Synopsis of Primary



I’m a cultural historian of early Christianity whose work explores how early Christians received and made usable pasts of biblical texts, images, and figures through the first five centuries CE. My work has increasingly focused on the role of invention and deception in these processes. In their attempts to lay claim to biblical materials and establish a discursive authority over them, early Christians resorted to such strategies as disguised authorship, inventing historical accounts, and fabricating relics. I’m interested in why Christians opted to use these strategies and why they so often succeeded.

Since my interests span multiple centuries, I consider myself at home in both New Testament studies and Early/Late Ancient Christian studies, and I actively publish in both fields. Today, my work can be divided into two broad segments. The first explores the origins of the Gospel and Letters of John. The second explores the efforts made by late ancient cities to make usable pasts of the biblical in ritual (worship, processions, saint devotions).

Gospel and Epistles of John

One segment of my research reimagines the origins of the Gospel of John and the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John. In two books under development and several articles, I argue that these four works represent a lineage of falsely authored works involving multiple pens over several decades. The author of the Gospel invented a disciple of Jesus to serve as the narrator of his text, and later, the authors of the letters co-opted this character, fleshing out so many afterlives for him. My research traces this arc, showing how an initial act of impersonation inspired a new literary tradition and dramatically shaped twenty centuries of Christian culture.

In turn, this new vision of the origins of the Gospel and Letters of John has also led me to rethink other aspects of these works, including their interpretation, purpose, literary qualities, and reception/cultural history. My publications include several articles on these questions.

The Biblical in Late Antiquity

A second segment of my work enhances what we know about late ancient Christian communities by examining their reception of biblical texts, figures, and images. As the Mediterranean was Christianized in the fourth and fifth centuries, cities seeking to bolster their prestige drew on the fame of local martyrs to claim importance for themselves as spaces. Rome famously articulated its identity around Peter and Paul, while Constantinople claimed the legacy and relics of Andrew. In my first book, I demonstrate that church officials in Jerusalem worked for several decades to position Stephen in a similar role—a symbol of the city’s prestige and identity. Canvassing the diverse expressions of Stephen’s local cult, my book illuminates Jerusalem as a cultural site, revealing how the church understood its biblical past, how it articulated this self-understanding through and around the biblical martyr it selected as its own special patron, and how it reproduced this knowledge in a range of texts, monuments, and ritual practices.

I have also written several articles engaging issues branching from this project. These include studies of various late ancient martyr cults and re-examinations of important liturgical/ritual sources.