Backgrounds of Early Christianity

Backgrounds of Early Christianity

Backgrounds of Early Christianity

Backgrounds of Early Christianity

Synopsis

Having long served as a standard introduction to the world of the early church, Everett Ferguson's Backgrounds of Early Christianity has been expanded and updated in this third edition. The book explores and unpacks the Roman, Greek, and Jewish political, social, religious, and philosophical backgrounds necessary for a good historical understanding of the New Testament and the early church. New to this edition are revisions of Ferguson's original material, updated bibliographies, and fresh discussions of first-century social life, of Gnosticism, and of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Jewish literature.

Excerpt

The historical setting for the New Testament and early Christianity may be described as a series of concentric circles. The Roman world provided the outer circle — the governmental, legal, and economic context. The Greek world provided the cultural, educational, and philosophical context. The Jewish world was the matrix of early Christianity, providing the immediate religious context. Palestine, itself already Hellenized, was the home of Jesus and his first disciples and the setting of Jesus’ ministry. The diaspora synagogues provided the most important points of entry for early Christianity into the wider Greco-Roman world.

This illustration from geometry, however, may be misleading. Many readers have observed that the title Backgrounds … is ill-chosen, for the word “backgrounds” has connotations of distance and disengagement not intended by the title. I suppose that I am stuck with the word and can only disavow the intention that the material surveyed here should be left in the “background,” whether distant or near. Others prefer the words “environment,” “milieu,” or better “context.” A friend facetiously suggested “cultural ecology.” Early Christians lived in a world that had many components and cultural influences and seldom, if ever, thought of sorting out where each came from. The analyses given in this book are meant to serve pedagogic purposes and, as said in the preface, should not be confused with reality, which for most people was more unified than my presentation.

Another image from geometry that has been used to describe the relation of Christianity to its context is “parallels,” and these have caused various concerns to modern readers. This volume will call attention to a number of similarities between Christianity and various aspects of its environment. Many more could have been included, and probably many more than are currently recognized will become known as a result of further study and future discover-

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