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Who Were the First Christians?Dismantling the Urban Thesis$
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Thomas A. Robinson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190620547

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190620547.001.0001

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The “Urban” Thesis

The “Urban” Thesis

(p.14) 2 The “Urban” Thesis
Who Were the First Christians?

Thomas A. Robinson

Oxford University Press

Most scholars of early church conclude that Christianity was an urban phenomenon until the conversion of Constantine. But the numbers offered make that an impossible reconstruction. The commonly accepted numbers are Christians at about 10% of the population of the empire and largely urban, and urbanization in the empire at 15%. Under that scenario, Christians would have nearly saturated all the cities of the Roman Empire, leaving little room for anyone else, whether Jewish or pagan. No one finds that likely. The main options seem to be to significantly reduce the Christian population or else add a rural contingent to the Christian membership. A few recent scholars are suggesting that evidence from the countryside may require some modification of the urban thesis and a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between urban and rural communities.

Keywords:   urbanization, urban Christianity, Constantine, rural Christianity, urban thesis, Jews, pagans

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