Book Description, Contents, and Reviews

Philip A. Harland, Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians: Associations, Judeans, and Cultural Minorities (London / New York: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2009).


This study suggests that we can better understand dynamics of identity among groups of Judeans (Jews) and Christians by looking at archeological evidence (especially inscriptions) for other contemporary associations, immigrants, and cultural minorities. It does so by drawing on insights from the social sciences, including social identity theory and migration theory.  Ancient Judean and Christian answers to the question 'Who are we?' come into sharper focus through close attention to the cultural environments and real-life settings of associations in the cities of the Roman empire. Despite the peculiarities of both Judean gatherings and Christian congregations, there were significant overlaps in how associations of various kinds communicated their identities and in how members of such groups expressed notions of belonging internally. The work is particularly well suited as a course text or book for review in courses that aim to understand early Christian groups and literature, including the New Testament, in relation to their Greek, Roman, and Judean cultural contexts.

Paperback, list $30: ISBN 9780567111463
Hardback, list $100: ISBN 9780567613288

Table of contents


Part 1: Judean and Christian Identities in the Context of Associations

1. Associations and Group Identity Among Judeans and Christians
2. Local Cultural Life and Christian Identity: "Christ-Bearers" and "Fellow-Initiates"

Part 2: Familial Dimensions of Group Identity

3. "Brothers" in Associations and Congregations
4. "Mothers" and "Fathers" in Associations and Synagogues

Part 3: Identity and Acculturation among Judeans and Other Ethnic Associations

5. Other Diasporas: Immigrants, Ethnic Identities, and Acculturation
6. Interaction and Integration: Judean Families and Guilds at Hierapolis

Part 4: Group Interactions and Rivalries

7. Group Rivalries and Multiple Identities: Associations at Sardis and Smyrna
8. Perceptions of Cultural Minorities: Anti-Associations and their Banquets

Excerpts from Book Reviews

"Harland’s arguments . . . demonstrate that Christian and Judean groups can, indeed, be better understood when viewed within the context of voluntary associations and that doing so illuminates the social identities of Judeans and Christians. Moreover, whatever any reader concludes about the appropriateness of the association category or of a particular social-scientific concept at any given point, the numerous clear parallels Harland provides between Christian and Judean groups and other segments of their society constitute an invaluable and unique resource for which scholars of early Christianity owe Harland a debt of gratitude."

Eric Rowe, University of Notre Dame
Review of Biblical Literature (Sept. 2010).
Full review available online here

"Harland does not deny the uniqueness of Christian or Judean groups, but to study them alongside  associations—indeed, as associations—requires him to lay stress on similarities rather than  differences. In his defense, this approach contrasts with much previous scholarship that emphasized—and, in light of Harland’s convincing studies, probably overemphasized—the uniqueness of Christians and Judeans."

"Until recently, scholars of early Judaism and Christianity have generally pursued the differential quality. Harland’s effort to broaden that perspective by seeing what we might learn about Judeans and Christians by considering their similarities to other “cultural minority groups” in antiquity, even if it is overstated at times, therefore comes as a welcome alternative. The sharpness with which Harland presents that perspective makes it all the more rewarding."

Joshua D. Garroway, Hebrew Union College
The Journal of Religion 91 (2011), 402-404.

"This is important and enlightening work, and the focus on contemporaneous non-Christian identity markers and identity groupings is a welcome addition both to the literature on religion in the Roman world and, more indirectly, on the growth of the new Christian movement.”

Catherine M. Chin, University of California, Davis
Church History 80 (2011), 371-73.

Advance evaluations of the book

"In this richly documented and important book, Philip Harland explores some of the many ways in which Christians and Judeans, along with other associations in antiquity, expressed and maintained their group-identity. Engaging with a wide range of archaeological and especially inscriptional evidence, and drawing judiciously on contemporary social science, Harland shows how much the language, strategies, and practices of Judean and Christian groups are common to other immigrant associations and cultural minority groups. His study constitutes an impressive argument for studying early Christian and Jewish groups alongside these other groups and associations and challenges a number of assumptions about aspects of Christian or Jewish uniqueness."

David G. Horrell, Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Exeter, UK

"With an approach informed by social sciences, Harland offers new
insights into Jews and early Christians in the Roman East.  Through his
understanding of how unofficial associations worked among people who
shared a trade, god or ethnicity, he shows that Judean or Christian
identity was not always as exclusive or exceptional as has been

David Noy, Department of Classics, University of Wales, Lampeter, UK

"This is a finely crafted volume which both engages recent social scientific literature on identity theory and employs little-known but critical studies of small group formations in the ancient Mediterranean. . . Harland’s critical analysis of models of sectarianism and his appeal to data from ancient associations leads to a nuanced view of early Christian group formation, which does not automatically presume tension between small groups and society as the dominant dynamic, but instead demonstrates a complex and subtle combination of assimilation, mimesis, and differentiation. This study takes us well beyond the contemporary consensus on the formation of early Christian groups."

John S. Kloppenborg, Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, Canada