In Stone and Story: Early Christianity in the Roman World

In Stone and Story: Early Christianity in the Roman World August 27, 2020

Bruce W. Longenecker, In Stone and Story: Early Christianity in the Roman World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020). Pp x + 292. $32.99.

This colorful volume by Bruce Longenecker interrogates the material remains of ancient Pompeii – its inscriptions, graffiti, frescos, villas, tombs, and statues – to explain historical and cultural features of the Roman world with a view to plotting their relevance for understanding early Christianity and the New Testament. L. attempts to use Pompeii as a window into “the Greco-Roman context in which Jesus-devotion was getting its initial foothold” (6) since the Vesuvian town “intersects with themes and issues evident in the New Testament” (24). After some preliminary explanations of his project and its terminology, L. proceeds to explain various “protocols” in the ancient world related to popular devotion (deities and temples, sacrifice and sin, peace and security, genius and emperor, mysteries and knowledge, death and life), social prominence (prominence and character, money and influence, literacies and status, combat and courts, business and success), and household effectiveness (households and slaves, family and solidarity, piety and pragmatism, powers and protection, banqueting with the dead). L. combines his expertise on the New Testament and early church with a captivating comparison of features of life in ancient Pompeii, not just among the literary elites, but among the slaves, freedman, and plebeians of the city. The volume is incredibly pictorial and amounts to a truly stunning visual display of artifacts from ancient Pompeii. The discussions on slavery, honor/shame, deities, temples, and wealth are as good as one can find anywhere. L. also deploys some imagination in saying things like, “Paul’s rented workshop may well have had frescos of deities on its wall. Instead of getting pain and covering them over in disgust, Paul probably used those frescos as conversation starters in his interaction with local people” (48). In sum, L. has written an informative and visually stimulating volume, an ideal companion for survey courses on New Testament, Christian Origins, and Early Christianity. Even the most seasoned scholar of the New Testament can expect to learn something from the various vignettes left in graffiti and inscriptions that L. notices with his keen eye. Given that Pompeii is situated in the western Mediterranean, one wishes we had similar volumes about prominent cities in the eastern Mediterranean that had large Christian concentrations such as Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem.

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