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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.

Reviews

'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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Contents


Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - Galilee and Judaea in the first century
    pp 35-52
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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
  • View abstract

    Summary

    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.
  • 11 - Self-definition vis-à-vis the Graeco-Roman world
    pp 230-244
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter analyses a crucial moment in the second century of the formation of a 'Christian' discourse and, indeed, of the construction of 'Christianity' itself. Justin Martyr was not the first to take up the question of self-definition vis-à-vis the Graeco-Roman world, and he would certainly not be the last, but he was surely one of the most influential to do so. Taken together, Justin and Celsus signal a turning-point in the construction and contestation of Christian discourse. Justin's notion of an ancient Mosaic philosophy on which the Greek philosophers depended betrays the influence of contemporary ideas about the history of philosophy. The distortions and corruptions with which contemporary Platonism was riddled could be compensated for through a process of triangulation among the doctrines of Plato, the precepts of Pythagoras and the institutions of the most ancient 'barbarian' peoples. The feature of Greek philosophical theology was the attempt to reinterpret traditional religion in light of a form of monotheism.
  • 12 - Self-differentiation among Christian groups: the Gnostics and their opponents
    pp 245-260
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter describes the 'Gnostic school of thought' and the diverse strategies of self-differentiation that it used and elicited. Irenaeus reports that 'Valentinus adapted the fundamental principles of the so-called Gnostic school of thought to his own kind of system' and gives a summary of a myth that the Gnostics taught. The Gnostic myth was a bold attempt to explain the origin and fate of the universe through a combination of the Jewish scriptures and Platonist mythological speculation. Marcion, Valentinus and Justin Martyr developed a set of responses to the Gnostic sect and/or each other that their successors borrowed and developed. These strategies ranged from outright rejection through heresiological rhetoric and withdrawal of fellowship, to adaptation and Christianisation of the Gnostic myth, to more philosophical modes of authority. If the construction of a 'Gnosticism' obscured the characters of the persons and groups assigned to it, likewise the category 'proto-orthodox' can homogenise and so distort the diversity of pre-Constantinian Christianity.
  • 13 - Truth and tradition: Irenaeus
    pp 261-273
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Irenaeus has been described as a founder, father, or 'first exponent of a catholic Christian orthodoxy', and there is a remarkable contrast between his writings and those written only a generation or two previously by Christians whom he recognised as being within his own tradition. The basis of the position Irenaeus sought to defend was what he supposed was the traditional, and correct, interpretation of the revelation of God contained in what one call the Old Testament. This understanding was being assailed on the one hand by Gnostics who, if they accepted the Old Testament, interpreted it in ways radically different from the Great Church, and on the other hand by Marcionites, who dismissed it altogether, as being utterly irrelevant to the divine revelation newly made in Jesus. The unity between the gospels and the Old Testament is not something that can be gauged only externally, by the application of the rule of truth.
  • 14 - The self-defining praxis of the developing ecclēsia
    pp 274-292
  • View abstract

    Summary

    An encouragement to asceticism and celibacy began early in the Christian movement, prompted by two different factors: first, adoption of a certain tendency in the Platonic world-view to see the body and the material world as obstacles to attainment of union with God; second, the historical memory of Jesus choice to remain unmarried, probably motivated by the different factors of apocalyptic world-view and the prophetic call. The threefold division of family life into relationships of the male head of household, the paterfamilias, with wife, children and slaves, was popularised by Aristotle. The Jewish marriage contract, the ketubah, followed the custom of specifying what property the wife brought into the marriage, so that in the case of divorce it would accompany her back into her own family. A fairly clear profile of the ideal Christian life emerges from the sources: prayer many times daily, innocence of immoral conduct, stable marriage and family, regular fasting, constant attention to the poor and needy.
  • 15 - From Jerusalem to the ends of the earth
    pp 293-301
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Both the apostle Paul and the risen Jesus envision a spreading of the Christian movement out from Jerusalem into the circumference of the Mediterranean world, as far as Rome, and 'to the ends of the earth'. This chapter traces the progress and effects of that dispersion of Christian communities in the first three centuries, to Asia Minor, Achaea, Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Gaul, North Africa and Rome. Two major socio-political events without a doubt shaped Christian community destiny. The first crucial event was the seige and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 66-70 CE. Eusebius reports that the Jerusalem Christians, warned by an oracle via a revelation, fled from Jerusalem before its inhabitants were locked inside for the gruelling final siege. The second crucial event was Hadrian's suppression of the revolt of Bar Kochba in 132-5 CE, and rededication of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, with Jews forbidden, not only to live there, but even to gazeuponit from a distance.
  • 16 - Overview: the geographical spread of Christianity
    pp 302-313
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Three specific genres of evidence lend themselves to demographic analysis of Christian expansion: inscriptions, papyri and archaeological artefacts. Most pre-Constantinian funerary inscriptions have been discovered in Rome, in Phrygia in Asia Minor, in Roman Africa and possibly at Syracuse in Sicily. The archaeological evidence of pre-Constantinian Christianity is confined to a few localities. Rome dominates the overall picture. The earliest monuments consist of the catacombs that the bishops of Rome acquired from the early third century onwards. Pre-fourth-century papyri survive exclusively from Egypt. Like inscriptions, they are demotic documents. Except for a small number of second and early third-century fragments of the Septuagint and gospels, the papyri mostly belong to the late third century and were written for family or business purposes. The expansion of Christianity is hardest to trace in the smaller provincial towns of the African provinces. Christianity expanded more quickly in the eastern Mediterranean coastal cities, and soon penetrated the hinterlands of Asia Minor.
  • 17 - Asia Minor and Achaea
    pp 314-329
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Asia Minor and Achaea were nurseries for Christianity, as the New Testament shows. Asia Minor is important for understanding the development and diversification of the Christians religion. Civic rivalry and civil unrest played their parts in the 'webs of power' which bound the rulers and the ruled. Cities might be melting-pots of Greeks and Anatolians, Romans and Jews. Well-established Jewish communities might be strongly ambivalent in response to Hellenistic culture, or actively finding means to accommodate to it. Asia Minor was long established as home to cults of Zeus, the Phrygian Men, mother goddesses, divinised heroes, and monotheism as well. Early Christian traditions about Ephesus and Athens show the interface between Christians, Jews, pagans, city politics and magic. Christians appreciative of the heritage of Judaism remained influential in the churches. Chiliasm and Christian prophetism had particular associations with Asia Minor, though either might be found elsewhere.
  • 18 - Egypt
    pp 330-350
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Egyptian Christianity began in Alexandria, by far the greatest of the many cities founded by Alexander the Great. Jewish immigration into Egypt from Palestine had begun as early as the sixth century BCE, and Jews flowed into Alexandria in large numbers, with the result that the Alexandrian Jewish community became important in all of the diaspora. Christian organisation in Alexandria exhibits a continuity with Alexandrian Judaism, especially in the form of the presbyterate. Demetrius played a crucial role in the development of the Egyptian Christianity. The 'Catechetical School' of Alexandrian Christian tradition came into being only in the early third century as a result of the growing authority of bishop Demetrius. In the third century a new form of Gnosticism made its entry into Egypt, Manichaeism, which eventually became a world religion in its own right. Monasticism as an institution has played a greater role in the history of Egyptian Christianity than in that of any other regional church.
  • 19 - Syria and Mesopotamia
    pp 351-365
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter traces the emergence of Christianity in the region broadly known as Syria: stretching from the coastal ports outside Antioch east to Palmyra and Persia, and from Mesopotamia in the north down to Palestine. In the course of the late first and second centuries, the Semitic dialect of Aramaic known as Syriac took hold as a primary Christian language of the Syrian region. Because of the prominence given to Antioch in the New Testament, its relative proximity to Jerusalem, and the strength of its Jewish community, scholars have taken Antioch as a primary centre for Christianity's earliest development. Syria preserved the earliest known collection of Christian hymns, the Odes of Solomon. The legendary Acts of Thomas, originally composed in Syriac but quickly translated into Greek, is an account purporting to tell the adventures of the apostle 'Judas Thomas' as he carried the gospel message east of Antioch, converting communities and kingdoms in Mesopotamia and India.
  • 20 - Gaul
    pp 366-379
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Almost everyone knows about Christianity in Gaul during the first two or three centuries CE is connected with the Christian communities in Vienne and Lyons in the latter decades of the second century. The precious excerpts, some rather lengthy, of letters written by Christians in Gaul, which Eusebius preserves, and the writings of Irenaeus of Lyons, arguably the important Christian figure of the second century, offer a vivid picture of the remarkable vitality and diversity of these communities. The areas of Gaul in which Christianity appears in the second century CE are marked by the confluence of several forces and peoples. The most important event for the identity of Gaul during the author's period, and for subsequent European history, was the Gallic wars, the eight successive campaigns against Gaul and Britain lead by Julius Caesar between 58 and 50 BCE. The theological seeds that Irenaeus brought with him from Asia clearly flourished into a profound legacy for Christianity in Gaul.
  • 21 - North Africa
    pp 380-396
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Literary evidence for Christianity in North Africa in the first three centuries comes from Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Cyprian, Commodian, Pseudo-Cyprian, and various homilies and stories of martyrdom. It illustrates the beliefs of the Christian communities, their structures and practices. African social organisation was primarily tribal until the arrival of the Phoenicians, whose culture centred on cities. In general, Africans used Romanisation when it was to their own advantage. The Semitic roots of Punic religion raise the question of the origins of Christianity in Rome. There was great respect for Christians at Rome, but no tradition of a foundation from that city. The intransigence of African Christianity manifests itself from the very beginning through martyrdom and apology. Christians in Africa were persecuted intermittently from 180 until 305. True heirs of African Christianity, they maintained literal and strict interpretations of scripture and a culture of martyrdom. They fostered unity and collegiality among those who continued to oppose the Roman state.
  • 22 - Rome
    pp 397-412
  • View abstract

    Summary

    When Christianity arrived on the scene, Rome had already extended its power around the Mediterranean world, and had begun its transformation into a monarchical empire. The city of Rome began to decline in the third century as the empire faced economic challenges. The persecution by Decius issued from a sense that the gods who had made Rome great had to be placated if that greatness were to be maintained. Philosophical schools were a major factor in Roman Christianity, despite the lack of traditional basis. Philosophy is mentioned once in the New Testament as 'hollow speculations', and pagans initially dismissed Christian claims to be lovers of wisdom by calling their religion a superstition. Crucial steps in the shaping of inner-Christian scholarly discourse, together with the development of the categories of 'heresy' and 'orthodoxy', were taken by Justin's school. Justin, together with his pupil, Tatian, and Tatian's pupil, Rhodon, engaged in critique of pagan and Jewish teachers and philosophers.
  • 23 - Institutions in the pre-Constantinian ecclēsia
    pp 413-433
  • View abstract

    Summary

    By the time of Constantine, the church was a sufficiently robust organisation for the emperor to engage it as a partner in unifying the empire. Systems of authority, patterns of belief and control of funds and property had turned the household communities into an interlinked, empire-wide organisation that mirrored the structure of the empire itself. Irenaeus ideas for identifying true tradition in the face of diversity of faith and practice were adopted enthusiastically by Tertullian, about 200 CE. Scripture provided a cultic 'typology', reinforcing the growing power of the bishops and other orders of ministry. Christians were originally distinct from biblical Judaism and from the pagan world around them in that they had no sacrificial cult. By the time Matthew was written, judgement needed two or three witnesses, private expostulation and a public hearing by 'the assembly' or ecclesia before expulsion; the decision of the assembled believers, upheld by God, should be mercifully applied.

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