Natacha Pavlov's Reviews > Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity

Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity by Gerd Theißen
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's review
Aug 30, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: middle-east, christianity, palestine
Read in January, 2011

Continuing in my endeavor to read books on early Christianity, I have completed Gerd Theissen's "Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity" (originally published under the title "The First Followers of Jesus"). The book discusses the effects of the "Jesus movement" within both Judaic and Hellenistic societies. Not an easy subject to research or even to explain (as per Theissen: "there is hardly any literature which gives a thematic treatment of the sociology of earliest Palestinian Christianity," p.120), I of course did learn quite a bit from his analysis.

It was interesting to find that although the "Jesus movement" was first construed as a renewal movement within Judaism, it soon became clear that it was a separate religion. By analyzing the 3 roles of the "Jesus movement"-- the wondering charismatics, their supporters in local communities, and the bearer of revelation--we see how each society was influenced (or not so much) by this "Jesus movement." Theissen highlights that Judaism was undergoing an identity crisis, with various groups constantly arguing over the concept of "true Torah" and debates over "stricter interpretation of the Torah or laxer interpretation" (p.77). He hypothesizes that some of these renewal movements came about as a reaction against Hellenistic influences, thus intensifying norms. It is amidst the tensions of Judaic and Hellenistic societies that the "Jesus movement" emerged, eventually finding ground in Hellenistic society.

Although a mere 119 pages, this analysis is very dense and is by no means `a quick read' (or at least it wasn't for me?! and I say this having had religion classes as a kid in Brussels, having taken religion classes in college and acquiring my Bachelor's, and having numerous religious books at home... go figure!). At the very least, one's vocabulary is sure to be enriched following the completion of this book. Terms like "apodeictic," "eirenic," "monistic," and Palestinian Jewish society abound and may leave you reaching for your dictionaries and religious texts on repeated occasions (as it did for me). Since various subjects in this analysis interest me, I am delighted that a bibliography of helpful works is provided to help us launch our own personal quest for answers, if we are so inclined.
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