I study Early Christianity, because the story inspires me. Amidst the drama of the Roman Empire, how did a small Jewish sect plant the seed for, arguably, the world’s greatest movement? And as the nightmares born in modern Europe unravel, the church like then is being born anew. We had never dreamed of Africa, China, and Chile as the new land of Christianity. An era passes while we live, and it is a great time to study her early days when she struggled as one small religion among the great nature religions of the world.
Some suggest that we can know little of the early Christian genius, given how it has been enshrined in the myths and legends of religious history; but on the contrary, a tempered look at its development can reach some firm conclusions. For the best angle to view the emergence of Christianity, one must combine five areas of study: (1) A reading of the New Testament along side of various related and contemporary literature: the Old Testament, the texts of Second Temple Judaism, the multitude of classical writings including early business records, and the early Christian literature including the church fathers and New Testament Apocrypha, (2) The social history of the movement, (3) The Historical Jesus and the History of Christians in the Roman Empire, (4) Greco-Roman Philosophy and Rhetoric, and (5) the local histories of the great variety of early Christianities (adapted from Margaret’s Mitchell’s brilliant essay in the revised edition of Grant’s From Augustus to Constantine.
For those interested in Christianity and the mysterious yet epiphanic person of Jesus, you never dreamed how interesting her ancient past could be. Not only does the New Testament provide us with a window into the most sublime of human thoughts, but the whole story of the early days sweeps us into the lives of fascinating humans living in fascinating times. I feel lucky to get to write about it here!