(Larry Hurtado): In the unceasing flow of publications on early Christianity, important works often get overlooked or too quickly slip from sight. So, here’s a reminder/pointer to a book that I regard as a “must” for anyone seriously interested in early Christianity, indeed, required reading for anyone doing a PhD in the area: Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
Gamble’s scope covers (and uniquely in one volume) the composition, copying, circulation, reading/usage, and significance of texts, especially in the first two centuries of Christianity. I’m not always sure that the focus on “orality” in recent decades has taken adequate attention of the data that Gamble addresses. Among religious options/groups of the Roman era, early Christianity was a uniquely textual religion, with impressive resources devoted to producing and disseminating them, and major places given to texts in early Christian worship and wider life. Ancient Judaism gives us the only possible contender for this preoccupation with texts, but arguably, for its comparative size, early Christianity exceeded in the efforts devoted to textual-activities.
Gamble shows that probably as early as the early second century (or perhaps even earlier) we have what appear to be effectively Christian centres for the copying/publication of texts, that the collection of certain texts was another feature (e.g., Pauline letters), and that perhaps by the late first century we already may see some Christian texts beginning to be treated as scripture.
And it’s a good read too!