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Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity

Leif E. Vaage

Publication Year: 2006

Religious Rivalries in the Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity discusses the diverse cultural destinies of early Christianity, early Judaism, and other ancient religious groups as a question of social rivalry.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first section debates the degree to which the category of rivalry adequately names the issue(s) that must be addressed when comparing and contrasting the social “success” of different religious groups in antiquity. The second is a critical assessment of the common modern category of “mission” to describe the inner dynamic of such a process; it discusses the early Christian apostle Paul, the early Jewish historian Josephus, and ancient Mithraism. The third section of the book is devoted to “the rise of Christianity,” primarily in response to the similarly titled work of the American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark.

While it is not clear that any of these groups imagined its own success necessarily entailing the elimination of others, it does seem that early Christianity had certain habits, both of speech and practice, which made it particularly apt to succeed (in) the Roman Empire.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Studies in Christianity and Judaism

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p. vii-vii

First of all, the editor wishes to thank all the contributors to this volume for their ready cooperation and sorely tested patience over the last few years; completion of the project has been “a long time coming,” due, in part, to circumstances beyond my control, and I am exceedingly grateful to everyone who has awaited publication...

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pp. ix-xiv

This book is about religious rivalries in the early Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. The book is divided into three parts. The first part debates the degree to which the category of rivalry adequately names the issue(s) that must be addressed when comparing...


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pp. xv-xvi

Part 1: Rivalries?

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1. Ancient Religious Rivalries and the Struggle for Success: Christians, Jews, and Others in the Early Roman Empire

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pp. 3-20

This chapter was initially written in 1994 to suggest both a rationale and a few possible lines of inquiry for a seminar of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (CSBS), which would focus on the question of religious rivalries in different urban settings of the early Roman Empire. The chapter is thus essentially a list of leading questions...

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2. The Declining Polis? Religious Rivalries in Ancient Civic Context

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pp. 21-50

Any attempt to understand religious rivalries in the ancient Mediterranean world must take into account the social and political structures within which such phenomena took place. Such structures influenced or constrained in various ways the activities and behaviours of the individuals, groups, and communities...

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3. Rivalry and Defection

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pp. 51-72

The general topic of this book is religious rivalry. It has become apparent, however, that “rivalry” does not cover all the evidence for social relations between different religious groups in the ancient Mediterranean world, so that some scholars prefer terms such as “competition"...

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4. Is the Pagan Fair Fairly Dangerous? Jewish-Pagan Relations in Antiquity

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pp. 73-84

Fairs in the life of ancient Israel touched every facet of society. Many people were involved in the life of the fair, because it was the place in which goods and services were sold and purchased. The fair included luxury as well as small, inexpensive goods; land was sold, and slaves and animals bought...

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5. My Rival, My Fellow: Conceptual and Methodological Prolegomena to Mapping Inter-Religious Relations in 2nd- and 3rd-Century CE Levantine Society Using the Evidence of Early Rabbinic Texts

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pp. 85-106

This chapter locates the analysis of religious rivalry within a broader analytical framework. It views religious rivalry and the exclusion of the religiously other as only one dimension of inter-group relations, social formation, and self-definition within the pluri-religious...

Part 2: Mission?

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6. “The Field God Has Assigned”: Geography and Mission in Paul

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pp. 109-138

The immediate focus of this chapter is the geographical framework of Paul’s mission and, in particular, the possibility that there was a territorial dimension to his sense of apostolic calling, resulting in a discernible geographical strategy. As a contribution to the discussion concerning religious rivalries, however, this question is being pursued...

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7. The Contra Apionem in Social and Literary Context: An Invitation to Judean Philosophy

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pp. 139-174

One of the baseline problems posed in this book by Leif E. Vaage’s programmatic chapter 1 and engaged also by Terence Donaldson in chapter 6 concerns the place of mission in ancient religions, and especially in Judaism. Was Judaism, during the Greco-Roman period, a missionary religion? Through more than a century scholars...

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8. On Becoming a Mithraist: New Evidence for the Propagation of the Mysteries

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pp. 175-194

Against the charge of proselytizing, no religion of antiquity can mount a more credible defence than Mithraism. It was the most self-effacing and retiring of the “dynamic” cults (to use MacMullen’s term [1981, 112], where it seems almost a misnomer)...

Part 3: Rise?

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9. Rodney Stark and “The Mission to the Jews”

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pp. 197-212

Unlike most books, Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity appeared with two different subtitles. Taken together, these offer a succinct and accurate description of Stark’s approach and subject matter. “A Sociologist Reconsiders History,”...

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10. “Look How They Love One Another”: Early Christian and Pagan Care for the Sick and Other Charity

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pp. 213-232

The American sociologist Rodney Stark and the early third-century Christian apologist Tertullian (Apology 39) each contrast early Christian charity with the heartlessness of the pagan world...

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11. The Religious Market of the Roman Empire: Rodney Stark and Christianity’s Pagan Competition

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pp. 233-252

In the penultimate chapter of The Rise of Christianity (1997, 191–208), after explaining much of Christianity’s growth in its first three centuries with little reference to rival religions other than Judaism, Rodney Stark properly turns to the pagan competition. What weaknesses in paganism, he asks, facilitated Christianity’s remarkable success?...

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12. Why Christianity Succeeded (in) the Roman Empire

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pp. 253-278

This chapter aims to sharpen some of the notions I advanced in chapter 1 in the light of the intervening discussion. Again, my interest here has primarily to do with earliest Christianity. The latter’s apparent aptitude for success as a religion of empire is the issue that most concerns...

Works Cited

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pp. 279-304

Ancient Sources Index

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pp. 305-317

Ancient Names Index

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pp. 318-321

Modern Names Index

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pp. 322-328

E-ISBN-13: 9780889205369
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889204492
Print-ISBN-10: 0889204497

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Studies in Christianity and Judaism