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Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts New edition Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300069181
ISBN-10: 0300069189
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (September 23, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300069189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300069181
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Though the title is correct in indicating that the topic is esoteric, it is a joy to read a book that is well written and well researched. Among other contributions, Gamble presents a well-argued hypothesis on the origin of the codex, in place of the scroll. He also gives his understanding of how many (how few!) people could read in the early church, and how they learned to read, and how they read (out loud). His discussion of how books were circulated, copied, stored was interesting to me.
Those who enjoy church history, or the history reading-writing will find much to stimulate them. This book is not for everybody, but those interested in the topics covered will not be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback
"For I did not think that I could get so much profit from the contents of books as from the utterances of a living and abiding voice" (Papias).

Some scholars have used these words to bolster their claims that earliest Christianity as a whole did not highly esteem the writings even of acknowledged apostles and leaders of the church, perhaps expecting an imminent eschaton. Others, and especially more conservative scholars, believe that from the beginning the written words of important Christian figures were treasured and passed on with the greatest degree of regard and fidelity.

Harry Gamble sets out to address the questions and suppositions that lie behind these views (and others somewhere along the continuum between these two) in his Books and Readers in the Early Church.

His book is a history of Christian texts in the first five centuries rather than of Christian literature during that period, since he is more interested in the reception, reading, copying, archiving, and dissemination of texts than in their prehistory, composition, and interrelationships. Another difference from typical treatments of the subject is that Gamble is not content to examine the early Christian references to reading, writing, and copying of texts; he expands his field of view to include the whole phenomenon of literacy and literary production the Greco-Roman world.

Gamble first addresses the question of literacy in the early church.
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We moderns are awash in printed materials. As a result we tend to understand ancient Christian texts in light of our own experiences with texts. Professor Gamble shows that most of the early Christians were likely illiterate. (Wm. Harris' Ancient Literacy is a helpful companion to Gamble's work.) How early Christians accessed the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the growing body of Christian literature had an effect on their understanding of their faith. Gamble's book fills a gap in our understanding of their understanding.
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