The World of the Early Christians

By Vivian, Tim | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

The World of the Early Christians


Vivian, Tim, Anglican Theological Review


The World of the Early Christians. By Joseph F. Kelly. Message of the Fathers of the Church 1. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier. The Liturgical Press. ix + 231 pp. $22.95 (paper).

Writers of "popular" books on early Christianity face a dilemma: What does my audience already know about the early Church? How much can Ior can I not-assume? What dangers do I face in assuming too little or too much? A number of years ago when I was teaching college English, the poetry textbook I was using footnoted who Jesus was. That-and my studentstaught me that I should assume nothing. Modern ignorance is not, however, just for things ancient: when I recently saw the film Contact, a teenager seated next to me, when she saw "Based on the Book by Carl Sagan" on the screen, loudly whispered to her friend, "Who's he?"

Joseph F. Kelly, in The World of the Early Christians, has chosen not to assume too much, and it proves to be a wise choice. He has designed his book specifically as "an introductory text" (p. xiii), especially for those teaching introductory courses: "I have tried to focus on the basic questions necessary for historical background, for understanding the now lost world of early Christianity, and to avoid assuming anything on the part of the reader" (pp. xiii-xiv). Kelly's strategy includes clear and straightforward writing, footnotes for further reading, a good index and bibliography; and even the definition of most foreign or technical words.

Kelly divides the book into seven chapters, with such headings as "Who Were the Early Christians?" (ch. 1 ) and "How Do \NTe Know About the Early Christians?" (ch. 2). Chapter 4, "Others," looks at Jews, pagans, GrecoRoman religion, astrology, and philosophy, while Chapter 6, "Living In the World," addresses social issues: slavery; the role of women, questions of church and state, war and peace. Kelly's overriding purpose is to place the Christians of the first six centuries in their world, to show where that world is similar to, and alien from, our own. …

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