The Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles

Robert Knapp. Harvard Univ., $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-674-97646-7
Knapp, professor emeritus of classics at the University of California, investigates how a small movement that arose 2,000 years ago grew into one of the world’s great religions. Beginning with the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Knapp explains the social environment that allowed Christianity’s prophet to appeal to Jews and polytheists alike even though they differed in a multitude of ways. Members of these groups were products of a world that seemed irrational, random, and dangerous. They adapted to this chaos by encountering the supernatural through ritual and tradition in order to inject a sense of meaning into the world around them. The miracles of Jesus of Nazareth (particularly his rising from the dead) could appeal to both groups because “people in both traditions continued to value overt displays of power in both magic and miracles as touchstones of supernatural efficacy, an efficacy they sought to access as they faced the contingencies of life.” Although light on new information, this is a sound synthesis of historical data that, in broad strokes, paints the picture of how the nascent Christian movement influenced many different peoples and laid the foundations for Christianity to thrive globally. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/12/2017
Release date: 08/01/2017
Genre: Religion
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