Early Christian Studies

Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter (eds) “The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies” [OUP, 2008]
“”The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies” responds to and celebrates the explosion of research in this inter-disciplinary field over recent decades. As a one-volume reference work, it provides an introduction to the academic study of early Christianity (c. 100–600 AD) and examines the vast geographical area impacted by the early church, in western and eastern late antiquity. The book is thematically arranged to encompass history, literature, thought, practices, and material culture. It contains authoritative and up-to-date surveys of current thinking and research in the various sub-specialties of early Christian studies, written by leading figures in the discipline. The articles orientate readers to a given topic, as well as to the trajectory of research developments over the past 30–50 years within the scholarship itself. Guidance for future research is also given. Each article points the reader towards relevant forms of extant evidence (texts, documents, or examples of material culture), as well as to the appropriate research tools available for the area.”
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Table of contents
Introduction ; PART ONE: PROLEGOMENA ; 1. From Patristics to Early Christian Studies ; 2. Literature, Patristics, Early Christian Writing ; 3. Which Early Christianity? ; PART TWO: EVIDENCE: MATERIAL AND TEXTUAL ; 4. Material Evidence (1): Archaeology ; 5. Material Evidence (2): Visual Culture ; 6. Epigraphy ; 7. Paleography and Codicology ; PART THREE: IDENTITIES ; 8. Jews and Christians ; 9. Pagans and Christians ; 10. ‘Gnosticism’ ; 11. Manichaeism ; 12. Arius and Arians ; 13. Pelagius and Pelagians ; PART FOUR: REGIONS ; 14. The West (1): Italy, Gaul, and Spain ; 15. The West (2): North Africa ; 16. The East (1): Greece and Asia Minor ; 17. The East (2): Egypt and Palestine ; 18. The East (3): Syria and Mesopotamia ; PART FIVE: STRUCTURES AND AUTHORITIES ; 19. Clergy and Laity ; 20. The Biblical Canon ; 21. Creeds, Councils, and Canons ; 22. Church and Empire ; 23. Women and Gender ; 24. Monastic Life ; PART SIX: EXPRESSIONS OF CHRISTIAN CULTURE ; 25. Early Christian Apocryphal Literature ; 26. Apologetics ; 27. Homiletics ; 28. Early Christian Historiography ; 29. Martyr Passions and Hagiography ; 30. Poetry and Hymnography (1): Christian Latin Poetry ; 31. Poetry and Hymnography (2): The Greek World ; 32. Poetry and Hymnography (3): Syriac ; 33. Christian Philosophy ; PART SEVEN: RITUAL, PIETY, AND PRACTICE ; 34. Christian Initiation ; 35. Eucharistic Liturgy ; 36. Prayer ; 37. Asceticism ; 38. Penance ; 39. Martyrdom and the Cult of the Saints ; 40. Pilgrimage ; PART EIGHT: THEOLOGICAL THEMES ; 41. Interpretation of Scripture ; 42. Doctrine of God ; 43. Christ and Christologies ; 44. Doctrine of Creation ; 45. Early Christian Ethics ; 46. Instrumenta Studiorum: Tools of the Trade ; Index of Biblical Citations ; Index of General Subjects ; Index of Persons (Ancient and Modern)
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“In books of this kind, two features count for the most: coverage and structure. The structure here, clearly, has been the object of great care. After three chapters headed “Prolegomena” and a splendidly practical section on material and textual evidence (archaeology, epigraphy, codicology, and so on), there are six sections devoted to (1) identities; (2) regions; (3) structure and authority; (4) cultural expressions; (5) rituals, piety, and practice; and (6) theological themes. However, it is not a handbook about early Christianity, with “cogent summary introductions” as the editors put it (p. 2), but about the study of early Christianity. The content of each section consists for the most part in an account of how the modern view of early Christianity has been determined by the methods and preoccupations of those who have studied it: “Contributors were asked to reflect on the main questions or issues that have animated research, to provide an introduction to the relevant primary sources, and to offer some guidance on the directions in which future research might be profitably pursued” (p. 2).
The tone is inevitably set, therefore, by Elizabeth Clark’s introductory chapter “From Patristics to Early Christian Studies” (pp. 8–41, including a 13- page bibliography). The story is of a dissolving of disciplinary boundaries. As in the case of “Late Antiquity,” the centuries that are covered no longer disclose their integral meaning to the specialized scrutiny of theologians or classicists, the hands-on expositors of material culture, or even of historians. Most of the more than forty contributors to the volume have led much of their academic lives within exactly those enclaves. Yet, each chapter here echoes with the industry of its neighbors. Indeed, one may argue, early Christian “studies” are governed as much by loyalty to ancestors and associates as by adherence to the structural principles of a newly defined discipline.
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Clark’s account of multiplicity is matched by the accompanying chapters on textuality (by Mark Vessey, pp. 42–65) and on the complex variety of belief and practice that “early Christianity” represents (by Karen King, pp. 66–84). For Vessey, the range of genres and the relational fabric of “textual communities” now familiar to the student of the period are very much in the eyes of the modern beholders, themselves the masters of differing genres and enrolled in textual communities of their own. We are now students of form. How one presented the Christian position—to what audience, through what medium, in what venue—mattered as much as the thought deployed. The result was an increasingly unfettered engagement with the litterati of the age. The voice on the page was a Christian voice, but it was “part of a history unconfined by the Church” (p. 51). The mark of purpose in a text was its desire to renegotiate the boundary between those who spoke and those who listened—always with a sense of precarious and conditional encroachment or withdrawal. King’s argument follows from that. Inquiry governed by academic ecumenism lays bare a fluidity of circumstance that precisely made necessary (or at least useful) a corresponding rigidity of discourse. The articulation of “orthodoxy” was a formal reaction to obscure or shifting boundaries, not their outcome or nemesis. Early Christianity was not, in other words, a single entity, nor indeed a static one. “Negotiation” was conducted by early Christians as much with one another as with those who did not share their beliefs. That is not to suggest mere chaos or raw competition, nor did it mean defeat for the multiple and victory for the hegemonic. Early Christians justly laid claim to a single arena, but they constantly moved within it according to a complex choreography of argument and historical appeal.”
Philip Rousseau “The Catholic Historical Review” Volume 95, Number 3, July 2009


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