New book on early Christianity

by careful 14 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • careful

    I'm not quite sure that this post fits under JWs/WTS since they do not keep up with real biblical scholarship, but I don't know where else to post it.

    Thomas A. Robinson (University of Lethbridge) has just published a book through Oxford University Press on the earliest Christians, entitled Who Were the First Christians?: Dismantling the Urban Thesis. For some years the idea has dominated scholarship that Christianity grew strongly at first in ancient cities like Rome, Alexandria, and Corinth; the notion has been largely influenced by Wayne Meeks' (of Yale) thinking in his book The First Urban Christians (1986).

    I once saw a member here cite Meeks' idea of how many Christians existed in the Roman Empire. For those who care about such things here's a blurb on Robinson's book that challenges the old view of Meeks:

    "It has been widely assumed that there were 6 million Christians (or 10% of the population of the Roman Empire) by around the year 300. The largely-unexamined consensus view is also that Christianity was an urban movement until the conversion of Emperor Constantine. On close examination, it appears that these two popular views would nearly saturate every urban area of the entire Roman Empire with Christians, leaving no room for Jews or pagans.

    In Who Were the First Christians?, Thomas Robinson shows that scenario simply does not work. But where does the solution lie? Were there many fewer Christians in the Roman world than we have thought? Was the Roman world much more urbanized? Or, is the urban thesis defective, so that the neglected countryside must now be considered in any reconstruction of early Christian growth? Further, what was the makeup of the typical Christian congregation? Was it a lower-class movement? Or was it a movement of the upwardly mobile middle-class? Arguing that more attention needs to be given to the countryside and to the considerable contingent of the marginal and the rustic within urban populations, this revisionist work argues persuasively that the urban thesis should be dismantled or profoundly revised and the growth and the complexion of the early Christian movement seen in a substantially different light."

  • Cold Steel
    Cold Steel

    Ouch! Seventy bucks!

    I'll have to wait for the Reader's Digest version. Looks interesting.

    Does he get into early Christian doctrines at all. Eschatology? Canon? I'd like to see a work that separates Gnostic Christians from conventional ones. Did his figure of 6 million include Gnostic/Coptic members? How about Constantine? Does he go into the reforms?

    I'd expect the urban areas would include the more orthodox Christians, especially since the earlier persecutions would have driven them away from the cities. Do you have a copy of the book?

  • Crazyguy

    I don't think Christianity evolved in a fluid fashion at all. I think the beginnings of Christianity came from the mystery schools of the Serapis cult and then gnostic ideas came in along with the thoughts of people like Plato. When Constantine made the religion his choice his friend Eusebius probably convinced him of this idea and then he had to make up some doctrine to established the church and religion. When this was done people from all over jumped on the band wagon and brought their beliefs and cults with them.

    Christianity was influenced by cults like that of Dyonisus and Mithra and the the holy Church of Rome which worshiped the Cesar's. Most biblical writings before the 6th century were just scraps of paper and even the image of Christ before then was that of a lamb on a cross. The oldest bibles even after the 6th century don't have the name of Jesus or anything close to that in Greek near as much in the scriptures as we are led to believe. Just a four letter title . The church also had to keep having councils to make changes to what was to be taught. If the gospels were written in the later part of the first century like we've been told these questions and concerns as to what to teach could easily been answered just by reading the gospels.

    Christianity's evolution was very rocky and very slow going. Before 325 CE the numbers of Christians must have numbered in just the thousands, in my opinion.

  • cellomould

    One of the most fascinating facts about the Gospels is the specific mention of a family relationship, between John the Baptist and Jesus, in only one of them.

  • jwleaks

    I look forward to the Watchtower's summary:

    "One 21st century scholar explained the amount of Christians in ancient Rome supports the Scripitural teaching of a 'little flock' limited to 144,000 members overlapping all generations." - The Watchtower, October-December issue 2114.

  • Earnest

    Also relevant to the subject is a new series (started in 2015) that investigates the expansion of early Christianity as an urban phenomenon from Jerusalem to Rome.

    The first of the volumes is The First Urban Churches: Methodological Considerations. Writings from the Greco-Roman world supplement 7 (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2015) which is reviewed here.

    It includes chapters on Assessing the Potential of Archaeological Discoveries for the Interpretation of New Testament Texts, The City in Roman Egypt: The Evidence of the Papyri, The Polis and the Poor: Reconstructing Social Relations from Different Genres of Evidence, and Methodological Considerations in Using Epigraphic Evidence to Determine the Socioeconomic Context of the Early Christians.

    The second volume is The First Urban Churches 2: Roman Corinth. Writings from the Greco-Roman world supplement 8 (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2016) which is reviewed here.

    It uses archaeological remains to expand our understanding of the social, economic, and political life of the ekklēsia at Corinth. Both volumes are edited by James R. Harrison and L. L. Welborn.

  • cobweb


    I am interested in the ways that Christianity developed from and blended with other religions in the early days as you write about. Can you recommend any particular books on the subject?

  • venus

    Rome was the world power at that time, hence was in a position to influence history and even Bible writing. For example, The Greeks had named the days week after the sun, the moon and the five known planets, which were in turn named after the gods Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronus, and had called the days of the week the Theon hemerai "days of the Gods". But Romans substituted their equivalent gods for the Greek gods, Mars, Mercury, Jove (Jupiter), Venus, and Saturn. (The two pantheons are very similar.)

    Rome wanted a Christianity that should be submissive to it, hence used name of Jesus (who could have been known as a great teacher by then) to their advantage. Hence they ensured a Bible writing in which Jesus is seen as giving pro-Roman commands such as:

    * “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you” (Mathew 5:11)

    * “do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also; if anyone wants to … take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles (Mathew 5:39-41) …

    Hence actual history of early Christianity may never be known!

  • Crazyguy

    Cobweb, I don't have any specific book to recommend. It's just my observation after reading books listening or watching shows on different subjects etc.

    Christian ideas and thoughts were not original, they were taken from mostly Egypt and melded with other pagan teachings. The geeks admit their gods were a copy of the Egyptian pantheon of gods and then Rome copied Greece. There are many stories of early Christians going to Egypt to get ideas and concepts for Christianity from the walls of the temples. When one then looks at the worship of gods like Mithra and Dyonisus one can see how these ideas were added to Christianity. On the cover of the Jesus mysteries book by Timothy Freke there's a picture of a little amulet. This amulet shows Dyonisus being crucified on a cross. Jesus road a donkey in the gospel, in an earlier epic from Phoenicia Ashurah rides a donkey. In the book of Revelations it talks about a judgment of the dead a second death for those that are judge unworthy and they are thrown into the lake of fire. This was copied from the book of the dead . These are just a few of many examples.

    Theres nothing new under the sun.

  • careful

    Cold Steel: yes, that price is a bit out of my budget, but there is a library copy I can get a look at in a couple of weeks. Then I'll know more about it. My OP was based on some junk mail I got about it. I was hoping that perhaps someone else here has read it.

    Earnest: yes, those archaeology books follow Meeks' thesis, since as noted above, it's held sway for 20 years now. Thanks for the links.

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