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The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Wayne Meeks, professor of Biblical studies at Yale, looks at the world of the first century Christian church in this book, 'The First Urban Christians'. He has a follow-up volume, 'The Origin of Christian Morality', that progresses into the world of the second century Christian church. Together these volumes give a rare insight into the earliest development of the church -- as so many denominations take as their authority the actions, decisions, and conventions of this time (as they understand them), a look at the formative years of Christianity (and later Christendom) is valuable indeed.
This book looks at social description of early Christianity, bringing in history, politics, sociology and philosophy in various degrees. Meeks is looking for the 'ordinary Christian' in the early church, something he claims we do not often find in the scriptures or other writings of the time. This requires that we know as much as possible about the general cultural setting in which early Christians found themselves, as their writings and practices handed down to us constitute a response, if not directly then at least indirectly, to their times.
Despite the pastoral setting of many of the gospel stories and parables, Christianity was largely an urban phenomenon in its earliest days (as would be true of most any sect or cult that would grow in early times -- it would take root in and transfer by movement between cities; indeed, Antioch, one of the major cities of the time, was where the term Christian was first coined). Meeks looks at the issues of city growth, from village to city to empire (it is no mistake that the Roman Empire derived its name from a city). Urban Judaism had unique traits that are examined here as influential in early Christianity. Meeks also explores different issues such as the role of women in urban society, mobility issues and the kinds of interconnections people in cities would make, intra-urban and inter-urban.
After this examination, Meeks continues to look at specifically church-related issues in urban, Pauline Christianity. These include the various rituals such as baptism and eucharist, governance and hierarchy issues in the early church (very different from later, imperial Christianity), and patterns of belief -- remember, this is a time when there was not only no set canon of scripture, but no creeds formulated yet, either. Meeks also explores briefly the unknown and controverted rituals -- how did the early Christians marry (or remarry)? How did they bury and mourn their dead (for we know it was of concern to many early Christians that people were dying prior to the return of Christ)?
Meeks provides ample footnoting citations, a generous bibliography of secondary sources (35 pages of this!), and indexes of biblical references, modern authors, and subjects. This is an excellent text for study and reference, and gives good insights into a world we take for granted often that we understand (due to our familiarity with the New Testament scriptures), yet really is foreign in time and space.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 1999
Meeks takes a look at the first Christians from a perspective rarely found in typical Christian Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and commentaries. The strength of this work lies in the fact that Meeks is specifically unveiling the social customs and mores of the first century. Especially helpful are his discussions on the living and working conditions of the first Christians.
Since we are nearly 2000 years removed from the social context on the early church, a book such as this helps us to see what we have been missing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 September 2012
This is a fine introduction to the world of the mid-first Century Christians, who were, we really should have realised, city dwellers through and through. Meekes does not pretend to "know" things he has no evidential warrant for, but nor does he shy away from trying to make sense of the evidence (primarily Paul's letters, but also making use of Acts and what is obviously a comprehensive knowledge of the Hellenistic pagan culture of the cities in which these Pauline Christians found themselves. He uses some theoretic models from modern social studies to try to get an angle on some of the evidence, but he is cautious in this and does not make any rash presuppositions about transferring such models across time. The result is a very striking, but still puzzling, picture of groups consisting largely middle-class people and their servants based in households, excited and confused by a new set of stories and ideas, brought to them in various guises by various teachers and writings, but steadied and challenged by the letters of the ever-elusive Paul to stand firm both in the new faith and in the well-established virtues of the Hellenistic (pagan) middle class. Through the noise you can hear the echo of modern evangelical households, including their smugness. This is about the only disappointing thing about the book. Modern Christians, with their disputatiousness, sectarianism and self-righteousness can reasonable point to Paul's letters for justification, and not just spiritually . Paul, though, comes over as a curiously more flexible and attractive character, partly because he tailored each letter to a particular audience, changing emphasis as he did so. I could easily become a fan of Paul.
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on 7 February 2014
A sentral text for students in theology, not out of date.
Quite easy to read, although it holds a good scientific standard.
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on 29 May 2015
Fairly good in my opinion.
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on 4 January 2015
Gift. Delivery fine
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