Early Christian Thinkers edited by Paul Foster.

Yesterday I surveyed how Paul Parvis presented Justin Martyr in Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures (see here). Today I will do the same for Paul Foster’s presentation of Tatian.

I find Tatian fascinating. He was born in Assyria (p. 15). He became a disciple of Justin. He followed Justin’s footsteps as an apologist. He wrote Oratio ad Graecos against claims of Greek superiority and in favor of Christianity (pp. 19-23). Most importantly, he wrote the Diatessaron.

The Diatessaron was one of earliest attempts to harmonize the four Gospels. It tells me a few things. First, there was a desire to be historically accurate in the early church. Obviously there was a willingness in the long run to allow for the tensions between the four Gospels rather than convulting them into one, but for many there was also a desire to have a pure, succinct account. Second, the Gospels that became canonized seem to have had favor early. The Gospel of Thomas may have been considered, but our current Gospels are given the most attention.

In pp. 23-31 Foster discusses this work. He examines the proposed original language and location of it’s writings. Also, he takes a look a recent studies that compare the Gospel of Thomas with the Diastessaron. There has been much about the possible influence of one upon the other with scholars taking sides over which came first.

Foster examines whether or not we should consider Tatian a “heretic” at the end of his chapter. He makes the valuable point that, “…if he has experience the same fate as his martyred teacher Justin, then the ‘crown of martyrdom’ would have ensured that he was lauded as an orthodox hero.” (p. 32) Instead:

“Tatian’s relationship with Encratite Christians seems to be the basis of the later concern about his ‘orthodox’ pedigree. Yet, recognition of this simply pushes the problem one step further back,  since it is no more transparent as to why this movement was considered to be beyond the pale of ‘orthodoxy’.” (p. 33)

Overall I find Foster’s proposal fairly convincing. Tatian was not a heretic. He was part of the formation of the early church and he didn’t align perfectly with orthodoxy later. For his day he was an apologist and like all apologist who try to defend Christianity to the surrounding culture there are some times when they don’t fit the mold of the establishment.