The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History

By Finney, Paul Corby | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1997 | Go to article overview

The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History


Finney, Paul Corby, The Catholic Historical Review


The Archaeology of Early Christianity.'A History. By William H. C. Frend. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1996. Pp. xix, 412; 3 plans, 8 maps, 16 b/w figures, 10 color figures. $39.00.)

Reverend Professor W H. C. Frend, D.D., EB.A., Professor Emeritus of Ecclesiastical History (Glasgow) and Anglican Divine, is one of this century's great figures in the study of early Christianity. Frend is a master narrator, and I found his most recent book a treasure-trove of personalities, places, and events that have shaped our current understanding of the material world brought into being by the earliest Christians. Frend paints with a very broad brush. He begins his version of the story with Helena, Constantine, and Eusebius, arguably the first "archaeologists" of early Christianity, and he concludes somewhere in the tomorrow, asking pointed questions about the prospects (in his view rather dim) for the study of early Christian archaeology; the latter, he warns, may well suffer the fate of New Testament studies and become starved of new materials.... Reworking a static data base is the way to fossilization and irrelevance.... (p. 388).

Archaeology consists in fifteen chapters. Chapter One concerns the Constantinian discoverers of their Christian antecedents.Two begins (ca. 413) with Jerome's Sunday visits to the catacombs and ends in the seventeenth century, but the focus is on Bosio, Chifflet, Mabillon, and Camden, in other words Italian, French, and British antiquarians of the seventeenth century.Three concerns the eighteenth century not a highpoint in the study of early Christianity, although it did produce important historical works by Tillemont, von Mosheim, and Gibbon. Four, entitled "Napoleon," focusses on discoveries in Egypt, especially Nubia, which is one of Frend's particular interests. Five concerns mid-nineteenth-century French excavations in Algeria and the Donatists (another Frend domain in which he has distinguished himself); Chapter Six recounts the work of Cardinal Lavigerie in Algeria and Tunisia; of de Vogie in Syria; of de Rossi in Rome; and of Leblant in early Christian Provence. Seven concerns W M. Ramsay in Turkey. Eight covers the years leading up to the outbreak of World War I: the French in Tunisia and Algeria; the British (Ramsay and Bell),Austrians, Germans, and Americans in Turkey and northern Syria; the English and Germans in Egypt and Nubia; the Germans and French in Ethiopia and central Asia; de Rossi's followers in the Roman catacombs; Bulic , Dyggve, and Egger in the Balkans. Nine and Ten concern the important achievements (notably the Franco-American project at Saliyeh/Dura) of the interwar period, 1919-1940. Eleven recounts the excavations under St. Peter's, at Toura, Nag Hammadi, and Qumran (on which now see R. …

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