I recently wrote up an article for the website Libcom. The article is basically a teaser for my book, as well as a very little history of early Christianity and its social framework.
Over the last few months I haven’t been posting that regularly, there’s a few reasons for that; one reason is that I’ve been working on a book. The book I’ve been working on is called All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians, which has just been published by Wipf and Stock.
The book is basically a historical reconstruction of the economic practices of the early Christians, as primarily described in Acts 2:42–47 and Acts 4:32–37. The basic idea is that I think the subject has often been approached using the wrong framework, many people approach these passages with the framework of twentieth-century political struggles; so the questions they ask are things like “was this socialism, or was this just charity?” or “Did they abolish private property?” or “Was this a commune?” I think these questions assume the wrong framework.
I approach the issue using a different framework, rather than questions of property or politics, I use the framework of different types of social-relationships as described by modern anthropology. Rather than asking questions of property or legal rights, I look at questions around things like obligations, moral norms, social assumptions, and economic practices. Approaching the question of the economic practices of the early Christians using this framework, I then go about examining all the evidence. This evidence ranges from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Greek Philosophy, to the writings of Josephus and Philo to the early Church fathers and early Christian documents to Roman literature.
The evidence, when examined carefully, and within the framework of categories of social relationships—we end up seeing that what was described in Acts 2:42–27 and Acts 4:32–47 was in fact, a long term, wide spread and significant shift in the economic realities of the Christian communities. These economic practices were done all over the Roman world at least up until the late second century (and probably beyond) by many Christian communities, and these practices distinguished the Christians from the surrounding Roman society and were seen by the surrounding Roman society as strange. It was not charity, or anything like that; but rather it was—in the anthropological sense of the word, meaning a situation where “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is the primary moral framework—communism.
If this is something that interests you, and I think it should, pick up the book.
I recently finished a rather interesting book on Christianity and wealth, specifically from the periods 350 to 550. This post isn’t going to be a book review or anything like that, just some things that I learned from the book that I think are important. The author, Peter Brown, travels through the Western Roman Empire during late antiquity following various characters; from the pagan nobleman Symmachus to the North African titan of theology Augustine. In following these characters; their writings, their arguments, their biographies, their communities—Brown weaves a history of wealth, the view of wealth, the position of wealth, the power of wealth, in the west during late antiquity.
In the previous post, we went over Reza Aslan’s theological assumptions coming from the school of thought beginning with Friedrich Schleiermacher. We ended with me agreeing with Reza Aslan that the answer to religious violence must come from religion. But how is this to be done? In his lecture, Reza Aslan doesn’t really explain how, but during the questions, he addresses it by saying:
I’ve been following the debate going on between the New Atheists and the secular liberal pluralists (especially the Reza Aslan type) on the nature of Religion (what made me want to address this issue was this interview with Sam Harris). On the specific theological issues, the New Atheists including Sam Harris are horrifically ignorant and they often simply have no idea what they are talking about. So for example he shows a completely naive and shallow understanding of the atonement, specifically the substitution atonement theory (I’m sure he understands the substitution theory of atonement is just one of many). First of all in his understanding of the substitutionary theory, he completely ignores the most important aspect of it, that in orthodox Christology the son of God, is in fact God himself, God in the flesh, now I’m a Unitarian, so I don’t believe that, but I take it Mr. Harris was talking to regular evangelical, protestant Catholic or Orthodox Christians. The whole point is that God sent his messiah in order to substitute his life for the Sins of man, so as to release mankind for their sins without ignoring the seriousness of sin, and low and behold, God’s messiah is in fact God himself. The infinite creator coming into his own creation to save it. Now this is just one theory of many, and it is not one I hold, but it is the standard conservative protestant one, Sam Harris should know this if he is going to criticize the theory.
In my previous post I talked about the recent debate between Justin Bass at Bart Ehrman and how the pretence of a pure historical method is a false one. Now in this post I’d like to deal with the argument Justin Bass makes relating to Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of Man” of Daniel 7:13,14. Justin Bass says at the 22 minute mark:
The most explicit claim to Deity was Jesus’ claim to be son of man before Caiaphas the night before he was crucified … The son of man figure, if you’re not familiar with it, it comes from Daniel Chapter 7, Daniel sees in these night visions, he sees this Son of man figure, that’s definitely divine. He rides the clouds, which only God does, he is given glory and all peoples and nations worship him, and think about the context of Daniel, nobody worships anyone in Daniel except the God of Israel, but they worship the Son of Man. He is the king of God’s eternal Kingdom, this is an incredibly exalted figure, in fact Bart Ehrman says in his book about the son of man figure, ‘this is an exalted figure indeed, as exalted as one could possibly be without actually being the Lord God Almighty.’
Then later on:
In short whether Jesus says in John ‘before Abraham was I am’, or says to Caiaphas ‘you will see the son of man seated at the right hand of God,’ he is claiming to be divine, he is saying in the language of the Hebrew Scriptures that he Jesus shares the unique identity of the One God of Israel.
An article recently came out some outlining common explanations of where religious thought comes from. I become weary when people attempt to talk about “religious thought” as if there were such a thing. The fact is that the distinction in the west between the secular and the religious is a recent one, more or less springing up with the enlightenment. In addition, it’s important to point out that there is no broad “religious thought” just as there is no broad “political thought.” In politics there is Liberal thought, Socialist thought, Conservative thought, in the past there was Monarchist thought and so on. In religion there is very little that can be said when comparing say, Roman Catholicism and Zen Buddhism, or Ancient Aztec human sacrifice cults and Jainism.