The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World

The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World

The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World

The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World

Synopsis

"In these Oxford lectures, Theissen picks up where he left off in The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (1998). Employing the notion of religion as a "cultural sign language that promises a gain in life by corresponding to an ultimate reality," he plots the emergence of Christianity as a religion, with elements of myth, ritual, ethics, and an emergent symbolic system. He expands upon the historical, social, and theological analysis of his earlier works to cover such issues as the relationship of Jesus to the earliest churches, power, possessions, interpretations of Jesus' death, and the separation of the church and synagogue." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to give a scholarly description and analysis of primitive Christian religion. It seeks to describe the content of that religion in such a way that it is accessible to men and women whether or not they are religious. Granted, there are many descriptions of the history of primitive Christianity and its religion which do not presuppose any specific positions. What is lacking is a corresponding account of primitive Christian faith – i.e. of what moved people to the depths in primitive Christianity. Those who want to inform themselves about this are referred to 'theologies of the New Testament'. However, these present an internal Christian perspective. They are written for Christians, as a rule for those who are to become clergy. They are legitimate and necessary attempts to describe a religion from within. But the New Testament and primitive Christianity are too important not to be made accessible to as many people as possible in a scholarly way. Their texts and convictions are part of the basic cultural information of human history – whether one hears them as sermon texts or reads them as part of our tradition. It is not good either for society or for the churches for them to be removed from everyday discourse.

It is true that every scholar inevitably writes from his or her standpoint. I am a Christian. I teach theology in a theological faculty. I am an ordained minister. I preach. I love primitive Christianity and its texts. Some people may find that an insuperable limitation for such an enterprise. But it makes a difference whether one elevates one's standpoint to the status of a programme or accepts it and reflects on it as a context for heuristic discovery, and not as the only context in which one's own thought is valid and can be communicated. I in fact think that we can describe the things that we love in such a way that they are understandable and accessible to all – including those who have quite different attitudes to them from ours. Scholarship proves itself in making us to enter into communication with other people who are shaped differently from ourselves, governed by other convictions, and have contrary views on many things. In today's culture, and especially in theology, this view is represented only by a minority. The postmodern mentality is not at all favourable to such an attitude. But there are related . . .

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