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Ancient religions had much in common, says Grawemeyer winner

Dec 03, 2010
The ancient Christians had more in common with their Jewish and pagan neighbors than most people realize, says the winner of the 2011 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

Luke Timothy Johnson, a biblical scholar who holds the Robert W. Woodruff chair in New Testament and Christian Origins in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, won the $100,000 prize for the ideas set forth in his 2009 book, Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity.

Johnson proposes a new framework in the book for analyzing early Christianity in its religious, social, and historical contexts. He shows that the Christians, Jews, and pagans of ancient Rome and Greece shared certain ways of being religious regardless of their differences in doctrine.

Johnson’s approach is “powerfully illuminating, not only for historical study but also for interfaith relations today,” said award director Susan Garrett, professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

“He shows that if we want to see how early Christians differed from other religious people of their day, we first have to see how they were similar,” Garrett said. “And he shines fresh light on the diverse religions of our contemporary world—a light that shows common ground where we thought there were only radical differences.”

Johnson, a senior fellow at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, is a former Benedictine monk. He sparked widespread discussion in 1996 with his book, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels.

His 1986 book, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, is now in its third edition and is widely used by religious scholars worldwide.

Five Grawemeyer Awards are presented annually for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology, education, and religion. The University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly award the religion prize.

Dr. Johnson will present a public lecture on his award-winning book, April 12, 2011, at Louisville Seminary.

For biographical information, see Luke Timothy Johnson

For more information about the award or to download Johnson’s photo, see www.grawemeyer.org

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