Last’s project titled The Disappearance of Guilds from Social Histories of Ancient Christianity will focus on early Christian communities.
As Last explains:
The earliest Christ-believers are often placed in corners of ancient society that we would today classify as private: they were familial networks that assembled in domestic architecture (i.e., “house churches”). However, some recent research suggests that non-familial occupational or neighborhood-based networks might have played a significant role in the origins of local populations of Christ-believers.
My Banting research experiments with pulling the Jesus movement out of the ‘private realm,’ where it still tends to be confined in contemporary historiography of Christian origins. Particularly interesting, in terms of setting the agenda for new comparative scholarship on this topic, are neighborhood-based and occupation-based voluntary associations that recruited people on the basis of common residence or common profession. Each association had its own patron god(s), and many inscriptions and papyri show that the Judean deity and Christ were among the deities/heroes honoured by occupation-based and street-based clubs. These types of voluntary associations illustrate how a person’s job or residence in a given neighborhood could determine, at least partially, their cult practice in antiquity. The modern notion of ancient ‘churches’ as private family-based organizations seems to be a historical product of modern Western cultures wherein religion has tended to be understood as a private phenomenon. This project includes a re-reading of Pauline and Lukan evidence for the apparent household character of the earliest Christ groups, and introduces a new model for understanding the origins of local populations of the first Christ-believers, one that is based on underexplored occupational and neighborhood-based associations devoted to Christ and the Judean deity in documentary and literary evidence up to the seventh century CE.
Last’s new book The Pauline Church and the Corinthian Ekklesia: Greco-Roman Associations in Comparative Context is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press this year. You can read more about Last and his work on his website.