Epicureanism and the Gospel of John

27346_00_detailNot strictly church orders (actually, not at all!) but the arrival of Fergus J. King, Epicureanism and the Gospel of John is an excuse to give a shout-out to an old friend, and a plug for the book. In addition, the themes addressed are likely to be of interest to those concerned with our ancient church orders.

The clue is probably in the title… this is a comparative study of Epicureanism and the fourth Gospel. In asking the question as to what the two schools have in common, the author concludes that there isn’t much, for all the superficial similarity. This conclusion is reached through an examination of the schools’ doctrine of God, teaching about death, on their fundamental principles (each of which subjects forms a chapter), and in two chapters on the ritual life and the internal organization of the schools (here the intersect with church orders emerges.)

Of course, this does not mean that there were not occasional overlaps between the practices of Epicurean and Christian groups in antiquity (for instance in the exercise of psychagogy), but the Johannine school was not one of them and, as the author points out, whatever the degree of social and cultural overlap there were significant ideological differences. Thus the author begins with a fictive Epicurean, and asks how simple a transition it might be to for him to adopt Johannine Christianity. The answer, in the conclusion, is that it would involve conversion, not simple re-alignment.

As I believe I have suggested previously, the value of comparative studies in the history of early Christianity lies as much in the differences as in the similarities between the comparanda. The work of comparison sometimes allows what is distinct in Christian circles to stand out in new light. As examples we might take the Corinthian congregation, which seems to exhibit a greater degree of social differentiation than most associations, or the extent to which Christian associations were trans-local and networked across and between cities and provinces by contrast to most ancient associations. This book exhibits this neatly with regard to the comparison of Johannine Christianity and other ancient schools, particularly reminding us of what is central in the Johannine tradition, as indeed of what is central in Epicureanism.

Post-publication PS: In the comment below, Fergus King offers readers a chance to buy the book at discount!

 

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1 Comment

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One response to “Epicureanism and the Gospel of John

  1. Alistair,
    Thanks for such a generous review- and many years of gentle encouragement.
    If any ACO readers want to buy this book, I have access to a discount code.
    Track me down at virtual work:
    https://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/theological-school/faculty-and-staff/fergus-king
    Fergus J. King

    Like

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