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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: May 2012

27 - The patristic legacy to c. 1000

from Part III - The Bible Interpreted



Perhaps nothing is more striking to the historically minded observer at the dawn of the twenty-first century than to note the continuing significant impact of ancient religious writings on modern life. In a world of rapidly increasing and ever more powerful global technologies that were unimaginable just a decade or two ago, in a world whose peoples have never been more highly educated or more closely linked to one another around the planet, in a world of space exploration, nuclear energy, stem cell research and sophisticated new understandings of nature and of the human mind and body, the importance of ancient religious thought to modern individuals and their communities provides a powerful example of vibrant historical continuity. How is it that writings composed by ancient peoples in remote times still speak very powerfully to modern people and modern societies?

By the end of the patristic age, roughly the middle of the fifth century ce, the Hebrew Bible had developed masoretic, Samaritan and Greek forms and with the diaspora of the Jewish people had spread to many places in the Mediterranean world. Still, this was a small community of readers and listeners. The growth of Christian communities in the ante-Nicene and patristic ages provided new audiences for the Hebrew Bible since Christianity appropriated Hebrew scripture as the foundation for its own scriptures and core beliefs. Yet, with the vast transformation of the Roman world accelerating just as Augustine of Hippo died in Vandal-besieged Hippo (430), Christian scriptures spoke in a fragmented, disjointed way to scattered Christian communities around the Mediterranean littoral. The revelations that would eventually take written form as the Qurʾān were still on the distant chronological horizon at the close of the patristic age.

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