The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions

The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions

The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions

The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions


Klauck's is a uniquely well-informed and comprehensive guide to the world of religion in the Graeco-Roman environment of early Christianity. Drawing on the most up-to-date scholarship, his volume paints a carefully nuanced portrait of the Christians' religious context. Besides describing ordinary domestic and civic religion and popular belief (including astrology, divination and "magic"), there is extended discussion of mystery cults, ruler and emperor cults, the religious dimensions of philosophy, and Gnosticism. An authoritative work, Klauck's will become a new standard for reference and teaching.


Let us for a moment suppose that modern Europe were to witness the believers
abandoning the Christian churches in order to venerate Allah or Brahma, to observe the
commandments of Confucius or Buddha, to accept the fundamental principles of
Shintoism; let us imagine a great congeries of all the races of the world, with Arabic
mullahs, Chinese literary scholars, Japanese bonzes, Tibetan lamas, Hindu pandits
preaching at one and the same time fatalism and predestination, the cult of ancestors and
the adoration of the divinised ruler, pessimism and redemption through self-annihila
tion, while all these priests built temples in foreign styles in our cities and celebrated their
various rites in them – this dream (which the future may perhaps one day see realised)
would give us a rather accurate picture of the religious confusion which characterised the
ancient world of Constantine.

(F. Cumont, Die orientalischen Religionen im römischen Heidentum, reprint
Darmstadt 1975, 178f.)

It almost seems as if Franz Cumont, the great Belgian historian of Hellenistic-Roman religion, had developed prophetic gifts alongside all his other talents, when he wrote these lines at the beginning of our century. Now that we have reached the end of the century, we find ourselves confronted by rite slogan of the 'multicultural' society, which will always be a multireligious society too. Against this background, it is even easier to draw the analogy which Cumont drew: early Christianity too sought its path in a multireligious world, and if we are to achieve a correct understanding of the literary bequest of early Christianity, it is absolutely necessary to know the outlines of that world.

The following presentation has a modest goal, namely to give students of theology the necessary information in this field. It concentrates on the Graeco-Roman sphere; it does not deal with Judaism, with which Christianity has a quite different (because much closer) relationship. The Introduction gives more detailed orientation about the goal, the criteria of selection and methodological questions. Here I should like only to observe that I have taken a conscious decision in favour of an illustrative style of work that is problem- and text-oriented. This means that in dubious cases, I have preferred not to discuss a possible theme, but rather to present and discuss in detail individual instructive texts. For this reason, I consistently refer to bilingual editions that are readily accessible, and to collections of texts and anthologies which provide the stimulus to the student's own further work along these paths.

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