The Early Christian World - Vol. 2

The Early Christian World - Vol. 2

The Early Christian World - Vol. 2

The Early Christian World - Vol. 2

Synopsis

The Early Christian World presents an exhaustive, erudite, and lavishly-illustrated treatment of how a small movement formed around Jesus in Galilee became the pre-eminent religion of the ancient world.Situating early Christianity within its Mediterranean social, political and religious contexts,the book charts the history of the first Christian centuries. The creation and perpetuation of Christian communities through means including mission and monasticism is then explored, as is the everyday experience of early Christians, through discussion of gender and sexuality, religious practice, communication and social structures. The intellectual (particularly theological) and artistic heritage of the period is fully considered, and a vivid picture provided of the internal and external challenges faced by early Christianity.With profiles of the most notable figures of the age, up-to-date coverage of the most important topics in the study of early Christianity and an invaluable collection of visual material., The Early Christian World is a comprehensive,a ccessible and indispensable resource for everyone studying this period.

Excerpt

Most early Christian literature was didactic, devotional or theological. But there is also imaginative literature, some examples of which we shall consider in this chapter. Such works, of course, had religious aims, but aims which were fulfilled by the telling of imaginative stories. Works of the narrative imagination are found especially among some of the so-called apocryphal works produced from the second century onwards. in this connection the term 'apocryphal' should not be given much weight. These were not necessarily works which might have been included in the canon of the New Testament but in fact were excluded. Most were never candidates for canonicity. They were not necessarily works condemned as heretical by the emerging orthodoxy of the Catholic church, though some of them were. Many were widely read in thoroughly orthodox circles as edifying and entertaining literature, and some, even when roundly condemned by councils and theologians, were thought too good to lose by scholars and monks who preserved them, and much too interesting to abandon by ordinary readers with whom they remained popular. English translations of the Christian apocryphal works discussed in this chapter can be found in Elliott (1993) and Schneemelcher (1991-2).

We might expect apocryphal gospels to be prominent among works of the Christian narrative imagination, but in fact no non-canonical gospel of the type that narrates the story of Jesus, as the canonical gospels do, survives in more than fragments. Surviving apocryphal gospels (mostly gnostic) are collections of sayings of Jesus or dialogues between the risen Jesus and his disciples, not narratives. For stories of Jesus we must turn to more specialized off-shoots of the Gospel genre: 'proto-gospels' and gospels of the Passion and Resurrection. the latter type (including especially the cycle of narratives known either as the Gospel of Nicodemus or as the Acts of Pilate), though important for its medieval influence, developed only in the later patristic period and will not be studied here. But 'proto-gospels' (often called birth and infancy gospels) which narrate Jesus' background (from before the birth of his mother), birth and childhood began to be written in the second century. We shall comment on the two second-century works of this type from which all later such works developed: the Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

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