When we step back and look at the Acts of the Apostles and the writings to early collectives, we see two features that we (and those about whom we are reading) likely take for granted: the genre of the letter or epistle and the presence of divinity customs or deisidaimonia. Without an understanding of these two terms, a fair bit of the New Testament frankly looks odd, but they are so central to how we consider them that we don’t often think about them.

The infrastructural improvements with which we associate the Pax Romana helped to improve the literacy, papyrus trade, and travel routes necessary to make mail even more expedient. Letter writing served as a great way for disciples and teachers to communicate with one another. The reading of these writings helped to maintain the bonds between which the collective worked out its identity. If you wish, you can learn more about epistles here in this brief bibliographic essay here and peruse some biblical epistles against some non biblical ones here.

An ancient sheet of papyrus

Deisidaimonia refers to customs people carry out in relation to supernatural beings. The difficulty of translating and conceptualizing this word in English has not only to do with many people’s lack of awareness about the plethora of divinities that appear to inhabit the Hellenistic world as described in a number of ancient sources, but also that conventional English words like “fear,” superstition,” and “cult” too quickly connote pejorative ideas, despite that scholars could aptly use all three to describe Christianity. As we said with parables, if we’re willing to wrestle with ambiguity, we begin to have a better grasp of how Christianity was a product of its time. In addition to more public cultic displays as we’ve already read about, we might also think about the way in which the gatherings of early Christian meetings appeared similar to private communal deisdaimonian gatherings, sometimes referred to as “mystery cults.”

Dionysus holding a glass of wine, wearing a toga with half of his chest exposed. He's waring flowers and berries on his head and there's a cask of wine and bowl of fruit in front of him on a table.

Epistles and desidaimonia collide in Christian articulations of koinonia so far as the feast gatherings and worship rites for which the collectives were known are discussed in the letters. So when the community is separated, they can maintain koinonia.

For this assignment, I want you to simply review these two key vocabulary words and spend 250 words or so to reflect on all that you’ve learned in this unit. Develop a lesson plan that explains what you know about the Acts of the Apostles and early Christianity and try to utilize as many vocabulary words from the slide decks, readings, and lectures as possible. The more you can connect. You don’t have to use complete sentences and you can draw. But devise notes for you to be able to teach some one what you’ve learned.