Monday, February 12, 2018

Review of Knapp, The Dawn of Christianity

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Robert Knapp, The Dawn of Christianity. People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 303; 16 p. plates. ISBN 9780674976467. $29.95 (hb). Reviewed by Giovanni Alberto Cecconi, Università degli Studi Firenze (
Already the author of a volume on the lives of ordinary people and those in the lowest social ranks during the Empire from Augustus to Constantine (Invisible Romans, Cambridge MA), Robert Knapp continues to examine ordinary people, refocusing his attention on a completely different historical topic. Here he sketches a broad outline of religious life and attitudes toward the divine in Jewish, Christian, and polytheist individuals and communities (Knapp opts for the systematic use of the word “polytheists”, cf. especially chap. 5 "Polytheists in their World", 59-87; 59: “Polytheists… had a panoply of attitudes and approaches to the supernatural which the term ‘polytheism’ encapsulates”). The book considers the preexisting conditions for the formation and spread of Christianity from the Late Hellenistic period to the 1st century C.E. The author highlights common ground and points of divergence between the various contexts and traditions mentioned above, laying the basis for a more suitable knowledge and a clearer interpretation of the first “dawn of Christianity” and equally of historical-religious processes that are chronologically later, and which in this book are left undertreated or not treated at all, e.g., Christianization after Constantine (defined as “top down”).


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