What are good sources for an overview of early Christianity/Gnosticism?
November 13, 2014 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Help me out, Hivemind. I'm looking for respectable, scholarly books, friendly to the layman, on the early beginnings of Christianity. More specifically, I'm interested in its first few centuries. I'm also hoping to attain a better understanding of Gnosticism and its place in Christianity's history. I am NOT looking for New Age-y neognostic inculcations.
posted by fignewton to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

Justo Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1, is a history-textbook overview of church history frequently assigned in college and graduate school; it's extremely readable. You can pick up the just-prior edition for a penny (plus shipping).

There's also a volume 2 (Reformation to the present), or sometimes you can find an omnibus edition with both together. It's really crazy-readable, though. It won't take you deep into complex disputes, but you will come out of it with a very solid framework of knowledge that you can start fleshing out with more specific, in-depth works.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:21 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Who wrote the new testament?

You might also want to read up on neo-platonism, because to me gnosticism and neo-platonism are rather inextricably intertwined. Gnosticism was largely an attempt by hellenistic christians to syncretize Christianity with 'mainstream' hellenistic philosophy, satisfying neither most platonists nor most christians.
posted by empath at 12:23 PM on November 13, 2014

Bart Ehrman has also done an audio lecture series for the Teaching Company, if you're into audiobooks. Note, you can get it much cheaper (or free with their monthly trial) from Audible. I haven't listened to it but my partner who's into history recommends it.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:24 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Peter Brown's Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD covers the later part of your period; I have a copy but haven't read it yet, but it's been very well reviewed.
posted by languagehat at 12:26 PM on November 13, 2014

I heard an interesting Fresh Air interview with Bart Ehrman about his book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.

You can hear the interview here. I found it pretty fascinating and he's apparently written several books regarding the origin of Christianity and how we got from there to here. I think Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why is his other big one (although I've not read it).
posted by JimBJ9 at 12:31 PM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding Peter Brown -- one of the most erudite, beautiful writers on any subject, and early Christianity is his specialty. The Body and Society on early Christian sexuality (though it's really much broader than that) is fascinating.
posted by crookedneighbor at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2014

Geza Vermes, Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325. Vermes is one of the most respected scholars in this field.

Robert M. Price translated and edited a large selection of early Christian and Gnostic writings for The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-Four Formative Texts.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 12:39 PM on November 13, 2014

Henry Chadwick's Early Church, the first volume in Penguin's "History of the Church" series. He's a serious, top-notch scholar who also wrote for a popular audience. He devotes a good part of one of the first chapters to various Gnostic movements and teachers.

FYI: a lot of the books being recommended here--e.g., Pagels, Ehrman, Gonzales, etc.--have an "angle" or a "thing" about how they approach the subject matter. I've never heard someone accuse Chadwick of that.
posted by resurrexit at 1:11 PM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Walker, et. al. A History of the Christian Church is a widely accepted text book with exhaustive coverage of early church history.
posted by Jahaza at 1:39 PM on November 13, 2014

Caesar and Christ by Will Durant.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2014

The Frontline series From Jesus to Christ is very well done.
posted by Lexica at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2014

Yale's Online Course, RLST 152: INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT HISTORY AND LITERATURE, taught by Professor Dale B. Martin, is all that and more.
posted by whuppy at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2014

« Older I can't drink you under the table. The table's...   |   Godfather Metal Song Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.