The indisputable centrality of the figure of Jesus in early Christian devotion is the premise for this book, and my aim is to offer a new historical description and analysis of this remarkable phenomenon. Indeed, the key distinguishing feature of the early Christian circles was the prominent place of Jesus Christ in their religious thought and practice.1 There certainly were plenty of other religious groups worthy of note in the Roman period, and even some that shared a number of important features with early Christianity. There were, for example, other movements and groups that recruited converts across ethnic lines, offering intimate fellowship, initiation rituals, and sacred meals with a deity.2 There were philosophical movements to which the early Christian groups can be likened in their concern to define and promote ethics.3 But despite the similarities
1. In this study I will refer to the Jesus of early Christian devotion as "Jesus" and "Christ"
with no distinction intended, unless such a distinction is made in the early Christian source be-
ing studied. Characteristically, in early Christian circles Jesus of Nazareth is taken as the figure
God has exalted to unique authority and status as "Christ" and "Lord" (e.g., Acts 2:32-36). As is
well known among scholars, so pronounced were such convictions that the term "Christ"
quickly became almost another name for Jesus in early Christian usage, as continues to be the
case in popular usage to this day.
2. The classic study by A. D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Al-
exander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), is still essential
3. E. A. Judge, "The Early Christians as a Scholastic Community," JRH 1 (1961): 4-15, 125-
37. A. J. Malherbe, Moral Exhortation, a Greco-Roman Sourcebook (Philadelphia: Westminster,
1986), discusses the moral/ethical traditions of the Roman era. For discussions of early Chris-
tian ethics that take these traditions as context, see W. A. Meeks, The Moral World of the First
Christians, Library of Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986); J. I. H. McDonald,
The Crucible of Christian Morality (London: Routledge, 1998); and Troels Engberg-Pedersen,
Paul and the Stoics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)