The Cambridge History of Christianity. Volume 1: Origins to Constantine

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Ancient The Cambridge History of Christianity. Volume 1: Origins to Constantine. Edited by Margaret M. Mitchell and Frances M. Young. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xlviii, 740. $180.00.)

The Cambridge "histories" often include hefty articles on religion, but this is the first time Cambridge University Press has launched a series devoted solely to the history of Christianity. The entire project will include nine volumes and extend the story from the beginnings until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with two volumes on "world Christianities." It is an ambitious and welcome undertaking.

The aim of the series is to reap the harvest of the scholarship of the last several generations on the history of Christianity, and the first volume, "Origins to Constantine," does that well.There are, for example, articles on the "Jewish Diaspora" and "The Roman Empire," essays on Marcion and on Irenaeus, a series of chapters on the growth of Christianity in distinct geographical areas, e.g., Egypt, Syria, Gaul, chapters on Christian institutions and theology, good articles on persecution and on Constantine, and a chapter on early Christian art and architecture.

Because of the way the two disciplines have developed, New Testament studies and church history are often viewed as separate fields. But here the New Testament writings and the historical epoch they reflect are seen, as they should be, as part of the history of Christianity.Accordingly, the editors include an introductory chapter on Jesus and Christian beginnings as well as essays on Jewish-Christianity, Christianity, and Johannine Christianity.

The essays are written, in the main, by recognized scholars in the several areas, e.g., Wayne Meeks on social life of early Christian communities, Harry Gamble on Marcion and the "canon," Birger Pearson on Egypt, Susan Ashbrook Harvey on Syriac-speaking Christianity, W. H. C. Frend on persecutions, A. M. Ritter on church-state relations. It is a book one can take in hand with confidence that it offers an up-to-date account of the current state of scholarship in the many areas it treats.

I think, however, that the volume will be more useful to scholars than to the general reader. One reason is that it is hard to get a sense of the whole by reading the individual essays. …