“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Tertullian, the second-century Christian apologist from Carthage, penned this famous and often misunderstood question in his Prescription Against Heresies. The question has little to do with the locations of Athens and Jerusalem or the characteristics of the cities themselves; rather, they are symbols for philosophical inquiry (Athens) and Christian faith (Jerusalem). These symbols are part of Tertullian’s argument that philosophical modes of thinking formed the foundation of heresies in early Christianity and therefore should be avoided. “Jerusalem” was preferable to “Athens.”
With this question, Tertullian makes three interpretive movements: First, he understands real cities–places that can be physically experienced–as symbols of abstract ideas–faith and philosophy. Second, he uses these city-symbols to negotiate Christian identity–here, what is and is not “heretical.” Third, he forms his views about cities and Christian identity through his interpretation of scripture.
Since cities are symbols in the biblical interpretation and early definition of Christianity, can we say more about how cities, cultural identity, and biblical interpretation interact in the emergence of Christian discourse? This site aims to answer this question by collecting and commenting on representations of specific cities–Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, Ephesos, Corinth–in New Testament interpretation. I’m asking how someone like the North African Tertullian, whose experience of Jerusalem or Athens may have been limited, would have formulated his conception of these cities.
Welcome to New Testament Cities.
Images: Athens and Jerusalem by Jill E. Marshall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Header Image: NT Cities by Jill E. Marshall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.