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R.L.Mullen, The Expansion of Christianity: A Gazetteer of its First Three Centuries.

R.L.Mullen, The Expansion of Christianity: A Gazetteer of its First Three Centuries (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004) ISSN 0920-623X; ISBN 90 04 13135 3 (hardback); 407 pp, 11 maps; key words: Church history--primitive and early church ca. 30-600; Euro 116, US$ 166.

This volume covers the geographical spread of Christianity down to the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and is arranged by continent and the relevant early 4th century dioceses, with additional sections on areas not integrated into the Roman Empire by the year 325 AD. The book's author, Rod Mullen, is Research Fellow in Theology and Director of the Byzantine Text Project at the Department of Theology and Religion, the University of Birmingham, England. His main area of academic interest and research is the spread of Christianity before 325 AD, and New Testament textual criticism, his previous publications including The New Testament Text of Cyril of Jerusalem (Scholars: Atlanta, 1997), and "Le codex de Beze: un temoin d'une version anterieur," Dossiers d'Archeologie 279 (2003), 34-43.

The Expansion of Christianity contains a short Preface (ix-x); a brief Introduction (17); three regional chapters--Asia (21-139), Europe (143-259), and Africa (263-332), sub-divided into their early 4th century dioceses (where appropriate); 11 regional maps (334-346); a consolidated "Bibliography and Abbreviations" (347-385); a geographical Index (387-407); and one unreferenced end-paper map ("Distribution of Christian Sites to 325 CE"). In all, some 2,200 separate geographical locations are surveyed in this work, a remarkable achievement by any account. Indeed, it might be said at the outset that anyone attempting a work of this kind, even when it is based on a substantial body of earlier scholarship, must be either brave or very foolhardy, the difference essentially being in whether the end result is successful or not. Moreover, the compiler of such an ecumenical listing will inevitably be aware that he or she is bound to miss the one or other item held by those "in the know" to be the most crucial piece of evidence regarding the subject in question, leaving themselves open to fierce and probably unjustified criticism for that single omission. Mullen is fully aware of this last point as he indirectly admits in his preface, where he expresses his willingness to receive any relevant information he may have omitted.

What, then, of this book? This reviewer must confess that he was at first quite unsure how to comment on it and its contents for two specific reasons. To begin with, a gazetteer is a list or index of geographical places. Thus, although Mullen has added the pertinent historical references to these places, the volume should be, by its very title, tendentious and of interest to only a small number of specialists-one cannot help but think here of those books containing lists of, for example, aircraft numbers. Yet, the truth of the matter is that all those who are interested in a specific subject, whether it be early Christianity or aircraft numbers, must at some point consult a list of their subject material. After all, a list (and its analogue, the catalogue) remains the vade mecum of all basic research for both professionals and interested amateurs.

A second matter that beset this reviewer was somewhat more germane to his evaluation of this book. While his own professional interests are directed towards the imperial period of the Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity per se in this era is but one among many topics forming the framework of the courses he is responsible for. Thus, on the basis that a gazetteer is not meant to be read from cover to cover, but dipped into when one needs a dependable inventory or register of the relevant data, this reviewer chose to, first, read the Introduction to establish what the compiler's own personal interest in the matter was, and, second, dip into those parts for which he can claim at least some familiarity with the subject matter, namely central Anatolia and specifically Ancyra and its original provincial territory, Galatia. If a scrutiny of this part of the text passed the twin tests of accuracy and inclusiveness, in other words if no mistakes and no significant omissions could be discovered, then it could be concluded that the work as a whole was reasonably reliable and comprehensive, even while conceding the point that the 62 places checked in this way represent a mere 1.364% of the locations covered in the text.

The Introduction, to begin with, starts by establishing the cut-off date of the survey, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This event was chosen, Mullen informs us, because the data for the period before that event are widely scattered, while the data for the period after 325 AD is more easily accessible. Mullen then devotes a section to the type and nature of the evidence he has used--literary, epigraphic and archaeological--stressing that the literary material, while restricted in scope, is the more reliable. With regard to epigraphic evidence Mullen rightly excludes those inscriptions that only contain "one or two words of Christian character," and draws attention to the value of the "Christians for Christians" epitaphs found in the upper Tembris valley. Mullen then notes the problems with the archaeological evidence, and specifically the problems with establishing any accurate dates for such material, except in the case of the "church" at Dura Europas, undoubtedly a mid 3rd century building. It is odd, however, that Mullen should express surprise at the similarities in architectural and art forms between this church and the mithraeum and synagogue found at the same site: all three buildings were, after all, built for the adherents of religions that followed essentially similar forms of communal worship, while at this stage in its development Christianity was still seeking an appropriate and exclusive iconography.

The second section in the Introduction essentially provides a summary list of the names of modern authors who have contributed to the study of the spread of early Christianity, while the third examines the socio-political setting of the movement in the relevant period, firmly placing it within its Judaic milieu. In both of these sections, and throughout what follows, one becomes increasing aware that Mullen is concerned primarily with giving an up-to-date overview of the subject and the available material, rather than entering into matters of controversy and debate: some might lament this, but in a work of this nature, primarily a reference tool, debate and controversy are best avoided. Thus in the next section, Mullen reviews the issue of "class and social status" in the rise of early Christianity, drawing attention to the respective roles of the rural and urban population, and, in particular, to the status of women in the religion, quite rightly sidestepping any judgment on these matters. Sections five and six examine respectively the external and internal factors that favored the rise of Christianity, while section seven details the factors opposing the religion. The eighth section briefly outlines the spread of the doctrine and adds a reference of some interest to research showing how if Christianity had an "average annual growth rate of just 3.42 percent" in its membership, then a movement with only 1,000 members in c. 40 could easily grow to total roughly half the population of the Roman Empire within 300 years. The reader is then brought back to earth by the ninth and last section, which briefly explains the principles of organization and presentation behind the gazetteer itself: more on this matter later.

The core of this book is the gazetteer proper, and there will inevitably be others with a more catholic or specialist background able to comment on its contents as a whole. As noted, this review will concentrate on central Anatolia and Ancyra, to establish the overall accuracy and usefulness of the book, and thus we turn to Mullen's entry for the Dioecesis of Pontica (114-132). As with all regional sections in the gazetteer, that on Pontica commences with what is called a "Bibliography," although in fact it is an abbreviated list of bibliographical sources like that on the pertinent modern authors found in the book's Introduction: as Mullen explains at the end of his section on the principles of organization and presentation, all such lists are "of authors whose works are used in the analysis. Further information will be found in the full bibliographic entries ...". Thus, the "Bibliography" begins with the stark one line entry "AASS," for Acta Sanctorum, followed by the equally stark one-liner "A," for Analecta Bolandiana. Then comes the third line, the single entry, "Ameling," standing for W.Ameling (ed), Die Inschriften von Prusias ad Hypium (1985): and so it continues until 130 entries (and 3 pages) later it concludes with "World Atlas," a reference to the 2nd edition of the (Russian) book with the same name. In other words, this is no "Bibliography," and it has no practical value whatsoever. Each and every such list might have been excised from the original text with the saving of some 50 pages, creating a shorter and somewhat cheaper volume without detracting one iota from its academic value.

As is the case for the other diocesan entries, the "Bibliography" for Pontica is followed by a broad introduction to the territory with a list of the pre-Diocletianic provinces before they were reconstituted as the Dioecesis and a summary of the relevant historical sources concerning the early acceptance of Christianity in these regions. There was nothing here that this reviewer was not broadly aware of, nor were there any significant omissions. However, it might be observed that the entry for Bithynia neglects Epictetus and Astion. Both were put to death at Halmyris under Diocletian and both were from Nicomedia according to their passio (cf. Acta Sanctorum 543, 15 and 547.33: note that Mullen has them coming from Phrygia (148, Halmyris), but does not list them under that entry).

Then comes the core material, a list of the pertinent locations in Pontica with regard to early Christianity, divided into those that are "Specific Sites" (47 in this case), and those that are "Possible Sites" (15). What then of the entry for Ancyra, this reviewer's backyard? The place is discussed in what is effectively a single page in the whole gazetteer, and it can and should be said at the outset that this reviewer found the content quite illuminating and useful. To begin with, in addition to the "usual suspects" (though St.Theodotus' Seven Virgins are absent), the entry supplied something quite "new," namely the "unnamed infants," honoured on 23 September in the Martyrologium Syriacum. More importantly, while this reviewer was broadly aware of who was who among Ancyra's saints and martyrs, here was to be found references to many sources he was unaware of and which, in theory at least, would provide more detail about these people. While it is true that these specific sources might well be familiar to those "in the know," the reviewer--like many who will use this book--is not a specialist in the matter of early Christianity, which is precisely why a work of this kind is so valuable. Even so, as was perhaps inevitable (see above), this reviewer was somewhat surprised to discover that apart from Ancyra's Seven Virgins, he could identify at least one "crucial" piece of evidence for early Christianity in Ancyra that had been overlooked by or was unknown to the compiler of this tract. This was the tradition that claims Ancyra was Constantine's initial choice for the First Ecumenical Council of 325 AD, but that in the event Nicaea was preferred for its greater convenience of access for the bishops of the western Empire (Cf. H.G.Opitz, Athanasius Werke III:1 (Berlin 1934), no. 20).

This is, from content to the all-important referencing, a subject especially close to this reviewer's heart. A gazetteer should perforce perform as an index or catalogue: it is a means through which one can reliably and rapidly and thus in the easiest way possible find the data one desires and requires. This is regrettably not the case with the work in question, for the book lacks any clear and coherent referencing system, and this reviewer found it difficult to make the minimal but clear notes necessary to check in the Bibliography those citations he was interested in. Quite simply, while at first glance the text is ostensibly refreshingly clear of Harvard-style brackets, or footnotes or endnotes, closer inspection reveals a baffling array of verbose in-text citations that lack any form of consistent presentation, making note-taking a misery. For the sake of objectivity, let us move away from the specific entry for Ancyra, on the basis that it might have been a rare "bit of a curate's egg," and take as an example an entry chosen on a quite arbitrary basis, the nine line citation for Bagawan in Armenia Major (137-138). Alas, apart from the specific content, Bagawan rather than Ancyra, it was more of the same: the reader is immediately beset with the quote "according to Moses Khorenats'i, 277," before stumbling onto and over a citation for "Aganthengalos, 817-18 & (sic) 833-836," with close behind the brusque "Buzandran Patmut'iwnk, 4.15." This section then concludes with the series of sentences: "See also Garsioan's translation of Buzandran Patmut'iwnk. Atlas 5. Talbert, map 89."

Thus, Mullen uses five quite different systems of reference in nine lines, and none of them are easy to jot down in a clear form for future consultation in the "Bibliography and Abbreviations." As one who deals on a day-to-day basis with academic writing, this reviewer found himself quite frankly appalled. In all fields of academic literature an author is obliged to present his audience with a work that is as accurate and as representative of the subject as is humanely possible (as this seems to be), but which is also as useable as possible (which is not the case here). Each of these references could have been reduced to the standard Harvard style or a similar system, and especially so with regard to the classical sources Mullen cites, as most of these exist in the form of an accepted critical edition. Consider for example the entry in the Bagawan section, "according to Moses Khorenats'i, 277": much better the clear and concise formula "Abelyan and Yarut'iwnyan 1913" or "Thomsen 1978"--depending on which edition of Moses Khorenats'i was used. While it is true that the Bibliography at the end of this book is exceptionally comprehensive (39 pages and some 900 entries), and remarkably useful, this does not compensate for the lack of clarity in the text proper: the system of cross-references does not allow for easy movement from the one to the other. Moreover, matters of clarity and consistency apart, again the cost-saving factor could have been taken into account: a more rigorous and simplified referencing system would have meant a shorter--and thus somewhat cheaper--book, without detracting from its content.

The Bibliography having been commented on above, it merely needs to be remarked that the final part of the book, the Index, is unfortunately entirely geographically based, making it impossible to trace the work or activities of any one saint or martyr, never mind find them in the gazetteer proper. But having come to the end of the book, before any considered judgment on its worthiness or otherwise will be made, this reviewer must draw attention to and address Mullen's explicit use of the CE dating system throughout The Expansion of Christianity. Personal feelings apart, the traditional practice in the Christian world is to measure time by referring to events as occurring before or after the birth of Christ, which in the English-speaking world means using the terms BC for "Before Christ," and AD, meaning "Anno Domini," or "In the Year of the Lord," for subsequent years. The convenience of this system in the Christian world has been recognized for over 1,400 years, and a majority of non-Christian communities has even adopted it, although for religious reasons they have chosen a more neutral style. Such is the case, for example, with post-Republican Turkey, whose dating system uses Milattan Once and Milattan Sonra, literally meaning "Before the birthday (of)" and "After the Birthday (of)." Likewise among those international Jewish movements that arose in the early 20th century, and which preferred the terms BCE and CE, for "Before (the) Christian Era" and "(in the) Christian Era." Astronomers, on the other hand, have opted for "-" and "+", for 'before" and "after."

Unfortunately, some thirty years or so ago, a small yet vocal minority began to demand that a "neutral" terminology be used, to distance themselves from and to obscure the Christian roots of Western Civilization. They even corrupted the explicit meaning of those same terms BCE and CE by subtly transforming them into "Before (the) Common Era" and "(in the) Common Era," on the grounds these were more acceptable among non-Christian communities. This re-labeling is unsatisfactory on a number of levels, not the least of which is because there is no such thing as a universal "Common Era," the nearest approximate being that based on the birth of Christ. But in any case, for the last 500 years or so, the Western world has been dominated for good or for ill by Christianity, and despite the achievements of other religious groups, again for good or for ill, a dating terminology based on the alleged year of Christ's birth is here to stay, and it remains the most commonly accepted and most widely used system for most of the world. This is confirmed by a recent Global Language Monitor survey, which established that in the worldwide electronic and print media that uses the English language, the BC/AD terminology was used 50 times more often than the BCE/CE convention.

Nonetheless, the minority that favors BCE/CE is increasing its level of protest in a more stringently vocalized manner, apparently on the basis of Lewis Carroll's "If I say it three times it must be so." The consequence is that what they claim is an issue of neutrality in terminology is progressively becoming a polarizing matter at all levels of society, but especially so in education. More to the point, while it might be justly asserted and even acknowledged that the BCE/CE system is an appropriate palliative for non-Christians, it is oxymoronic, in the sense that it is a chronological dating system that both consciously accepts and simultaneously denies the centrality of Christ. The long and short of it being that this reviewer finds it most regrettable that Mullen has chosen the path of political correctness over belief, and especially so in a book specifically devoted to the rise of early Christianity, where the use of the ostensibly neutral CE dating system might be considered by many Christians to be nothing short of outright blasphemy.

This concern aside, it was stated near the beginning of this review that anyone attempting a work of this kind must be either brave or foolhardy, the difference being in whether the end result is successful or not, and Mullen must be commended for his bravery. It is true that some of the individual entries in his book can be faulted or found to be less comprehensive than appears at first sight, but this is only to be expected, given the nature of the work and the number of entries. Yet, Mullen has provided us with what will become a standard reference guide for the spread of early Christianity. Those with a specific interest in the rise of the religion will doubtless consult it with regularity for years to come, and the book is to be unreservedly recommended for a place on the library shelves of each and every relevant institution. Its price sadly puts it outside the range of most academics and others. That said, one caveat is necessary for those who will have cause to refer it to their students: please do stress that while there is no single universal referencing system acceptable throughout the academic world, the referencing system used here should not ever be taken as an approved model.

Julian Bennett

Bilkent University
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Author:Bennett, Julian
Publication:Journal of Cyprus Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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