Who Were the First Christians?: Dismantling the Urban Thesis

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Oxford University Press, 2017 - Religion - 297 pages
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For an understanding of the early Christian movement, two matters are essential. One is the size of the movement. The other is the distribution of the movement. In regard to the first matter, it has been widely assumed that there were 6 million Christians (or 10% of the population of the RomanEmpire) around the year 300. But those kinds of calculations have no substantial ancient bases or any modern method by which such numbers can be established. As to the distribution of the movement, the consensus view is that Christianity was an urban movement until the conversion of EmperorConstantine. On close examination, these two popular views-an urban Christianity of 6 million-would nearly saturate every urban area of the entire Roman Empire with Christians, leaving no room for Jews or pagans. That scenario simply does not work. But where does the solution lie? Were there fewerChristians in the Roman world? Was the Roman world much more urbanized that we previously thought? Did large numbers of Jews convert to Christianity? Or, as Thomas Robinson argues, is the urban thesis defective, and the neglected countryside must now be considered in any reconstruction of earlyChristian growth? In Who Were the First Christians? Robinson deconstructs the "urban thesis," and then goes further; he asks what was the makeup of the typical Christian congregation, and whether it was a lower-class movement or an upwardly mobile middle-class movement. In answering these questions, Robinsonengages with the influential writings of Wayne Meeks, Rodney Stark, and Ramsay MacMullen, among others. He argues persuasively that more attention needs to be given to the countryside and to the considerable contingent of the marginal and the rustic even within urban populations. The result is thatthis book effectively dismantles the long-accepted urban thesis, and proves that a profoundly revised vision of early Christian growth and development is required.
 

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Contents

 Must Historians Count?
1
2 The Urban Thesis
14
3 Counting Romans and Christians
24
4 Counting the Jewish Population
41
5 Urban and Rural Relationships
65
6 Supposed Barriers to Christian Success in the Countryside
91
7 The PreConstantinian Evidence
131
8 Dismissing the Evidence of Christianity in the Countryside
181
9 The Country Bishop
198
10 Conclusion
208
Appendix A The Numbers According to Ramsay MacMullen
225
Appendix B The Numbers According to Rodney Stark
243
Bibliography of Works Cited
253
Index
283
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About the author (2017)


Thomas A. Robinson teaches courses in early Christianity, Greek language, and world religions at the University of Lethbridge. He received his PhD from McMaster University. His primary interests are the development of Christianity in the pre-Constantinian period and the interactions of the Christian movement with the Jewish and Greco-Roman options in the religious marketplace of the Roman Empire.

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