Annotated Bibliography on Christianity
(a.k.a. Suggested Additional Readings)

Probably no topic in human history has generated more printed pages than has Christianity. The following list includes a small number of books that appeal to my taste and seem relevant to anthropological views of Christianity.

Page Outline:
  1. The Historical Jesus
  2. The Early Church
  3. The Mythological Traditions
  4. Historical & Ethnographic Variations: (General Histories, Comparative Studies, Asia, Latin America, Anglophone America, Africa, Europe)
  5. The "Scientific Study" of Religion
  6. Miscellaneous Reference

The Historical Jesus

The contemporary sources directly mentioning Jesus are limited almost exclusively to the gospels themselves, which have therefore been picked over by scholars as only sacred texts can be.

A wide range of additional materials become relevant when one seeks to link the gospel accounts to the probabilities generated by the general history, sociology, demography, and so on of the period and place where Jesus lived.

I have listed here books concerned principally with Jesus himself, rather than the early church more broadly. For more on why the Bible is as it is, see Riches in the section on the early church.

BORG, Marcus J.
1994 Jesus in contemporary scholarship.Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International. BT303.2 B586/ 1994.
(Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar —see the next item— and very much a participant in the modern scholarly quest for the historical Jesus. He seeks here not just to chronicle the historical researches of recent scholars but also the significance of these findings for Christian faith.)
FUNK, Robert W. & Roy W. HOOVER
1993 The five gospels: the search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan. BS2553 .S24/ 1993.
(This is the edition of the gospels produced by "The Jesus Seminar," in which, after discussion, a group of scholars voted on the probable historical reliability of various quotations attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Their decisions are, of course, of great interest, as is their aggressively breezy translation, but of interest too are the various introductions, which provide an overview of the textual and historical problems involved in understanding the life of Jesus as an historical event.)
FUNK, Robert W. & the Jesus Seminar
1998 The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. BT301.9 .A37/ 1998.
(This work seeks to do for the actions of Jesus and his disciples what the 1993 work did for Jesus' words. Following the same procedure, the Jesus Seminar of scholars pooled their wisdom to try to decide how reliable each sentence of the relevant scriptures really is. Once again they offended their critics by taking a vote. Both volumes are annotated translations of the texts. Their differing LC call numbers are something of a mystery.)
1973 Revolution in Judaea. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company. BM620 .M3/ 1980.
(This book makes the case that the gospels, over-Hellenized, have misrepresented Jesus' life in an essentially anti-Semitic way, and that he is best understood as an anti-Roman leader of Jewish resistance.)
KNOHL, Israel
2000 The messiah before Jesus: the suffering servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Berkeley: University of California Press. BM487 .K63/ 2000.
(Additional historical material recovered as part of the "Dead Sea Scrolls" includes mention of a "suffering servant." Interpreting the slim DSS material and linking it to a certain Menahem spoken of by Josephus and to other historical sources, Knohl, chair of the Bible Department at Hebrew University, proposes that Jesus was a self-conscious link in a chain of messianic figures.)
1965 The Passover plot: new light on the history of Jesus. London: Hutchinson. BM620 .S36. Reprinted as The Passover plot: a new interpretation of the life and death of Jesus. New York: Bantam Books.
(More than any other single book, this controversial and intriguing best-seller brought the problem of "the historical Jesus" to the lay public of the late XXth century. Vilified by conservative Christians, Jewish New Testament scholar Schonfield provides a "best guess" reconstruction of Jesus' life based only on the sources and methods he would use for any other historical figure. If you have never read on this topic, this is a compelling place to begin. Other works by Schonfield will be found in the next section, "The Early Church.")
MOORE, Christopher
2002 Lamb: the gospel according to Biff, Christ's childhood pal. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
(This is not a work of history, but simply a novel in th form of a gospel, putatively composed in the XXth century by a miraculously resurrected childhood pal of Jesus, who tells us about the "lost years," when Jesus and Biff played as children, traveled to southern and eastern Asia in quest of the Wise Men so Jesus could learn how to be a messiah, and returned to Israel, where the story meets the historical gospel accounts. Casual in tone and of course utterly fictional, the work assumes Jesus' messiahship as represented in the gospels and explores how it would have appeared to his irreverent and wise-cracking buddy Biff. This delightful book will no doubt offend the humorless for generations to come. Prior knowledge of the events of Jesus life makes this all the funnier.)

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The Early Church

"The early church" includes Jesus' followers and their doings and institutions up until the conversion of the emperor Constantine. As with biographies of Jesus, the history and understanding of the early church evolves as different writers see or seek the relevance of different kinds of sources or different axes of interpretation.

2003 Lost Christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BS2840.E4/ 2003
2003 Lost scriptures: books that did not make it into the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BS2832.E37/ 2003
ESLER, Philip F.
1995 Modelling early Christianity: social-scientific studies of the New Testament in its context. London: Routledge. BS2545 .S55M63/ 1995.
KASSER, Rodolphe, Marvin MEYER, and Gregor WURST
2006 The Gospel of Judas from Codex Tchacos. Washington: National Geographic Society.
(The Gospel of Judas is recently discovered a IInd-century Coptic translation of an early Gnostic manuscript condemned by ancient heresiologists and here made available for the first time in nearly two thousand years. It presents Judas Iscariot as Jesus' favored disciple, the only one of the twelve who understood him, and therefore the only one who could be charged with the mission of bringing about his crucifixion. Although the brief text is damaged, and has more lacunae than one would like, it is a fascinating read. Most of this volume is made up of useful interpretive commentary.)
PAGELS, Elaine
1979 The Gnostic gospels. New York: Random House. BT1390 .P3.
(Pagels is Professor of Religion at Princeton. This best-selling book made the results of the Nag Hammadi manuscript discovery accessible to ordinary readers, and has been a landmark in our reinterpretation of the Gnostic churches. On the down side, it has also probably contributed to the tendency of New Agers to describe themselves as gnostics, misleadingly suggesting a non-existent historical continuity with the Gnostics of antiquity.)
1988 Adam, Eve, and the serpent. New York: Random House. BS2545 .S36P34/ 1988.
(This popular book deals with the evolution of ideas about sex and gender in Latin Christianity, including fascinating material on the prestige of celibacy.)
1995 The origin of Satan. New York: Random House. BS2555.6 .D5P34.
(This work deals with the problem of hate and conflict in the gospels and the sectarian demonization of the enemies of the early church.)
2000 The Bible: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. BS445 .R53/ 2000.
(This excellent wee book is not a summary or handbook to the Bible, but rather covers the process of canon formation as it has applied to the Old and New Testaments and has surprisingly ethnographic chapters on different ways in which the Bible has been understood at different periods and in different parts of the world.)
1999 When Jesus became God: the struggle to define Christianity during the last days of Rome. San Diego: Harcourt. BT216 .R83/ 1999.
(From the conversion of Constantine and the end of official persecution in 324 to the propagation of the revised Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381, Christianity was rocked by the issue of "Christology": the relation between Jesus and God. Two extreme positions argued that Jesus was the same as God [the Sabellian heresy] and that he was different from God [the Arian heresy]. At issue was the position of Jesus as a realistic model for erring humans as against Jesus as a whole different order of being. Arianism was probably a majority position in the East, and a confusing near-Sabellianism prevailed in the West. And naturally, behind the theological details lay vicious Roman politics. Rubenstein, a professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs at George Mason University, tells the tale with unusual analytical insight.)
ROBINSON, James M. (Ed.)
1988 (1977) The Nag Hammadi library. San Francisco: Harper & Row. Third edition. BT1391 .A3/ 1988b.
(This is the most accessible presentation of the texts themselves of the Nag Hammadi library, which form the basis for the recent reconsideration of the Gnostic churches.)
1946 The Jew of Tarsus: a life of Paul. London: Macdonald.
1948 Saints against Caesar: the story of the first Christian community. London: Macdonald.
1968 Those incredible Christians. New York: Bernard Geis Associates.
1974 The Pentecost revolution: the story of the Jesus Party in Israel, A.D. 36-66. London: Macdonald.
(Also see his 1965 work, The Passover Plot.)
SPONG, John Shelby
1991 Rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism: a bishop rethinks the meaning of scripture. San Francisco: HarperCollins. BS511.2 .S69/ 1991.
(Spong was the controversial and outspoken Episcopal Bishop of Newark; he opposes literal interpretations of the Bible when they led to silly conclusions or impose the mores of past eras on church members today. This book is popular and hortatory, but is based in real scholarship and is an interesting view into the mind of the modern liberal believer. Don't look for an apologia for traditionalism here; Spong is even led to the conclusion that St.Paul may have been gay. I class it with "The Early Church" because it represents a class of modern attempts to understand the spirit and essential message of the early church in a way that is religiously relevant today rather than merely historically accurate, while at the same time insisting upon the relevance of accurate history as a critical tool in doing so.)
STARK, Rodney
1996 The rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. BR166 .S75/ 1966. ISBN 0-691-02749-8.
(The same book appears to have been issued as a 1997 paperback under the slightly different title: The rise of Christianity: how the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the Western world in a few centuries. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060677015.)
(Rodney Stark is one of America's foremost sociologists of religion. In this work, he directly confronts the challenge of applying sociological theory to the early history of Christianity. The work is a bit tendentious, but an excellent introduction to the intellectual issues involved as well as to the history of the church in the Roman world. Students planning their own research will find that the social processes Stark discusses will be relevant to how they think about their research as well. For an abstraction of his theory of religion, see Stark & Bainbridge.)

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The Mythological Traditions

I have used this category to class together a few works on the cults of saints, accounts of miracles, and the evolution of iconographic symbolism that is so important in understanding Western art.

Most of this dates principally from between the conversion of Constantine and about the XVIth century, after which the iconographic traditions and saints' cults both decline somewhat.

Christianity in a thousand local variations became the universal folk religion of Europe during this long period, and the stage was set for the expansion of various Christian beliefs into other parts of the world through the substantial missionary activity that began with the age of exploration and continues up to the present.

1994 The Bible and the saints. Paris: Flammarion.
(This fine handbook of Christian symbolism is widely available in art museums. Noteworthy features include its careful separation of "life and legend" from "representation and iconography" of each of the figures treated and the spellings of cited names in major languages of the European artistic tradition.)
DURHAM, Michael S. (Ed.)
1995 Miracles of Mary: apparitions, legends, and miraculous works of the blessed virgin Mary. San Francisco: Harper. BT650 .D87/ 1995.
(I think this is intended as a coffee-table book, but it is surprisingly comprehensive.)
HABEGGER, Christa Gingery
1987 Saints & non-saints. Greenville, SC: Unusual Publications. BX4655.2 .H23/ 1987.
(Commissioned as a guide to saints by the fundamentalist-Protestant-run Bob Jones University Museum, this anti-Catholic work is unusual in its perspective —it condemns Saint Francis for failing to attack the teachings of the Church, for example, and St. Jerome for being "un-Christian"— but it provides extensive and often refreshingly demythologized detail about the fifteen saints it covers who are often depicted in Western art.)
SIL, Gertrude Grace
1975 A handbook of symbols in Christian art. New York: Collier Books. N8010 .S54/ 1975.
(Of the several books on Christian symbolism in art that I have seen, this seems to be the best bang for the buck. The author seems to have an unusual insight into what questions I want to have answered. I recommend it as a reference book if you don't already have something adequate on this topic.)
WARNER, Marina
1976 Alone of all her sex: the myth and the cult of the virgin Mary. New York: Knopf. BT602 .W37/ 1976.
(This book, by a journalist and freelance writer, is a major and thoughtful collection of Marian lore. If you ever wanted to know about the fate of Salome, the midwife who dared doubt Mary's virginity, this is where you will find out.)
WEINSTEIN, Donald & Rudolph M. BELL
1982 Saints and society: two worlds of western Christendom, 1000-1700. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. BX4659 .E85W55.
(The authors examined the lives of 864 saints in quest of generalizations about the perception and veneration of holiness in this period and about the biographies of people viewed as holy.)
1972 Fictional transfigurations of Jesus. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
(The author is interested in the representation of Jesus in literature, especially in this century.)

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Historical & Ethnographic Variations

No historical or ethnographic adaptation is ultimately unitary, so this category could in principle include almost everything. I have generally classed here books about Christianity in geographically limited areas, or works that centrally contrast different kinds of Christianity with each other across the world.

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The "Scientific Study" of Religion

The expression "scientific study of religion" rarely means that the study is particularly sientific in any very strict sense. Rather is suggests that the study is being carried out without reference to the religious beliefs of the investigator,who is seeking to bring to the work the same critical acumen that would be brought to any non-religious topic.

Considerable effort has gone into generalizing about "religion" as an independent category of human activity, an independent institution, or even a university discipline. Much of this has foundered on the inabiity of any strict and concise definition of religion to include the immense range of different beliefs, practices, and institutions and still reflect the normal usage of colloquial spoken English. (Arguably the need to reflect English colloquial usage in technical terms is another sign that something is not all that "scientific" about a "scientific study"!)

Although many scholars assimilate religion into cognition, belief systems, or other more general categories that seek intellectual explication in other ways, the works in this section continue the general tradition of assuming one can meaningfully charaterize "religion in general."

I have in addition classed here a couple of generally comparative works that centrally contrast Christianity with other religious traditions, or that seek to generalize from it to religion in general.

1999 Religion & magic: approaches & theories. New York: New York University Press. BL41.C86 1999.
(There is no way to avoid theories of religion if you are going to study religion. This quick overview of social science theories is not directly linked to Christianity, any more than the theories themselves are, but it is a relatively quick read and includes the principle writers that seem most likely to be encountered by anthropologists talking about religion in general. Most of the general theories are not impressive, particularly as a direct basis for the analysis of Christian practice, although derivative ideas have often inspired important studies of greater depth and less scope. For an earlier, group project in a similar vein, see Glock & Hammond. For a far more useful theoretical analysis of religion in general, see Stark & Bainbridge. For a competing overview that includes views from outside the social sciences, see Thrower. For greater depth on each of seven anthropologically relevant theorists and the most telling criticisms that have been leveled against them, see Pals.)
GLOCK, Charles Y. & Phillip E. HAMMOND
1973 Beyond the classics? Essays in the scientific study of religion. New York: Harper & Row. BL41 .G55/ 1973.
(See note on Pals.)
MARTY, Martin E. & R. Scott APPLEBY
1992 The glory and the power: the fundamentalist challenge to the modern world. Boston: Beacon Press. BL238 .M37/ 1992.
(Marty is an influential liberal scholar of modern Protestantism. In recent years he has been a major figure in a multi-disciplinary comparative study of fundamentalism around the world. This work, intended to accompany a PBS series on the topic, is a light once-over, with separate chapters on fundamentalism in different traditions and some general overview remarks. Though an interesting introduction, the book constantly raises and then evades the problem of psychological motivation.)
PALS, Daniel L.
1996 Seven theories of religion. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508725-9. BL41 .P36/ 1966.
(This book is a quick overview of the work of Tylor, Frazer, Freud, Durkheim, Marx, Eliade, Evans-Pritchard, and Geertz —that's actually eight theorists, but Pals argues that it is only seven theories. A strength of the volume is explicit treatment of the most compelling critiques usually made of each of these writers. See the note at Cunningham)
SMART, Ninian
1979 The phenomenon of Christianity. London: Collins. BR121.2 .S57.
(Smart is a specialist in comparative religion. This account of Christianity is one of the most thoughtfully comparative available, although it is less sociological than I would like.)
STARK, Rodney & William Sims BAINBRIDGE
1987 A theory of Religion. Reprinted 1996 New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
(See note on Pals.)
1999 Religion: the classical theories. Washington: Georgetown University Press. BL51 .T54/ 1999.
(This book is similar to that of Pals, although less directly critical of some of the positions described. One of its strengths is that it covers theories of religion developed by religious believers outside the social sciences, particularly major German theologians.)
TURNER, Victor & Edith L.B. TURNER
1978 Image and pilgrimage in Christian culture: anthropological perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press. BX2323 .T87.
(This is "the" book on pilgrimage in anthropology. There are plenty of issues it does not address, or does not address well, but it has defined the issues for nearly a generation and continues to do so.)
1970 Religious sects: a sociological study. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. BR157.W54.
(Brian Wilson is probably the most widely acclaimed scholar of religious sectarianism.)
YOUNG, Lawrence A. (Ed.)
1997 Rational choice theory and religion: summary and assessment. New York: Routledge. ISBN: 0-415-91192-3 (paper). BL48.R296/ 1996.
(Rational choice theory is the fad of choice, as it were, in economics and political science at the moment, and is rushing to conquer intellectual terrain in sociology and anthropology as soon as postmodernism is fully buried. What does RCT have to offer to the study of religion? This collection of papers [rendered user-hostile by a particularly illegible use of small type set in long lines] is divided into papers summarizing and papers criticizing this approach to the study of religion.)

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Miscellaneous Reference

This category is devoted to listing places to look stuff up. The works are not consistent in their quality, scope, or goals, but all share the property of being useful reference works. Note that most works on saints have been classed above under mythological traditions.

ALLEN, John L., Jr
2002 Conclave: the politics, personalities, and process of the next papal election. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50453-5.
(This book provides a detailed but quite readable journalistic description of the process of selecting a pope, with special reference to the next selection, since John Paul II is elderly and ailing. The author is apparently on the staff of the National Catholic Reporter. There is no significant theoretical analysis and relatively little long-term historical material, but the book is timely and well informed.)
1995 Catechism of the Catholic church. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-47967-0.
(This is an inexpensive authorized English translation from the Latin of the first full (800-page) Catholic catechism in 400 years. If you are planning work with a Catholic population or simply have an interest in Catholicism. This will be ten bucks well spent.)
FREEDMAN, David Noel (Ed.)
2000 Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. BS440 .E44/ 2000.
(There are a great many dictionaries of the Bible to be had. This one is unusually well done as well as being very recent and very large. If this is the genre you want, this is probably the book you want.)
GEORGE, Leonard
1995 Crimes of perception: an encyclopedia of heresies and heretics. New York: Paragon house. BT1315.2 .G46/ 1994.
(George is a freelance writer who collects heresies as a hobby. This is his collection. It is a well-organized and convenient reference for variations in the Christian tradition, although not all of what is listed is necessarily best described as heretical exactly. Indeed the book is much broader than the title implies.)
GRENTZ, Stanley J, David GURETZKI, & Cherith Fee NORDLING
1999 Pocket dictionary of theological terms. Downers Grove IL: Inter-Varsity Press. BR95 .G66/ 1999.
(There are countless dictionaries of theology. The particular advantage of this one is that it is manageably small [122 pages] but includes the terms most likely to be most generally relevant in studying Christianity cross-culturally.)
JOHNSON, Kevin Orlin
1994 Why do Catholics do that? a guide to the teachings and practices of the Catholic church. New York: Ballantine Books. (Originally entitled "Expressions of the Catholic faith: a guide to the teachings and practices of the Catholic church.) BX1752 .J64/ 1994.
(Because the Roman Catholic Church is numerically dominant today and has strong historical continuity with earlier Christianity, it is important to have at least a general understanding of its rites and activities. This book by a pious layman is an extremely readable overview.)
MAGIDA, Arthur J.
1996 How to be a perfect stranger: a guide to etiquette in other people's religious ceremonies. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing. BJ2010 .M34/ 1995.
(This is not a scholarly work, but an etiquette book for Americans visiting religious denominations or traditions to which they do not belong. I thought it might be useful.)
1997 Chronicle of the popes: the reign-by-reign record of the papacy from St. Peter to the present. London: Thames & Hudson.
(This heavily illustrated coffee-table book, in a series with others on Chinese Emperors and similar royal lines, is full of helpful maps, tables, and diagrams in addition to its pictures. For the layman, it provides a sweeping history of Christianity as seen through the reigns of the 266 popes of the Roman Catholic tradition. The text describes "how ultimately the papacy has moved in a circle —from self-consciously spiritual office, through embroilment in political power and now, with the turn of yet another millennium, back to its spiritual roots.")
1998 A concise encyclopedia of Christianity. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. (More consice (260 pp) than encyclopedic, and a bit idiosyncratic, this is nevertheless an inexpensive and often surprisingly useful reference.)
REID, Daniel G. et al.
1995 Concise dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press. BR515 .C665 /1995.
(This work is an abridged and updated version of a 1990 predecessor by the same author called Dictionary of Christianity in America. It is an extremely useful quick guide to people, groups, and movements in American Christendom, as well as to some technical terms (like "pro nuncio" and "homiletics").
SMITH, Jonathan Z. (Ed.)
1995 The HarperCollins dictionary of religion. San Francisco: Harper. BL31 .H37/ 1995.
(This large and easily available dictionary covers far more than Christianity, but its stress on short articles makes it possible for it to include an enormous range of Christian topics anyway. It will probably not live forever in the hearts of reference work users, but for the time being it is both convenient and up to date.)
1999 The Bible made plain and simple. Peabody MA: Hendrickson.
(Intended as a combination introduction and reference work, this small introduction to the Bible is the sort of work that proper scholars particularly loathe: it provides the perspective of a committed evangelicalism rather than dispassionate scholarship, and is unapologetic about seeing God's hand in Biblical narrative. The Old Testament is here portrayed unblushingly as existing to point to the New Testament, for example. Acknowledging that the goals here are not scholarly, the book is still extremely useful as a guide to the Bible as it is lived by modern American Protestants in general and Evangelicals in particular.)

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