The Meal in the Letters of Ignatius: Textual Variants as Evidence for Transforming Practice and Theology

The Letters of Ignatius have a particularly complex textual history as they exist in three different recensions of varying length, theological profile, and historical background. Most scholarship has tended to focus on the supposedly “original” middle recension, whose rich metaphorical language has often been interpreted as referring to a Christian meal in which bread and wine were consumed as flesh and blood of Christ. Such “realistic” readings have been challenged in recent studies (e.g. Heilmann 2014) which highlight the complex function of the used imagery in their argumentative contexts. Textual variations between individual manuscripts and recensions, however, point towards the fact that the understanding of the Letters’ metaphorical language indeed changed over time and against the backdrop of a transforming ritual practice and meal theology. By applying the working hypothesis of the network “Mahl und Text” to selected passages in the Letters of Ignatius which—at least in some recensions and manuscripts—deal with the Christian meal, the proposed paper aims at making some of these diachronic developments visible.