The Blood of Christ and Christian Blood: A Model for Interpreting the Concept of Blood in Second- and Third-Century Christian Theology

Allen Wilson, Fordham University


How does human blood come to possess attachments to kinship ("blood is thicker than water"), race (“blood purity”), and land ("blood and soil")? Are these ideas universally given, or could there be a history to be uncovered here? In his book Blood, Gil Anidjar proposes to answer these questions about the significance of blood, looking to early Christianity as the inventors of the blood community, an idea that would later coagulate into these modern idioms. The three most important contributions in modern scholarship to the study of specifically Christian notions of blood are Caroline Walker Bynum’s Wonderful Blood, Gil Anidjar’s Blood, and Joseph Henry Rohling's The Blood of Christ in Latin Literature in the first 1000 years. My project will build upon these contributions in two ways. First, I add to their research by examining formative early Christian sources that they overlook. I devote a chapter to Irenaeus of Lyons, a chapter to Tertullian of Carthage, and a chapter to Origen of Alexandria. Second, I provide close readings of relevant texts that integrate these authors’ references to blood within a larger theological anthropology, attend to the polemical subtext of specific texts, and situate the relevant textual evidence in relation to broader Greco-Roman theorizations of blood in medicine, ritual, and philosophy. When we look to these second- and third- century sources, we see a different story than the one Anidjar tells. Christianity did not invent a new meaning for blood. Instead, they developed upon the possibilities of blood already available to them in Greco-Roman thought. The singularity of Christ’s blood as treated by these three authors examined in this dissertation introduces—though in three different ways—an exception in the common understanding of blood as undifferentiated, and on the basis of this exception it establishes a limited kinship that is a precursor to later concepts of “pure blood” witnessed in the limpieza de sangre in the fifteenth century.

Subject Area

Religion|Classical Studies|Theology

Recommended Citation

Wilson, Allen, "The Blood of Christ and Christian Blood: A Model for Interpreting the Concept of Blood in Second- and Third-Century Christian Theology" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29319481.