Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire

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Paul B. Duff
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , November
     2017.
     272 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780802868787.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Jesus Followers in the Roman Empire, written by Paul B. Duff, provides an in-depth survey of the emergence and development of early Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. His book masterfully explores how the early Christian message entered and eventually dominated the great cities of the Roman Empire.

Duff’s book, organized into three sections, provides a coherent and informative narrative about the transformation of Christianity from a rural Jewish movement into a largely Greco-Roman phenomenon. The first section, titled “Setting the Stage,” provides the reader the necessary background information for understanding the emergence of Christianity. In particular, Duff introduces the reader to Hellenistic culture, Greco-Roman religious practices, Jewish religion, Roman rule, the early years of the Jesus movement, and the message of the early followers of Jesus. Next, in section 2, Duff explores ethnic and social diversity within the early Christian movement. And in section 3, Duff investigates how the early Christian assemblies in Roman cities accommodated and resisted Greco-Roman culture.

Duff’s survey of the expansion of the early Christian message into the great cities of the Roman Empire discusses some unique subjects. In chapter 3, for instance, Duff explores what Paul preached when he first entered a new city. Drawing from his first letter to the Thessalonians, Duff reconstructs the four main components of Paul’s message: (1) there was only one “living and true” deity; (2) Jesus, God’s son, died and was resurrected from the dead; (3) the current age will soon end and people will experience God’s wrath; and (4) people will be rescued from God’s wrath through the expiatory sacrificial death of Jesus so long as they turn to the one true God. Duff’s discussion about what attracted non-Jews to the early Christian message in chapter 4, though brief, is also insightful. Duff’s review of the role of women and slaves in early Christian assemblies in chapters 5 and 6 provide the reader with a helpful summary of the current status of scholarly research into these subfields of early Christian studies.

Duff’s book will appeal to a diverse audience for several reasons. First, readers are introduced to the emergence and development of Christianity in Roman cities in clear and concise language. Second, readers will find the organization of Duff’s book logical and easy to follow. Third, the abundance of footnotes in each chapter provides readers additional commentary about discussion points in the text and insight into other avenues for research. Fourth, Duff exemplifies the way modern scholars analyze texts. And fifth, Duff’s detailed narrative about the way that early Jesus followers either continued to embrace or challenge elements of Greco-Roman culture pays close attention to historical and social contexts.

Overall, Duff has written an informative and interesting book. His writing is clear and concise. His thorough and informative narrative about the expansion of Christianity into Roman cities is enlightening. And above all, his attention to the social and historical contexts of the Greco-Roman world will greatly aid students, teachers, and lay readers as they learn more about the early Jesus followers.

About the Reviewer(s): 

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

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

Paul B. Duff is professor of religion at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. He is also the author of Who Rides the Beast? Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse and Paul in Corinth: The Apologetic Context of 2 Corinthians 3.

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