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Erik H. Erikson's identity theory and the formation of early Christianity

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Many scholars have recently maintained that it is difficult if not impossible to postulate the definite parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. It is argued in this paper that recent criticisms against the 'parting of the ways'-model resemble criticisms levelled against the classical identity theory formulated by Erik H. Erikson. His identity theory emphasises the sense of personal sameness and historical continuity. In recent decades, however, it has become common to question whether the notion of unified and consistent self does justice to diverse social realities in which individuals construct their sense of who they are. Furthermore, the developmental stage model claims to be universal and culturally neutral while, as a matter of fact, it is implicitly moralistic and value-laden. In case of the 'parting of the ways'-model it has become clear that the model does not match the evidence showing an intense interaction between various Jewish and Christian communities during the first centuries CE. In addition, it has been claimed that the model is not an unbiased historical account but serves Christian theological interests. Comparing the 'parting of the ways'-theory with the Eriksonian identity theory highlights the problems inherent in both theories. It is suggested that psychological and social-psychological theories arguing for the flexible and dynamic nature of identity construction are best suited to describe the emergence of early Christian identity in relation to Jews and Judaism.
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Keywords: Christianity and Judaism; Erikson, Erik H; identity; social identity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Biblical Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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