Harvard Theological Review


Becoming Heretical: Affection and Ideology in Recruitment to Early Christianities

Kendra Eshlemana1

a1 Boston College

A growing consensus recognizes that the differences among Christians in the late second and early third centuries were neither as obvious nor as great as representatives of later orthodoxy would have us believe, and that what divided Christians in this period were not so much different beliefs and ideas as different hermeneutical and ritual practices. This article approaches the same conclusion from a different angle: from the perspective of potential recruits to Christianity, drawing on social-scientific models of conversion. For them, the peculiarities of doctrine and even of practice that obsess ancient polemicists and modern scholars were often largely invisible. While those features could take center stage for mature converts—and hence in retrospective accounts of conversion—they seem to have played little role in bringing people to specific versions of the faith in the first place. Rather, for many Christian recruits, the road to “orthodoxy” or “heresy” began not in ideological attraction, but in attachments to family, friends, and patrons already inside the group.