Archives For Early Christianity

 

Men of Their Times and Places
 
A Feature Review of
 

Empire Baptized:
How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected
Wes Howard-Brook

Paperback: Orbis, 2016.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

 
 
Reviewed by Alden Bass
 
 
In his 1988 Louis H. Jordan Lectures, later published as Drudgery Divine, Jonathan Z. Smith argued that studies of early Christianity were hopelessly mired in confessional apologetics. Narrowing in on the study of Hellenistic Mystery Religions, he observed that Protestants were eager to critique the pagan rites, believing the “pure” religion of Paul to have been corrupted by Romish pomp and ritual. Likewise, Unitarian and Rationalist scholars, in an attempt to get at the Protestants, fingered Paul for introducing “Hellenism” into the rustic parables of Jesus. The Catholics defended all of it.

To Smith’s account we could add “radical” Christian treatments of early Christianity which have multiplied in recent years. Alistair Sykes, Andy Alexis-Baker, Alan Kreider, Everett Ferguson (to name a few) have described an early Christianity which looks an awfully lot like ana/baptist communities: nonviolent ethic, gathered-church ecclesiology, believers’ baptism, and (for Ferguson) acapella congregational singing. These scholars are not inventing things, but they are calling attention to areas neglected by earlier scholars, in the process revising the story of the earliest Christians to embrace their own traditions.

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The Early Church on Killing - Ron Sider“The early church taught…”

A Review of

The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.

Ron Sider, editor.

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2012.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Eddie Gonzalez.

If you read apologetic works or listen to Christian debates, you’re probably used to hearing the phrase, “The early church taught…” It’s a popular phrase, and no one group has a monopoly on it. The issue being talked about doesn’t have any bearing on its use either. Purgatory? Protestants will use it as much as Roman Catholics. Elder led churches or paid team of pastors? Both sides of that discussion are bound to use the phrase. The idea of killing–participation in war or the military, support for capital punishment, killing another human regardless of the circumstances–is another important issue where you will hear, “The early church taught…” The most difficult aspect of the statement, though, is that the early church was not an authoritative, monolithic group of people who all agreed on everything. They lived throughout an almost 300 year span. They lived in vastly different contexts within Europe and Asia at the time. They didn’t all hold to the same “orthodox” beliefs that “we” do.

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“The Fundamentally Local Nature of Theology?

A Review of
The Other Christs:

Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom
.
By Candida Moss
.

Reviewed by Chris Smith.


The Other Christs:
Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom
.
Candida Moss
.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

THE OTHER CHRISTS - Candida MossFor many years now, I have been intrigued by the martyrs of the Early Church era, their faith that did not waiver amidst threats of death and their significance in the life of the Church.  Thus, I was excited when I heard about Oxford University Press’s release of the new book The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom by Candida Moss, a professor of theology at Notre Dame.  This new work is a study of the “Acts of the Martyrs,” the mostly extra-canonical accounts of the deaths of the martyrs, and seeks to understand “the presentation of the martyrs in the early church, both the ways that the martyr acts interpret the person and death of Jesus and the manner in which this interpretation can inform our understanding of martyrdom in early Christianity” (vii).  Acknowledging that the act of martyrdom is generally accepted as following in the footsteps of Jesus, she notes that this sort of imitation has yet to be explored in depth, and undertakes to do so in this volume.

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An excerpt from:

The Other Christs:
Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom
.
Candida Moss.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Watch for our review next week!

 

A Hymn of the Early Church
Translated by John Brownlie
(from Hymns of the Early Church )

Thou, Lord, hast power to heal,
And Thou wilt quickly aid;
For Thou dost deeply feel
The stripes upon us laid–
Thou who wast wounded by the rod
Uplifted in the hand of God.

Send speedy help, we pray,
To him who ailing lies,
That from his couch he may
With thankful heart arise;
Through prayers which all availing find
Thine ear, O Lover of mankind.

Oh, blinded are our eyes,
And all are held in night;
But like the blind who cries,
We cry to Thee for light;
In penitence, O Christ, we pray,
Give us the radiant light of day.

 

A Brief Review of

Augustine and the Jews:
A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism
.
Paula Fredriksen

Hardback: Doubleday, 2008.
Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by James Spinti.

This review originally appeared on James’s blog:
http://anebooks.blogspot.com/
It is reprinted here with the reviewer’s permission.

The book is divided into three sections: The legacy of Alexander, which describes the cultural background of Augustine’s world, The prodigal son, which is a biography of Augustine, and God and Israel, which deals with Augustine’s evolving theology of what to do with the Jews.

The first section could almost be a book on its own. The cultural background, with the importance of paideia (the way society educated its young, especially wealthy, males) for worldview, the importance of rhetoric in daily life, the role of the gods in society, are all laid out in a very coherent and understandable way. The heavy influence of the Platonic/Neo-platonic disdain for the physical is highlighted, as it will have an important role in the development of Christian theology.  I could recommend the book for this section alone. I only have one complaint, and that is that she has bought the current academic fad that there were multiple christianities that were all equally valid prior to “the triumph of orthodoxy.” But, that is another argument for another day.

Since I have lived with this material for so long, I tend to forget that most people don’t know about the multiplicity of gods and their role in the ancient world. I was reminded of it just the other day while on vacation. I made some statement, which I thought would be self-evident, and had to spend the next ½ hour explaining polytheism and the concept of placating the deities. This section of the book would make a good read on that subject.

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A Brief Review of

Augustine of Hippo: A Life.
Henry Chadwick.

Hardback: Oxford UP,  2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO - Henry ChadwickTwenty-eight years after its completion, Oxford University Press has finally brought Henry Chadwick’s introductory biography of Augustine to print.  Chadwick was one of the most renowned twentieth century scholars of Early Church history and the author of what is probably the finest contemporary translation of Augustine’s Confessions (Oxford UP, 1991).  Augustine of Hippo: A Life is a perfect companion to the Confessions, illuminating Augustine’s life in its historical and philosophical context.  One of the best qualities of Chadwick’s interpretation of Augustine’s life is its emphasis on understanding Augustine in the context of the Church.  In his narration of the dimensions of Augustine’s conversion, Chadwick observes:

Augustine wants to be a monk, but it must be in a community of brothers.  For him solitude is a necessary periodic withdrawal, but not a normal road to truth, which is not something religious men find on their own.  Because ‘God’s truth does not belong to any one man’, truth is found by a dialectic of question and answer (30).

It is this need to be in community, and thereby in conversation, that gives shape to Chadwick’s telling of Augustine’s life.  Augustine is portrayed in conversation with those inside the Church, those in marginal sects (Manichees, Donatists), as well as with contemporary philosophies (especially neoplatonism) and those outside the Church.  Given Augustine’s pre-conversion labors as a teacher of rhetoric and the centrality of the virtue of dialogue, it is not surprising that Chadwick frequently returns to issues related to Augustine’s use of language, among which is one of the book’s finest passages, a brief exploration of Augustine’s principles for scriptural hermeneutics (82-86).

Highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable, Chadwick’s Augustine of Hippo: A Life is marked by its clarity, economy of words and Chadwick’s narrative tone.  It deserves to become the primary introductory biography of Augustine, and is well-worth reading in our churches, colleges and seminaries!

 

In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors. Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest. Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition. You get great books for a great price, CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD. These books make great Christmas gifts!

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“Bearing Witness in Her Body”

A Review of
Redeemed Bodies:
Women Martyrs in Early Christianity
.

by Gail Streete.

Reviewed by Kate A.K. Blakely.

Redeemed Bodies:
Women Martyrs in Early Christianity
.

Gail Streete.
Paperback: WJK Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Gail Streete - Redeemed BodiesThe female martyr has her own place both alongside and apart from her male counterparts. She stands in history alongside Paul as Thecla, and with her sister martyr, as in two female victims of the Columbine massacre, Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott. Streete adds to these accounts the less easily appropriated martyrdom stories of female suicide attackers, which she proposes to examine in light of the same lens she uses with more traditional accounts, like those of Perpetua and Thecla. Streete notes the often conflicting responses of readers to stories of martyrdom. Some see these stories as attestations to ancient appreciation for unique female power and testimony. Others are not so complimentary, noting the pressures placed upon females to become “male,” or to epitomize certain characteristics, like chastity. Writes Streete, “because the model is ambiguous, so is its appropriation” (11). Streete’s focus in Redeemed Bodies is two-fold: 1) to demonstrate that the lens of gender is a valid one through which to view and evaluate martyrdom, and 2) to illuminate the complexity and ambiguity of Christian interpretation of martyrdom.

The martyr eschews legal and social standards specifically because of prior religious convictions. This inappropriate action of refusing to submit to standards is subversive. When such subversive actions lead to torture and martyrdom, Streete proposes, the martyr’s bodies (alongside their speeches) serve as the voice of witness. Martyrological literatures imbues the death itself with meaning through the body of the martyr. Streete then argues that the bodies of martyred women signify and signified something meaningful about power, both as symbols of gender and more generally of physicality, as both subject and object of powerful actions. Streete argues that, seen in tandem with Platonic and Aristotelian anthropologies, the female body was something that was to be doubly controlled, as both physical (contrary to the eternal spiritual) and passionate (contrary to the desired rationality).

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In our continuing effort to fund the publication and free distribution of The Englewood Review, we are going to be collaborating more intentionally with Christian Book Distributors.  Primarily, we will be offering you the opportunity to buy bargain books from CBD that we think of are interest.  Buying books this way is a win / win / win proposition.  You get great books for a great price,  CBD gets the sale and we get an excellent referral fee from CBD.  These books make great gifts!

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