Association After Christ

The freedom of association–the freedom to form groups with common bonds of practice, belief, and affiliation, and to exclude those from the group who do not share these bonds–is thought to be one of the key justifications for some of our cherished civil rights. Far from being an exclusively liberal idea, the importance of associations may be traced at least to Paul, who speaks at length about the nature and obligations of Christian communities.

Here is a new book that explores some of these matters: Christ’s Associations: Connecting and Belonging in the Ancient City (Yale University Press), by John S. Kloppenborg.

“As an urban movement, the early groups of Christ followers came into contact with the many small groups in Greek and Roman antiquity. Organized around the workplace, a deity, a diasporic identity, or a neighborhood, these associations gathered in small face-to-face meetings and provided the principal context for cultic and social interactions for their members. Unlike most other groups, however, about which we have data on their rules of membership, financial management, and organizational hierarchy, we have very little information about early Christ groups.

Drawing on data about associative practices throughout the ancient world, this innovative study offers new insight into the structure and mission of the early Christ groups. John S. Kloppenborg situates the Christ associations within the broader historical context of the ancient Mediterranean and reveals that they were probably smaller than previously believed and did not have a uniform system of governance, and that the attraction of Christ groups was based more on practice than theological belief.”

On Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a physician and statesman of the early Republic, is perhaps best known for his long and warm correspondence with John Adams. Here’s a fragment from a letter to Adams from 1807, concerning the Bible: “By renouncing the Bible, philosophers swing from their moorings upon all moral Subjects. Our Saviour in speaking of it calls it “Truth,” in the Abstract. It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published. It contains a faithful representation of all its follies, Vices & Crimes. All Systems of Religion, morals, and Government not founded upon it, must perish, and how consoling the thot!—it will not only survive the wreck of those Systems, but the World itself. “The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.””

Here is a new biography of this less well-known but important figure of the founding period: Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father (Penguin RandomHouse), by Stephen Fried.

“By the time he was thirty, Dr. Benjamin Rush had signed the Declaration of Independence, edited Common Sense, toured Europe as Benjamin Franklin’s protégé, and become John Adams’s confidant, and was soon to be appointed Washington’s surgeon general. And as with the greatest Revolutionary minds, Rush was only just beginning his role in 1776 in the American experiment. As the new republic coalesced, he became a visionary writer and reformer; a medical pioneer whose insights and reforms revolutionized the treatment of mental illness; an opponent of slavery and prejudice by race, religion, or gender; an adviser to, and often the physician of, America’s first leaders; and “the American Hippocrates.” Rush reveals his singular life and towering legacy, installing him in the pantheon of our wisest and boldest Founding Fathers.”

Marx as a Jewish Thinker

Here’s an interesting looking account of Karl Marx’s life and thought that emphasizes something not often discussed: the Jewish roots of and connections to his thought. The book is Karl Marx: Philosophy and Revolution (Yale University Press), by Shlomo Avineri.

“Karl Marx (1818–1883)—philosopher, historian, sociologist, economist, current affairs journalist, and editor—was one of the most influential and revolutionary thinkers of modern history, but he is rarely thought of as a Jewish thinker, and his Jewish background is either overlooked or misrepresented. Here, distinguished scholar Shlomo Avineri argues that Marx’s Jewish origins did leave a significant impression on his work. Marx was born in Trier, then part of Prussia, and his family had enjoyed equal rights and emancipation under earlier French control of the area. But then its annexation to Prussia deprived the Jewish population of its equal rights. These developments led to the reluctant conversion of Marx’s father, and similar tribulations radicalized many young intellectuals of that time who came from a Jewish background.

Avineri puts Marx’s Jewish background in its proper and balanced perspective, and traces Marx’s intellectual development in light of the historical, intellectual, and political contexts in which he lived.”

Christian Democracy

The Italian political model of Christian Democracy has an illustrious past, beginning with its founder, Alcide de Gasperi, but it seemingly died an ignoble death in the mid-90s amid scandal and corruption. Nevertheless, as a political ideal, I’ve often thought one could do a whole lot worse, and sometimes that one couldn’t do too much better.

Here is a very interesting new book about this fascinating political movement and party: What is Christian Democracy? Politics, Religion and Ideology (Cambridge University Press), by Carlo Invernizzi Accetti. This one falls into the “must-have” category for me.

“Christian Democratic actors and thinkers have been at the forefront of many of the twentieth century’s key political battles – from the construction of the international human rights regime, through the process of European integration and the creation of postwar welfare regimes, to Latin American development policies during the Cold War. Yet their core ideas remain largely unknown, especially in the English-speaking world. Combining conceptual and historical approaches, Carlo Invernizzi Accetti traces the development of this ideology in the thought and writings of some of its key intellectual and political exponents, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. In so doing he sheds light on a number of important contemporary issues, from the question of the appropriate place of religion in presumptively ‘secular’ liberal-democratic regimes, to the normative resources available for building a political response to the recent rise of far-right populism.”

Around the Web

Around the Web

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Byzantine Law

Law and religion scholars in the West typically ignore Byzantium. That’s so for several reasons, including the fact that so much of the relevant material does not exist in contemporary translations, and the fact, sadly, that Westerners since Gibbon are accustomed to dismissing Byzantium as irrelevant, although the empire lasted 1000 years and offers many insights into Christian jurisprudence. A (relatively) new book from Cambridge coves one of the more important emperors and his legal influence: Leo VI and the Transformation of Byzantine Christian Identity: Writings of an Unexpected Emperor, by historian Meredith Riedel (Duke University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886–912), was not a general or even a soldier, like his predecessors, but a scholar, and it was the religious education he gained under the tutelage of the patriarch Photios that was to distinguish him as an unusual ruler. This book analyses Leo’s literary output, focusing on his deployment of ideological principles and religious obligations to distinguish the characteristics of the Christian oikoumene from the Islamic caliphate, primarily in his military manual known as the Taktika. It also examines in depth his 113 legislative Novels, with particular attention to their theological prolegomena, showing how the emperor’s religious sensibilities find expression in his reshaping of the legal code to bring it into closer accord with Byzantine canon law. Meredith L. D. Riedel argues that the impact of his religious faith transformed Byzantine cultural identity and influenced his successors, establishing the Macedonian dynasty as a ‘golden age’ in Byzantium.

Religious Freedom and Religious Exhaustion

Historians debate what caused the interest in religious toleration in late 17th-Century Britain. Did writers like Locke reflect an older Christian ethic, a new Enlightenment worldview, or simply the exhaustion that had resulted from a century and more of religious debate and violence? A forthcoming book from Manchester University Press, Reformation without End, by Robert Ingram (Ohio University) no doubt addresses these issues. The publisher’s description suggests the author believes the final factor was the most important:

This study provides a radical reassessment of the English Reformation. No one in eighteenth-century England thought that they were living during ‘the Enlightenment’; instead, they saw themselves as facing the religious, intellectual and political problems unleashed by the Reformation, which began in the sixteenth century. Moreover, they faced those problems in the aftermath of two bloody seventeenth-century political and religious revolutions. Reformation without end examines how the eighteenth-century English debated the causes and consequences of those revolutions and the thing they thought had caused them, the Reformation. It draws on a wide array of manuscript sources to show how authors crafted and pitched their works.

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Eppur Si Muove

From Princeton, here is an interesting new translation of several contemporary accounts of Galileo Galilei, including a poem written in his honor by the future Pope Urban VIII: On the Life of Galileo: Vivani’s Historical Account and Other Early Biographies. I guess Urban later changed his mind. The translator and editor of the new volume is Stefano Gattei (California Institute of Technology). Here is the publisher’s description:

The first collection and translation into English of the earliest biographical accounts of Galileo’s life.

This unique critical edition presents key early biographical accounts of the life and work of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), written by his close contemporaries. Collected and translated into English for the first time and supplemented by an introduction and incisive annotations by Stefano Gattei, these documents paint an incomparable firsthand picture of Galileo and offer rare insights into the construction of his public image and the complex intertwining of science, religion, and politics in seventeenth-century Italy.

Here in its entirety is Vincenzo Viviani’s Historical Account, an extensive and influential biography of Galileo written in 1654 by his last and most devoted pupil. Viviani’s text is accompanied by his “Letter to Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici on the Application of Pendulum to Clocks” (1659), his 1674 description of Galileo’s later works, and the long inscriptions on the façade of Viviani’s Florentine palace (1702). The collection also includes the “Adulatio perniciosa,” a Latin poem written in 1620 by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini—who, as Pope Urban VIII, would become Galileo’s prosecutor—as well as descriptive accounts that emerged from the Roman court and contemporary European biographers.

Featuring the original texts in Italian, Latin, and French with their English translations on facing pages, this invaluable book shows how Galileo’s pupils, friends, and critics shaped the Galileo myth for centuries to come, and brings together in one volume the primary sources needed to understand the legendary scientist in his time.

Latest Volume of the Adams Family Correspondence

It’s tempting to think of our politics today as unexampled, for their bitter sordidness, in our entire history. Well, that may be the case. But the election of 1800, between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, surely comes close. Next month, Harvard releases the latest volume of its Adams Family Correspondence series, which covers that tumultuous period in our nation’s life: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 14, edited by Hobson Woodward (Massachusetts Historical Society). Looks great! Here’s the publisher’s description:

John and Abigail Adams’s reflections on an emerging nation as they move into the new President’s House in Washington, D.C., are a highlight of the nearly 280 letters written over seventeen months printed in volume 14 of Adams Family Correspondence. The volume opens with the Adamses’ public and private expressions on the death of George Washington and concludes with John’s defeat in the contentious presidential election of 1800. Electoral College maneuvering, charges of sedition, and state-by-state strategizing are debated by the Adamses and their correspondents as the election advances toward deadlock and finally victory for Thomas Jefferson in the House of Representatives.

John’s retirement from public life had some sweet mixed with the bitter. The U.S. mission to France resulted in the Convention of 1800 that ended the Quasi-War, and the so-called midnight appointments at the close of his presidency ushered in the transformative U.S. Supreme Court era of John Marshall—a coda anticipated in Abigail’s request to John in the final days of his administration: “I want to see the list of judges.”

The domestic life of the Adamses was equally dynamic. Abigail and John endured the crushing loss of their son Charles, whose struggle with alcohol ended in repudiation and death in New York. Son Thomas Boylston and daughter Nabby spent the period in relative stability, while John Quincy chronicled a tour of Silesia in letters home from Europe. At the volume’s close, the correspondence between John and Abigail comes to an end. As they retired to Quincy, their rich observations on the formation of the American republic would continue in letters to others if not to each other.

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