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Another New Book on Jesus and the Early Church

October 29, 2011

Friday’s post brought my contributor’s copy of a new multi-author volume:  The World of Jesus and the Early Church:  Identity and Interpretation in Early Communities of Faith, edited by Craig A. Evans (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 2011), ISBN 978-1-59856-825-7.

The thirteen contributions come from a couple of conferences organized by Evans in the last few years, and they’re grouped in two sections.  “Part 1:  Identity in Jewish and Christian Communities of Faith” includes contributions on several matter pertaining to Qumran (John Collins,Torleif Elgvin and Dorothy Peters), Galilean villages (Mark Chancy), Children in early House Churches (Margaret MacDonald), Burial of executed members of a family (Craig Evans), and the Trial of Jesus in light of new archaeological evidence (Shimon Gibson).

Part 2: “Interpreting the Scriptures in Jewish and Christian Communities” includes several more contributions on Qumran (George Brooke, Keith Bodner, Stephen Andrews), an introduction to the new edition of the Hebrew Bible, “Biblia Hebraica Quinta” (James Sanders), a review of efforts to date early manuscripts with Papyrus Egerton 2 as the case study (Paul Foster), and my contribution, “What do the Earliest Christian Manuscripts Tell us about Their Readers?”.

I first briefly review the earmarks that allow us to recognize ancient manuscripts as Christian (esp. the preference for the codex and the nomina sacra).  Then, prompted a fascinating article by William A. Johnson (a respected papyrologist), in which he proposes that the visual layout of high-quality Greek literary manuscripts reflects the elitist circles in which they were used, I I propose that the somewhat contrasting visual features of earliest Christian manuscripts may reflect the more socially diverse (and perhaps inclusive) nature of the circles in which they were used..  Here’s a short quote from the conclusion (p. 192):

“Early manuscripts  also show that Christians of this early period [2nd-3rd centuries CE] were already developing a sense of particularity, a distinctive corporate identity as Christians, and were developing and deploying expressions of this identity in their production of copies of their texts, particularly their most cherised ones, those that they read in churches as Scripture.”

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