Social status and conversion : the structure of the early Christian communities
This thesis is concerned with social aspects of early Christianity. It considers the social origins and careers of the early Christians, as far as they can be traced in the scanty and fragmented evidence. The spread of Christianity is examined in relation to the prevailing social and economic conditions of the Roman world in the first centuries AD, The Christian attitudes to slavery and the penetration of Christianity into the countryside are discussed at some length. The evidence considered does not justify the traditional views which regard early Christianity as a religion of the underprivileged and the oppressed. Except for the imperial slaves and a small number of favourites of Christian masters, slaves, as far as it can be established, were not eager to embrace the new relegion, while in-the countyside, Christianity seems to have found its first adherants among the landowning and Hellenized peasants. In the cities, besides bankers, artisans and prosperous freedmen, Christianity attracted, as it is illustrated, many people of leisure, education and wealth. Overall, it is maintained, that although in principle Christianity drew its members from all social classes and groups, professing egalitarian doctrines, it was in effect more successful with the middle classes of the cities, which it organized under the leadership of wealthy and highly educated church officials. Millennial and prophetic tendencies, with strong social implications, such as were manifest among the first generation of Christians, survived or were revived only as marginal phenomena, especially in the countryside. Mainstream Christianity advocated and encouraged strict observance of the existing social order.