What if the Christian Bible emerged not from a long and murky process that involved the bishops, backed by imperial authorities, beating down challenges that they deemed “heretical” but in a kinder, gentler way? Say, a synod to which those very heresies (and even the Jews!) were invited to attend and participate, even if not on a fully equal footing. If there were such a synod, a meeting presided over by an emperor who sought at least one small measure that would unify rather than divide the fractured Christian community in late antiquity, would the Christian Bible look the same as it does today?
This was the question that I posed to my students at the end of our course, “Judaism, Christianity, and the Bible” as a concluding exercise. I set up a role-play exercise modeled somewhat on the Reacting to the Past (RTTP) “games.” Below is an outline of our game; it is more or less what I gave to the students. We ran the role-play yesterday. The results? That’s for a future post.
Canonizing the (Christian) Bible
We are sometime in the fourth century CE in Constantinople. The Roman emperor, a devout Christian (and also a practical ruler), spurred by the bishops in his court and concerned about both growing Christian diversity and his own eternal salvation, has recently convened a series of synods to hash out “orthodox” Christian theology. They have not gone particularly well. While some bishops were able to develop creeds that they could live with, other participants left angry and alienated. Chastened by the limited success of these synods, he has decided to address an issue that he hopes will be significantly easier to resolve: the confusing state of “scripture” within the Church. Does the Church need a cannon, and if so, what should be in it?
You have been summoned to participate in this Synod. Representatives of the competing parties will attend; the emperor expects you all to arrive at an agreement. Representatives of the Jewish community have also been invited to participate, although since they are unredeemable heretics they will of course have no direct vote or say.
[N.B. This Synod is a historical fantasy. There was no Synod convened at this time to canonize the Christian Bible. If there was, Jews would not have been invited and some of the other participants would have been long dead. This is pretend.]
The Emperor and Royal Authorities.
The Bishops within the Royal Court
Procedure and Schedule
Prior to first class: Read background material (distributed) and begin independent research on your role.
First class: Meet in groups and formulate your victory objectives. This should be a list of three or four goals that align with your character with points associated with each one. The total number of points should come to 100. Each group should submit this list with a brief explanation. On this document also indicate a bibliography of resources (perhaps 4-6 items) that you have or planning to consult for your role.
N.B. Some individuals within groups may have been assigned roles that require somewhat different objectives from their groups. These roles and instructions will be communicated privately and should not be revealed to other group members.
Prior to second class: Each student must submit an “opening statement” for their group. This should run 2-3 pages (double-spaced) and is individual work.
Second Class: Meet in groups to craft the group’s single opening statement.
Role-Play Day (3 hour block)
- Each group will denote a representative to deliver its opening statement. The statement should run 5-7 minutes, no less. Each statement will be followed by about 5 minutes of questioning.
- After the opening statements, groups will meet/negotiate for 15-20 minutes.
- A second round of statements (which can be shorter than the first), each followed by Q&A period.
- Voting and resolution, in a manner determined by the Emperor.
- Calculation of victory points.
- General discussion
After the class, submit a document that assesses the simulation: What did you learn from this experience?