From Jesus to his First Followers

54589From Jesus to His First Followers examines to what extent early Christian groups were in continuity or discontinuity with respect to Jesus. Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce concentrate on the transformation of religious practices. Their anthropological-historical analysis focuses on the relations between discipleship and households, on the models of contact with the supernatural world, and on cohabitation among distinct religious groups. The book highlights how Matthew uses non-Jewish instruments of legitimation, John reformulates religious experiences through symbolized domestic slavery, Paul adopts a religious practice diffused in Roman-Hellenistic environments. The book reconstructs the map of early Christian groups in the Land of Israel and explains their divergences on the basis of an original theory of the local origin of Gospels’ information.

This is the best book on the origins of the Jesus Movement since Crossley’s in 2006.  It contains a number of essays, all previously published (except 7 and 8) and many in places where they may have been fairly inaccessible before collected here.

The contents are divided into four parts:

Jesus’ Strategy: Interstitiality and Conflict

  • 1 The Interstitial Movement of Jesus and the oikos
  • 2 The Conflict of Jesus with the Society of His Time
  • 3 Between Family and Temple: Jesus and Sacrifices
  • 4 Kinship and Movement: Closeness and Distance in John’s Perspective

Religious Practice as Continuity with Jesus

  • 5 The Practice of the Heavenly Journey: The Case of Paul
  • 6 Practices of Contact With the Supernatural: From Jesus to His Followers

Different Groups of Jesus’ Followers, before Christianity

  • 7 The Places of Jesus’ Followers in the Land of Israel: Local Origins of the Gospels’ Sources
  • 8 Divergent Lines of Transmission and Memory: The Passion Narratives in Mark and John
  • 9 A Persecuted and Antagonistic Minority: The Strategy of Matthew
  • 10 ‘Mise en histoire’ and Social Memory: The Politics of the Acts of the Apostles
  • 11 Investigating Domestic Slavery in John

Separation Between Jews and Christians

  • 12 The Separation of the Jesus’ Followers from the Jews: The Case of Burial Space

Bibliography
Index of Names
Thematic Index

The essays are quite engaging and beneficially advance our comprehension of the formative years of the Jesus movement.  The purpose of the collection as described by P. and D.

The essays collected in this volume have in common the attention to Jesus’ and his followers’ style of life and to the social forms that they adopted in order to integrate into society and justify their aims and activities (p. 1).

That brief sentence nicely enunciates the aim of the work.  And it nicely states precisely what the volume achieves.

There are, though, editorial issues with the collection.  ‘Jesus’ is frequently used when the proper form would be “Jesus’s” (cf. p. 4, passim).  Words are misspelled (‘Parte’ on page 5 where it should be ‘Part’; ‘devises’ is used on page 88 instead of the appropriate ‘devices’) and sometimes the grammar is less than proper (again, on page 5, “An analysis of the early processes of memorization leads to recognize the existence of…” should obviously be something like “An analysis of the early processes of memorization leads us (or perhaps, readers) to recognize the existence of…”.  The authors do not speak English as their mother tongue, they speak Italian.  The editorial process should have caught these errors (and several others throughout) and volumes as learned as this one deserve a proper amount of editorial care.  Any future editions of this volume must attend to the necessary task of a close and careful reading through by a native speaker of English.

The linguistic issues aside, this collection of essays is superb.  Our authors can write quite well.  For instance:

What is essential to keep in mind is that the followers of Jesus in the last quarter of the first century had to cope with problems that Jesus had not foreseen and on which had not given instructions (p. 7).

Superior writing in academic circles is writing that makes its point and moves along with all due haste to further points supported by further evidence.  Too much scholarship so tires the reader with repetition and rabbit chasings that by the time the point is arrived at the reader’s interest is worn down to the nub.  All of us should applaud P. and D. for getting to the point!

A further benefit of the present work is the fact that it contains something for everyone.  Are you interested in Reception History?  It is here.  Memory research?  That too is here.  The sociology of early Christianity?  That too is contained herein.  And along the way, as one reads the contents, one constantly discovers flashes of insight on well known stories.  For instance, in their discussion of the transfiguration, D and P write:

Our hypothesis is that the disciples’ participation to [sic! should be ‘in’ – J.W.] the event is narrated to show how Jesus actually involves the disciples in his own experience of contact with the divine (p.  119).

I am bound to recommend this volume, as I am bound to recommend everything that Pesce and Destro write.  They are wonderful scholars and their interdisciplinary approach to New Testament studies is a breath of fresh air in what is far too often a stale and quite dry academic environment.

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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