First Century AD History Book

Would anyone know of any history books about the first century AD Near East/Holy Land and Roman world with good scholarship and from a Catholic perspective? I am particularly interested in the biblical events of this time. I am writing a fiction novel set during the time of the New Testament and apostolic Church. Note: I posted this in the Scripture category because it pertains to biblical history, if this would fit better elsehwere please feel free to tell me or move it. Any help would be appreciated. God bless!

I don’t know of any history books written “from a Catholic perspective,” but I can warmly recommend three excellent books that should give you abundant background information. Two them are now very old, but as far as I know they have not been superseded by any more recent works.

  • Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, first published in German in 1962, English translation 1969

  • Stuart Perowne, The Later Herods, first published 1958

  • Martin Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem, first published 2007

You’re probably already familiar with Robert Graves’ historical novel I, Claudius and its sequel Claudius the God. But in case you’re not, that would be a very good place to start, even before you read the history books.

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Thank you sir. By ‘Catholic perspective’ I only meant one that is not overtly anti-Catholic, such as many Protestant history books that explicitly deny the papacy, the deuterocanonical books, etc. The only other one I have seen is Henri Daniel-Rops’ book ‘Daily Life in the Time of Jesus,’ do you know if that is considered a scholarly work?

Yes, and Daniel-Rops was a Catholic, of course! I believe that when it was first published in France, it attracted criticism on the grounds that it was unduly harsh and dismissive in its treatment of certain aspects of Jewish society and culture. However, I don’t remember noticing anything objectionable when I read it in the English translation, twenty years ago. I would have added it to the list, but I thought three books would be enough for the time being!

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Great, I will look into it too then. Thanks again for your help, God bless!

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We have a professor of early Church history here at CAF, @billsherman. If he sees this, he can give you much more accurate information than I can.

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I would appreciate any help he has to offer! My story is particularly about Longinus and the development of the early Church up to about 80 AD, so any information on that time period, whether fact or legend, would be helpful.

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Always worth looking at Warren Carroll - history of Christendom series. You may find Vol 1 useful.Truly Catholic.good bibliography as w ell

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My go-to recommendation is James Dunn’s “Christianity in the Making.” It’s a three volume series, but it summarizes all of the data we have on the pre-120 CE period. He also includes extensive bibliographical materials if you want to delve deeper into specific topics.

In my view, it is the best one stop source.

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I strongly second this. Dunn is a highly respected NT scholar, although not Catholic. I find him to be objective & even-handed in his research. If he offers his own opinion, he plainly states that it’s his own opinion. I like that. I’m almost through Volume 2 now.

Warning! The trilogy books weigh in at nearly 1,000 pages each! However, much of that is due to his extensive footnotes. You can glide past the notes, which makes it an easier read for those not interested in the debates.

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Some other books you might want to investigate. I’ve included only affordable (i.e. “cheap”) paperbacks that are readily available on the used-book market.

The Early Church by Henry Chadwick (revised edition 1993). This is part of the Penguin History of the Church series. The series are intended as introductory texts for undergraduates. About 300 pages, including index. Covers the first 5 centuries of the Church. Probably too broad for your stated interests, but it will give you a sound, reliable survey of the early Church. It was a required text when I was in the seminary. Written by an esteemed church historian in a period before identity politics & culture wars took over the universities.

Somewhat controversial when it came out, but thought-provoking & well-received for his original scholarship is Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity (1996). He is a sociologist by trade, so his “take” is novel. Include also his follow-up Cities of God (2006). Not as good, but still worth reading. He’s not a Catholic, but is sensitive to anti-Catholicism, as evidenced by his Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History (2016).

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