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"Silly," "stupid," "irrational," "simple." "Wicked," "hateful," "obstinate," "anti-social." "Extravagant," "perverse." The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity including branding Christianity "new." Novelty was no Roman religious virtue. Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in "Destroyer of the gods," Christianity thrived despite its new and disti "Silly," "stupid," "irrational," "simple." "Wicked," "hateful," "obstinate," "anti-social." "Extravagant," "perverse." The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity including branding Christianity "new." Novelty was no Roman religious virtue. Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in "Destroyer of the gods," Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a "bookish" religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day. In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic - a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project. Christianity s novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as "Destroyer of the gods" demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another."


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"Silly," "stupid," "irrational," "simple." "Wicked," "hateful," "obstinate," "anti-social." "Extravagant," "perverse." The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity including branding Christianity "new." Novelty was no Roman religious virtue. Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in "Destroyer of the gods," Christianity thrived despite its new and disti "Silly," "stupid," "irrational," "simple." "Wicked," "hateful," "obstinate," "anti-social." "Extravagant," "perverse." The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity including branding Christianity "new." Novelty was no Roman religious virtue. Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in "Destroyer of the gods," Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a "bookish" religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day. In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic - a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project. Christianity s novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as "Destroyer of the gods" demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another."

30 review for Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    There have been in recent centuries attempts to portray Christianity as being the product of it's Greco-Roman environment. Efforts were made to demonstrate the influence of various mystery cults on Christianity, leaving the question of whether Christianity was in any way unique and distinctive. Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology at the University of Edinburgh, offers a detailed description of the ways in which early Christianity was quite distin There have been in recent centuries attempts to portray Christianity as being the product of it's Greco-Roman environment. Efforts were made to demonstrate the influence of various mystery cults on Christianity, leaving the question of whether Christianity was in any way unique and distinctive. Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology at the University of Edinburgh, offers a detailed description of the ways in which early Christianity was quite distinctive. He offers this book as a response to what he calls our "cultural amnesia." We have forgotten both the distinctiveness of early Christianity and the mark left on our cultural mindset by this distinctive faith (p. 187). When we think religion, we usually have in mind beliefs and practices, ethical concerns, laws, and rituals. We place Christianity and other traditions into this framework, so as to compare and contrast. Hurtado argues that our definition of religion differs greatly from the ancient world's, and that our modern definition largely stems from the emergence and growth of Christianity within the Roman world. Religion in the ancient Roman world was largely concerned with ritual, not doctrine or ethics. The one religion that has the same markers as Christianity is Judaism, but Judaism was itself a different kind of faith tradition. It was distinctive, but those distinctives were linked to ethnicity, whereas the differences expressed by Christianity were trans-ethnic. In Hurtado's mind the first three centuries of Christianity's existence were formative. The characteristics that mark Christianity were forged in the context of a rather hostile context. Indeed, according to Hurtado, "in that ancient Roman setting, Christianity was perceived by many as irreligious, impious, and unacceptable, a threats to social order" (p. x). We may not perceive Christianity in this way, but its early compatriots did. Why was Christianity deemed strange and dangerous? Could it be that their sense of exclusive devotion to the God revealed in Jesus put them at odds with their culture? This strangeness led to both social consequences and the possibility of physical death. They wee considered odd, first and foremost, because they refused to venerate or honor the gods of Rome and of the home. Rome was rather pluralistic, but it did require giving honor to the gods. It was an act of allegiance. The fact that Jews didn't have to give religious allegiance was due to the belief their stubbornness in resisting civic religion was an ethnic rooted reality. The same couldn't be said of Christianity, which quickly crossed ethnic boundaries. Hurtado offers a historical look at these important questions about the foundational moments of Christianity. He notes the diversity of expression, but focuses on the proto-orthodoxy that was emerging during this era and became the leading theological vision by the fourth century. He begins the journey with a detailed description of the way in which Christianity was perceived and understood by its non-Christian neighbors, both Jewish and Pagan. The Pagan critiques are the most interesting because they seem strange to ears. To think of Christianity, as Pliny suggested, being "perverse superstition" seems beyond comprehension. By the second century Christianity had begun to be noticed. It was deemed unsophisticated and dangerous, and needing a response as seen in the responses of people like Celsus. In chapter two Hurtado begins to explore more fully the distinctives. He shows how Christianity is a new kind of faith. In the ancient world no distinction was made between devotion to the gods and the rest of life. Religion was simply an expression of one's culture, but for Christians it was much more. They made a distinction between culture and nation and the God revealed in Jesus. Religion was about ritual for the Romans, while little thought was given to beliefs. In a world full of gods, with temples and rituals, to worship one God who lacked idols was incomprehensible. Now there were growing numbers of trans-ethnic religions emerging at the time, including the Mithraism, which was popular among the soldiers, and the cult of Isis, which had spread widely from Egypt. But neither of these religions was exclusive. Thus, Christians were accused of atheism. it had some of the markings of Judaism, but it transcended them. With the exception of Judaism, which had a strong ethnic identity, ancient religions were non-exclusive. Worshiping thee emperor was pledging allegiance to the ruler. To say no to this call to worship was to say no to the government. While voluntary religions were emerging, they were non-exclusive. With Christianity ethnicity and religious identity were separated, the same was true of political loyalty. As Hurtado notes: "Christians refused to honor the gods on which Roman rulers claimed to base their political authority; but Christians affirmed, nevertheless, a readiness to respect pagan rulers, pay taxes, and in other ways be good citizens" (p. 103). What Christians wanted, interestingly enough, was religious freedom. As Tertullian argued, worship can't be coerced, and one could be a good citizen without the religious test. In this Christianity was revolutionary. From identity we move to the primacy of word in Christianity. Christianity more than any other religion other than Judaism was bookish. There is a uniqueness in Christianity's efforts to emphasize "reading, writing, copying, and dissemination of texts" (p. 105). He notes that one needn't have a fully literate community to be committed to the written word. A community needed but one person who could read the word to the people. Hurtado explores in some depth the role of reading and dissemination of texts, including the ongoing canonization process that standardized texts, beginning with the Pauline letters and then the Gospels in the second century. But it wasn't just the texts that came to be seen as scripture that were shared. Numerous works were produced during the second century and beyond. Paul's letters were unique in their length. No ancient letters were as lengthy as Paul's. Even Philemon is relatively large in comparison to other Roman letters. Then there is the codex. At a time when the scroll was the preferred form of book, Christians embraced the codex, which stands close to the modern book. Thus, Christianity was a text-oriented faith. Christianity was unique as well in its ethical emphasis. Granted Judaism did the same, but it rarely sought to extend its practices to others. Christianity on the other hand made ethics central to their faith, and sought to expand influence to the rest of the community. In this Christianity was closer to the philosophical schools than religion. Among the practices that Christians opposed was the Roman practice of infant exposure. Romans seemed have few qualms about this, but Christians rescued infants and opposed the practice. They also opposed gladiatorial spectacles. Christians tried to fit in where they could, seeking to be good citizens, but they also believed that faith had behavioral expectations. Somewhat uniquely sexual expectations were applied to males as well as females. Christianity, as Hurtado argues throughout, was distinctive in its attitude to the religious emphasis of the day, in its exclusiveness and transethnic nature. It was distinctive in its call for religious liberty, as well as its bookishness. It was unique in the way it emphasized behaviorial expectations. There are similarities, for instance, to household codes, but even these were modified. I'm not a biblical scholar or a historian of early Christianity. Yes, I've studied the eras and have some acquaintance, but not expertise. Nonetheless, I believe that Hurtado has offered us a compelling case for the unique nature of early Christianity. I found his emphasis on the way in which contemporary understandings of religion, especially the separation of religion from culture, have their roots in this early period. I believe that book, which is very accessible to the non-specialist, will be very helpful in understanding the roots of Christianity and how we might live out our faith in the contemporary context, so that one might give allegiance to Jesus and be a good citizen (without giving ultimate allegiance to the state). This is a needed challenge to our cultural amnesia, and thus I highly recommend it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Supimpa

    A superb book. Shortly before passing away, Hurtado has proven to be one of the most lucid and comprehensive scholars in the field of Christian origins. Sources are carefully weighted, the style is accessible, and the historical conclusions are cogent and vivid. The main purpose of the book is to 'address our cultural amnesia' (p.1) in two fronts: first, with the past, demonstrating how Christian would seem distinctive in the Roman religious landscape; and second, with present Western assumption A superb book. Shortly before passing away, Hurtado has proven to be one of the most lucid and comprehensive scholars in the field of Christian origins. Sources are carefully weighted, the style is accessible, and the historical conclusions are cogent and vivid. The main purpose of the book is to 'address our cultural amnesia' (p.1) in two fronts: first, with the past, demonstrating how Christian would seem distinctive in the Roman religious landscape; and second, with present Western assumptions about how religions work. In Hurtado's own words, "I want to highlight some major features of early Christianity that made it distinctive, noteworthy , and even peculiar in the ancient Greek and Roman setting. My additional point is that these features that were so unusual in that time have become accepted as commonplaces in the modern view of what religion is, and that, I submit, is largely due to the influence of Christianity." (5-6) Drawing on the rich wave of social-scientific approaches to the history of early Christianity, Hurtado will lay out a captivating narrative of Christianity in the Roman empire during the years 30-300 AD, and its effects in what we may call religious dispositions. After an introduction that surveys the growth process of Christianity from 30-300 AD, which Hurtado sees as sui generis, the book is divided in five chapters. The first one presents how Christianity was described by Non-Christians (e.g. Pliny, Celsus, Marcus Aurelius), implying that Christianity, since the early 2nd century was an identified group within ancient Roman society, with general negative reactions by pagan authors. Christians were perceived as having potential problematic consequences politically and economically for Rome. For instance, their prime allegiance was towards Christ, not Caesar. Christians not even lit incenses to the emperor, but gathered weekly for some mysterious practices which were seen as foolish and intellectually poor. Moreover, as Christianity grew in specific areas, there was a diminshing activity related to the sacrifices to the pagan gods, which would alter the economic landscape of this region and subsequent taxes to Rome. Therefore, Christians started to draw attention from highly educated Roman authors. The second chapter portrays a nuanced understanding of Christianity as an ancient 'religion'. Hurtado gives much attention to the definition and the complexities of defining and interpreting 'religions' as such in different historical periods. For him, Christianity could be seen as a religious group, but of "a different kind... both in beliefs and practices." (43) Christians were indebted to Judaism, but were not related to a specific ethnicity; Christianity invited pagans, but rejected the worship of the emperor, of pagan gods and domestic 'lares' as idolatry, which were hallmarks of decent Roman citizes; they met regularly (which was already uncommon in ancient Roman pagan religious context) for worship and practices that had parallels in part (e.g. supplications in prayer, shared symbolic meals) but were odd in much of it (e.g. baptism as an inclusion in the group, no sacrifice, but remembrance of a sort of human-god that died for them once and for all, invocations of this dead figure called Jesus). Finally, two Christian religious beliefs sounded very different in Roman ears: one, that the Christian God was unmatched in his power, invisible, but moved by faithful and sacrifical love towards human beings; and second, "a 'dyadic' pattern in which the One God and Jesus were central" (76). In the sequence, the third chapter will develop from the second, disclosing how the sense of religious identity was usually connected to ethnicity in ancient Rome. “Your own gods were supplied as part of your birthright” (78). Even the separation of ‘religion’ from what we may call ‘ethnicity’ or ‘culture’ might be anachronistic, actually (79). So Hurtado analyzes what could be seen as exceptions for this rule: what he calls ‘voluntary religion’, such as mystery cults (e.g. to Mithras or Isis), and philosophical schools (e.g. Stoics). The characteristic contrast rested exactly on Christian claims to “exclusive loyalty to one deity, thereby defining all other cults of the time as rivals” (86). In other words, Christianity, from the outset, was seen as a multi-ethnic group with self-awareness, which Hurtado supports with, for instance, the use of ‘ekklesia’ as a self-description of the gathering of the people of the same faith in Jesus Christ. In this ekklesia, social distinctions (e.g. free versus slave, men versus women, etc.) were somehow kept in tension with a more egalitarian view based on God’s grace, which renders these social capitals as worthless within the Christian community. A fourth and longer chapter follows. The number and diversity of footnotes here is noteworthy, indicating Hurtado’s expertise in the area of textual culture in early Christianity. Here, he addresses the issue of Christianity as a ‘bookish’ religion, i.e., a religious group strongly connected to the reading, copying and spreading of its religious texts. This is most likely derived from the heritage of Jewish synagogue, with some similarities with some pagan groups and philosophical schools—although with more similarities with Diaspora Judaism. Thus, Hurtado develops an interesting argument for the innovation of Christian texts. For instance, the gospels are a reflection of the Roman-era interest in biographical-style writings, but with the distinctive tone that their main subject is not a military hero or philosopher but “a Galilean of a tradesman’s family who was regarded as a prophet by some but executed by the Roman authorities on the charge of sedition” (122). Following from that, we find the work involved in copying and circulation of sacred texts, the Christian choice for the codex, and scribal practices that reflect Christian faith (e.g. Nomina sacra as a visual phenomenona, especially in the choices of “Lord” and “Jesus” as sacred names). We move on to a fifth chapter, in terms of early Christian ethics. Again, even the modern assumption that religions involve behavioral requirements is much derived from a Christian heritage. So, taking examples from infant exposure and sexual ethics. Drawing from Pauline epistles and the epistle to Diognetus, Hurtado demonstrate that early Christianity tended to a collective behavioral responsibility, not one centralized in the decision power of the ones on the top of particular social pyramids (i.e. the pater familias or the emperor). In the open reading of Scripture in earliest Christian gatherings, people of different social strata knew the expectations to all the other groups and took part in the responsibility of following those demands, thus creating a “distinctive kind of social effort to reshape behavior” (172). Finally, Hurtado concludes with observations on how the historical data must be put in dialogue with modern expectations of how religion work in the public sphere, and how we echo much of the Christian tradition in our own modern Western expectations. Overall, great book. I had a difficulty only with Hurtado’s proposal of a historical span presented (30-300 AD), whereas his own chapters (esp. 2-5) depended mostly from NT texts (roughly 50-120 AD) and secondary literature, with a few mentions of the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr and Tertullian. I was expecting larger interaction with primary data from other patristic authors after 200 AD, more of the Apostolic Fathers, inscriptions, etc. Apart from that, the book is a gem, and I highly enjoyed the chapter on the textual culture of early Christianity.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brent McCulley

    Larry W. Hurtado Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016 Pp. xiv + 290. $19.95. Perceiving the trend in patristic scholarship to over-emphasize the similarities of pagan religion, philosophy, and the mystery religions with Christianity—especially their influence on the development of early Christianity—Larry Hurtado seeks to provide a corrective reevaluation in his Destroyer of the gods. Fundamental to his study is his thesis t Larry W. Hurtado Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016 Pp. xiv + 290. $19.95. Perceiving the trend in patristic scholarship to over-emphasize the similarities of pagan religion, philosophy, and the mystery religions with Christianity—especially their influence on the development of early Christianity—Larry Hurtado seeks to provide a corrective reevaluation in his Destroyer of the gods. Fundamental to his study is his thesis that “what we call “religion” comprises a considerable diversity” (xiii). In other words, scholars have erred in methodology by anachronistically applying qualities of religion that arose specifically because of the distinctiveness of the Christian religion. While attempting to prove his thesis Hurtado draws out, without minimizing similarities, the distinctive features of early Christianity which he believes are often times glossed over, or worse, misunderstood. The book itself is divided into five major sections each comprising a unique part of his thesis; namely, Early Christians and Christianity in the Eyes of Non-Christians (chapter 1), A New Kind of Faith (chapter 2), A Different Identity (chapter 3), A “Bookish” Religion (chapter 4), and A New Way to Live (chapter 5). The first chapter deals with the unique religious claims of Christianity, the second treats the worship and exclusivity of the earliest Christians, the third chapter deals with the translocal and transethnic uniqueness of Christianity, the next asserts the uniqueness of Christians in their use of books/scripture as integral to the religion, and the last chapter deals with the high ethical norms of the earliest Christians. Greek terms are transliterated and citations are compiled as endnotes, making the book accessible even to the non-scholar. In the first major section, Hurtado attempts to highlight what non-Christians thought of the earliest Christians: they were quite strange. In this he succeeds, as he lays the backdrop upon which he can hammer home his thesis. The earliest Christians were seen as uneducated, bizarre, and standing against the very fabric of what was considered religious in the Greco-Roman world. Nevertheless, the book goes astray after the first chapter and thereby suffers on multiple fronts: a lack primary material, over-generalizations, dubious claims, imprecise terminology, and unnecessary reputation. For example, in the introduction Hurtado attempts to clarify “which Christianity” is going to be examined, ultimately concluding only those church fathers who supported “proto-orthodoxy” will be examined. Thus, he confines himself to the “first three centuries” (12). However, one is not exactly sure what the ambiguous term “proto-orthodoxy” even means, as it is not carefully defined but simply taken for granted. He states men like Tatian and Marcion will be avoided but theologians such as Origen and Clement are readily referenced, thereby throwing his “proto-orthodoxy” term into confusion. Concerning the chronology, while Hurtado claims to survey the first three centuries, he scarcely makes out it out of the first century, not making good on his promise. Indeed, Paul, and the catholic epistles, are quoted ex abundanti but one has to venture through one-hundred and three pages before the first substantial quote from a patristic source is encountered, a passage from Tertullian. In the first chapter, reference is made to the “economic factor” which could have served as a substantial contribution to the study, but this feature is not explored (24). In the second chapter, the early Christian conception that idols/pagan gods are actually demons is mentioned with reference to Paul (50-52), but the subject is then passed over. Hurtado could have bolstered his thesis with this point, a fascinating distinctive feature of early Christianity, by referencing Theophilus and Athenagoras or Justin and Aristides, but this was not even attempted. The similarities between early Christianity and the Greco-Roman philosophical schools are essentially brushed off in one paragraph because, while these too were “translocal and transethnic,” they did not require a change in “how you understood your religious identity” (86-87). Cumbersome terms, again, suffer from a lack of clarity such as “emergent proto-orthodox Christianity” (89). Throughout the book one receives the impression that Hurtado really means canonical New-Testament, or more specifically, Pauline Christianity. Elsewhere Hurtado seemingly contradicts himself. For example, in chapter four, in discussing the unique morality of early Christianity, Hurtado attempts to distinguish early Christian morality, towards females and slaves, from pagan-philosophical ones. After surveying the philosophical ethics of Musonus Rufus, and his assertion that wives and daughters should study philosophy, Hurtado quips that this cannot be unique because Rufus “hardly advocated any radical reordering of society” (263). Yet pages later, after trying to highlight the uniqueness of Paul in his conception of women and slaves, he admits: “The[se] texts do not advocate an overturning, or even questioning, of the social structures of the day” (178). One is therefore left swimming in a sea of ambiguity searching for this supposed uniqueness. While early Christian distinctiveness deserves a reappraisal by patristic scholars, Hurtado’s study is restricted by a myopic view of the diverse developmental stages of Christianity in the first three centuries. Concerning substance, the book betrays a lack of familiarity with the primary sources, relying too readily on secondary sources. Often times Hurtado reverts to quoting Paul, or doing New Testament word studies, in attempts to prove a historical point that extends well into the second or third century. In a word, it is evident that the work was written by a biblical theologian and not a patristic scholar. In sum, while Hurtado is convinced Christianity was the destroyer of the gods, upon completion the reader is left with an unsettling feeling, unconvinced that this thesis was proven. That is, Destroyer of the gods may leave more questions unanswered than it solves. Brent McCulley, Calvin Theological Seminary

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    Discussing what Christians looked like from the outside at the time. Opens with some discussion of what "religion" was like at the time, and the demands that Christianity put on every day life. There were devotees who voluntarily dedicated themselves to a god above and beyond the duties put on them by their birth (you had to worship the gods of your people), but they were not exclusive; one votive offering to Isis specifically states it comes from devotees of Poseidon. How Christian beliefs differ Discussing what Christians looked like from the outside at the time. Opens with some discussion of what "religion" was like at the time, and the demands that Christianity put on every day life. There were devotees who voluntarily dedicated themselves to a god above and beyond the duties put on them by their birth (you had to worship the gods of your people), but they were not exclusive; one votive offering to Isis specifically states it comes from devotees of Poseidon. How Christian beliefs differed from the belief in a transcendental God among the philosophers as well. Also goes into depths on how bookish the Christians were, and how they used the codex form when no one else really liked it. And on exposure of infants, gladiator games, and sexual ethics for men -- the demands on women didn't change really if you were pagan or Christian, but pagans often held that prostitutes were valuable as a preventive of adultery. Interesting stuff.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Brown

    Another excellent book by New Testament scholar Larry W. Hurtado. In the first chapter, Hurtado surveys the sorts of criticisms Christians faced from their critics, beginning with the most vociferous (Saul/Paul) through Pliny, Galen, Marcus Aurelius, Lucian of Samosata, Celsus, etc.. He then goes on to examine the nature of Christian "religion" and the then-accepted nature of religion in the Roman world. Although occasionally a bit overly cautious with his conclusions, he nevertheless makes a po Another excellent book by New Testament scholar Larry W. Hurtado. In the first chapter, Hurtado surveys the sorts of criticisms Christians faced from their critics, beginning with the most vociferous (Saul/Paul) through Pliny, Galen, Marcus Aurelius, Lucian of Samosata, Celsus, etc.. He then goes on to examine the nature of Christian "religion" and the then-accepted nature of religion in the Roman world. Although occasionally a bit overly cautious with his conclusions, he nevertheless makes a powerful case that a lot of our modern assumptions about the nature of "religion" in general are actually due to the spread of Christianity, and were in fact ground-breaking innovations in the Roman world. For instance, religious commitment that was both exclusive (unlike traditional Roman religion in its many forms) and transethnic (unlike Jewish national custom, which could be tolerated) was profoundly disruptive and offensive. Early Christianity was distinguished in both belief and practice (and, in fact, pioneered the notion of religious liberty and the decoupling of religious and ethnic identity). While we today consider "bookishness" a natural trait of religion, it was extremely distinctive in early Christianity in the Roman world, and in fact changed the nature of reading itself (i.e., the strong and peculiar Christian preference for the codex over the bookroll gave way to the basic book format to which we're accustomed). While we today consider ethics a natural trait of religion, this too was distinctive in early Christianity - Hurtado does a good job examining what was distinctive in Christian rejection of normalized practices like infanticide, bloodsports, pederasty, and so forth, as well as the even-handed way in which Christians abolished sexual double-standards that were common wisdom in the Roman world. The work as a whole is an admirable successor to Robert L. Wilken's The Christians as the Romans Saw Them and gives some insight into just why the spread of Christianity was viewed so negatively by practitioners of Roman religiosity.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Roy Howard

    This an excellent description of early Christian communities by a New Testament scholar and historian. It is especially stunning to see how the precise moral practice of Christian communities set them apart from the Roman culture. These very practices were seen as a threat to the empire and foolish to surrounding society. Christians were known as atheists, and by their behavior they displayed a radical alternative to the prevailing norms.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This is the first of Hurtado's numerous books that I have read, and it struck me as being the fruit of a long life continually engaged with ancient Christian sources. More conversational in tone than other comparable technical works, "Destroyer of the Gods" was born out of several lectures on early Christian distinctiveness that Hurtado delivered at a couple of universities. This gives the book an accessibility and even familiarity that will appeal to a broader audience than simply graduate stud This is the first of Hurtado's numerous books that I have read, and it struck me as being the fruit of a long life continually engaged with ancient Christian sources. More conversational in tone than other comparable technical works, "Destroyer of the Gods" was born out of several lectures on early Christian distinctiveness that Hurtado delivered at a couple of universities. This gives the book an accessibility and even familiarity that will appeal to a broader audience than simply graduate students. Many of Hurtado's points have made their way into my own teaching and preaching recently. It's been surprising to me just how frequently I make mention of this book! I suppose it's because, while innumerable books examine the philosophical, cultural, and political backgrounds of Roman-era society and how those backgrounds relate to Christianity, this book focuses specifically upon where Christians differed - drastically - from their pagan or Jewish neighbors. These drastic differences have been largely forgotten by our amnesiac world today. Hurtado argues persuasively that these distinctive practices of the early Christians made them far different from their non-Christian neighbors. Christianity was a departure from Roman-era "religious" practice; there was an exclusivity in following Jesus Christ and a necessary denial of all other local, national, and familial gods. It was also translocal and transethnic; previous to the birth of Christianity, one's "religious" identity was not separable from one's place of origin. Christianity invented the very idea of religion, because it demonstrated that belief and ethic can transcend worldly barriers and create a new "nation," that is, the Church itself. Christianity was also "bookish," as Hurtado puts it; from the earliest days, the production and reception of texts was immensely important. The codex (which is the ancestor of the modern book) and not the Roman book-roll was used by Christians, and they were considered quite odd for it. Yet, the very invention and use of codices has transformed our modern world. Finally, the fact that ethics - right behavior - was fundamental to Christianity was significantly distinctive in the ancient world. Never before had such a wide-spread movement been intertwined with such serious ethical commands. Add to this that, at all levels of society, from men to women to children to slaves, Christians were expected to follow Christ's example every day, then Christianity begins to seem more and more radical compared to Roman philosophical or religious movements. This book opened up a lot of new directions for my research. I am going to be reading more of Professor Hurtado's work.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Troy Nevitt

    Excellent short read. It doesn't teach anything new. If you have had interaction with the early Greco-Roman world, then this book will actually not surprise you in the slightest, nor would any student of church history right after Acts (or quite frankly, those who read Acts). Larry Hurtado gives a helpful look at the culture and the newly formed Christianity, reminding readers that this was genuinely new, and how the Romans and Greeks would have perceived a new religion popping up. Imagine it as if Excellent short read. It doesn't teach anything new. If you have had interaction with the early Greco-Roman world, then this book will actually not surprise you in the slightest, nor would any student of church history right after Acts (or quite frankly, those who read Acts). Larry Hurtado gives a helpful look at the culture and the newly formed Christianity, reminding readers that this was genuinely new, and how the Romans and Greeks would have perceived a new religion popping up. Imagine it as if a new religion started tomorrow with a large group of Muslims creating a new religion focused on an individual member deemed to be of infinite importance. What would that look like? How would the world change? The world for the Jews and Romans and Greeks sure changed when Christianity appeared on the scene. Think about how radical that would be, and how Christians presented themselves in that time. That's why this book is worth a read. Nothing is new. But everything is new.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin

    A useful book. Hurtado sets out the various ways in which Christianity was distinctive in the Roman Empire, resulting in a different understanding of what constituted religion and religious practice that is still with us. It was seen as dangerous by the surrounding Roman Empire because of these distinctives. At a time in which modern Western culture is moving toward something more like that of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries of the Christian era, it is important for Christians to i A useful book. Hurtado sets out the various ways in which Christianity was distinctive in the Roman Empire, resulting in a different understanding of what constituted religion and religious practice that is still with us. It was seen as dangerous by the surrounding Roman Empire because of these distinctives. At a time in which modern Western culture is moving toward something more like that of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries of the Christian era, it is important for Christians to inform themselves in order to maintain the faith once delivered to the saints. The book is written at a popular level. Extensive end-notes can be consulted for further study, but they are not essential to understanding the message of the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nigel Ewan

    This was a great quick read. Hurtado's goal is to present early Christianity as it may have been perceived by Romans living in the first few centuries after Christ. His point: the worldview implications of Christianity were truly radical, defying most established Roman ways of understanding philosophy and religion. As moderns, it is difficult to understand how upsetting the Christianity worldview, moral teaching, and identity would have been to Romans, since our most fundamental expectations abo This was a great quick read. Hurtado's goal is to present early Christianity as it may have been perceived by Romans living in the first few centuries after Christ. His point: the worldview implications of Christianity were truly radical, defying most established Roman ways of understanding philosophy and religion. As moderns, it is difficult to understand how upsetting the Christianity worldview, moral teaching, and identity would have been to Romans, since our most fundamental expectations about religion actually come from the dominance of Christianity itself over the last two millennia of western civilization.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Gane

    This is my first book I’ve read by Hurtado. His historical insight is honestly amazing! He has a fairly balanced view of the texts that he works with which is nice because he tries to approach the text as honest as possible without bolstering up his own worldview.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    History book describing and assessing what made Christianity unique in the early centuries of its existence. Interesting for people of all religions and none. Much of what we take for granted about religions today - that they can be transethnic or are often centred around holy writings - are really innovation of the first-century Jesus movement. Written for thinking people of all ages by a longtime Edinburg University professor. Full of great insights on every page. Probably the best book I've r History book describing and assessing what made Christianity unique in the early centuries of its existence. Interesting for people of all religions and none. Much of what we take for granted about religions today - that they can be transethnic or are often centred around holy writings - are really innovation of the first-century Jesus movement. Written for thinking people of all ages by a longtime Edinburg University professor. Full of great insights on every page. Probably the best book I've read read so far in 2017.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Todd Miles

    The goal of Hurtado's work is to demonstrate that Christianity was distinct from the religions and culture of the Greco-Roman world into which it was born and was thought to be dangerously different at the time. Hurtado argues this on the basis of 1) a commitment to monotheism that transcended ethnic identity; 2) an exclusive religious identity that transcended geopolitical boundaries or ethnicity; 3) a unique commitment to "textuality" with an emphasis on codices and written documents; and 4) a The goal of Hurtado's work is to demonstrate that Christianity was distinct from the religions and culture of the Greco-Roman world into which it was born and was thought to be dangerously different at the time. Hurtado argues this on the basis of 1) a commitment to monotheism that transcended ethnic identity; 2) an exclusive religious identity that transcended geopolitical boundaries or ethnicity; 3) a unique commitment to "textuality" with an emphasis on codices and written documents; and 4) a set of behavioral standards that transcended culture, gender, economic station, etc. Hurtado's work is careful, documented, and without overreach in its conclusions or implications.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

    A bit repetitive. But full of good insights on Greco-Roman backgrounds and some of the distinctive aspects to the Christian faith—its "bookishness," it behavioral requirements, etc. Fascinating material from a seasoned scholar. A bit repetitive. ;-)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Coyle

    Excellent! Interview with the author available here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-... (Or through iTunes 'Christian Humanist Profiles' podcast.) Excellent! Interview with the author available here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-... (Or through iTunes 'Christian Humanist Profiles' podcast.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Regina Beard

    In Larry W. Hurtado's book Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, early Christianity is shown as a very different kind of religion compared with the religious thought of the ancient Roman world. Hurtado, an Emeritus Professor at the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, unfolds the little-known origins of Christianity in a thoughtful and thorough monograph. Throughout the book, he highlights the features of early Christianity that were different t In Larry W. Hurtado's book Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, early Christianity is shown as a very different kind of religion compared with the religious thought of the ancient Roman world. Hurtado, an Emeritus Professor at the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, unfolds the little-known origins of Christianity in a thoughtful and thorough monograph. Throughout the book, he highlights the features of early Christianity that were different than those of ancient Romans, and how these differences became widespread assumptions about religion in general in the modern era. In the preface and the introduction, the foundation of the study is laid by describing the Jesus-movement that emerged during the first three centuries CE. Despite the many differences that made Christians stand out among the ancient crowd, the religion spread throughout the Roman empire. The most dangerous difference was the refusal to serve the gods of the empire in preference to worshiping the one God, which was seen as offensive and irreligious by contemporary people of the day. The first chapter dealt with the hostility early Christians endured during the first centuries and the pagan criticism behind the persecutions, including Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Galen, Marcus Aurelius, Lucian, and Celsus. The author made a very good point at highlighting the economic factors presented by the early Christians who urged others to stop sacrificing and worshipping other gods, which impacted the livelihood of craftsmen and those who raised the animals for sacrifice. In chapter two, Hurtado explains in depth the differences in what modern people would consider "religion" and its connection to this time period. For the Roman people, religious responsibility was a public service that included reverence and respect to the various gods of the empire, the town, and the family. Even the Roman people's sense of piety and virtue, their idea of prayer, and observances to the gods contrasted with the early Christians, enforcing their outsider status. In chapter three, the idea of religious identity is explored. In the Roman world, one's religious preference was conferred at birth and everyone was presumed to honor the gods as appropriate to their Roman culture and heritage. The Romans enthusiastically embraced the religious cults of other cultures, including Persia and Egypt because they were similar to their own religious beliefs. The problem the Romans had with the Christian religion is that Christians were expected to reject other gods and religious services, which was seen as abhorrent and atheistic. Chapter three reveals one of the issues that enabled Christianity to persist into the following generations. Christians were prolific in their writing and sharing of their sacred texts. These texts became important and were incorporated into their worship, which was different compared to other religious groups of the day who did not have sacred writings of this nature and used scrolls instead of books to archive and share with others. In Chapter four, the setting of the Roman era is explored. The violent contests, infant exposures, and sexual escapades were acceptable in Roman culture but contrasted greatly with Christian practices of moral behavior. Destroyer of the Gods is a readable and inspiring discussion about the beginning of Christianity and how it differed from any religious thought before (except for Judaism). The vocabulary and organization created a monograph easy to follow no matter how much knowledge you have about the topic. Hurtado beautifully reveals how these differences subtly become the norm in modern culture and how its roots were formed and flourished against all the odds. As a whole, the text makes a considerable contribution to the understanding of the ancient period between the first and third centuries and delves into a forest of information with an eye for detail and thoughtful interpretation.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Justin Effler

    Larry Hurtado’s, “Destroyer of the God’s” is a great breakdown of early Christian distinctiveness in the ancient Roman world, that’s written in a manner that the lay person can enjoy. The book totals 267 pages, however 196 of the pages are actual content while the difference is footnotes. I tended to find myself moving towards the back of the book every several sentences given all the footnote references. The book is broken down to 5 general chapters, as follows: Chapter 1: Early Christians and Ch Larry Hurtado’s, “Destroyer of the God’s” is a great breakdown of early Christian distinctiveness in the ancient Roman world, that’s written in a manner that the lay person can enjoy. The book totals 267 pages, however 196 of the pages are actual content while the difference is footnotes. I tended to find myself moving towards the back of the book every several sentences given all the footnote references. The book is broken down to 5 general chapters, as follows: Chapter 1: Early Christians and Christianity in the Eyes of Non-Christians Chapter 2: A New Kind of Faith: How Christianity differed from other “religions” or belief systems. Chapter 3: A Different Identity Chapter 4: A Bookish Religion Chapter 5: A New Way To Live To sum up each chapter in regards to content, I’ll share with you the following: Chapter 1 goes into the differences of the lives of early Christians and how they were viewed by society as a whole. As an example of the books content of chapter 1, Larry goes into the views of Galen, Celsius and Lucius, all whom which regarded Christianity as unintelligent of foolish, with some higher degrees than others. Christians, oddly enough, were accused of Atheism, Orgies and cannabalism (falsely of course). Chapter 2 goes into how Christian had an altogether new approach to religion. Hurtado goes into how Religion back then is a bit of a misnomer in our modern sense. The Pagans didn’t look to devote everything into their gods, it wasn’t monolithic and it generally had to deal with family Gods in respects to families lineage. Christians also had laws against worshiping or participating in Pagan practices, with an exclusivity to Christ alone. This tended to cause big family tensions and issues arising. Another reason they were accused of Atheism since they denied the gods. Chapter 3, Christianity offered a unique, and often divisive identity to the culture and demanded an exclusivity to Jesus versus any other God’s. This caused tension. Also, all people of demographics were welcome, including gender. Christians refused to honor political parties by offering to them, which caused tension and division. Chapter 4, Hurtado goes into the truth of how unique Christians were in regards to being very bookish. They read and transported many letters of Paul, gospels of Jesus and others. Hurtado even goes into what Christians used as far as the bookroll, etc. and the reasons their use of the codex was unique. Chapter 5, this was the most intriguing for me personally because it goes into the morality of how Christianity was different from the Roman world. The section in Infant exposure was very moving and disturbing on how the Roman world just discarded babies—to die in trash heaps while Christians would rescue them who would otherwise die or end up in slavery. Christians also demanded that their husbands be faithful to their wives and to not commit adultery while in the Roman period that was only expected of the wives. Overall, in conclusion, this was a very informative book I would recommend anyone who expresses some interested to read. I learned quite a bit of it and was shocked at the second-hand material we had that wrote to Christians or about them. Hurtado is a very good writer and doesn’t bore you with his writing skills or the content.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brian Watson

    I think this book has been over-hyped. That's my own opinion of course. The reason I think it's over-hyped is because I didn't find much that was new to me in this book. And, frankly, the title seems to promise more than the book fulfills. The subtitle is more appropriate. Hurtado aims to show that much of what we think to be typical of religions was actually rather new, or at least distinctive, of Christianity as it emerged in the Roman Empire. Within the Roman Empire of approximately two thous I think this book has been over-hyped. That's my own opinion of course. The reason I think it's over-hyped is because I didn't find much that was new to me in this book. And, frankly, the title seems to promise more than the book fulfills. The subtitle is more appropriate. Hurtado aims to show that much of what we think to be typical of religions was actually rather new, or at least distinctive, of Christianity as it emerged in the Roman Empire. Within the Roman Empire of approximately two thousand years ago, only Judaism was, like Christianity, largely concerned with ethics and devoted to Scriptures. The pagan religions didn't require the kind of life-encompassing commitment that Christianity (and Judaism) require. The only bits of the book that struck me as new was chapter 4, "A 'Bookish' Religion," and the portion of chapter 5 that described how Christian views on sexual immorality differed from pagan views of the time. Everything else I seem to have read from Rodney Stark or Alvin Schmidt, or others. One major critique of Hurtado's work is that he seems to believe, without good reason and without questioning, that Paul only wrote seven letters and that the Petrine letters of the New Testament weren't written by Peter. I realize these are common views among some biblical scholars, but having studied the issue, I find the arguments against Pauline and Petrine authorship terribly weak. It's as if Hurtado is afraid to go against mainline critical views. Hurtado's skepticism regarding the truth of the Bible is on display in one display on page 147 and the coordinating end note 17 on page 253. On page 147, he makes reference to someone named Musonius Rufus, an "impressive first-century Stoic philosopher . . . who contended that having children was a civic duty and that infant exposure was contrary to nature and comprises disrespect for the gods. . . ." He also says that Musonius "specifically cites" instances of infant exposure and "responds" to reasons why people who do that to children. Notice that Hurtado does not weaken Musonius' statements with any words such as "allegedly," or "these words are ascribed to Musonius." However, if you look at the end note on page 253, you discover that Musonius "left no writing of his own, and his teachings have been collected from various later sources." Yet one of Rufus's sayings "has obvious resonance with the saying ascribed to Jesus." It seems that Hurtado is more sure of Rufus's words than Jesus' words. I find this to be true in such writers. They don't question what Philo or Tacitus, or anyone else wrote, but then are sure that Paul didn't write, say, 2 Timothy. That bothers me, obviously. Yet, despite that tendency, the book does present some valuable information, particularly to those who not yet encountered this information elsewhere. It would be good to present to educated people who often assume that Christianity is "just" another religion. In fact, Christianity was quite different from other religions at the time. And though it is the proper continuation of the Jewish religion, it is quite distinct from Judaism (though Hurtado doesn't spend much time discussing that issue). (Finished reading on July 9, 2017.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joel Mitchell

    Larry Hurtado explores ways in which Christians and Christianity diverged radically from the religious landscape of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries AD/CE. The characteristics he describes are largely inherited from Judaism but were regarded as bizarre, offensive, and/or antisocial in Christians who were not ethnically Jewish and thus were abandoning their duties to the gods. The points he discusses included: - Belief in only one God and absolute refusal to participate in the worship Larry Hurtado explores ways in which Christians and Christianity diverged radically from the religious landscape of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries AD/CE. The characteristics he describes are largely inherited from Judaism but were regarded as bizarre, offensive, and/or antisocial in Christians who were not ethnically Jewish and thus were abandoning their duties to the gods. The points he discusses included: - Belief in only one God and absolute refusal to participate in the worship of any other deities (and a confusing identification of Jesus with God...a major divergence from Judaism) - A reliance on written Scripture - Behavioral requirements and community values significantly more restrictive than Roman culture at large - especially in the value of human life (opposing abortion, the exposure of infants, and gladiatorial games) and sexuality (limiting it to marriage in a culture where men were pretty free to sleep with anyone who wasn't married or a freeborn virgin). The author presents the beliefs and practices of the early Christians fairly neutrally, mostly refraining from evaluating their truth or even elaborating on specific beliefs about Jesus (e.g. he's pretty coy about the exact relationship between Jesus and God the Father). He generally accepts the books of the New Testament as accurately representative of the dominant early form of Christianity though he does seem to consider many of them to be pseudonymous. The main text of the book is complemented by copious end notes (over 40% of the page count) in which the author interacts with other scholarly works relating to early Christianity and the culture/religion of the Roman Empire. In these notes he generally argues against positions that seek to radically reinterpret or call into question the reliability of early witnesses. Even though I have some disagreements with the author (e.g. he doesn't seem to hold as "high" a view as Scripture as I do), I found this to be a profitable and fascinating look at the tension between early Christians and the predominant culture of their day. It has interesting implications for how it has affected the way people in general now think about religion (one of his main points throughout) and for how Christians should be distinctive today (something he doesn't really explore).

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    In Destroyer of the Gods, New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado takes on the framework of many ancient historians regarding religion in the ancient world. Hurtado believes that many in the field have anachronistically imposed modern conceptions of religion (which are primarily influenced by Christianity) onto the ancient Roman world. The modern notion of religion means beliefs and practices, ethical concerns, laws, and rituals. But this definition speaks to the innovate framework Christianity brou In Destroyer of the Gods, New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado takes on the framework of many ancient historians regarding religion in the ancient world. Hurtado believes that many in the field have anachronistically imposed modern conceptions of religion (which are primarily influenced by Christianity) onto the ancient Roman world. The modern notion of religion means beliefs and practices, ethical concerns, laws, and rituals. But this definition speaks to the innovate framework Christianity brought to the concept itself. Hurtado asserts that Christianity didn’t merely emerge as another religion among the religions of the ancient world, but rather a religion which took on the very conceptions of what religion was in the ancient world. In that sense, Christianity didn’t merely exist within the religious options of the ancient world, but, by its very existence, sought to destroy them altogether. Hurtado advances four reasons for Christianity’s different framework of religion: 1) Christianity upended religions grounded in ethnic identity with a commitment to monotheism that transcended ethnicity. In the ancient world religion was simply an expression of one's culture. A commitment to the gods was, by its very nature, a patriotic commitment; 2) Christianity transgressed and transcended geopolitical boundaries; 3) Christianity had a commitment to its Scriptures (shared only with Judaism) and a unique emphasis on codices (which became popular almost solely because of Christianity) 4) Christianity had a set of behavioral standards that transcended culture, gender, and class. It was Christianity that stood against normalized practices such as infanticide, blood sports, pederasty, and sexual double-standards. Hurtado carefully documents his thesis and makes a strong case of the fact that Christianity did not merely introduce new religious ideas, but, in fact, was an entirely new form of religion altogether. Early Christians paid dearly for this groundbreaking change, but their sacrifice created the way we think about religion even today.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    This short study of how Christians were distinctive in the ancient world is extremely readable. I've completed a handful of other books about paganism in the Roman Empire in the first century, but none of them were written as accessibly as this one. Here, Hurtado gives readers a real feel for how the pagan world functioned and just how Christianity would have been a disruption to such a society. Whereas the Jews did not accept other gods, theirs was at least an ethnic religion. In fact, most reli This short study of how Christians were distinctive in the ancient world is extremely readable. I've completed a handful of other books about paganism in the Roman Empire in the first century, but none of them were written as accessibly as this one. Here, Hurtado gives readers a real feel for how the pagan world functioned and just how Christianity would have been a disruption to such a society. Whereas the Jews did not accept other gods, theirs was at least an ethnic religion. In fact, most religions were ethnic at this time. You were born into a faith, but few faiths were exclusivist. Your family god might also be shared by the nation, but the land where you live might have its own god, and you might go to the celebrations of other gods worshipped by friends and family. Rome was accepting of local gods, as such provided for political stability. This was the danger of Christianity, because it did not accept those gods as real. As such, it endangered, in many people's views, the political stability of nations and of the empire. It also meant you broke up the unity of families. It was also a different sort of religion in that it knew no ethnic limits, making its spread potentially greater. Christianity was also a bookish religion. More than most faiths, its ideas were committed to print and passed along that way. Not only, of course, was their an emphasis on the holy book, but there were also letters and such that were shared. Hurtado spends a full chapter discussing this early written religious culture. Finally, there were differences in morality, a subject discussed elsewhere but that Hurtado gives an adequate summary of here.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richy

    I thought this was a very useful and enlightening book. It suffered from two things. First, there was too much repetition and it could have used some tighter editing. Second, I think the author glossed over the place of ministry and the sacraments in early Christianity. Oddly, he emphasized the Christian adoption of the codex as the primary format for their publishing (as opposed to scrolls) and he never really was able to address why this was important. He certainly didn't demonstrate that any I thought this was a very useful and enlightening book. It suffered from two things. First, there was too much repetition and it could have used some tighter editing. Second, I think the author glossed over the place of ministry and the sacraments in early Christianity. Oddly, he emphasized the Christian adoption of the codex as the primary format for their publishing (as opposed to scrolls) and he never really was able to address why this was important. He certainly didn't demonstrate that any of the contemporaries found this odd or unusual. Granted the larger point is the extent to which written communication was important and unusual in the early Christian community, and this aspect was very interesting. I had the feeling he was trying to emphasize Protestant points and gloss over Catholic ones. Having said that, I think this is a useful book for any Christian. One of the issues he raised was something that I had never considered from the point of view of the pagan (Roman) world. I knew the issue of whether or not Gentiles were required to become "Jewish" Christians was one of the first important controversies in the Church, but I had never thought about how the answer might have created problems for Gentile Christians. If they could remain what they were rather than become Jewish, that created cultural conflicts as they adopted the precepts of Christianity. Becoming Jewish would take them out of their original culture, but becoming Christian did not -- though it greatly changed their relationships to that culture.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Leanne

    I read this to get some basic background for reading Emmanuel Carrère's stunning new novel, The Kingdom (Seriously, don't miss that one!) Hurtado's book is helpful and backs up Carriere's basic presentation of early Christianity as being highly distinctive compared with the religions of European antiquity. The resistance to assimilation; the reliance on text and strong demands on lifestyle made the Christian religion stand out at the time and Hurtado gives a lot of interesting examples of what w I read this to get some basic background for reading Emmanuel Carrère's stunning new novel, The Kingdom (Seriously, don't miss that one!) Hurtado's book is helpful and backs up Carriere's basic presentation of early Christianity as being highly distinctive compared with the religions of European antiquity. The resistance to assimilation; the reliance on text and strong demands on lifestyle made the Christian religion stand out at the time and Hurtado gives a lot of interesting examples of what was said about Christians by the elite of the time. They showed up as more ragtag (less affluent members of society) who were much more fanatical compared to paganism, which was more about social rites and ritual and much less about strong unwavering convictions. Paganism was also more of a national religion tied to empire and Hurtado sys that Christianity opened up religion as identity not tied to ethnicity or nationality. This is all only in the context of the roman empire. But I found it stimulating to think of the ways Christianity has changed the way academics talk about religion in general. For example, we discuss Japanese Shintoism in English often using notions and concepts derived from Christianity. Not long ago, I read an article saying that Japan was one of the great atheist countries in the world. But, that can only be so, if religion is defined in terms of monotheistic constructs.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Toby

    In contrast to the many, far larger, books on the subject, Hurtado's latest volume is helpfully brief and readable. It is a collection of lectures and still retains the lecture style, which may irritate those looking for a more academic style, but I confess comes as something of a breath of fresh air. For those who have read the many other books out there on earliest Christianity, this will not contain a huge amount of new material (though I am being a little unfair in that I read this after rea In contrast to the many, far larger, books on the subject, Hurtado's latest volume is helpfully brief and readable. It is a collection of lectures and still retains the lecture style, which may irritate those looking for a more academic style, but I confess comes as something of a breath of fresh air. For those who have read the many other books out there on earliest Christianity, this will not contain a huge amount of new material (though I am being a little unfair in that I read this after reading Michael Kruger's "Christianity at the Crossroads" which does pick up on quite a bit of Hurtado's work. The most interesting chapter was on the bookishness of early Christianity. The use of the codex seems to be an almost entirely Christian phenomenon, brought about by the sheer length of the works being produced. The comparison of the length of Paul's letters with those of Cicero brings home just how lengthy and unletterlike they are. Once I imagined that we only had a fragment of Paul's writings, now I see that it is quite unlikely that he was dashing these letters off by the day. Perhaps we do have the almost-complete corpus of his work.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Showman

    I found this book intriguing. It's written from humanistic, scholarly perspective, but the author was respectful to (and perhaps even admiring of) Christianity, as you could probably tell from the title. One of the most interesting aspects for me, personally, was the "bookishness" of early Christians, and aspect which even today affects the regard Western people (religious and irreligious) have for texts. A second was the notion of religion and identity, specifically that Christianity developed I found this book intriguing. It's written from humanistic, scholarly perspective, but the author was respectful to (and perhaps even admiring of) Christianity, as you could probably tell from the title. One of the most interesting aspects for me, personally, was the "bookishness" of early Christians, and aspect which even today affects the regard Western people (religious and irreligious) have for texts. A second was the notion of religion and identity, specifically that Christianity developed an idea that was virtually unique to all of the world, namely, that religion, ethnicity, and daily life were no longer inextricably linked. Thus, whereas today the idea that a person can freely choose a religion is a fundamental assumption (human right) within Western thought, this was novel in the era of Christianity. More than that, this assumption (and even the idea of religion as its own aspect of life) owes its origin to the rise of Christianity, which detached faith from ethnicity and culture.

  26. 4 out of 5

    E

    Heard great things about this book, but I found it kind of blah. Are we really supposed to be surprised that Christianity was surprisingly distinct from the surrounding Roman culture? That they had a different way of living? That they relied heavily on the written word? That they refused to worship local gods along side their own? That they weren't limited to one ethnic group? Isn't this all Christianity 101? Got really tired of reading about the "anonymous" author of 2 Timothy or 2 Peter, the su Heard great things about this book, but I found it kind of blah. Are we really supposed to be surprised that Christianity was surprisingly distinct from the surrounding Roman culture? That they had a different way of living? That they relied heavily on the written word? That they refused to worship local gods along side their own? That they weren't limited to one ethnic group? Isn't this all Christianity 101? Got really tired of reading about the "anonymous" author of 2 Timothy or 2 Peter, the supposedly late date of writing of several of the NT books, and, most of all, the author's inability to use the word "comprise" properly. This wouldn't have bothered me except that he misused it, no joke, dozens of times. It might be his favorite word. And he doesn't know what it means. It is NOT a synonym for "constitute" or "compose." Let's recite: the whole comprises the parts; the parts constitute the whole. Keep that straight and you won't make a fool of yourself in print (well, at least not for this reason anyway).

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    Scholarly but accessible, "Destroyer of the gods" makes the case that Christianity was radically different from the Greco-Roman culture it found itself in, even as it grew explosively during its first three centuries. Christianity, Larry W. Hurtado says, was primarily responsible for making the way we understand matters of faith and religion, even if we reject Christianity. For example, if I were an atheist today, I would say that I do not believe in God. If I were an atheist in first-century Rom Scholarly but accessible, "Destroyer of the gods" makes the case that Christianity was radically different from the Greco-Roman culture it found itself in, even as it grew explosively during its first three centuries. Christianity, Larry W. Hurtado says, was primarily responsible for making the way we understand matters of faith and religion, even if we reject Christianity. For example, if I were an atheist today, I would say that I do not believe in God. If I were an atheist in first-century Rome, I would say that I do not believe in the gods -- although it might be the last thing I ever said. In fact, early Christians often were accused of being atheists because they rejected belief in the gods. Christianity clearly was countercultural in its beginning phases (and grew anyway). Truly practiced, it's equally countercultural today, though in different ways. "Destroyer of the gods" didn't always hold my attention. This may be more a problem with my distracted mind than with the author. Cheers to Baylor University Press for a striking book cover.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve Watson

    Hurtado explores the uniqueness of Christianity as it expanded rapidly within the Roman empire. He notes how dangerous and odd it was in upending people's culturally embedded worship practices - defined more by action and allegiance and ritual than by belief. This is why Christianity was considered a threatening atheistic practice, as much as a new religion on the terms that religion was understood at the time. Hurtado explores how Christianity has entirely reshaped Western understandings and as Hurtado explores the uniqueness of Christianity as it expanded rapidly within the Roman empire. He notes how dangerous and odd it was in upending people's culturally embedded worship practices - defined more by action and allegiance and ritual than by belief. This is why Christianity was considered a threatening atheistic practice, as much as a new religion on the terms that religion was understood at the time. Hurtado explores how Christianity has entirely reshaped Western understandings and assumptions about religion and asks why anyone became Christian in its early years, given how radical and costly it was to do so. I'd love to see a Jesus movement again today where following Jesus radically reshapes ourand ethics and practice, shifting allegiance from our gods of death and materialism and nationalism and religious systems and certainty to worship of God of life and grace and love.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Fulk

    Fascinating study into what made early Christianity different from Judaism and the Roman paganism during the first few centuries in Rome and Greece. The author covers the theories of why Romans persecuted Christians, why the relationship between the Christian's one God was unique from the Romans relationships to their many gods, how the identity of being a Christian was unique, and the most interesting to me, how Christianity influenced social behaviors of that era(child exposure, gladiator cont Fascinating study into what made early Christianity different from Judaism and the Roman paganism during the first few centuries in Rome and Greece. The author covers the theories of why Romans persecuted Christians, why the relationship between the Christian's one God was unique from the Romans relationships to their many gods, how the identity of being a Christian was unique, and the most interesting to me, how Christianity influenced social behaviors of that era(child exposure, gladiator contests, sex and marriage, and the sexual abuse of children). Although the authors writing style was a bit pedantic, which made it hard to get through some chapters, I learned a lot and have a better understanding of what it was like to be a Christian during that time period.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Wilkins

    This is a good book exploring the differences between Christianity and the Roman world in the first three centuries of Chrisianity's existence. It's a fairly simple book in what it covers. It looks at early Christian beliefs about: Jesus, identity, the Bible, and ethics. There are no shocking disclosures (like suggesting that early Christians didn't think Jesus was God). It's rooted in New Testament writings and writings by early Church Fathers. It's also a lot shorter than the page number may sug This is a good book exploring the differences between Christianity and the Roman world in the first three centuries of Chrisianity's existence. It's a fairly simple book in what it covers. It looks at early Christian beliefs about: Jesus, identity, the Bible, and ethics. There are no shocking disclosures (like suggesting that early Christians didn't think Jesus was God). It's rooted in New Testament writings and writings by early Church Fathers. It's also a lot shorter than the page number may suggest. The book is about 195 pages long (with another hundred of notes and indices). Especially valuable for a new Christian wanting to understand what the early church was like. Pretty simple.

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