The Origins Of Christian Morality

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By the time Christianity became a political and cultural force in the Roman Empire, it had come to embody a new moral vision. This wise and eloquent book describes the formative years-from the crucifixion of Jesus to the end of the second century of the common era-when Christian beliefs and practices shaped their unique moral order.
Wayne A. Meeks examines the surviving documents from Christianity's beginnings (some of which became the New Testament) and shows that they are largely concerned with the way converts to the movement should behave. Meeks finds that for these Christians, the formation of morals means the formation of community; the documents are addressed not to individuals but to groups, and they have among their primary aims the maintenance and growth of these groups. Meeks paints a picture of the process of socialization that produced the early forms of Christian morality, discussing many factors that made the Christians feel that they were a single and "chosen" people. He describes, for example, the impact of conversion; the rapid spread of Christian household cult-associations in the cities of the Roman Empire; the language of Christian moral discourse as revealed in letters, testaments, and "moral stories"; the rituals, meetings, and institutionalization of charity; the Christians' feelings about celibacy, sex, and gender roles; and their sense of the end-time and final judgment. In each of these areas Meeks seeks to determine what is distinctive about the Christian viewpoint and what is similar to the moral components of Greco-Roman or Jewish thought.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Promoting the thesis that the processes of moral and community formation are inseparable, Meeks (biblical studies, Yale Univ.) has written ``an ethnography of Christian beginnings,'' analyzing specific aspects of the Christian community in relation to its pagan environment. An outstanding example of Meeks's argument is the development of the Christian house church, patterned after the Roman household in many respects. Meeks has good control of all available canonical and noncanonical writings over the first two centuries. However, the paucity of information and the variety of doctrine and practice in the period before canon and practice were set results in a rather preliminary and, at times, sketchy survey that often leaves one with a sense of frustrated incompleteness. Although the book presents much significant comparative data, it is recommended for advanced students only.-- Eugene O. Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300065138
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1995
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Morals and Community 1
Ch. 2 Turning: Moral Consequences of Conversion 18
Ch. 3 City, Household, People of God 37
Ch. 4 Loving and Hating the World 52
Ch. 5 The Language of Obligation 66
Ch. 6 The Grammar of Christian Practice 91
Ch. 7 Knowing Evil 111
Ch. 8 The Body as Sign and Problem 130
Ch. 9 A Life Worthy of God 150
Ch. 10 Senses of an Ending 174
Ch. 11 The Moral Story 189
Postscript. History, Pluralism, and Christian Morality 211
Notes 221
Bibliography of Secondary Works Cited 243
Index of Early Christian Literature 261
Subject Index 270
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