Early Christianity: A “Bookish” Religion
I’ve been asked to give main points from my Peter Craigie Memorial Lecture given earlier this week in the University of Calgary. My lecture gives the gist of one of the chapters in my forthcoming book on distinctives of early Christianity, one of those distinctives being the prominent place of texts in early Christianity, making it a “bookish” religion.
- From a very early point the reading of texts was a typical part of corporate worship gatherings. This was unusual in the Roman-era setting for a religious group. Indeed, the only analogy was the use of texts in synagogue gatherings.
- In the production of new texts, likewise, early Christianity was remarkable and unusual. By my count, there were at least some 200+ texts that we know of composed by ca. 250 AD.
- The efforts at copying and dissemination of texts comprise a further distinguishing feature. This trans-local dissemination of texts reflected and furthered the sense of early Christian circles being connected with other circles in a larger, trans-local fellowship.
In these and related phenomena, early Christianity was unusual and “bookish.” That is, as some others have noted, it was a remarkable and distinctive “textual community.”