Next Came the Letter: Listening with Dennis E. Smith to Paul’s Letters in the Context of Household Gatherings

Dennis E. Smith shared a paper at the spring meeting of the Christianity Seminar of the Westar Institute in 2016 entitled, “In The Beginning Was The House: How Social and Identity Formation of Early Christ Groups Took Place.” At the same meeting, I offered draft chapters of a book that has since been published as Family Empires, Roman and Christian, Volume 1, Roman Family Empires: Household, Empire, Resistance. In an unfortunately truncated conversation at that meeting, Dennis noted that he could see ways to collaborate to combine our two papers. This paper attempts a posthumous effort to continue that conversation. The paper will first summarize Smith’s portrayal of the house as the physical space in which early Christ groups gathered for meals. Then it will provide an amplified view of Roman households emphasizing their transformation into increasingly public social performance spaces during the late Republic and Augustan eras. Most of the paper will summarize and respond to Smith’s work on setting early Christ groups in the context of house gatherings in the houses described, focusing on Paul’s letters.