Daily Life in the Ancient Christian World – John Fitzgerald, Professor of Theology

Daily Life in the Ancient Christian World – John Fitzgerald, Professor of Theology
Articles


The day of studying the New Testament
text alone is over, as well it should be. As important as the New Testament text
is it comes to life only when it is placed within a community. I take a
“religion and society” approach. The more that one understands about the society
in which any religion is active, the more insights one will gain about that
religion itself. One of the difficulties of studying the New Testament is asking a new question. After all, we’re looking at a text that has been studied, debated,
discussed for 2,000 years. Usually it’s curiosity on my part and
ignorance, rather than knowledge, that will spur my investigation. Take
unemployment: what does the Christian faith have to say about it? How does
what the Christian faith has to say differ from what the government thinks
and tries to do? If you go to any classics dictionary or any Bible
dictionary and look for an entry under unemployment you’ll not find it at all.
Another project that I’m interested in is domestic violence in the ancient
world. Of all of the emotions the one that is most frequently discussed in the
ancient world is anger. I began to notice that either slaves or members of the
family were the objects of that wrath and I said wait a minute! This is a
wonderful resource for getting a new glimpse into family life in the ancient
world. No one has really worked seriously on this! That’s what launched that
project. If you’re going to take a “religion and society” approach you need
to be conscious that even things that we think are the same may not be.
Let’s take friendship. If I say friends are those who share all things
in common. That may not be an idea that you will associate today with friendship.
It wasn’t an idea that I associated with friendship until I began to look at
ancient texts. Can one be a friend with someone who’s not in your same social
class? Can you be a friend with God? It’s really with those ideas and terms that
we immediately warm to and we think we already understand that we need
to be most cautious. How do texts that come from a world that
is completely different from mine relate to me? I help graduate
students have a better understanding of the world of the first Christians, and
then, of the first Christians themselves as that community grows. I’m different
from what my students expect.

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