Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity
Hardcover 344 pp.
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Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity discusses the diverse cultural destinies of early Christianity, early Judaism, and other ancient religious groups as a question of social rivalry.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first section debates the degree to which the category of rivalry adequately names the issue(s) that must be addressed when comparing and contrasting the social “success” of different religious groups in antiquity. The second is a critical assessment of the common modern category of “mission” to describe the inner dynamic of such a process; it discusses the early Christian apostle Paul, the early Jewish historian Josephus, and ancient Mithraism. The third section of the book is devoted to “the rise of Christianity,” primarily in response to the similarly titled work of the American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark.
While it is not clear that any of these groups imagined its own success necessarily entailing the elimination of others, it does seem that early Christianity had certain habits, both of speech and practice, which made it particularly apt to succeed (in) the Roman Empire.
Leif E. Vaage teaches New Testament literature and exegesis at Emmanuel College and the Toronto School of Theology, both in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of Galilean Upstarts: Jesus’ First Followers According to Q and, most recently, a book of verse, Schooled in Salt.
“This is a fine volume that reveals the complexities of the rise of Christianity, challenges long-held positions on its expansion, and proposes new ways forward to explain Christianity’s eventual emergence as a religion of empire.”
— Dietmar Neufeld, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada 2006
“Ultimately, the essays in the book are interesting and succeed in challenging many long held scholarly assmptions. As a corrective to the work of Stark, the final section of the book is particularly useful.”
— Jennifer Zilm, McMaster University, Journal of Religion and Culture
“Vaage ... states that ‘earliest Christianity’s intrinsic will to rule is most evident, albeit paradoxically, in its initial modes of resistance to this regime’.... In conclusion, this is a stimulating hypothesis at the end of a fine contribution to an ongoing discussion.”
— Gerbern S. Oegema, McGill University, Toronto Journal of Theology