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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why Christianity Happened

As mentioned earlier, I'll give an adve...overview of Why Christianity Happened. Today, just the aims and intentions.

The key aim of the book is to pick up on something I previously looked at, i.e. the shift in law observance from the law observant historical Jesus to the beginnings of non-observance in the early church. What I had previously done was largely a descriptive enterprise in the sense that I was concerned mostly with chronological details and only little attention was give to those big why questions I keep going on about. What I want to do in this book is to look at this question in a much broader socio-historical context as part of an explanation for the emergence of Christianity from John the Baptist and Jesus to the Jerusalem conference (i.e c. 26-50 CE). Think of it as an unholy union of me, Stark and Crossan.

The book begins with a comparison between what historians from history departments have done in comparison with the historical study of Christian origins and the reasons why Christian origins has missed out on so many important methods especially in the mid C20. It then goes on to place this partly in the context of a secular-faith divide and the problems of the Cold War. There is also some questioning of the strange use of supernatural explanations in Christian origins and how secular types could add a whole host of new questions.

The rest of the book is all about exploiting various methods from the social sciences and providing an explanation based on historical change. For all the excellent work done in social scientific criticism of the NT, the stress is rarely (with honourable excpetions) on explaining why we get from A to B (to put it crudely) but rather on description, e.g. what this text would be like in its ancient context, how it illuminates theology etc. There is nothing wrong with that, and I do not abandon this myself, but I just think it would be worth trying to change the emphasis. If we want to keep using the rhetoric of history and all that then perhaps it is worth trying to use some standard historical methods.

I apply various social scientific approaches to the emergence of Jesus and his specific spin on the law with reference to economic changes, Jesus' audience (with a chapter devoted to the question of identifying 'the sinners'), the spread of monotheism in the ancient world, the transmission of early traditions (including Q - extremely vaguely defined for all you sceptics out there - and a re-reading of Mk 6-8) with reference to changes in the ethnic make-up of the audience and the shifts in Law observance, and how the approaches of Stark and a variety of other sociologists of networks and conversion can be modified to show how the key step from law observance to non-observance among gentiles took place. Whether Stark et al would approve of what I've done with their stuff, I don't know, but I don't think it is contradictory.

So, I'll begin with the dreaded secular issue...but not today.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

Very exciting...

October 18, 2006

 
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October 19, 2006

 

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