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The Cambridge History of Christianity
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Book description

The first of the nine volume Cambridge History of Christianity series, Origins to Constantine provides a comprehensive overview of the essential events, persons, places and issues involved in the emergence of the Christian religion in the Mediterranean world in the first three centuries. Over thirty essays written by scholarly experts trace this dynamic history from the time of Jesus through to the rise of Imperial Christianity in the fourth century. It provides thoughtful and well-documented analyses of the diverse forms of Christian community, identity and practice that arose within decades of Jesus's death, and which through missionary efforts were soon implanted throughout the Roman Empire. Origins to Constantine examines the distinctive characteristics of Christian groups in each geographical region up to the end of the third century, while also exploring the development of the institutional forms, intellectual practices and theological formulations that would mark Christian history in subsequent centuries.


'The Cambridge History of Christianity is a most ambitious project … The full collection is intended to blend sociological, demographic, cultural, and institutional historical perspectives with the developement of worship and liturgical traditions and theological developement. Given the goal of the series, [this book] is a major success. Professor Mitchell … and Professor Young … have successfully combined their vast talents to edit a compendium of essays rich in detail and true to the objective of avoiding revisionist history … This volume is a must-read for all interested in the early church. It is written for an academic or professional audience and is a required addition to any well-equipped library. While each reader will find areas where more material would be of great interest, the extensive bibliographies (ninety-two pages) provide a wealth of supplemental resources.'

Source: History and Society of Religion

'This volume is a propitious opening to the eight which will follow … This is an important, sophisticated and intelligently edited volume which should aid and abet the student of earliest Christianity for many a year to come. Higher praise could not be bestowed upon a handbook of this kind.'

Source: Journal of Ecclesiastical History

'The utility of the Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine lies primarily in its comprehensive treatment of discrete aspects of the early church, covering a wide range of themes, issues, persons and events. Its insightful chapters are supplemented by useful illustrations, maps, detailed bibliographies and index. Origins to Constantine is a valuable resource for the lay-person and scholar alike. While the cost of the book will be prohibitive for some, libraries and scholars able to invest in this volume and the series will yield intellectual dividends for years to come.'

Source: Studies in Religion

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Galilee and Judaea in the first century
    pp 35-52
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    As one moves from west to east, both Galilee and Judaea follow a similar pattern in geomorphic terms, coastal plain, central hill country, rift valley and the uplands of Transjordan. Galilee was recognised as a Jewish territory, together with Judaea in the south and Perea across the Jordan. These sub-regions were soon incorporated into the kingdom of Herod the Great, and were expected to make their contribution to the honouring of his Roman patron, Augustus. In the past twenty-five years, no region of ancient Palestine has received more attention than Galilee, because of Jewish and Christian interest in the career of Jesus and the emergence of rabbinic Judaism there after the revolt of Bar Kochba. In addition to the study of the literary evidence, mainly Josephus' works, the gospels, and the rabbinic writings, the focus has been on archaeology, both at key sites like Sepphoris and in surveys of various subregions.
  • 2 - The Jewish diaspora
    pp 53-68
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    The spread of Jews in significant numbers around the Mediterranean, on the other hand, had followed Alexander the Great's conquest of the east, and was consolidated under Greek and then Roman sovereignty. Major Jewish settlements were located in the cities of the Roman provinces of Asia, in Greece and in Egypt. Jewish identities in the ancient Mediterranean varied widely, as might be expected. In the sphere of material culture, burial practices and funerary epigraphy shed light on the Jews' adaptation to their varied diaspora environments. Jews normally adopted the burial patterns and epitaph types used in the wider society. The essence of diaspora circumstances lies in powerlessness more than in power and might always turn to acrimony. This was surely the lesson learnt by Mediterranean Jewry through the half millennium which authors have surveyed of their existence in dispersion. The early Christian communities shared many of the same experiences; they brought to bear on them both old techniques and new.
  • 3 - The Roman empire
    pp 69-84
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    The Roman empire forms the broader political, social and religious context for the emergence of early Christianity. The path leading to Rome's imperial history was set by Gaius Julius Caesar, who was assassinated in 44 BCE by senators fearing that he was trying to become a new Roman king. Whereas, the very death of Jesus by crucifixion, a Roman capital punishment for slaves and non-Roman insurgents, demonstrates that the first century CE in Judaea was a time of unrest and conflict, too. Stoicism proved more congenial to the Romans, especially when concentrating on ethics. The importance of Graeco-Roman philosophy for early Christianity can be seen especially in two areas: the question of god, later called 'theology'. The first and second century CE saw the acme of Roman art and architecture which had developed through a blending of Etruscan and Italian with Greek and Hellenistic elements and which then was diffused from the capital through the cities of the empire.
  • 4 - Jewish Christianity
    pp 85-102
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    Jesus and his first disciples were Jews, and for several centuries after his death Christians of Jewish origin were a significant presence both inside and outside of the land of his birth. The history of Jewish Christianity in the first few Christian centuries begin with Jesus brother James, the leader of the Torah observant, the predominant faction in the Jerusalem 'mother church' until its dispersal in the Jewish revolt of 66-73 CE, and perhaps even afterwards. James continues to be a model of Torah piety in the second-third century Jewish Christian sources embedded in the fourth-century Pseudo-Clementine literature. James and Peter were important figureheads, but they themselves were only the tip of a huge Jewish Christian iceberg that is mostly invisible to us because of the eventual triumph of Gentile Christianity. Paul himself, in his battle against it, provides compelling evidence of its power, for example in his letter to the Galatian Christians.
  • 5 - Gentile Christianity
    pp 103-124
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    The contrast between 'Jew' and 'Greek' can denote the linguistic divide between the Hebrew and Greek tongues, with 'Greek' also serving as a metonymy for the entire cultural and cultic difference between those whose world-view is circumscribed by the polytheistic pantheon of Greek religion and literature. The earliest and most important sources for Gentile Christianity are the seven authentic letters written by Paul c. 50-60 to assemblies of Christians. In recounting the geographical spread of the Pauline mission to the Gentiles, follow the terms of Roman provincial organisation and urban place names which Paul himself chose to employ in his letters. From Macedonia Paul and co-workers Timothy and Silvanus moved into mainland Greece. Early catholicism is sometimes used to refer to the developments in Gentile, particularly Pauline, Christian communities in the third generation, as they are known to everyone in the Pastoral Epistles, the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp, and the Acts of the Apostles.
  • 6 - Johannine Christianity
    pp 125-143
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    Johannine Christianity constitutes an alternative to other forms of Christianity in the late first or early second century. The Johannine community of the first century bequeathed to the universal churches its distinctive literary corpus and estimation of Jesus, which came to dominate the development of later Christian orthodoxy. Other representatives of Johannine Christianity, nurturing alternative strands of tradition, influenced various second-century movements, characterised by their opponents and much modern scholarship as 'Gnostic'. Apocryphon of John and Acts of John are the two second-century texts obliquely continue the Johannine literary tradition. The written record nonetheless maintains distinctive features in theology and practice, particularly in three areas, Christology, eschatology and ethics. In each area the distinctive Johannine position intensifies elements present in other forms of Christianity. In the final analysis the gospel's most distinctive features are the literary techniques through which it makes its claims.
  • 7 - Social and ecclesial life of the earliest Christians
    pp 144-174
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    The social forms of association from the Galilean beginnings to the post-Easter community in Jerusalem and the house congregations in the cities of the Roman empire, the social location of typical converts, forms of worship and ritual and other dimensions of an emerging Christian subculture. In the early churches remembered about Jesus and his disciples, there are a number of elements that accord well with the 'renewal movement' model. In the Acts of the Apostles and the earlier letters of Paul, everyone see a group centred in Jerusalem that seems much more stable and structured than the rural movement. According to Acts, it was in Antioch, too, that the followers of Messiah Jesus were first called Christianoi, likely by outsiders who now recognised them as a sect distinguishable from the main Jewish community. One of the important and distinctive developments in the organisation of the ancient church is the establishment of what came to be called 'the monarchical episcopate'.
  • 8 - The emergence of the written record
    pp 175-194
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    The first followers of Jesus of Nazareth had turned to their 'scriptures', the sacred texts of Judaism in the Hebrew and Greek languages, and sought to explain the Jesus whom they had come to know by what they found there. The first element in the establishment of the Christian 'written record' was the singularly most significant decision to carry out Christian literary activity under the umbrella of the Torah, the prophets and the writings. This chapter discusses the letters of Paul, Gospel literature, and fourfold gospel. Early Christian literary culture was initially carried out within the lexical field, world-view and theological presuppositions of the scriptures of Israel, predominantly as known in the Greek translation called the Septuagint. The pseudepigraphical Pauline letters draw upon the original letters and 'update' and refine them to suit later circumstances. The chapter includes Christian gospel literature of John, Luke, Matthew and Mark.
  • 9 - Marcion and the ‘canon’
    pp 195-213
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    Marcion is an intriguing figure in early Christian history. He has commanded attention on two topics: the church's appropriation of the scriptures of Judaism, and the emergence of a canon of specifically Christian scriptures. A major corollary of Marcion's ditheism was a sharp disparagement of the creation. His disdain for the material order found two principal expressions, namely docetic Christology and moral rigorism. Ditheism, docetism and devaluation of the material world and the body, Marcion's teaching is in other ways distinct from Christian Gnostic systems. Beyond his ditheism, what drew the strongest fire of Marcion's critics was his view of Jewish scripture. Marcion's rejection of the scriptures of Judaism amid the challenges posed by the Christian employment of Jewish scriptures, it had some appeal within the Gentile church. Marcion's activity was the sine qua non of the formation of the New Testament, and that the New Testament canon arose principally or even exclusively as a reaction to him.
  • 10 - Self-definition vis-à-vis the Jewish matrix
    pp 214-229
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    To speak of early Christian self-definition is to recognise that the sense of self always implies differentiation from one or more 'others'. This chapter identifies those significant 'others' as the 'Jewish matrix' and the 'Graeco-Roman world', differentiation from 'Gnostic' groups is arguably different in kind. Paul's was not the only model developing during the first century. Although constrained by the quasi-biographical gospel genre, Matthew denies any rupture with a genuine faithfulness to the past, either in his presentation of the person of Jesus, whom he describes in ways recalling Moses. Now that rabbinic Judaism is no longer taken as the controlling norm for any reconstruction of Jewish thought throughout the period one can also recognise that Christian theology's attempts to address the Hellenistic world continued to owe much to the earlier and perhaps continuing efforts made by Jews to speak of their God in the same context.