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Early Christianity in Contexts

An Exploration across Cultures and Continents

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This major work draws on current archaeological and textual research to trace the spread of Christianity in the first millennium. William Tabbernee, an internationally renowned scholar of the history of Christianity, has assembled a team of expert historians to survey the diverse forms of early Christianity as it spread across centuries, cultures, and continents.

Organized according to geographical areas of the late antique world, this book examines what various regions looked like before and after the introduction of Christianity. How and when was Christianity (or a new form or expression of it) introduced into the region? How were Christian life and thought shaped by the particularities of the local setting? And how did Christianity in turn influence or reshape the local culture? The book's careful attention to local realities adds depth and concreteness to students' understanding of early Christianity, while its broad sweep introduces them to first-millennium precursors of today's variegated, globalized religion. Numerous photographs, sidebars, and maps are included.


General Introduction
1. The Roman Near East
Complexity of Christianity in the Roman Near East
2. Beyond the Eastern Frontier
Northern Mesopotamia
3. The Caucasus
4. Deep into Asia
Christian Traditions in Asia
Central Asia
5. The World of the Nile
6. Roman North Africa
Roman North Africa
Carthage and Africa Proconsularis
7. Asia Minor and Cyprus
Asia Minor
The Nature of Early Christianity in Asia Minor and Cyprus
8. The Balkan Peninsula
The Greek Islands
Eastern Illyricum
9. Italy and Environs
Central Italy
North Italy
South Italy and the Islands
10. The Western Provinces and Beyond
The Western Provinces
Beyond the Borders


"The global presence of Christian faith is now accepted as commonplace. This carefully researched volume demonstrates convincingly how very early that presence came to an extraordinary range of world locations. Close attention to material and cultural evidence makes this an unusually illuminating book."

Mark A. Noll, author of Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity

"Foregrounding the material record of Christianity in the first centuries of the Common Era, Early Christianity in Contexts magnificently captures the diversity of Christian experience within and beyond the borders of the Roman world. First-rate research infuses this welcome volume from start to finish, rewarding those who immerse themselves in its captivating treasures."

Bruce Longenecker, W.W. Melton Chair of Religion, Baylor University

"This is--as always with Tabbernee's books--a carefully written, precise, and well-documented book, but also a book that is a pleasure to read. The chapters contain trustworthy overviews, including the most interesting sources and secondary literature. Those references will allow readers to seek further information. As far as I can see the newest findings and excavations are integrated into the manuscript, and the fact that 'Christianity outside the boundaries' (of the Roman Empire) is included makes the book so valuable. There is no other comparable volume where the new findings from China are integrated into the traditional picture. In short: solid information on archaeological matters is combined with state-of-the-art passages on the history of Christian theologies and denominations."

Christoph Markschies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

"Everyone interested in early Christian studies--from avid beginners to accomplished scholars--should own a copy of Early Christianity in Contexts. Drawing from leading experts, the volume gathers and lays out a wealth of data from every region where ancient Christianity flourished, including those areas we sometimes overlook. Tabbernee's book reminds us that Christianity looked different in each setting, and if we are to study it well, we must take its historical situation into account. I hope every library gets copies of this book for circulation as well as the reference shelves. It is likely to become a well-worn classic."

Bryan Litfin, professor of theology, Moody Bible Institute

The Author

  1. William Tabbernee

    William Tabbernee

    William Tabbernee (PhD, University of Melbourne), ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. He formerly served as president and Stephen J. England Distinguished Professor of the...

    Continue reading about William Tabbernee


"Entries on ten geographic areas are written by experts and lavishly illustrated to bring up-to-date archaeological findings into reach. . . . The book makes for fascinating reading, introducing highly intriguing dimensions of the ways early Christianity developed in the specific contexts in which it was variously set. This volume is a splendid technical resource, highly recommended for both scholars and those searching for an engaging way to enter into the diverse nature of early Christianity. . . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above."

D. K. McKim,


"During its early centuries, Christianity spread in varied ways to varied places. . . . [This book] draw[s] on a wide array of documentary and material sources to describe and compare those diverse origins and the cultural environments that informed them. . . . This work provides historians of early Christianity with a framework of context for the various local churches and serves as a useful starting point for students of the early church."

Fred Poling,

Library Journal

"The work serves an invaluable purpose in demonstrating the diversity of Christianities through late antiquity and beyond while inviting further study. Refreshing in its emphasis on realia rather than theological tomes, this reference work is highly recommended for institutional libraries while being affordable enough for personal collections."

Richard S. Ascough,

Religious Studies Review

"This remarkable book provides a regional approach to the origins of the early church. . . . Most sections have useful illustrations, maps, and textboxes with translations of primary sources and inscriptions. There is also a useful subject index, an index of ancient writings, and an extensive bibliography. The authors . . . and editor together have created a masterful survey of the early church. It is good to see a collaboration of established authorities and rising stars assemble such a useful, readable, accessible, reference work."

John F. DeFelice,

Near East Archaeological Society

"Early Christianity in Contexts is well written by able scholars in classical history and early Christianity. It provides a level of consistency that is usually lacking in a single volume by multiple authors. The structure, accessible style, and rich historical content commend its usefulness to scholars and graduate students of early Christianity and historical theology. . . . A must-read for students of early Christianity."

Daniel K. Darko,

Bulletin for Biblical Research

"These essays enrich the traditional portrait of early Christianity. . . . Their geographic scope is broader and their attention to subregions and cities more detailed than most students of the period will have encountered. . . . Tabbernee's volume will be a vital research companion for scholars of early Christianity at every academic level. Scholars of the history of missions will also discover plentiful material on how the church took root among, and interacted with, an array of cultures--historical data of great contemporary relevance."

Sarah Patterson White,

International Bulletin of Mission Research

"This impressive work . . . [is] a challenging but fascinating read. . . . The most splendid addition to the discipline is nearly 150 maps and illustrations, helping the reader to visualize the locations of early churches, monasteries, and other archeological findings. The list of contributors . . . reads like a who's who in the study of ancient history. Each contributes with their specialty. Although the overall style of the text is formal, scholarly, and well documented, it is never a dull duty going through the pages. Early Christianity in Contexts is a helpful work to understand the roots of Christianity that were planted over the first few hundred years of the early church. . . . There is much of our Christian heritage being lost because of meaningless destruction. This book will help us to remember the spiritual roots of the early church."

John Easterling,


"[A] well-edited and lavishly illustrated book. . . . The emphasis on material evidence is an original feature and the introduction well conveys the excitement caused by new archaeological discoveries relating to the early Christianity. . . . Well-structured and complemented by a good index, this book will provide good services as a quick reference tool and as introductory reading. . . . Even if in terms of interpretation this volume remains indebted to traditional views, it will undoubtedly offer good service as an up-to-date account of how Christianity spread in the first half millennium of its existence. It is a reminder of the wealth of material regarding, and difference in context and nature of, early Christianity. For this the editor and authors deserve praise."

Peter Van Nuffelen,


"Early Christianity in Contexts provides a helpful introduction to the international flavor that has characterized the church from its very beginnings."

Daniel Eguiluz,

Calvin Theological Journal

"The book is informative and comprehensive."

Moe Moe Nyunt,

Asbury Journal