This is a time of year that many people think about the historical origins of archaeology. The synoptic gospels, particularly Luke, are explicitly historical in the way that they frame the birth of Christ. Within a few centuries of Christ’s birth and the Gospel narratives, proto-archaeologists started to search for material remains associated with these stories. Excavations in search of the “True Cross” conducted at the request of Helen, mother of Constantine, revealed both the cross of Christ and those fo the two others crucified by his side. In short, the history and archaeology of Early Christianity are almost as old as the narrative itself.
The confluence of history and faith during the Christmas season makes it an appropriate time for the release of the book that I edited with David Pettegrew and Tom Davis, The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. The book ain’t cheap, but maybe if every major library in the world orders it, it’ll come out in paperback at a lower price. The goal of the book is provide an up-to-date over view of the archaeology of the Early Christian world to scholars and students of the period as well as to introduce the largely European field of Early Christian archaeology to an Anglo-American audience.
One thing that is nice is that the entire introduction is available on Google Books. This was one of the most entertaining and interesting writing experiences that I’ve ever experienced. David and I wrote an almost 30,000 word essay that we then trimmed, pruned, compressed, and coppiced down to about 12,000 words or so. While cutting and pruning is never easy, the opportunity to stretch out and write truly long form in our first draft was truly worth it. Maybe at some point we’ll release our full draft – which is pretty raw – just to share a bit of writing process. I think that the final published product is both good and, more importantly, useful. I hope everyone else finds it useful too and finds the entire Oxford Handbook a worthy addition to your local library.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!