Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review: Early Christian Books in Egypt (review by Larry W. Hurtado)

Thanks to the What's New in Papyrology blog for pointing to this link.

Bagnall, Roger S.
Early Christian Books in Egypt
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Originating in a set of lectures delivered at the École Patrique des Hautes Études (Paris), the four chapters of this slim volume offer a vigorous discussion of some key matters about the forms and uses of books characteristic of early Egyptian Christians. Bagnall’s main concern in these studies is what he regards as an misguided tendency by some scholars to push the limits on the possible early dating of the fragments of early Christian books. This tendency toward early dating of Christian manuscripts he attributes to an understandable desire to find direct evidence about the distribution and nature of Egyptian Christianity in the second century C.E. Specifically, Bagnall questions the evidence for a spread of Christianity widely beyond Alexandria in the small towns and villages of the Egyptian chora in the second century and the use of papyri (both biblical/literary texts and documentary texts) dated (in his view dubiously) early to support the view that Christianity was widely developed in Egypt at that point. In the course of making his case, Bagnall also offers stimulating discussion of several specific topics that will be of interest to anyone concerned with early Christianity.

This book joins several others of recent vintage that all emphasize the importance of early Christian papyri for wider historical questions about early Christianity, and Bagnall engages most of these publications as well as the primary evidence.

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