Religious Studies Faculty Publications

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Book Chapter

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The Other Side: Apocryphal Perspectives on Ancient Christian ‘Orthodoxies’


When Irenaeus juxtaposed "tradition" and heresy, he moved away from the Pauline usage, which centered primarily upon incorrect behavior (See 1 Cor 11: 19, Gal 5 :20). lrenaeus' definition of heresy, however, does not indicate that all early Christians prioritized belief over behavior, or even maintained orthodoxy and orthopraxis as separate categories. In the otherworldly spaces of the apocryphal apocalypses doxa and praxis seem to be intertwined, and little or no distinction is made between belief and behavior. Instead, in the Otherworld the categories of primary importance are righteous/unrighteous, good/evil, Christian/Other. The Otherworld is a place in which sins can be "sorted" and the identity markers which might have been overlooked or are difficult to see in this world can be seen more clearly. And yet, we are left to wonder how that otherworldly clarity maps onto the lived experience of the ancient audiences of these apocalypses. Thus, we will begin by reflecting upon the ability of these apocalyptic texts to create (and recreate) Christian identity by either describing real categories of people, or by creating the categories themselves, and so prescribing reality. In each of the apocalypses that we will discuss the reader learns that his or her identity is determined for all of eternity by the choices that are made in this world. In this regard, each depiction of the otherworld establishes its own identity markers, isolating certain beliefs and behaviors as distinctively "Christian."

What is startling about the definitions of Christian belief and practice that emerge from each text is that they are rather expansive, covering far more territory than any creed or council. Our discussion will demonstrate that while creedal definitions of orthodoxy ( as well as the apocalyptic definitions of correct belief that mirror them) were often aimed at labeling specific groups as "other," the apocalyptic depictions of the otherworld were attempting to be either exhaustive or open-ended, imagining a host of practices that could be used to frame Christian identity.

In these imaginary spaces, the theological identities that were crafted could not simply be summarized by simple binaries like orthodoxy/heterodoxy, oppressed/oppressor, or even sinner/sinless. Instead, the apocalyptic visions, which on the surface seem to deal in dichotomies, paradoxically proliferate a range of Christian practices.

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Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht



Place of Publication

Göttingen, Germany

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