ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Harper. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality…. (2013)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 27•13

Harper, Kyle. From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pages: 304. ISBN: 9780674072770.

Harper. From Shame to Sin

There are works that have studied the sexual morality of the Greco-Roman world. This book is different to the best of the reviewer’s knowledge, the only book that tells us how the sexual morality of the Roman empire was transformed by Christians and Christianity. It is also a good treatment on the development of the Christian theology of human sexuality and how it became the norm for the Western cultures.

The book is divided into four chapters: ‘1. The Moralities of Sex in the Roman Empire’, ‘2. The Will and the World in Early Christian Sexuality’, ‘3. Church, Society, and Sex in the Age of Triumph,’ ‘4. Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World.’ In the concluding section the author sketches briefly the view on sex in the periods that follows.

The main argument is that Christianity transformed what was considered as just shameful act in the Roman world to be considered as sin. Sex thus has to do with righteousness, God’s order in the world, and individuals free will.

The book is based on meticulous research on the classical sources, especially classical literature both Christian and non-Christian. The book argues that the ‘Christianization of sexual morality’ began later than the second century contra to previously held by many scholars. It surveys the period from the second century to the period of emperor Justinian. Though many books have focussed on the same-sex eros, this is the one book that moves its focus from that theme to focus on prostitution or ‘porneia.’ The author also argues that the Christian ‘invention’ of the free will is the factor that decided the sexual morality of the ancient world by fourth-fifth century.

In chapter 1, the author portrays the sexual life in the Roman empire in the second century by analysing the classical literature of the period. This the author does by analysing the Greek romantic novel of the period structured around a heroine by the name Leucippe. The second chapter follows a similar methodology to see how early Christian thinkers were re-interpreting and critiquing the sexuality of the secular society following a Pauline line of thought. The source that is under scrutiny is the the work by Methodius titled ‘Christian Symposium’. The third chapter looks at how the Church after the conversion of Constantine attempts to control the sexual morality of not only of its adherents but also of non-adherents. This process thus leads to legalization of Christian sexual morality as the morality for the empire. In establishing this argument, the author takes us through the thought world of Saint Paul, John Chrysostom and the like. Chapter 4, ‘Revolutionizing Romance in the Late Classical World’ reviews some classical romances where the Christian values of sexuality and chastity are upheld. Through this the Christian ideas of human sexuality, especially virginity were trying to transform the culture of the ancient Roman world.

Here is a wonderful contribution to the study of the history of human sexuality. This diachronic treatment of human sexuality is well researched and a must-have title!

Irvin, History of the World Christian Movement. Volume I and II (2012)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Mar• 25•13

Irvin, Dale T., and Scott Sunquist. History of the World Christian Movement. Volume II. Modern Christianity from 1454-1800. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2012. pages: xv+503. ISBN: 978-1-57075-989-5.

Irvin, Dale T., and Scott Sunquist. History of the World Christian Movement. Volume I. Earliest Christianity to 1453. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2010. pages: xvi+519. ISBN: 978-1-57075-396-1.

These books are part of a three volume project. The third one is in the offing.  Volume I which traces the history of Christianity from its origins to 1453 AD. The year 1454 has been a watershed in the history of Christianity. The second volume picks up the story from that point and takes us to 1800. The authors frankly admit that the reason for stopping at 1800 is simply that the story so far told in great details made it too long and the two ceHistory of World Christian Movementnturies to follow (19th and 20th) will need another volume for themselves. So, this means that we have the story of Christianity of 400 years in a volume that has taken 474 pages excluding indices and Introduction.

Volume I is presented in six parts covering the period from the beginnings to the emergence of the Christian movement  in the East around 1453 AD.

These volumes differ from other histories of Christianity written by European/American scholars in intentionally trying to be less Eurocentric. It tells the story of Christianity in Asia, Africa, Europe and America which had become a world religion by 1500 AD. The project is born out of a decade of research and many consultations held over this period. The outcome of the decade-long research and consultations is a work that is extensive, highly enjoyable reading packed with facts in great details. It is not the story of the Western missions but the struggles and achievements of the people in their own turfs.

The second volume is organized into three parts: Part I. 1454 – 1600 AD; Part II. The Seventeenth Century and Part III. The Eighteenth Century. In telling a non-Eurocentric story of the growth of Christianity world-wide, it tells us how Christianity re-entered Africa and encountered an ancient Christianity in India and so on! Every significant cultural and political developments that happened in Europe that has bearing upon world Christianity has been analysed.

A highly readable, user-friendly scholarly work of great depth and insight. Dale T. Irvin is professor of world Christianity and President of New York Theological Seminary while Scott W. Sunquist is Dean of School of Intercultural Studies at the Fuller Theological Seminary.