that final question seems a bit discouraging …

  12. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 23, 2020

    I heard that women were important in the early Christian movement, but there seems to be a dearth of Apostolic Mothers. When did this change from cherishing female voices come?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Ah, long story. Very long story. Maybe I’ll post on it again.

  13. Avatar
    jogon  January 23, 2020

    Hi Bart, do you think Clement of Rome knew the gospels or do you think he was quoting oral tradition in 1 Clement? Also there seems to be some disagreement if the leaders who were deposed in the letter were appointed by the Apostles or Appointed by the leaders who were appointed by the apostles ( I believe L Michael White says the latter) how do you interpret it?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      I’ve never been able to decide; I think defintely the latter, or even by leaders appointed by leaders appointed by apostles.

      • Avatar
        jogon  January 25, 2020

        Oh? I’ve just got your Loeb texts and in there you say the former, have you changed your mind since then? Also in the Loeb introduction to ignatius you mention that Origen says ignatius was the second Bishop after Peter, does this strike you as quite unlikely? It seems odd that ignatius never mentions this in any of his letters doesn’t it?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 26, 2020

          1. As I said: I’ve never been able to decide! Depends which day you ask me on. 🙂 2. Seems unlikely to me, yes. There would have been 40-50 years between Peter and Ignatius, at least… 3. I don’t think it’s excessively weird. The people he was writing to already knew who he was so he wouldn’t have to remind them…

          • Avatar
            jogon  January 26, 2020

            Oh sorry I thought when you said you haven’t been able to decide you were referring to whether Clement knew the gospels or not!

  14. Avatar
    Silver  January 23, 2020

    What are the existing skills, qualifications and accomplishments of this PhD candidate e.g. is she already proficient in Greek; can she read French for the work set for Week 2? Will she actually teach 40 minute lectures based on her mini-reports? Will she be paid for these? Will she be graded for her teaching skills?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      1. Yes, excellent in Greek and Latin 2. Turns out she doesbn’t have French yet 3. No, it’s just a hypothetical: she one day will have to. 4. No, she doesn’t give lectures, just delivers a report.

  15. Avatar
    vox_clamantis  January 23, 2020

    So exciting! Thanks for sharing this. Makes me want to take refuge at a quiet table by the stacks. But how to prepare for that final discussion??

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      Read about the debate, weigh the arguments, and make a decision!

      • Avatar
        vox_clamantis  January 24, 2020

        🙂 I think you answered my question elsewhere in this thread, as to whether / how to read these works collectively. Seems the same question applies to the NT then, but we’re used to thinking of that as a more typical ‘canon’ discussion.

  16. Avatar
    mikezamjara  January 23, 2020

    Hi Dr Ehrman
    I have two questions:
    1. Is de Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans considered authentic and written by Ignatius?
    2 That letter is famous because is the first time that the term “catholic” is used by the early church. Does that means Ignatius put that name or you think it was used before him?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2020

      1. Yes; 2. This led to an enormous debate between one of the MAJOR scholars of the 17th century, an archbishop in Ireland, James Ussher, and a young upstart Puritan that no one had ever heard of, named John Milton!! The word “catholic” just means “throughout the world,” nothing technical yet.

  17. Avatar
    cristianp  January 24, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman Actually thank you very much for sharing this, it really seems amazing. My question is if you are familiar with the work “Greek Apologetic Fathers” by RUIZ BUENO, D. Or the work on “Fathers of the Church” by Antonio Piñero (Complutense University of Madrid)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 26, 2020

      No, I don’t believe so. the first sounds like it is on the apologists, rather than the apostolic fathers (both are very important collections of writings, but they are different) and the latter on a wide range of fathers, probably not focusing on these earliest ones.

  18. Avatar
    mannix  January 25, 2020

    Just reading the syllabus activated my irritable bowel!

  19. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  February 20, 2020

    I am midway through a part-time MA, studying Classics and Ancient History, (and am currently on a break) and so I was very interested to see what a PhD course looked like. You are certainly right about the leap from first degree to Masters and a PhD looks both exciting and (I have say) a little bit intimidating in terms of the workload. Just a thought, Dr Ehrman, have you ever considered doing (or in fact do you do) one-to-one distance learning courses on aspects of early Christianity and the New Testament?

  20. Avatar
    jyarbrough01  April 23, 2020

    Hi Bart,

    I am rereading some of your blogs, and in my own research reverting back and forth between pro-Christian perspectives and of course opposing views. One that I get hung up on is Polycarp. I have searched your blogs and do not see much elaboration on him so I thought I would reach out. I find that Polycarp is the one source that Christians (at least the few who are educated in it’s history) have as a gateway to confirming the supernatural events of the scriptures via the Apostle John, since Polycarp and John were close. Do you have any thoughts an the authenticity of this relationship, or how there could be issues with this argument?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 24, 2020

      I don’t think the later stories about Polycarp being John’s disciple are necessarily reliable. But even so, Polycarp does not provide us with any confirmation of John’s miracle stories. It is very (VERY!) interesting ithat in Polycarp’s letter, he repeatedly quotes the other Gospels and other writings of the NT, but NEVER quotes the gospel of John. It’s not clear he knew it.

      • Avatar
        jyarbrough01  April 24, 2020

        Thank you Dr. Erhman. It seems Irenaeus was emphatic about Polycarp’s relationship with John. I have not been able to find any sources from Polycarp that describes his conversations with John either, but assume it’s just a matter of none survived (or he didn’t write about it). I would think Irenaeus would have written as well what he heard Polycarp say about John additionally. Are there any such documents from the early fathers writing precisely what they heard from John?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 26, 2020

          Yes, he was. Of course he was emphatic about a lot of things! I don’t recall that he says anything at all about *what* Polycarp said about John; maybe soemone else on the blog can help us out.

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