From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith

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The Story of the New Testament and Christian Origins

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Overview

The Story of the New Testament and Christian Origins

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Author L. Michael White is the University of Texas professor who co-wrote the PBS special From Jesus to Christ. His From Jesus to Christianity provides a refreshingly lucid introduction to the tangled history of the Jesus movement. With professorial precision, he frames the evolution of early Christianity within a generational context. White's sidebars and summaries hold the reader's interest while providing easily accessible information about textual matters and cultural contexts.
Wayne A. Meeks
“A splendid feast of a book, rich with insights from archaeology and cultural history.”
Publishers Weekly
Joining an already distinguished lineup of narrators of early Christianity that includes Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and Gregory Riley, White contributes this rather predictable and pedantic story of the ways in which early Christianity developed its religious identity and its literature (the New Testament). White, who teaches Christian origins at the University of Texas at Austin and who co-wrote the PBS special From Jesus to Christ, chronicles the evolution of early Christianity as a family history. The first "generation" (30-70 C.E.) saw the death of Jesus, the rise of Paul and the end of the Jewish revolt against Rome. In the second (70-110 C.E.), tensions developed between the Jesus sect and Judaism, a separation that became permanent in the third generation (110-150 C.E.), when Jesus' followers broke away from their Jewish roots and began to develop their own institutional identity and intrareligious squabbles. Finally, by the fourth generation (150-190 C.E.), Christianity had assumed an integral role in the social and intellectual context of the Roman Empire. White uses sidebars to provide helpful summaries of the authorship, provenance, date and themes of various writings and to offer useful lists of further readings. However, his bland presentation uncovers nothing especially new in the story of early Christianity. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060816100
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/25/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 288,634
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

L. Michael White is Ronald Nelson Smith Chair in Classics and Christian Origins and the director of the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of From Jesus to Christianity and has been featured in and co-written two award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries.

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Read an Excerpt

From Jesus to Christianity

How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith
By White, L. Michael

HarperSanFrancisco

ISBN: 0060526556

Chapter One

The Story of the Storytellers

Books tell stories. No, that's not quite true. People tell stories and write them down in books. Books record those stories and make them accessible to readers. In that sense they are a medium of communication to a broader audience. Communication is easier when author and audience come from a shared cultural background and time; then it is much like hearing the story told orally. Here the burden is on the storyteller to communicate in words and ideas that the audience will find meaningful.

But books also preserve stories and thus make it possible for later generations of readers to encounter not only a story of a bygone era but also the people who once told and heard it. Here the medium of communication is more complex. Now, the reader -- not the storyteller -- bears the burden. In order to understand the story, the reader must negotiate changes in culture, language, and ideas that come with the passage of time. It is a process of translation from one age to another, from one culture to another, in order to hear the story as once told. At this juncture there are two stories at work. The preservation and subsequent history of the book is its own story, apart from the one on its pages, andthe reader must encounter this second story -- the story of the book -- as well. The reading of any story from the past must respect the different layers of history and story, of then and now, that make it up.

This book is the story of the origins and development of the Christian movement as told by the people who lived it. It took place roughly two thousand years ago and covers a span of several centuries. It comes out of the history of Israel and the Jewish people but intersects with the histories of Greece and Rome. The story, at least the best-known version of it, is preserved for us in the book known by Christians as the Bible, and more specifically in the second part, called the New Testament. There are other sources too, but they are not as well known; we shall bring them into the picture as they too begin to reflect the telling and retelling of the story.

Readers of the New Testament today may have a hard time thinking of it as an ancient work. It can be read in English and other languages, and there are numerous "modern" versions that try to make it more intelligible to a contemporary audience. But all of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the popular form of Greek often called koine (meaning "common") that was typical of the Hellenistic age. It was assembled over time, copied and recopied, and passed down through the centuries by Christians. In the Greek Orthodox tradition it remained in Byzantine Greek; in the Roman Catholic tradition it was rendered into Latin; and there were other translations -- Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic. Translating the Bible into English came much later and, like German, only became widely used as a result of the Protestant Reformation.

When we encounter the New Testament in English, moreover, we may first perceive it as a single book that traces the story of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, and the lives of his first followers. It begins appropriately enough with the birth of Jesus and continues with his life and death, as reported in the Gospels. Next comes the story of the early church as recorded in Acts, followed by a number of letters written, it would seem, by the same cast of characters -- Peter, John, Paul -- who show up in the Gospels and Acts as Jesus's followers. On closer reading, however, we quickly realize that this is not just one story; there are in fact four different accounts of Jesus's life -- the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Nor is it just one book; the New Testament is a collection of books, and a collection of stories. It is more like a library, an ancient library that was intentionally assembled to preserve these stories by and for later generations of readers. Given the more complex and ancient character of its contents, how then shall we go about reading the New Testament?

First, because of its composite nature, it cannot be read like a novel, straight through from beginning to end. The various works represent different genres of literature: biographies, histories, novels, letters, sermons, apocalypses, catechisms, and church-order manuals. They were written at different times by different authors; consequently, there is no cohesive narrative. Even though they were all written in Greek, the language, tone, and style are noticeably different from one author to the next, just as in any library. Hence the various works within the collection must be read first on their own individual terms. Points of connection, comparison, and contrast come later, once we understand something of the origin of each work: where it was written, when, and why.

Second, discovering something about the original author and audience is central to this process. In some cases, knowing who wrote a work and who read it can help us understand the when and why. Conversely, discerning the occasion of a work on the basis of its internal form and language can sometimes help us discover more about the author and audience, especially when those pieces of information are not given, and usually even when they are. The nature of ancient literature requires us to deal with all of these questions in order to make sense out of what is going on in "the story." In other words, we have to employ the tools of history in order to read the story, even when the story is about history or is part of the history.

Third, because it is a library and not a single book, we must give some thought to how we ought to "catalog" its contents ... Continues...


Excerpted from From Jesus to Christianity by White, L. Michael Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The story of the storytellers 1
Ch. 2 Entering the world of Jesus 11
Ch. 3 Religion and society in the Roman world 40
Ch. 4 Judaism at home and abroad 67
Ch. 5 The historical figure of Jesus 95
Ch. 6 Before they were Christians : the beginnings of the Jesus movement 117
Ch. 7 Paul : his life and significance 143
Ch. 8 Paul : the Aegean mission 169
Ch. 9 The first Jewish revolt and its aftermath 217
Ch. 10 Sectarian tensions and self-definition : gospel trajectories 239
Ch. 11 Accommodation and resistance : a footing in the Roman world 259
Ch. 12 Christology and conflict : the beginnings of normative self-definition 293
Ch. 13 With the voice of an apostle : a new generation of leaders 324
Ch. 14 Legitimacy and order : a new scrutiny 355
Ch. 15 Networks of faith : literary trajectories and regional trends 383
Ch. 16 The dilemma of diversity : delineating heresy and orthodoxy 407
Ch. 17 Closing ranks : the New Testament takes shape 439
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First Chapter

From Jesus to Christianity
How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith

Chapter One

The Story of the Storytellers

Books tell stories. No, that's not quite true. People tell stories and write them down in books. Books record those stories and make them accessible to readers. In that sense they are a medium of communication to a broader audience. Communication is easier when author and audience come from a shared cultural background and time; then it is much like hearing the story told orally. Here the burden is on the storyteller to communicate in words and ideas that the audience will find meaningful.

But books also preserve stories and thus make it possible for later generations of readers to encounter not only a story of a bygone era but also the people who once told and heard it. Here the medium of communication is more complex. Now, the reader -- not the storyteller -- bears the burden. In order to understand the story, the reader must negotiate changes in culture, language, and ideas that come with the passage of time. It is a process of translation from one age to another, from one culture to another, in order to hear the story as once told. At this juncture there are two stories at work. The preservation and subsequent history of the book is its own story, apart from the one on its pages, and the reader must encounter this second story -- the story of the book -- as well. The reading of any story from the past must respect the different layers of history and story, of then and now, that make it up.

This book is the story of the origins and development of the Christian movement as told by the people who lived it. It took place roughly two thousand years ago and covers a span of several centuries. It comes out of the history of Israel and the Jewish people but intersects with the histories of Greece and Rome. The story, at least the best-known version of it, is preserved for us in the book known by Christians as the Bible, and more specifically in the second part, called the New Testament. There are other sources too, but they are not as well known; we shall bring them into the picture as they too begin to reflect the telling and retelling of the story.

Readers of the New Testament today may have a hard time thinking of it as an ancient work. It can be read in English and other languages, and there are numerous "modern" versions that try to make it more intelligible to a contemporary audience. But all of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the popular form of Greek often called koine (meaning "common") that was typical of the Hellenistic age. It was assembled over time, copied and recopied, and passed down through the centuries by Christians. In the Greek Orthodox tradition it remained in Byzantine Greek; in the Roman Catholic tradition it was rendered into Latin; and there were other translations -- Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic. Translating the Bible into English came much later and, like German, only became widely used as a result of the Protestant Reformation.

When we encounter the New Testament in English, moreover, we may first perceive it as a single book that traces the story of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, and the lives of his first followers. It begins appropriately enough with the birth of Jesus and continues with his life and death, as reported in the Gospels. Next comes the story of the early church as recorded in Acts, followed by a number of letters written, it would seem, by the same cast of characters -- Peter, John, Paul -- who show up in the Gospels and Acts as Jesus's followers. On closer reading, however, we quickly realize that this is not just one story; there are in fact four different accounts of Jesus's life -- the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Nor is it just one book; the New Testament is a collection of books, and a collection of stories. It is more like a library, an ancient library that was intentionally assembled to preserve these stories by and for later generations of readers. Given the more complex and ancient character of its contents, how then shall we go about reading the New Testament?

First, because of its composite nature, it cannot be read like a novel, straight through from beginning to end. The various works represent different genres of literature: biographies, histories, novels, letters, sermons, apocalypses, catechisms, and church-order manuals. They were written at different times by different authors; consequently, there is no cohesive narrative. Even though they were all written in Greek, the language, tone, and style are noticeably different from one author to the next, just as in any library. Hence the various works within the collection must be read first on their own individual terms. Points of connection, comparison, and contrast come later, once we understand something of the origin of each work: where it was written, when, and why.

Second, discovering something about the original author and audience is central to this process. In some cases, knowing who wrote a work and who read it can help us understand the when and why. Conversely, discerning the occasion of a work on the basis of its internal form and language can sometimes help us discover more about the author and audience, especially when those pieces of information are not given, and usually even when they are. The nature of ancient literature requires us to deal with all of these questions in order to make sense out of what is going on in "the story." In other words, we have to employ the tools of history in order to read the story, even when the story is about history or is part of the history.

Third, because it is a library and not a single book, we must give some thought to how we ought to "catalog" its contents ...

From Jesus to Christianity
How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith
. Copyright © by L. White. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2007

    Incredible

    This book is simply incredible in its depth and scope. It far exceeded my expectations. We are essentially presented the evidence of what we can know about the historical Jesus and the formation of Christianity. The author does a great job of showing what the world was like at the time of Jesus and the first four generations thereafter. The author summarizes the historical scholarship regarding the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. We are shown how Roman, Greek, and Jewish culture impacted the development of Christianity. We are given excellent analyses of the various books of the New Testament including: what we can know about when they were written, to what audience, and for what probable purpose. The author also includes analyses of other early Christian literature that did not make it into the New Testament, such as the Gospel of Thomas. The author freely admits that other scholars may disagree with some of his conclusions, but he does a great job of showing alternative opinions. The only ¿negative¿ criticism that I can offer is really in two areas. First, the book reads like a textbook and does not flow well as a narrative history, so it is sometimes laborious to read it. But the value of the content makes it worth the reading! And secondly I found the last few chapters of the book anti-climatic, and the book ended abruptly and awkwardly. But again, these are very minor criticisms, and do not even rise to the level of taking one star off of a five star rating. Lastly, I should offer one piece of advice before diving into a book like this. Read it with an open mind, and prepare to do some research on your own if you are so inspired. Happy reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2006

    The Perfect Introduction

    Many times books similar in style and content to this are dry and hardly readable like a great graduate textbook. This book, however, was written with the intention of teaching the educated layperson. This book provided me with a great introduction as to what can be known about the intentions of the authors, the historical context for the writings and the beginnings of the Christian movement. I would recommend this to anyone who is willing to have a slight adjustment to their understanding of the New Testament (as we know it...).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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