Early Christianity is generally reckoned by church historians to begin with the ministry of Jesus (c. 27–30) and end with the First Council of Nicaea (325). It is typically divided into two periods: the Apostolic Age (c. 30–100, when the first apostles were still alive) and the Ante-Nicene Period (c. 100–325).
- In considering the spiritual significance of icons and other kinds of religious art, it is helpful to observe that theological reflection on art has often lagged behind practice. Early Christian murals, mosaics, catacombs and sarcophagi receive little theological comment in their time. Yet, especially after the fourth century such art was more extensive than anything one might expect on the basis of certain attacks on images by Church Fathers - attacks that we now realize ere intermittent in any case.
- “New SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality edited by Philip Sheldrake” SCM Press, (2005); Art and Spirituality, Frank Burch Brown, p. 127.
- Between 50 and 400 AD, and out of this same circumstance the Fathers of the Christian Church-and in this case the usually inheralded Mothers of the Church as well-crafted a new sexual order. Procreative marriage served as its foundation. Importantly, they also built this new order in reaction to the Gnostic heresies which threatened the young church; and perhaps even human life itself.
The Gnostic idea rose independent of Christianity, but successfully invaded the new movement. The Gnostics drew together myths from Iran, Jewish magic and mysticism, Greek philosophy, and Chaldean mystical speculation. They also appealed to an exaggerated freedom from the law, in this case said to be proclaimed by Jesus and Paul. In this sense, they were antinomians; that is, they believed that the Gospel freed Christians from obedience to any law, be it scriptural,, civil, or moral. The gnostics claimed to have a special “gnosis”, a “secret knowledge” denied to ordinary Christians. They appealed to unseen spirits. They denied nature. While they developed a mélange of moral and doctrinal ideas, most gnostics shared two views: they rejected conventional marriage as a child-centered institution; and they scorned procreation.
This heresy posed a grave challenge to the early Christian movement Ineed, the Epistles are full of warnings against Gnostic teachings. In 1 Timothy 4, for example, Paul write that “some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons….who forbid marriage.” In Jude 4 we read that admission into the Christian community “has been secretly gained by…ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness.” 2 Peter tells of false prophet corrupting the young church, “irrational animals, creature of instinct,…reveling in their dissipation, carousing with you They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable souls.”
Relative to sex, it appears that Gnosticism took two forms One strand emphasized total sexual license. Claiming the freedom of the Gospel, these Gnostics indulged in adultery and ritualistic fornication. The Church Father Irenaeus pointed to those who “introduced promiscuous intercourse and marriages…, [saying] that God does not really care about these matter.” The Church Father Clement described abuse of the eucharist by the Gnostics in the church at Alexandria, Egypt: There are some who call Aphrodite Pandemos [physical love] a mystical communion….[T]hey have impiously called by the name of communion any common sexual intercourse.
- Allan Carlson, “Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973”, p.3
- Pagan religions had a calm acceptance of abortion and contraception, including the use of barrier methods, coitus interruptus, and various medicines that prevented contraception or caused abortion.
Early Christian leaders, distinguishing Christianity from pagan beliefs, developed ideas about contraception and abortion, marriage and procreation, and the unity of body and soul. They taught that sex even for reproduction was bad and sex for pleasure heinous. Chastity became a virtue in its own right.
- "Abortion and Catholic Thought: The Little-Told History", Catholics for a Free Choice, "The History of Abortion in the Catholic Church", Reprinted in the Autumn 1996 issue of Conscience
- Early Christians condemned abortion, but did not view the termination of a pregnancy to be an abortion before "ensoulment", the definition of when life began in the womb. Up to 400 AD., as the relatively few Christians were widely scattered geographically, the actual practice of abortion among Christians probably varied considerably and was influenced by regional customs and practices.
- "Abortion Law, History & Religion". Childbirth By Choice Trust.
- The beginnings of an identifiable Christian art can be traced to the end of the second century and the beginning of the third century. Considering the Old Testament prohibitions against graven images, it is important to consider why Christian art developed in the first place. The use of images will be a continuing issue in the history of Christianity. The best explanation for the emergence of Christian art in the early church is due to the important role images played in Greco-Roman culture.
As Christianity gained converts, these new Christians had been brought up on the value of images in their previous cultural experience and they wanted to continue this in their Christian experience. For example, there was a change in burial practices in the Roman world away from cremation to inhumation. Outside the city walls of Rome, adjacent to major roads, catacombs were dug into the ground to bury the dead. Families would have chambers or cubicula dug to bury their members. Wealthy Romans would also have sarcophagi or marble tombs carved for their burial. The Christian converts wanted the same things. Christian catacombs were dug frequently adjacent to non-Christian ones, and sarcophagi with Christian imagery were apparently popular with the richer Christians.
- The public veneration of saints in the Christian Church is known to have existed in the 2nd century. As will be shown below, it developed in local communities; it was based on the saint's tomb; it was a consequence of the general belief that a martyr who shed his blood for Christ was certainly in Heaven and able to exercise intercessory prayer on behalf of those who invoked him. It has often been asserted that the cult of saints was both a borrowing from and a substitute for the polytheistic cults of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. In its crude form the theory is completely unconvincing, especially when the nature of the cults is considered and placed in its context of Christian doctrine, worship, and life. But it can readily be conceded that many eternal elements such as anniversaries, shrines, incubation, and iconography have all been at the very least deeply influenced by pagan Mediterranean models. Nevertheless, the cults of saints originated in the beliefs and practice of Jewry and early Christianity.
- David Farmer, “Oxford Dictionary of Saints”, Oxford University Press Inc., New York (1978), p.ix
- Inquiry shall likewise be made about the professions and trades of those who are brought to be admitted to the faith. ... If a man is an actor or pantomimist, he must be rejected. ... A gladiator or a trainer of gladiators, or a huntsman, or anyone connected with these shows ... must desist or be rejected. ... A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath; if he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected. ... If a catechumen or a believer seeks to become a soldier, they must be rejected, for they have despised God.
The early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
- Leaving his beloved teacher Origen behind in Caesarea Maritimma about the year 240, bound for his distant home in the province of Pontus, Gregory of Neocaesarea (Niskar) turned to a catastrophic flight of rhetoric:
I may be going to prosecute no safe journey, as it sometimes fares with one who quits some safe and peaceful city; and it is indeed but too likely that, in journeying, I may fall into the hands of robbers, and be taken prisoner, and be stripped and wounded with many strokes, and be cast forth to lie half-dead somewhere.
Many miles of road lay ahead of him. Edward Gibbon would say of the Roman roads of the Antonine age that they 'united the subjects of the most distant provinces by an easy and familiar intercourse'; but however 'easy and familiar' these roads supposedly were, cities were much safer.
For the modern historians of the early churches cities have had a similar appeal. Christianity, Thomas A. Robinson notes, 'was, supposedly an urban religion'. Noting how widespread this view is ('almost every recent scholar of the early church' had held it), Robinson cites powerful names - Ramsay MacMullen and W.H.C. Frend - before naming Wayne A. Meeks (in The First Urban Christians) as the historian 'primarily responsible for the now near-universal assumptions of the urban character of early Christianity'.
- Paul McKechnie, “Christianizing Asia Minor Conversion, Communities, and Social Change in the Pre-Constantinian Era”, Cambridge University Press, (2019), p.1
- Robinson has snatched away the comfort of the urban thesis. The idea that at the time of the Edict of Milan (313) some 10 per cent of the population of the Roman empire was Christian, 6 million persons out of a population of 60 million, has been (he observes) commonly put forward as a working assumption for the size of the Christian movement. But the Roman empire was largely rural with as few as 10 per cent of the population living in cities. If the rural Christian population approximated to zero, the cities would then have to be thought to be (at least) largely Christian - which ample evidence shows that they were not. Therefore, the numbers usually cited in recent work for the size of the Christian population cannot stand; and neither can the claim of no substantial number of Christians in rural areas. The model normally drawn on in studying the growth of early Christianity, therefore, is no longer plausible. Like Gregory, the historian must leave the 'safe and peaceful city' behind.
- Paul McKechnie, “Christianizing Asia Minor Conversion, Communities, and Social Change in the Pre-Constantinian Era”, Cambridge University Press, (2019), p.2
- What happened to biblical law when it was transferred into the new world of late antiquity? How was it understood, and what were the reasons for this particular interpretation? Answering these questions can provide a paradigm to help explain the development of late antique Christian legal traditions and discourse in their Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts.
Accompanying the rise of Christianity in the first centuries of the Common Era, Christian legal discourse and traditions began to evolve. These embryonic legal traditions combined Roman law, Greek legal traditions, biblical law, and rabbinic halakha, interweaving them with their own ethical stances. Scholars tend to study the development of Christian legal traditions, especially matrimonial law, from one of two perspectives: either in relation to Roman law, mainly focusing on Christian sources from the second century onward, or in connection to biblical and early halakhic traditions, largely concentrating on the Old and New Testaments and Qumranic sources. In this article, I seek to portray a less dichotomous and more nuanced picture of the Christian approach to biblical and Jewish legal traditions, on the one hand, and Roman and Greek legal traditions, on the other. I address the different ways in which Christians adapted a biblical legal institution by using legal concepts drawn from the Greco-Roman world, yet not directly taking part in the Greco-Roman legal discourse, and compare this phenomenon to the rabbis’ understanding and alteration of this same biblical legal institution in the Tannaitic and Amoraic literature.
- Yifat Monnickendam, “BIBLICAL LAW IN GRECO-ROMAN ATTIRE: THE CASE OF LEVIRATE MARRIAGE IN LATE ANTIQUE CHRISTIAN LEGAL TRADITIONS”, Journal of Law and Religion, Volume 34, Issue 2, (August 2019), pp.136-164
- In this article, I have sought to re-contextualize the Roman and Christian ban on levirate marriage, positioning this legal tradition as it was viewed by the Christians of the first centuries CE. I have demonstrated the transfer of a legal tradition from its biblical origin to a new Greek and Roman setting, which reshaped it and repositioned it within a larger legal context. However, revealing the Christian remodeling of this biblical inheritance also changes our understanding of the Roman and Christian prohibition on levirate marriage, revealing the differences between the legal discourse and the theological discourse and between the legal discourse and interreligious discourse.
The story of the rise of Christian legal traditions in late antiquity, following the New Testament, and their relation to the biblical inheritance, rabbinic surroundings, and Greco-Roman environment is yet to be told. In this case, the story is not one of a polemic with contemporaneous Jews who observed halakha, Jewish-Christian groups, or Christians preserving biblical law. Rather, it is the story of an inherited legal tradition that was transferred to a new world. It was restructured according to contemporaneous Greek and Roman legal concepts and used in theological discourse, even though it did not fully correlate with other Christian legal discourse or with the new laws of the empire. As such, it is a significant fragment in chronicling the rise of a unique Christian legal tradition in a world of inherited biblical traditions and contemporaneous Greek and Roman legal concepts and rulings.
- Yifat Monnickendam, “BIBLICAL LAW IN GRECO-ROMAN ATTIRE: THE CASE OF LEVIRATE MARRIAGE IN LATE ANTIQUE CHRISTIAN LEGAL TRADITIONS”, Journal of Law and Religion, Volume 34, Issue 2, (August 2019), pp.136-164
- This analysis demonstrates the disparity between the rabbinic discourse, the Christian and Roman rulings, and the theological and exegetical discourse. It shows how Christians remodeled their biblical heritage according to Greek and Roman legal concepts, namely the Roman adoption and the Greek epiklerate, and treated it as part of inheritance law and child-parent relationships, whereas the rabbis used different adaptations and treated it as part of matrimonial law and sexual relationships. This discussion therefore recontextualizes the legal discourse, positioning the Christian approach to levirate marriage as a complex case of legal transplant and adaptation of a legal heritage.
- Yifat Monnickendam, “BIBLICAL LAW IN GRECO-ROMAN ATTIRE: THE CASE OF LEVIRATE MARRIAGE IN LATE ANTIQUE CHRISTIAN LEGAL TRADITIONS”, Cambridge.org, Journal of Law and Religion, Volume 34, Issue 2, (August 2019), pp.136-164
- There were three main movements within early Christianity. Two did not succeed: Jewish Christianity -- centered in Jerusalem and founded by Jesus' disciples -- and Gnostic Christianity. The third, Pauline Christianity, flourished and evolved into the Christian Church. It was surrounded by a mosaic of other competing religions within the Roman Empire, including Judaism, the Greek state religion, Mithraism, the Roman state religion, and various Mystery religions. With the exception of Judaism, most or all of the competing religions allowed women to have abortions and allowed parents to kill new-born babies by strangulation or exposing them as methods of population control. There are many writings, letters and petitions of early Christian philosophers and Church Fathers which equated abortion with infanticide and condemned both as murder.
- Robinson, B. A. (October 17, 2010). "Roman Catholicism and abortion access: Pagan & Christian beliefs 400 BCE -1980 CE". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
- Early Christianity was primarily an urban movement. The original meaning of the word pagan (paganus) was "rural person," or more colloquially "country hick." It came to have religious meaning because after Christianity had triumphed in the cities, most of the rural people remained unconverted.
- Rodney Stark, “Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome”, HarperCollins, (Oct 31, 2006), p.2
- [I]n the words of Friedrich Engels, "Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed peoples: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome" After all, the Bible often directly addresses the poor and downhearted and promises that they will be compensated in heaven, where the "first shall be last, and the last, first." Despite this 'evidence', a consensus has formed among historians of the early church that regardless of biblical assurances to the lower classes, the early Christians were drawn mainly from the ranks of the privileged. E.A. Judge identified the early Christians as recruited mainly from among "a socially pretentious section of the population of big cities." and Abraham Malherbe concluded that the language used by early Christian writers clearly reflects a literate, educated audience. In his detailed study of the church in Corinth in the first century, Gerd Theissen identified wealthy Christians, including members of the "upper classes." Many other historians of the early church have expressed similar views.
- Rodney Stark, “Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome”, HarperCollins, (Oct 31, 2006), pp.8-9
“When Children Became People: the birth of childhood in early Christianity” (2005)Edit
Odd Magne Bakke, “When Children Became People: the birth of childhood in early Christianity”, translated from Norwegian by Brian McNeil, Augsburg Fortress Minneapolis, MN, (2005)
- A number of books and articles deal with issues related to the question of children and childhood in the early church, for examples on expositio (exposure of children), orphans, infant baptism and upbringing . However, only a few publications focus on the way in which children were understood and how they were treated in general. The fact that nearly all these studies were published in the last decade is a clear indicator, as suggested above, of growing scholarly interest in this subject.
- While Strange’s study is the only monograph published on children in the early church, there is also an unpublished doctoral thesis from 1993 by Sarah Currie, which deals with certain aspects of children in early Christianity. Currie states that the “thesis is a study of the interaction between children and ritual practices of antique Christianity” and concludes by stating that “the child” was placed “at the centre of Christian practice, both in its making of symbols and in its everyday reproduction of a community.” A significant part in her argumentation is the way the church fathers used the gospel commands to present children as symbols for appropriate Christian behavior, and how the early church used the metaphor of children in Christian formation and in the construction of Christian identity It is, however, questionable whether Currie’s conclusions are adequately supported by the metaphorical use of children, and of children as examples for adults.
- As the history of research shows, studies on children and childhood in early Christianity are beginning to see the light of day. However, though the studies published up to now provide illuminating discussions of various aspects of this topic, only the work by William A. Strange, and partly the essay by Gillian Clark combine several perspectives, and thus seek to give a general account of how Christians in the early church thought about children and how children were treated. I have already expressed my substantial agreement with these finding, but I have pointed out that many important aspects related to children and childhood receive only a superficial treatment, while some go virtually unmentioned in these work; besides this, only a relatively brief section of Strange’s book deals explicitly with the post-New Testament period. This means that we still need a book offering a comprehensive examination of children and childhood in early Christianity.
- Given the general attitudes toward children and their place in society in the cultural environment of Christians in antiquity, it should have been remarkable if the church fathers in general had had a heavy focus on children in their writing. There are, in fact, no writings that introduce concern for children and their needs as a subject on the theological agenda. John Chrysostom’s treatise, De Inani Gloria, comes closest to having children and their needs as a main theme. Chrysostom provides advice on child rearing, emphasizing the parents’ grave responsibility to bring up their children in the Christian faith and socialize them into a proper, Christian way of life. However, this treatise, together with sections of a couple of other writings by the same author is almost unique in its focus on children. As a rule, we have to make use of incidental comments about children and childhood in material from this period. In this respect, research on children in the early church faces the same challenges that confronted studies about women in early Christianity. Neither the role of women nor children’s place in society and the church were topics discussed on their own. Because no systematic accounts are provided by ancient sources, modern scholars have to rely on more or less accidental references in the literature.
- Our source material is far from furnishing a complete picture of how Christians in late antiquity viewed children’s nature, characteristics, and qualities, but we can reconstruct certain aspects of this picture. We have seen how Jesus’ saying about the child as paradigmatic citizen of the kingdom of God was interpreted. According to the fathers, Jesus used small children as examples because they are simple, innocent and pure in a moral sense. This means that they are not sexually active; they have not yet developed sexual desire; they are not plagued by anger and grief; and they are indifferent to the wealth and positions that are associated with honor and status in this world. Besides this, children obey their parents. It is primarily in the Eastern fathers-Origen, John Chrysostom, and especially Clement of Alexandria-that we find such ideas, but we also find in Tertullian the idea that the child is taken as a model because it is not plagued by sexual desire.
- As Christianity gradually took root and became better known, tensions arose in relation to the pagan environment partly because Christian circles consciously broke with pagan religiosity and behavior, and partly because the new religion was misunderstood. In order to counter the criticism and accusation leveled by the society in which they lived, a number of apologetic writings were composed from the mid-second century onward.
- Indeed, early Christian texts such as the Didache and Barnabas incorporate the Jewish tradition about the “two ways” where abortion and expositio are condemned as murder. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the fact that the doctrine of the “”two ways” condemned abortion, expositio, and infanticide: this tradition became an integral part of catechetical instruction and thus helped form early Christian attitudes.
We can therefore say that by the beginning of the third century, there was a well established critical attitude to all forms of the murder of children-whether abortion, expositio, or other methods of killing. “Critical” is really too mild a word: these practices were utterly condemned. There already existed a certain measure of opposition to these practies among Roman moral philosophers, and some forms of the limitation of the number of children (including expositio) were rejected by the ruling authorities in some Italian cities, as reflected in the alimenta program mentioned above. Nevertheless, the early Christian attitude represents a considerable intensification of this criticism. The Christian writers go much further in backing up their arguments by means of fundamental principles; we also perceive a greater zeal and commitment, since they understood this question, theologically and ethically, as a matter of living in accordance with the will of God. On the deepest level, the question of refraining from murder was a question of salvation or damnation. I therefore find it difficult to see the Christian critique of expositio as nothing more than an echo and development of other critical voices in contemporary society. The intensity and extent of the Christian critique represents an intensification of existing criticism of Roman praxis and legislation in these fields.
- If Christians had in fact practiced expositio to any great degree, this would have been so well-known in local society that the apologists’ argument would have been completely implausible; and the fact that the exposure of children does not feature in polemic within the church indicates, to the very least, that this was not very widespread practice. No source in the time before Constantine tells us that Christians practiced the exposure of children. This does not allow us to infer that it never happened, but it suggests that it was a rare occurrence.
The situation with regard to abortion was somewhat different. Abortion is more hidden, and this means that it can be employed by the apologists without there being any necessary agreement between the text and the societal reality. And, in fact, we possess Christian texts addressing members of the church from the first half of the third century that indicate that Christians did practice abortion.
"The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology" (Dec 20, 2018)Edit
"The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology", edited by David K. Pettegrew, William R. Caraher, Thomas W. Davis; Oxford University Press, (Dec 20, 2018)
- Students and scholars of the New Testament of Late Antique religion have consequently been on their own in constructing a framework that links historical interpretation with archaeological practice. The reader has much to gain from W. H. C. Frend's historical overview of early Christian archaeology (1996), Grayson Snyder's compilation of archaeological sources before the reign of the emperor Constantine (2003), and the growing studies of specific periods (e.g., Charlesworth 2006; Horsley 1996; Magness 2011) and cities and regions (e.g., Burns and Jensen 2014; Magness 2012; Nasrallah, Bakirtzis, and Friesen 2010). The steady output of a generation of historians of art and architecture had led to foundational treatments of Christian buildings and visual culture (e.g., Jensen 2000; Krautheimmer 1965; Mathews 1999; White 1996; Yasin 2012b), as well as a comprehensive encyclopedia of Christian Art and Archaeology (Finney 2017). The development of medieval archaeology in the West, Byzantine archaeology in the Levant and Near East, and Late Antique archaeology has likewise produced a sizable corpus of publications that establish the broader social, religious, political and economic contexts of Late Antiquity and early Byzantium from material evidence (see, e.g., the Late Antique Archaeology series edited by Luke Lavan and Rutger et al. forthcoming). Regional approaches shaped by sectarian, national, colonial, and disciplinary interests have also contributed to our understanding of the early Christian world. Despite a strong academic and popular interest in the archaeology of early Christianity, there exist no comprehensive handbooks that synthesize archaeological evidence specifically related to early Christianity and survey debates in the field.
- Ch. 1, "The Archeology of Early Christianity", William R. Caraher and David K Pettegrew, p.2
- The academic field known as early Christian archaeology had its roots in Italy in the wake of the Renaissance (Frend 1996, 11-22), although the goal of unearthing the relics of saints and Christian holy sites in an ancient and medieval tradition (se, e.g., Chabarria Arnau, Chapter 29). The first explorers of the Christian monuments of Rome in the late fifteenth century were guided by the antiquarian pursuit of the ancient world, which included classical remains as much as early Christian monuments (Schuddenboom 2017). While competing national drives to collect antiquities fueled Classical archaeology in Europe, the Protestant Reformation infused the archaeology of early Christian remains with a more burdensome, apologetic role: assessing the Catholic version of Christian history through the material culture of its early believers. In 1632, for example, the Catholic priest Antonio Bosio published his exploration of the Christian communities in Rome and to challenge Protestant attacks on the Roman church's ancient pedigree. While both polemic and curiosity guided these initial explorations, the first investigators forged a relationship between Christian material remain and the theology, history, and institutions of the early church.
- Ch. 1, "The Archeology of Early Christianity", William R. Caraher and David K Pettegrew, p.3
- Objects, art, and architecture of an explicitly "Christian" character appear for the first time in the archaeological record in the second and third centuries. While the corpus of known artifacts from this era remains very small and has not increased appreciably in recent decades (e.g. Snyder's 2003 compendium of pre-Constantinian remains is hardly different from the original edition in 1985), Longnecker's recent study of the ubiquity and significance of the cross before Constantine (2015) highlights the potential value in reexamining older material. The paucity of material reflects real demographic factors such as the small number of Christians in this period as well as the relatively limited group of Christian elite who might produce the sort of material signature that archaeologists typically detect. But the absence of evidence may also point to the nature of representation in these early communities, their adherence to Mosaic proscriptions against iconic art, and their blending with the social worlds they inhabited (Finney 1997; Jensen 2000). Indeed, the creation of a distinctly Christian iconography (Bisconti 1999; Rutgers 2000, 82-117; Snyder 2003, 2) and purpose-built places of worship often involved very minor or subtle changes to existing forms (Bisconti, Chapter 11; Britt, Chapter 15). That Christians appear at all in the material culture of this period points to the numerical and material growth of the church, as the catacombs and burial sites in Rome and other places attest (Fiocchi Nicolai, Chapter 4). While it remains very difficult to discern religious identity in the material culture of this period, the emergence of distinctly Christian art or objects nonetheless speaks to common patterns of belief, community, and liturgy.
- Ch. 1, "The Archeology of Early Christianity", William R. Caraher and David K Pettegrew, p.13
- Texts number among the earliest extant Christian artifacts and reveal important details about the authors and communities that produced them. Even the physical features of manuscripts themselves can reveal in their material, form, and symbols a wealth of information (Hurtado 2005). Early Christian texts, however, have frequently appeared without substantive archaeological context or provenience, and are regularly the subject of forgery. Scholars have often had to date major discoveries such as the Oxyrhynchus Logia, the well-known Nag Hammadi codices, and numerous new papyrus fragments from Egypt to the first two centuries of Christianity on the basis of evidence internal to the texts (Brooks Hedstrom, Chapter 34). A similar lack of stratigraphic context bedevils the study of inscriptions from Christian burials and catacombs. Letter forms and language date a series of Christian funerary inscriptions in Phrygia and Lycaonia in Asia Minor to the second century indicating that Christian communities felt sufficiently secure to identify with their faith publicly (Talleon, Chapter 26).
- Ch. 1, "The Archeology of Early Christianity", William R. Caraher and David K Pettegrew, pp.13-14
- Mortuary contexts also provide some of the earliest evidence for a Christian visual culture. From the first part of the third century, Christian catacombs featured art depicting biblical scenes of resurrection, salvation, and redemption (Lazarus, Susanna, Daniel in the lions' den, the sacrifice of Isaac), alongside both Christian symbols and pagan images that could convey new meanings (Bisconti, Chapter 11; cf. Bisconti 1999, 100-30 for an overview of common themes). Scholars have likewise long recognized the link between earliest Christian sculpture and themes present in funerary contexts (Kristensen, Chapter 18; Jensen 2000). Parani (Chapter 17) discusses how the earliest lamp forms of the third century with scenes of Noah, Jonah, and the Good Shepherd paralleled funerary art in other media and evoked the Christian concept of redemption and resurrection. Perhaps these mortuary contexts account for the appearance of Christian imagery in other media, although the emergence of amulets with Christian imagery as early as the third or even second centuries seems to indicate a somewhat different purpose; harnessing the power of the Christian god in their daily affairs (Cline, Chapter 19). Despite the troubling absence of secure archaeological contexts, the evidence does point to distinct forms of Christian material culture emerging by the third century that often point to the theological reflection on Christ's victory over death.
- Ch. 1, "The Archeology of Early Christianity", William R. Caraher and David K Pettegrew, p.14
- The scientific work of archaeologists adds a significant piece to our reconstruction and understanding of these early Christian martyria. Material culture fills in numerous gaps left by the literary record and provides a necessary corrective to analysis based wholly on the textual record. Indeed, the best work in early Christianity integrates archaeology with other forms of evidence. Archaeology thus contributes a critical piece to a holistic view of the early Christian cult of the martyrs and the means by which Christians created sacred spaces for venerating these martyrs.
- Ch. 5, “Martyria of the Fourth Century”, David L Eastman, p.101
- The contextual studies of human skeletal remains in the eastern Mediterranean offer a significant avenue for understanding early Christians and their burial practices. Early Christian cemeteries found in association with churches and basilicas demonstrates definite change in burial practice from the preceding era. The body was positioned in a regular manner in this period burials were single or multiple, and the practice of secondary burial was observed. Unusual funerary deposits point to war, epidemic disease such as plague, or changing cultural practices associated with the treatment of deceased newborn or stillborn infants. While demographic data shows some local variation, there are also many similarities in Christian populations such as the relative ages at death of males and females (28.5 years and 30.7 years, respectively), disease patterns, and chronic health conditions.
- Ch. 6, “Human Remains of the Eastern Mediterranean in Early Christian Context”, Sherry C. Fox and Paraskevi Tritsaroli, p.121
- If late Roman amulets are to be believed, than the dangers talking early Christians and their neighbors were manifold and omnipresent. The texts and images on amulets offer protection from disease, pain, aggressive magic, physical attack, and demonic onslaught, as well as other threats to body and soul. Such apotropaic objects were particularly employed when the dangers were beyond the control of individuals, states, or institutions, and when the precise threat was as yet unknown. The texts, forms, and images employed on amulets give shape on the thoughts and concerns that occupied the waking hours and anxious nights of early Christians - subjects that rarely appear in more public artistic media.
Importantly for the study of early Christianity, protective amulets display what are thought to be some of the earliest appearances of distinctively Christian symbols, some dated as early as the late second to third century, where they appear alongside Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Jewish names and symbols. The appearance of Christian symbols among other ritually potent, religiously diverse symbols suggests the gradual emergence of a popular perception that the Christian God and associated celestial beings, saints, names, and symbols were effective when deployed for defense against maleficent forces.
- Ch. 19, “Amulets and Ritual Efficacy of Christian Symbols”, Ranghar H. Cline, p.351