Studies in Early Christianity
Jesus and After
The First Eighty Years
E Bruce Brooks
This book is an overview of the history of Early Christianity. Each chapter is based on one selection from Jewish texts or from those produced by the Jesus sect of Judaism. It gives a sense of how things happened, from the words of certain ancient prophets, to Jesus' effort to bring about those prophecies, to the efforts of his followers to reshape their expectations after his death. It follows the movement as it came to regard Jesus himself as divine, a process which eventually led to the separation of the sect from the parent religion. It ends with a glimpse of a surviving early Christian church on the shores of the Black Sea, and how it appeared to the Roman administrator who was in charge of executing those Early Christians who refused Emperor worship. From the evidence of two deaconesses whom he tortured, which Pliny reported to Emperor Trajan, we too learn what were the regular practices of that church.
There are four sections: one on Alpha Christianity (the earliest form, based on Jesus' teachings, and still very Jewish in character); one on the later Beta Christianity (based on the claim of Jesus' resurrection, with Paul as its chief representative); a third on the Crisis reached between Judaism and its increasingly assertive Jesus sect in its midst; and a fourth on the final Division between the two.
All but a few chapters are short (most of them 2 pages). They are meant to be highlights in a history, and not a consecutive account of that history. The book is arranged for reflection as well as information, and might be the basis for a small discussion group.
Later volumes are planned for this series. They will explore in detail, for the professional reader as well as the serious amateur, the formation process leading to the major Jesus texts: Mark, the edited letters of Paul, the Gospel of Luke in its three stages (the last of them reflecting the division between the Jesus sect and its parent religion), Luke's separate schematic account (in Acts) of the whole history of Christianity up to that time, and the Gospels of Matthew and John. These together will not only show how Christianity grew, but how the texts of the movement also grew, by the continued efforts of their authors (or in Paul's case, his later editors) to keep up with the new problems faced by the movement.
The chief point of interest in this series, and in the Jesus and After overview, is that there actually was an earliest Christianity, lying behind Paul and the advanced (and sometimes problematic) theology Paul represents, It is a Christianity which believes in right and wrong, and that what one does has something to do with one's own salvation. That form of belief and practice is not at all obsolete. It lives in the concerns of many at the present time, who for reasons of doctrinal discomfort are leaving the church and the clergy in substantial numbers, but whether in or out of the church, are quietly teaching their children that right is better than wrong, and that their future is theirs to make. This will be of only academic interest to those who have no questions about their faith, but it has been found personally helpful by others.
There is also a hint of advice for both the stern parent (Judaism) and the fractious child (the Jesus movement). From the historical perspective here adopted, neither side played its cards the best way. Such mistakes are not necessarily irretrievable. As the Afterword to the book puts it,
'"Perhaps both religions still have someplace to go."
For the reactions of two advance readers, click here.
Browse in the Table of Contents, which includes some sample preprints.
For Questions and Comments from current readers, see From Readers.
Subject Categories: Jesus, Early Christianity
E BRUCE BROOKS is Research Professor of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Jesus and After: The First Eighty Years
$35 cloth. ISBN 978-936166-27-5
$19.95 paper. ISBN 978-936166-67-1
$18.95 E-book. ISBN 978-936166-87-9
Available: December 2017
30 Sept 2017 / Contact The Project / Exit to Publications Page