AFTER JESUS: THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY, edited by Gayla Visalli (The Reader's Digest Association Inc., 352 pp., $30). Don't be fooled by the publisher's name: This is not an abridged book but an extensively researched and competently written history of Christianity from the Resurrection to about AD 600.
Complete with illustrations of historic artworks, churches, and photographs by the hundreds, this readable volume is for the nonspecialist who wants a better understanding of how the Christian churches evolved from the first communities in Palestine and Asia Minor to today.
Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and others will be comfortable with the text, which takes no particular theological position, but explains the positions of all sides in the controversies that began to divide the church from the 3rd century onward.
The text is helpful in bringing out the theological diversity that existed in the early church before it achieved legal status. Given the severe persecution of Christians by the Romans before Constantine officially recognized the church, the speed with which some Christians began using state power to persecute other Christians is particularly ironic.
The book also brings out clearly the political maneuvering behind many of the early theological disputes, as bishops allied with emperors and proconsuls in a pattern that was later copied in the Reformation and Counterreformation.
"After Jesus" also sheds light on the peaceful coexistence of Jews and early Christians, who often kept their ties to local synagogues, until they were separated by tensions wrought during the Roman suppression of the Jewish revolts of AD 67 to 70 and AD 133 to 135, and by the increasing number of Gentile Christians. This led to a loss of the protection the early church enjoyed when it was considered a sect of Judaism, which had legal status in the Roman Empire.
Brief articles accompanying the main text take a look at related cultural, political, and historic material and relate the stories of many of the church's early martyrs.
The book contains a list of key people, a glossary, a list of Bible citations, and a bibliography.
Unfortunately, the artistic mastery displayed in the historical paintings, mosaics, and sculptures reproduced in the book puts the contemporary illustrations to shame. Even so, "After Jesus" is an engrossing volume that whets the readers appetite to learn more.
THE MACMILLAN BIBLE ATLAS, COMPLETELY REVISED THIRD EDITION, by Yohanan Aharoni, Michael Avi-Yonah, Anson F. Rainey, and Ze'ev Safrai (Macmillan, 215 pp., $35). Anson Rainey and Ze'ev Safrai have updated the original 1968 and 1977 atlases by the late Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah to incorporate the most recent archaeological finds. The result is a broad mapping of events ranging from before Abraham to the Bar-Kokhba revolt in AD 133 to 135 and the spread of the Christian church in the 2nd century .
Written in a style acceptable to most Jews and Christians, the atlas helps the Bible student to better understand the possible routes of the Exodus; David's wanderings as he was pursued by Saul; the venues of Elijah's and Elisha's activities; the periods of Greek and Roman domination of Palestine in the days preceding Jesus' birth; and the strategy the Romans used to put down the two Jewish revolts.
In addition to the maps, short commentaries help the reader place the events in context. The illustrations are also helpful, although one wishes the publishers had made full use of color. Some pictures look like photocopies of photographs.
In this respect, the book falls short of other Bible atlases currently available. Biblical and other references from historic writings are included with each map. A complete chronological table and a full list of the Bible references add to the book's utility.
THE BIBLE: CULTURAL ATLAS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, by John Rogerson (Facts On File, 96 pp., $17.95). The latest in Facts On File's Cultural Atlas for Young People series, this beautifully illustrated volume is aimed at "young adults," but their parents and other adults will also find it useful.
Divided into two parts, "The History of Bible Lands" and "The Geography of Bible Lands," the book covers the period from the Patriarchs to Paul. Each two-page spread is self-contained, with a short text, maps, photos, and a chronology, all presented in a way gauged to hold young attention spans.
Part 2 contains an outstanding geography of the Holy Land and Jerusalem, complete with explanations of the area's changing ecology over the millennia. The writing ranges from fairly complicated in some places to a tad simplistic in others, but this does not detract from the volume's usefulness.
ROGET'S THESAURUS OF THE BIBLE, by A. Colin Day (Harper- SanFrancisco, 927 pp., $28, thumb-indexed, $30). Here is an interesting alternative to the traditional concordance for serious Bible students. Applying Roget's system to the Scriptures, A. Colin Day has grouped more than 43,000 references by categories rather than simply by word. Thus the student looking for references on vision, sight, eyes, and seeing will find them all grouped together under the category "vision," rather than having to look up e ach word separately.
Users will also benefit from the book's index of Bible references and subject index. Day's use of paraphrase instead of quotation from the Bible makes the thesaurus useful with most English-language Bible translations, from the King James Version to the New International Version.
Some citations reflect a traditional Trinitarian Christian interpretation, but this does not detract from the general usefulness of the volume.