Another Must Read: A. D. Nock
Arthur Darby Nock was unexcelled as a scholar of the ancient Roman world, and his expertise and incisive grasp of matters included early Christianity. For a brief bio, see this link: http://www.giffordlectures.org/Author.asp?AuthorID=134.
Among the “must reads” on these subjects I’d include, well, almost anything by Nock, but particuarly (as most of us don’t have time for everything) these two publications:
- Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion From Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo (London: Oxford University Press, 1933). This is still essential for anyone trying to understand the nature of “religion” in the Hellenistic & Roman periods. Nock includes incisive analysis of early Christianity, noting that “conversion” to Christianity (or to Judaism) involved something very different from the adoption of the other religious options of the time. Adopting an additional religious affiliation (rather like adding a new charm to one’s charm-bracelet) is one thing, and renouncing all one’s previous religious associations for the sake of exclusive participation in a new one something else.
- Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background (New York: Harper & Row, 1964). This remains one of the most insightful and well-judged appraisals of early Christianity (esp. Pauline Christianity) in its historical religious environment. (Now out of print, I think, and not even available on GoogleBooks.)
P.S. Nock didn’t write many books. Instead, he wrote a number of essay-length pieces and also book reviews. And Nock’s book reviews are more valuable than most journal articles on the same subject, and often corrective of the books reviewed. A lot of Nock’s smaller publications were gathered into a 2-vol. set, Essays on Religion and the Ancient World (1972; reprinted with corrections Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) by Zeph Stewart. This work includes a section, “Obiter Dicta”, which has some choice tidbits by Nock from a number of his reviews.