Our first group read for 2016 consists of Justin Martyr’s First Apology and his Dialogue with Trypho. Justin was likely born around the year 100 CE/AD, and according to the First Apology, he was from the Roman town of Flavia Neapolis (now called “Nablus“) in the part of the Holy Land now known as the “West Bank,” between Jerusalem and Nazareth. According to his own words, he was reasonably well-educated as a child, and as an adult, he began to pursue various forms of philosophy. (Note: I’ll have more to say about Justin’s philosophical wanderings when we come to the Dialogue with Trypho.) His writings show that he was well-versed in the Scriptures and also aware of at least some of the “pop-culture” works of his day. Tradition from shortly after his life tells us that he was “turned in” to the civil authorities by a philosopher with whom he had disputed, and that he was tried and beheaded with other Christians in the mid-160s, thus winning the “martyr’s crown” depicted in the icon above. In other words, the “Martyr” in his name is a title he is given, not an unfortunate last name.
It is probably not surprising to you that not many Christian writings survive from the second century of our history. This sparseness is due partly, of course, to its distance in time, but also because there simply weren’t that many Christians yet. Christianity was growing, to be sure, but it wasn’t big yet, and it certainly wasn’t dominant. (By the way, if you want to know more about Christianity’s growth, especially from a sociological point of view, check out Rodney Stark’s 1997 book The Rise of Christianity.) However, we do have a few writings, and Justin’s are among the most prominent. In them we see things like the following:
- descriptions of early Christian worship
- a Christian explicitly attempting to talk to the cultural elites of his day
- a narrative of philosophical exploration that culminates with Christianity
- some ways that early Christians read Scripture, especially the “Old Testament”
In other words, if you’re interested in early Christianity, Justin’s writings have a lot to show you!
My plan for Justin is as follows: I’ll have one or two posts dedicated to the First Apology, and then two or three on the longer Dialogue with Trypho. I’m going to be reading the translation by Thomas B. Falls, published originally in New York by Christian Heritage, Inc., as part of the series called The Fathers of the Church. If you want an online text, you can find older translations by Marcus Dods and George Reith of the First Apology at this link and the Dialogue with Trypho at this link.
One last note: in the introductory post I’ll create each month, I’ll list a few recent books on the author, just in case you find yourself intrigued and wanting to read more. I haven’t read these myself, and so I can’t vouch for them in any way. But they are the most recent books on the topic in question, and so you might find them useful. Here are some on Justin:
- Scriptural Community and Community Self-Definition in Luke-Acts and the Writings of Justin Martyr, by Susan Wendel (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011)
- Justin Martyr and His Worlds, edited by Sara Parvis and Paul Foster (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007)
- Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, by Craig D. Allert (Leiden, Boston, and Cologne: Brill, 2002)
- Listening to Trypho: Justin Martyr’s Dialogue Reconsidered, by Timothy J. Horner (Leuven: Peeters, 2001)
Suggested next click: Justin’s First Apology