Tag Archives: Important publications

Christianity and Roman Society: A Good Read

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(Larry Hurtado):  Over the last couple of weeks one of the books I’ve worked through is Gillian Clark’s Christianity and Roman Society (CUP, 2004), and I commend it heartily.  At only 121 pp., plus bibliography & index, it packs in an impressive amount of cogent and sage discussion in a small package.

Clark focuses on the right, key questions:  “How on earth did this tiny religious splinter-group survive to become the dominant religion of the Roman world?” (p. 13).  And, after noting the views of some scholars that Christianity was essentially a savvy amalgam of Greek philosophical ideals, Jewish scripture, and emphases promoted in the Roman environment, she asks, “So, if Christianity was one among many religious options in Roman society, proclaiming one among many saviours, why would anybody choose it?  This was the one option that was neither compatible with tradition religion, nor respected as Judaism was for its ancient monotheist tradition” (p. 15).

Time after time, as Clark engages thorny issues, she seems to me to display commendable good sense in her judgments.  For example, she writes, “But the more we understand about religious options in the early centuries CE, the more difficult it is to answer the great historical question.  Why did Christianity survive and succeed in Roman society?” and “Why would they [pagans] choose the one religious option that could get them executed for subversion?” (p. 37). Noting that “it takes only one terrorist attack to make people afraid,” she observes that the early Christian fear of persecution was real, regardless of how many Christians were actually executed (p. 47).

She also rightly cautions against the simplistic tendency of some to write off early Christian asceticism as “madness ” (so, e.g., E. R. Dodds), or as prompted by and expressive of various forms of neurosis.

In discussing the question, “What difference did Christianity make?,”  she strikes me as offering a balanced appraisal, offering specific ways in which Christianity was like its cultural environment and specific ways in which it did differ.

Heartily recommended!

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Kruger on the NT Canon

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(Larry Hurtado):  One our former PhD students, Michael Kruger, has produced a fine study of the emergence of the New Testament canon:  Canon Revisited:  Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 2012).  Kruger’s first book (arising from his PhD thesis here) was The Gospel of the Savior : An Analysis of P.Oxy.840 and Its Place in the Gospel Traditions of Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 2005), in which he focused on a portion of an unidentified early Christian gospel-like text, P. Oxryrhynchus 840, producing a “360” study of pretty much all features and questions relating to this fascinating text.

In Canon Revisited, Kruger (addressing a diverse readership including “general” readers as well as scholars) offers a case for whether “the Christian belief in the canon is intellectually justified” (p. 11).  He shows impressive acquaintance with the primary data and also with an oceanic body of scholarship on the issues treated.  Essentially, Kruger argues that the NT writings evidence an awareness by their authors that they were writing with a certain sense of authority (as, e.g., in Paul’s letters to his churches) and/or with a profound aim of providing reliable bases for Christian faith and practice.  In this sense, he contends, the NT writings already have the germ of a canonical/scriptural role.

It is, of course, a position that will generate critique as well as consent.  But Kruger makes his case clearly, without special pleading, and with a wide compass.  And we’re always pleased to see the further academic productivity of our PhD graduates.  Congratulations, Mike!

Another “New Documents” Volume

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(Larry Hurtado):  The latest in the series, “New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity,” produced by the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre in Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) has appeared, Volume 10, edited by S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison (published by Eerdmans).  Each volume in the series is a valuable collection of notices of publications on inscriptions, papyri and other artefacts that cast any light on early Christianity and/or its historical setting.  As well, there are typically valuable review-essays that gather up information, providing considered syntheses of matters.  Volume 10 includes sections on “Philosophy”, “Magic”, “Cult and Oracle”, “Public Life:  Caesarian Accession”, “Public Life:  Benefaction and Business”, “Household”, “Judaica”, and “Christianity”, some 29 entries in all.  Recommended!

“The Gendered Palimpsest”

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(Larry Hurtado): Kim Haines-Eitzen is already known as a talented and innovative scholar in the study of early Christian manuscripts, especially through her earlier book, Guardians of Letters: Literacy, Power, and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature (Oxford University Press,2000). (For contrasting assessments, see the reviews by David Parker and Ulrich Schmid in TC: http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v07/index.html.) Her new book comprises another interesting contribution to questions about literacy, reading, and gender in early Christianity (albeit more of the late Roman period): The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity (OUP, 2012).

This isn’t the place for a full assessment, but my own reading of the book leads me to commend it to anyone interested in early Christianity. There are some controversial assertions (a few that raised my eyebrows too), but that’s what scholars do! Here’s a brief overview of contents.
1. Women Writers, Writing for Women: Authors, Scribes, Book-Lenders, and Patrons. (The various roles that women played in the production, dissemination and use of texts in early Christianity)
2. Reading, Not Eating: Women Readers in Late Ancient Christian Asceticism.
3. Women’s Literature? The Case of the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. (Querying the notion that these texts were particularly directed at women readers.)
4. Sinners and Saints, Silent and Submissive? The Textual/Sexual Transformation of Female Characters in the New Testament and Beyond. (Case studies from various texts.)
5. “First among All Women”: The Story of Thecla in Textual Transmission and Iconographic Remains.
6. Contesting the Ascetic Language of Eros: Textual Fluidity in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. (Interesting study of how textual variants in these texts seem to reflect varying ideas about female sexuality.)

Major Reference Work on Religion in Ancient World

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(Larry Hurtado): Although it’s been out for several years now, I’ve only recently become introduced to a major and important, multi-volume reference work on virutually all aspects of religion in the ancient Greek and Roman periods:  Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum (5 vols., Los Angeles:  J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004-2006).  For advanced research on the religious environment of earliest Christianity, this work will be valuable, offering up-to-date discussions of matters by a galaxy of experts.  Also, the volumes include photos of items illustrative of the topics discussed (e.g., cult objects, temples/shrines, representations of worship/prayer/processions, etc.).

The articles (sizeable and with copious bibliographies) are often collaboratively written and variously in English, German, French and Italian.   Here are a couple of examples that I found particularly interesting:  “Gebet, Gebaerden und Handlungen des Gebetes” (“Prayer, Gestures and Actions of Prayer”), Vol. III, pp. 105-50 (by Daniel Jakov & Emmanuel Foutiras); and “Heroisierung, Apotheose / Eroizzazione, Apotesi” (“Heroization and Apotheosis”), Vol. III, pp. 125-214, by Kostas Buraselis, Ittai Gradel et al.