ECCE visited the EABS Annual Conference 2.–5.8.2021

The annual conference of the European Association of Biblical Studies was organized by the University of Wuppertal as a virtual conference this year. The ECCE project participated in the research unit ”The Biblical World and Cultural Evolution” chaired by Ronit Nikolsky and Nina Nikki.

After the cancellation of the full 2020 EABS Annual Conference due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year biblical scholars around Europe had the chance to participate in a virtual conference. The ECCE project participated in the research unit “The Biblical World and Cultural Evolution”, which hosted two sessions. The first session, “Bible and Cultural Evolution, Modern and Ancient”, consisted of three papers. Christian Wetz discussed Bultmann’s hermeneutics from an evolutionary psychology and cognitive science point of view. Lauri Laine addressed the theme of the Divine Council in the light of cultural evolution as a conceptualization of divinity in the Ancient Near East. Ronit Nikolsky discussed bureaucratic logic and cultural evolution.

The second session, “Early Christianity and Cultural Evolution”, was dedicated to the ECCE team members. In their paper, Nina Nikki and Pasi Hyytiäinen conducted a word co-occurrence analysis on Paul’s authentic letters and some early Christian pro-Pauline texts to see how the use of “righteousness” varied in different textual contexts. Antti Vanhoja discussed anti-Paulinism in early Christianity from a cultural evolutionary perspective. Pasi Hyytiäinen argued that the Byzantine text does not preserve the original text of the New Testament, but instead represents an innovation, which emerged in the 4th century and only later became the dominant textual form.

Below you can find the abstracts of the papers presented by the ECCE project members.

Nina Nikki & Pasi Hyytiäinen: Variety in “Righteousness” after Paul: a Word Co-occurrence Analysis

As various scholars from William Wrede to E. P. Sanders have noted, the concept of “righteousness” plays a secondary role in the Apostle Paul’s soteriological argumentation and appears mainly when Paul is arguing against Jewish Christian opponents, who insist on circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law for the Gentile Christ-believers. Early Christian writers following Paul, however, faced different social exigencies. They retained the concept but applied it differently, often connecting it to ethical exhortations. This paper seeks to clarify the early variety of “righteousness” by looking at Paul’s authentic letters and a select group of early Christian “pro-Pauline” authors through quantitative distant reading of the texts. The texts will be subjected to a word co-occurrence analysis, which will not only reveal which words occur in proximity to the term “righteousness” in each text, but also the centrality of the term in them. The procedure will illustrate how the concept of “righteousness” travelled from Paul’s argumentative contexts to new ones, preserving its role as a powerful positive identity label, but with varying theological content.

Antti Vanhoja: Anti-Paulinism in Early Christianity: Cultural Evolutionary Perspectives

Little is known about early (Jewish-) Christians who maintained a hostile stance towards Paul the Apostle. Their views never achieved a dominant position in early Christian thought, few sources that are not hostile toward them have survived, and their history has proven to be very difficult to retrace. Still, evidence of early anti-Pauline polemic can be found in various, even widely-circulated Christian texts, as has been pointed out by Annette Y. Reed and Pierluigi Piovanelli. How can this be explained when anti-Pauline groups were left in the margins of early Christianity? I argue that the cultural evolutionary approach offers valuable tools to understand anti-Paulisnim in early Christianity. It shows that a hostile narrative about Paul could have had value and attractiveness as such even if the group using it might not have been successful. Evolutionary analysis reveals that we should understand anti-Paulinism as an independent phenomenon rather than merely a part of Jewish-Christian thought or an attribute of a specific group. The main source material considered in this paper consists of 1) heresiological patristic writings concerning Ebionites, Elcesaites, and other (Jewish-)Christian groups accused of rejecting Paul and his letters, 2) texts that contain hostile stances towards Paul, e.g., Pseudo-Clementine writings and the Ethiopian Book of the Rooster, and 3) for comparison, early Islamic accounts of Paul (Sayf b. ʿUmar) and the Eliyahu narrative in some versions of Toledot Yeshu. First, the applicability of the model to the material is critically evaluated. Next, the anti-Pauline material is analyzed by categorizing it to different levels of evolution. Finally, the results of the analysis are shortly compared to the traditional understanding of anti-Paulinism as a feature of Jewish-Christianity.

Pasi Hyytiäinen: The Spread of the Byzantine Text and Biased Cultural Selection

Different books of the New Testament circulated in varied textual forms during the first Christian centuries, but from the 9th century CE onwards, one single textual tradition prevailed. Today, this tradition which drove all others into extinction is known as the Byzantine text. It was this text that became popular in Constantinople and spread throughout the Byzantine Empire; hence the majority of the surviving Greek manuscripts are of this type. Most often this text is seen as the result of later textual development. However, a small but growing number of critics argue that the Byzantine text preserves the original text of the New Testament. They insist that, according to the statistical method, it is most probable that the majority of witnesses will preserve the original text. The survey at hand challenges this Byzantine priority hypothesis by focusing on the pattern by which the Byzantine text spread throughout the manuscripts of the New Testament. This process had two stages. First, there was a long initial phase, lasting from the late 4th to 8th century, during which the frequency of the Byzantine text was low among the New Testament manuscripts. Second, in the 9th century, this tradition experienced rapid growth, at which point the Byzantine text suddenly began to be present in the majority of the surviving manuscripts. This development can be pictured as an S-shaped growth curve. This corresponds to the pattern new cultural traits spread, when biased cultural selection (content-, model- and frequency-based bias) is the predominant effecting force, causing initially rare innovations, ideas, beliefs values, etc., to become widespread within a given human group. Hence, this survey argues that the Byzantine text does not represent the original text (nor the majority text until the 9th century), but instead, represents an innovation, which emerged in the 4th century and later, superseded older textual forms, coinciding with the dynamics of cultural evolution.