From the ridiculed to the sublime

How erudite I do feel. No POETS Day here. I spent Friday afternoon moving from the motivation of Turner prize nominated artists to a discussion of the diversity of early Christianity. Usually one can say with confidence that the former find words difficult but those who talk about the latter are all too articulate for their own good. That was only half true here. Phoebe Unwin (a painter, thank heavens, not an installationist) was delightfully uncomplicated about her art: quirky but basically traditional interior scenes. ‘I’m not painting how things look, I’m painting how they feel..how a colour becomes an object.’ She echoed what my painter mother always berated me with, ‘if I could talk about it, I wouldn’t paint it.’ But Phoebe was in fact great at describing process – ‘going on a hunch, sometimes nothing more, sometimes it goes somewhere…I have an important relationship with failure.’ She’s very good at knowing which is which, though.

‘One of the great tragedies of early Christianity…’ historian Charles Freeman began. I sat, pen poised, but he never finished the sentence. ‘Twas ever thus for those seeking answers. But he had lots of questions which must seriously annoy the church hierarchy who like to think of the dogma as fixed. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the gospels were written between 35 and 85 years later in sophisticated Greek; what was lost in the process? The first Latin texts don’t appear until 180 AD, and then in north Africa, not Rome. Resuurection, as a hebrew term, was not unique: coming back from the dead as an image, evidence of stopping a tomb becoming a focus for cult gatherings by removing the body… What made the early movement self sustaining: possibly the ritual of the eucharist? I’ve actually got a simpler anwer to the last question. At a time when many of the new rival cults across the Roman empire, like Mithraism, were only open to military and wealthy men, Christianity welcomed slaves, the middle classes and most importantly, women.