The origins of the Christian feast of Pascha (Easter) recede through the primordial obscurity of the Church to the cross and empty tomb. The feast and its central tenets were shared by nearly all pre-Nicene Christians, but the manner of celebrating and the mode of understanding Pascha were much more fluid. Various formulae produced up to four different Paschal dates; regional Christian sub-cultures characterized Pascha with different emphases. The conflict and confluence of these traditions up to the First Council of Nicaea formed the feast as we now celebrate it. Unfortunately the remaining evidence from these dynamic centuries is scant, and its rhetoric requires very careful interpretation. In The Antenicene Pascha
, Gerlach adeptly analyzes the extant sources and collates them into a convincing portrait. One regrets that this portrait is obscured by a lack of overall narratival structure, yet the reader's perseverance is rewarded by rare insight into early Christians' Paschal traditions and debates. Moreover, in our present East-West Paschal impasse (celebrating on different days sometimes resignedly, sometimes boisterously) we might benefit from the light this book sheds on how early Christians addressed such differences.
An Eighth Day View:
Beginning with "spiritual" interpretation and anti-Judaic polemic to secure the Pesach institution narrative (Ex 12) for Christian proclamation, major centers of Asia Minor and Syria, then Upper Egypt and the West, develop distinct rhetorical structures that load first the day, then the date of Pascha, with theological meaning. The emergence of the four-gospel canon at the end of the second century enriches, but does not supplant, a dialogue between Christian rituals and the scriptures inherited from Judaism. The Antenicene Pascha takes a fresh approach to the scattered literary remains of the earliest paschal feast by acknowledging them for what they are: relics of heated disputes about ritual boundaries that had elevated the Pascha, an observance with no explicite reference in first century literature, to an icon of unity and orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea. Just as these disputes repeat familiar patterns of establishing Christian identity, much modern scholarship employs hermeneutical categories derived from other conflicts (Great Schism, Reformation) that often obscure, rather than reveal, the history of the paschal celebration. This book will be of value not only to students of the liturgy, but also to those interested in the history of biblical hermeneutics, the canon, and the roots of Christian anti-Judaism.