In Stone and Story

Early Christianity in the Roman World

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Chapter 4: Deities & Temples

Class Activities

Have the class, either individually or in groups, construct short descriptions of modern “temples” and “deities” that function in similar ways to those of the ancient world. Each description should answer questions like, “Who are the priests?”, “What do the temples look like?”, “What do said “deities” provide for their devotees?”, “What are their ‘gospels’?” Compare these descriptions with those of ancient religious belief systems.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was advantageous or disadvantageous about the early Jesus-movement being associated with the Judean religion? What effect did the gradual uncoupling of identities (especially Christianity losing its Judean roots and affiliations) have on the development of Jesus-devotion? How might Jesus-groups have dealt with the growing social chasm between them and both Judean groups and pagan groups?
  2. How might former devotees of the Roman pantheon of deities have felt about turning to devotion to Jesus? Why might it have been difficult? What might have made it easy? Further, what is so inflammatory about being labeled “atheists?” Why might this have been significantly different than being labeled an “atheist” today?
  3. What are the ramifications of the use of temple imagery for the early Jesus-movement? Why was it important to employ the image of the temple in their devotion to Jesus? How might a polytheistic observer have reacted to the various uses of temple imagery?
  4. Jesus-devotees were “often seen to be holding back progress and running the risk of bringing the ire of the deities down on society at large” (In Stone and Story, p. 47). What are some Christian ideologies, identities, and/or practices that are seen to be “holding back progress” today (or bringing the “ire of the deities” onto society, so to speak)?