Handbook of Early Christianity: Social Science Approaches.

Author:Berquist, Jon L.
Position:Book Review

Handbook of Early Christianity: Social Science Approaches, edited by ANTHONY J. BLASI, JEAN DUHAIME, AND PAUL-ANDRE TURCOTTE. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2002, 800 pp.; $110.00 USD (cloth).

This book offers a helpful introduction to social-scientific methods for interpreting the New Testament and reconstructing first-century Christianity. It represents a massive effort, involving more than two dozen contributors writing 27 chapters of great scope dealing with major issues in the sociological interpretation of early Christianity. With editors from Canada, France, and the United States, as well as a number of contributors from the UK and one from Africa, the volume offers an international reach that is to be commended as a strength of the book. The book is organized into six parts: general perspectives on sociological interpretation of the New Testament, essays on particular specialized methods, social contexts of first century Christianity, issues of power, economic questions, and psychosocial approaches.

Essays in the opening part explore the methodological issues that are foundational to the discussion. The first chapter, "Social Sciences Studying Formative Christian Phenomena: A Creative Movement," by David G. Horrell, is a highlight of the book, offering one of the best concise overviews of previous sociological scholarship on the New Testament in a splendid survey. The next chapter, by Paul-Andre Turcotte, covers "Major Social Scientific Theories: Origins, Development, and Contributions," in a fashion that New Testament scholars will find very helpful but that will probably seem sketchy to those trained in sociology, some of whom will find it odd that the discussion seems to end with the Chicago school of interactionism. Anthony J. Blasi authored the third chapter, "General Methodological Perspective," which offers an excellent student's introduction to the subject of sociological interpretation of ancient religious texts and practices.

The second part of the volume concentrates on "special methods" of archaeology, architecture, historical inquiry, literary redaction criticism, statistical textual analysis, rhetorical analysis, and symbolic universes. These chapters vary quite a bit. Some of them are very effective surveys of their assigned topics. In particular, Carolyn Osiek's "Archaeological and Architectural Issues and the Question of Demographic and Urban Forms" introduces the topics and theories in accessible yet...

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