The project develops first a new approach to the writing of history in terms of retrospections to then test it by using several case studies. These cover the two earliest ‘Christian’ monuments (the ‘Abercius’ inscription; the Hippolytus statue), the first preserved apology (Aristides); the first collection of non-canonical letters (Ignatius); the first catechism (Didache); the first ‘Christian’ iconography (Dura-Europos); the first Gospel (Marcion); the first ‘Christian’ witness (Paul).
In this first methodological chapter I reflect upon the paradoxical nature of writing history. Though we cannot but approach the past by retrospection and reflecting upon what we think we perceive, most historiographical narratives proceed in a chronological way, as if we were able to first jump into the period we are looking at, and then, once arrived there, start following the lives of our protagonists. This, as I think, clouds the fact of the hiatus between than and now, it also gives the impression of a neutral, contemporary observer who is capable of following the events described and the fact that what the historian is doing is anachronistic creation. Furthermore, the initial leap obscures the initial stages through which I have come to be informed of the past. Instead, retrospection, as will be developed here, reveals that perspectivity is a core notion that is linked with ephemeral individual insights. Retrospection also re-evaluates the objects that are targeted. Instead of the idea of sources that were handed down through history – explicated in the fashionable new historicity, new philology, reception history or Überlieferungsgeschichte – retrospection highlights that all targets are actively appropriated, isolated and shaped by the viewers. It then reveals that such appropriations continuously happens, but that major steps of appropriation in history took place (the early 20th and second half of the 19th centuries; the High Middle Ages; the fifth and the fourth century; the late second century). Until we can target the evidence of the second and first century, we have to make a long journey backwards through layers of such appropriations to be discovered in retrospection.