Images of Community in Ignatius of Antioch and Beyond

Working Papers on Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic Literature 1.32 (21/3/15)

‘Images of Community in Ignatius of Antioch and Beyond’                                                                                        Jason König

Abstract for a paper given at the project’s 3rd Literary Interactions conference, in Boston, 18-19 June 2015:

Much of my recent work (some of it developed specifically as part of the ‘Literary Interactions’ project) has focused on representations of intellectual community in the Greek and Latin literature of the late first and second centuries (e.g. on Pliny’s Letters, Plutarch’s Quaestiones Convivales and Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights). This paper compares the early Christian literature of the same period, and asks how we explain the differences and the similarities. The books of the New Testament and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are on the whole very difficult to date securely, but Ignatius of Antioch is a rare exception: his letters, sent from captivity, on his way to be martyred in Rome, to a range of churches in Asia Minor, are fairly securely datable to the reign of either Trajan or Hadrian. In many respects Ignatius’ vision of Christian community is very close to what we find in Paul’s letters, but he also has some idiosyncrasies, for example in his repeated insistence on a very rigidly defined hierarchy, presided over by a bishop and council of elders, who must be obeyed for anyone who wants to be free of heresy. The dominant impression, for someone coming to this material from authors like Pliny or Plutarch, is of its alienness: Ignatius, like other early Christian writers, designedly constructs an image of community outside the boundaries of Greco-Roman society. And yet there are also striking overlaps in some of his broad conceptions: for example his fascination with inter-city relationships and his obsession with harmony are very close to Dio Chrysostom’s speeches on concord just a little way to the north and at more or less the same time Ignatius was writing. By taking a closer look at that point of comparison, along with others (and building on the starting-points laid out by Eshlemann, The Social World of Intellectuals, 2012, and Lotz, Ignatius and Concord, 2007), I aim to raise new questions about what kinds of literary and cultural interaction within the Greco-Roman world Ignatius is engaged in.