Ancient religions had much in common, says Grawemeyer winner
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 and senior fellow 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.
"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 former Benedictine monk, is Robert C. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in Emory's Candler School of Theology and senior fellow at its Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
His research focuses on the literary, moral and religious dimensions of the New Testament, including the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts of early Christianity, Luke-Acts, the Pastoral Letters and the Letter of James.
He is a noted critic of The Jesus Seminar, a group of religious scholars formed in 1985, refuting their examination of Jesus as a purely historical figure. He also has disagreed with Vatican teaching, publicly declaring his support for same-sex partnerships and the ordination of women.
A prolific author, Johnson has written 27 books and more than 300 articles, lectures and reviews.
He holds a doctor of philosophy degree in New Testament from Yale University, a master of arts degree in religious studies from Indiana University, a master of divinity degree in theology from St. Meinrad School of Theology and a bachelor's degree from Notre Dame Seminary.
UofL established the Grawemeyer Awards in 1984 with funding from H. Charles Grawemeyer, and now awards annual prizes for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education. UofL jointly gives the Grawemeyer prize in religion with the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
UofL announced recipients in music, world order and psychology throughout this week. Announcement of the 2011 Grawemeyer Award in Education winner is pending, award officials said.