Destroyer of the gods
Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World
304 pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- ISBN: 9781481304740
- Published: May 2017
"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.
Chapter 1. Early Christians and Christianity in the Eyes of Non-Christians
Chapter 2. A New Kind of Faith
Chapter 3. A Different Identity
Chapter 4. A "Bookish" Religion
Chapter 5. A New Way to Live
Index of Ancient Sources
Index of Subjects and Modern Authors
An important scholarly look at the birth of Christianity within the Roman embrace.~Library Journal
…An admirable discussion of early Christianity partly directed towards an educated lay readership, and one that will invite reactions from scholars of the ancient world and the early church. In moving away from looking simply at Constantine and the victory of Christianity, Hurtado is encouraging us to look deeper and to return to those early writings that shape the Christian faith.~Anthony Smart, Vigilae Christianae
Valuable reading at any level of education.~Edwin Judge, Ancient History: Resources for Teachers
D estroyer of the gods is a welcome and important book as it challenges what seems by now have become the mainstream, at least in late antique studies, namely highlighting the similarities between Christianity and other ancient religions and stressing the embeddedness of Christians in the Greco-Roman world.~Maijastina Kahlos, PLEKOS
In Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, Larry W. Hurtado provides an in-depth survey of the features that made early Christianity unusual in the Roman world. Hurtado’s exploration of the distinctive features of early Christianity is informative, exciting to read, and enlightening.~Steven Shisley, Reading Religion
D estroyer of the Gods is an intriguing and wide-ranging examination of several key features of Christianity that distinguished it from the various religious beliefs and practices common in Greco-Roman society…Given its effectiveness in introducing readers to the distinct aspects of the Christian faith, the volume would serve as a valuable supplementary text for undergraduate or graduate courses in either New Testament or Church History.~Benjamin Laird, Southeastern Theological Review
One does not need a modern point of departure to appreciate Hurtado’s work as a historian of antiquity.~Michael Peppard, America Magazine
D estroyer of the gods is a very clear and readable book and is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand issues dealt with in early Christian writers, particularly Paul’s letters. I thoroughly recommend it to students of the New Testament and more widely as a reminder that there is a cost to a church which stands out in its social and cultural setting.~Tim Gill, ANVIL: Journal of Theology and Mission
Hurtado’s clear and well-reasoned voice serves as an authoritative guide through the tangle of earliest Christianity in its Roman environment. From Roman accounts of early Christian oddity to early Christian book culture, Hurtado collects arcane pieces of knowledge that could well serve as material for pub quizzes and amasses them into a plausible and largely compelling analysis. It remains to be seen how someone else will take his work and build upon it.~Jonathon Lookadoo, Marginalia Review of Books
An excellent supplement for students and teachers of early Christianity.~Najeeb Haddad, Catholic Biblical Quarterly
Highly recommended for use in local churches and undergraduate courses.~Ron Lindo, Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry
D estroyer of the gods is a quick and fascinating read. Professor Hurtado’s book allows Christians to explore how a distinctive identity has always been deemed a threat, so that they may better identify how they will practice their faith at a time when this practice is becoming increasingly distinct. The book may be read, however, by non-Christians as well, to explore the dynamics of the collisions between any culture rooted in earthly power and those (of any faith) who profess to set limits on such power in the service of a higher Power.~Karl C. Schaffenburg, University Bookman
Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, discusses the history and evolution of ecumenical Christian practices in this elegantly straightforward book...Hurtado does an excellent job of walking readers through...how very odd early Christianity was for its place and time and how it came to overturn and replace ancient systems and beliefs. Hurtado writes with a measured tone and learned authority. Those wishing to know more about early Christianity will find much here.~Publishers Weekly
Larry Hurtado…reminds us that early Christianity emerged as a profoundly countercultural movement, one that could never be mistaken as mirroring the values of its environment.~Ronald P. Byars, Presbyterian Outlook
Hurtado’s book, written to appeal to a wide audience, explains just how odd and objectionable Jesus’ followers, their counter-establishment church, and even their writings looked during the first three centuries of the Christian movement.~The Christian Century
Whether one applauds or disdains the values of contemporary Western culture, what we assume to be good, true, and normal has been shaped to a surprising degree by early Christianity. Demolishing taken-for-granted assumptions about what religion was, is, and can be, Hurtado’s provocative exploration deserves a broad audience.~Matthew W. Bates, Quincy University, OnScript