Mission and Conversion: Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire

Mission and Conversion: Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire

Mission and Conversion: Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire

Mission and Conversion: Proselytizing in the Religious History of the Roman Empire

Synopsis

This is a controversial and important new examination of the origins of Christian mission, set against the background of ancient Judaism and the pagan culture of the Roman Empire. The author's conclusions suggest that mission was not inherent to either early Judaism or Christianity, and was only sporadically practiced in antiquity by these religions. Clear, accessible, and at the same time displaying considerable scholarship, this book will provide an important challenge and a stimulus to both theologians and historians. In invites a total reconsideration of the grounds for religious conversion in both Christianity and Judaism.

Excerpt

This volume contains the Wilde Lectures in Natural and Comparative Religion, more or less in the form in which they were delivered on eight Monday afternoons in Oxford between January and March 1992. I am grateful to the electors for the opportunity they gave me to bring together studies on which I had been working for some time and which, without the deadline imposed by the lectures, might well have continued indefinitely.

My own interest in the subject of mission and conversion in late antiquity can be dated precisely to the autumn of 1985, when I applied for the Solon Fellowship in Jewish-Christian Relations in the Graeco-Roman Period at the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies and a Senior Research Fellowship at St Cross College. Asked to put forward a research topic to justify my application for this highly desirable position, I proposed an examination of Jewish and pagan proselytizing in relation to Christian mission. This book therefore constitutes the fruit of my five years as a full- time Fellow at the Centre for Hebrew Studies. I hope it may serve as a substantive memorial of my gratitude to the Centre, and to the Solon Foundation and Felix Posen, and as a reminder of congenial and stimulating company in St Cross.

During the final stages of checking the typescript I have benefited greatly from pleasant surroundings and helpful colleagues as a Fellow for six months in 1993 of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I am very grateful to the Institute, and especially to Aharon Oppenheimer and Isaiah Gafni, for their invitation and hospitality.

I have been aware at all times while engaged on this research that I have strayed far outside my expertise. I am not a theologian. I am often baffled by what theologians write, and I am aware that the questions I ask often in turn seem . . .

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