Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context

Article excerpt

Modelling Early Christianity: Social-scientific studies of the New Testanent in its context. Ed. by Philip F. Esler. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. xv + 349 pp. $59.95 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

The field of New Testament study has gone through a self-confessed crisis in the last quarter century. From the end of the 1800s until relatively recently historical criticism was the centre of gravity in NT studies. With the loss of this centre biblical critics have begun examining alternative foci, in particular those drawn from literary criticism and the social sciences. While many current biblical scholars would share Vernon Robbins caution about the value of a strictly disciplinary approach (p. 277), there remains an uneasy feeling that, having burst the bonds of historical criticism, biblical criticism has lost its identity. With a loss of the classic focus on asking questions about the original circumstances of the texts biblical studies seems to be set adrift.

The collection of essays in Modelling Early Christianity. Social-scientific studies of the New Testament in its context is a welcome demonstration of how to appropriate perspectives from various disciplines without losing continuity with classical biblical scholarship. As its subtitle indicates, the volune draws together biblical studies (originally presented at a conference) which use various models from the social sciences, particularly anthropology, sociology and social psychology. The expressed purpose of these models is to aid in understanding the historical context of the biblical texts. The historical focus of the essays results in a generally reasonable and modest use of models. Rather than focusing on the models themselves, these studies employ models in the service of historical understanding.

The essays share a certain attitude towards history-that the history of ideas cannot be separated from the history of social life. …

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