The Rise of Christianity

The Rise of Christianity

The Rise of Christianity

The Rise of Christianity

Synopsis

'A history of early Christianity like this one comes along only once in a generation. Only by reading this book can one appreciate how vast and disciplined is its scholarship, how thoughtful, how thoughtful its attention to both large historical currents and the little people and details that form the bed, and force the eddying, of history's great stream.'

Excerpt

This book arose largely from a chance meeting with an old student, Mr. Robin Baird-Smith, later a director of Darton, Longman & Todd. It was suggested that there was room for a work on the lines of J. Daniélou and H. Marrou's The First Six Hundred Years (1964), but devoted more specifically to the early Christians themselves and explaining how Christianity survived the hostile environments, first of Judaism and then of the GrecoRoman world, to become the civilization of Eastern and Western Europe.

The title, The Rise of Christianity, that I eventually chose is, of course, that of Bishop E. W. Barnes's work, published in 1947. Barnes, however, concentrated on the New Testament area and only extended his detailed research as far as the time of Justin Martyr (c. 100–165). The real inspiration for this work has come from Adolf von Harnack's Mission and Expan- sion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (1902; Eng. trans. 1908). Harnack was among the first scholars to realize the overriding importance of the Jewish Dispersion (Diaspora), not only in molding the early Christian mission but in providing the basis for its steady expansion throughout the Greco-Roman world. By the end of the third century Christianity had penetrated to every corner of the empire and to almost every section of the population. Practically nothing had escaped von Harnack's eye. From his detailed examination of texts relating to Christianity in the first three centuries and the lists that he compiled of bishoprics in each Roman province, he concluded that the Great Persecution unleashed in 303 by the emperor Diocletian and his colleagues was foredoomed to failure. The church would have triumphed even without Constantine's conversion.

Von Harnack's conclusions remain valid. They can now, however, be tested and elaborated with the aid of evidence that was not available to him when he wrote more than three-quarters of a century ago. Harnack stood at the very threshold of the explosion of archaeological evidence that has characterized research into the ancient world during this century. Apart from work carried out by French scholars in North Africa (principally by Stéphane Gsell), and the continuous exploration of the Roman catacombs—the legacy of J. B. de Rossi (1822–94) and his predecessors— archaeological research into Christian origins had been concentrated on western Asia Minor. The possibility of checking the accuracy of Luke-Acts was the challenge that inspired the enormously fruitful journeys of W. M.

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