FRIENDS, DRUNKS, AND CHRISTIANS
By LORETTA FULTON
Jeff Childers got plenty of feedback from the Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University–and that was before the lectures were even given.
It’s no surprise, considering the title of the annual lecture series: “Friends and Drunks: Two Glimpses into the Social History of the Early Christians and Their World.”
Childers joked that the feedback was in the form of questions like, “Is there a prerequisite?”
Childers is director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts at ACU, sponsor of the Carmichael-Walling Lectures.
The guest lecturer, Dr. John Fitzgerald, professor of Biblical Studies/Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, showed he had a sense of humor, too. Fitzgerald earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at ACU before earning three master’s and one doctorate from Yale University.
Fitzgerald came to ACU in 1967 as an undergraduate after transferring from Auburn University, where he had a football scholarship, “Back when football players were a whole lot smaller,” he joked.
Once Fitzgerald started his first lecture, “The Testament of Jesus: Wills, Friends, and the Fourth Gospel,” turned serious–but not too serious.
Fitzgerald noted seven observations about wills in the Greco-Roman world and then compared them with the last words of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The seven observations were:
- Wills were believed to be self-revelatory, showing what the writer valued.
- Wills were written as a moral obligation.
- Most people postponed writing a will until their life was in danger. (“If you’re going into war, make a will,” Fitzgerald added.)
- Wills were seen as the appropriate place to express gratitude.
- Wills not only were obligatory but also a solace to the writer.
- Wills were an opportunity to express judgment about associates and family members. (“I’m cutting you out of my will and this is why,” Fitzgerald joked.)
- Writing of wills was seen as an occasion for speaking the truth, once and for all.
During the reign of Nero, someone wrote in his will of Nero’s male and female sexual partners and their sex novelties.
“Wills were in short,” Fitzgerald said, “vessels of truth.”
Often wills named friends as heirs and they were given legacies, assigned jobs and asked to perform duties. It was considered the ultimate insult and dishonor, Fitzgerald said, to omit a friend from a will.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives an oral will, which was common, and his will was self-revelatory. In his will, Jesus called his disciples friends and emphasized the importance of friendship. He knows the end has come and discloses the content of his will–just like other writers of wills.
“His full disclosure of his will,” Fitzgerald said, “is to his friends,” which shows true friendship. He made the disclosure to his friends, not to the world.
Jesus disclosed everything to his friends in spite of their disloyalty to him, Fitzgerald noted. The friends received the disclosure through grace, not merit.
Fitzgerald’s evening lecture, the second of two in the series, was titled, “Wine and the Problem of Intoxication in the World of Early Christianity.” Fitzgerald talked about how heavy drinking and intoxication were common in the Greco-Roman world. Christians, as the New Testament and other early Christian literature shows, weren’t immune, Fitzgerald noted.
The second lecture noted “the consumption of wine in the ancient Mediterranean world, the problem of intoxication, and the awareness of this problem by early Christian authors.”