Christianity in the Graeco-Roman World

Socio-political, philosophical, and religious interactions up to the Edict of Milan (ce 313)1

Authored by: George H. van Kooten

The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought

Print publication date:  December  2009
Online publication date:  December  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415442251
eBook ISBN: 9780203864517
Adobe ISBN: 9781135193430


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In this essay I present a framework situating early Christianity within the geographical and cultural context of the Graeco-Roman world. I examine how Christianity interacted with the socio-political, philosophical, and religious forces in the Graeco-Roman world in the second and third centuries. How did these forces set the stage for developments within Christianity, especially its ideology (theology) in the second and third centuries? Firstly, I shall comment on Christianity in relation to Hellenistic-Roman “philosophy” and “religion.” What exactly was the difference between philosophy and religion in this age, and how did Christianity relate to them? In a companion to early Christian thought, it is particularly worthwhile to reflect on the question of how Christianity appeared to the interested onlooker in antiquity: as a religion, or rather as a philosophy? Secondly, I will focus on the interaction of Christianity with the socio-political, philosophical, and religious forces, commenting on its organization, its ethics, its criticism of sacrifice and pagan idols, and its disparagement of mere sophistic rhetoric. Through this picture, I will portray Christianity as involved in a deep-seated rivalry with other religious and philosophical competitors on the market of antiquity. Thirdly and finally, I shall further illustrate this competition between Christianity and paganism by commenting on the antagonism between the followers of Christ and those of one of those other demigods of antiquity, Heracles.

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