Destroyer of the Gods

Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World

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Larry W. Hurtado
  • Waco, TX: 
    Baylor University Press
    , April
     2017.
     304 pages.
     $19.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781481304740.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World, Larry W. Hurtado provides an in-depth survey of the features that made early Christianity unusual in the Roman world. Hurtado’s exploration of the distinctive features of early Christianity is informative, exciting to read, and enlightening. 

Hurtado organizes his book into five chapters. In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to the way non-Christians perceived the Christians in their midst. In particular, this chapter focuses on some Roman critics of Christianity, including the imperial legate Pliny the Younger, the famous physician Galen, and the writers Lucian and Celsus. Hurtado next explores how the reverence given to Jesus in early Christian communities compares to the Roman practice of reverencing a plurality of gods. The reverence given to Jesus, Hurtado argues, comprises a historical innovation that sets Christians off from both Jews and Romans. In chapter 3, Hurtado contends that Christians represented a distinctive religious identity in the Roman world. His analysis of New Testament passages such as Paul’s treatment of food offered to idols in 1 Corinthians is interesting to read. Hurtado next considers how Christianity was unusual as a “bookish religion.” He argues “that reading, writing, copying, and dissemination of texts had a major place—indeed, a prominence—in early Christianity that, except for ancient Jewish circles, was unusual for religious groups of the Roman era” (105-106). Finally, in chapter 5 Hurtado examines how Christianity required its adherents to dedicate themselves to a new way of life. His discussion about how the early Christians must have carefully balanced “fitting in and being different” is especially thought-provoking. 

Hurtado’s book will appeal to a diverse audience. Anyone from the scholar to the casual reader will find his book exciting to read. The casual reader will certainly appreciate Hurtado’s clear writing style and find his analysis of primary sources easy to understand. Indeed, Hurtado has done an outstanding job of discussing the complexity of the rich cultural world of early Christianity in the first three centuries in language that is easy to understand for the non-expert. The scholar will appreciate the text’s readability, but also Hurtado’s scholarly insights, which might provide them some new avenues of research to pursue. 

This book could easily be used as a supplementary text in a college or seminary course that focuses on the New Testament or more generally on early Christianity, as it is easy to understand, informative, and grounded in some of the most recent scholarship. Hurtado encourages readers to reflect on the unusual characteristics, beliefs, and practices of early Christianity in the Roman era, providing an exciting and enlightening discussion about how Christianity was distinguished from other religions and associations in its first three centuries. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Shisley is Adjunct Professor of Religion at California Lutheran University.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Born in Kansas City (Missouri), he now lives in Edinburgh.

Keywords: 

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