Consuming Jesus—Receiving Eternity: Meal Elements of Special Quality in Johannine Communities

Drawing on some theories and concepts from symbolic anthropology and ritual studies, recent scholarship on early Christian meal practices has paid considerable attention to their function by formation of early Christian identities. The goal of this paper is to complement these insights by using some cognitive theories of ritual, enabling to analyze meal practices on the level of psychological mechanisms underlying their cognitive processing. The hypothesis is that these mechanisms were in some extent responsible for formation of interpretation of meal elements as disposing special quality, which can be documented in early Christian sources of different provenience since the end of the first century (e.g. Did. 9:5; Ign. Smyr. 7, Eph. 20; Just. 1 Apol. 66). It will be argued that formation of these interpretations was driven by cognitive mechanisms responsible for evaluation of ritual efficacy, activated in the meal context by invention of social restrictions (restrictions of participation and presiding) in the processes of ritualization. From this perspective, conceptual blending of meal elements with Jesus and their ingestion with gain of eternity in John 6 will be analyzed as reflecting this interpretation in given community and thus comparable to extant alternatives.