Injustice or God’s Will? Four Early Christian Explanations of Poverty and Wealth

Date(s) - 03/05/2022
9:30 am - 11:00 am


Injustice or God’s Will? Four Early Christian Explanations of Poverty and Wealth
Saturday, March 5, 9:30 am to 11:00 am (Central Time; plus recorded lectures to be viewed prior to the sessions.)

Economic inequality is a perennial problem in human societies and it was an important issue in the Roman Empire as well.  But why are some people poor and others wealthy?  Does it come from human injustice? Is it God’s will for this world?  And what should people do about these issues?  Early Christian writers did not agree on the answers to these questions.  In this seminar we will discuss the amount of economic inequality in the Roman Empire, which was paradoxically both better and worse than today.  It was better in the Roman Empire because the spectrum from very poor to ultra rich was smaller than today, but it was worse because more of the population lived dangerously close to the line between subsistence and starvation.  Once we have a better understanding of ancient economic inequality we will look at four early Christian texts—the Revelation of John, the Letter of James, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Shepherd of Hermes. Each of these Christian writers has a different understanding of the origins of poverty, the duties of the poor and the wealthy, and the goal of Christian community.

Steven Friesen holds the Louise Farmer Boyer Chair in Biblical Studies at The University of Texas, Austin.  He completed a PhD at Harvard University in the Study of Religion with an emphasis on Christian Origins, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the East-West Center in Honolulu.  His main publications include, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins (Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), Ancestors in Post-Contact Religion: Roots, Ruptures, and Modernity’s Memory (editor; Harvard Univ. Press, 2001); and Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality (co-editor; Brill, 2014).  His current research interests include the Book of Revelation, apocalypticism, and economic inequality in the early churches and in the Roman Empire.