Christian Origins

By Burke, Sean D. | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Christian Origins


Burke, Sean D., Anglican and Episcopal History


Christian Origins. Edited by Richard A. Horsley. A People's History of Christianity, vol. 1. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, Pp. xv, 318. $35.00.)

This first volume in A People's History of Christianity covers a period of time roughly from the turn of the first century CE. to the middle of the second century CE. The contributors are scholars who are well known for their social-historical studies of the New Testament and early Christianity. In fact, many of the contributions in this volume summarize ideas that the contributors have developed at greater length and depth in their other writings. Scholars, therefore, will not find much material here that is new. Nevertheless, I recommend this volume to students and general readers as an introduction to Christian origins: the writing styles are generally accessible, and the contributions exemplify an important and relatively new approach in the field.

The volume begins with an introduction by the editor, Richard A. Horsley. Horsley explains two contrasts that will help readers to understand what "people's history" is. First, he contrasts "people's history" and "standard history" (5). Whereas standard history focuses on elites and political events, people's history focuses on all aspects of the lives of the non-elite majority. Whereas standard history focuses on written texts and employs the methodologies of the discipline of history, people's history focuses on archeological remains, texts, and comparative studies, and its methodology is interdisciplinary. Second, he contrasts "people's history" and "New Testament studies" (5) . Whereas New Testament studies focuses on the interpretation of texts and primarily addresses (Christian) theological issues, people's history focuses on the reconstruction of the history of the non-elite majority and addresses issues such as these people's circumstances and actions.

After the introduction, the volume is divided into three parts. The first part focuses on "Early Jesus Movements" and includes four chapters. Horsley analyzes the earliest Jesus movements in the context of popular resistance and renewal under Roman imperial rule. He concludes that the earliest Jesus movements did not comprise a new religion, but rather they were "movements for the renewal of Israel in resistance to the imperial rulers of the people" (44). William R. Herzog II poses the question of why peasants responded to Jesus and formed a movement that was able to survive his crucifixion. Utilizing Paulo Freire's "pedagogy of the oppressed" as a comparative model, he argues that the Jesus movement developed a form of teaching by means of parables that "empowered the exploited and oppressed to claim their own history and their role in creating it" (70). Antoinette Clark Wire analyzes "birth-prophecy stories" as a source for women's history. She concludes that through their songs and stories, women contested their people's oppression by "prophesying that a newborn child would liberate the people from Roman rule and restore justice and peace" (92). Finally, Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley examines the history of the Mandaeans, a group that still survives in parts of Iran and Iraq. She argues that the traditions of the Mandaeans provide a glimpse into Christian origins from the perspective of a group that identifiedjohn the Baptist as the "prophetic reformer of Mandaean/Israelite tradition" (108-9). …

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