Generally, this is a solid and engaging book that I recommend for scholarly readers and research libraries. What the author actually does is better than what he promises to do in the first chapter; so I suggest that readers continue through the whole book even if they take exception to what they may find at the outset.
The focus is on the emergence of rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, but especially the latter, in ancient Antioch on the Orontes (modern Antakya, Turkey). The inquiry looks for the relevant social conditions and processes involved in the genesis of the two traditions. The intra-Christian issue is represented by the controversy over Paul of Tarsus and his theology; Paul saw the Mosaic covenant as valid for Jesus-believing Jews, who would not need to abandon the Jewish symbolic universe. Jesus-believing gentiles, however, would have to abandon the polytheist symbolic university. It is methodologically important, says the author, to focus on one location and note developments over time in such a study.
So far, so good. The historical data on ancient Antioch are more plentiful than for many other locales, but they still have serious gaps. The author says he wants to fill in informational gaps by extrapolating from sociological models. He cites Rodney Stark as an authority who advocates filling data gaps by theory. Stark sounds at times like a philosophical positivist in the mold of Auguste Comte, a totemic ancestor so to speak, in his quest to justify propositions rather than investigate social life. Propositions, of course, must be impressed on new scholars much as Bible stories need to be impressed on Christian children, but they should not be approached in too fundamentalist a fashion. Zetterholm seems to sense this, even if he does not say as much in so many words, since he does not proceed to place propositions above data and extrapolate from models into data-voids. What he actually does is employ what Herbert Blumer called "sensitizing concepts," which are subject to revision in the light of data.
Relations between Jews and gentiles in Antioch had been problematic for quite some time. In the 2nd century B.C.E. Hasmonian Jewish forces from Jerusalem sided with King Demetrios II against the indigenous Antiochenes, and that set the stage for subsequent ethnic conflict. The Jewish revolt against Rome in the 1st century C.E. elicited local resentment. The Romans regulated religious, professinal, and burial collegia during and after that revolt because collegia sometimes masked revolutionary networks. The Jews in Antioch were mostly non-citizens who possessed some traditional rights, whose collegia or synagogues included a judicial officer (archon), a director of religious services (archisynagogos), and a council of elders (synedrion). Zetterhold proposes that "Christian" was the name of a synagogue of Jesus-believers.
Zetterholm focuses on two phenomenaŚminority status and pluralist structures. To do this he employs a typology of assimilationist processes: acculturation (familiarity with the dominant culture), structural assimilation (entry into cliques, clubs, organizations), marital assimilation, identificational assimilation, attitudinal receptiveness (absence of prejudice against the assimilating group), and civic assimilation (inclusion in the power structure). The typology is useful for sorting out the historical data. An interesting case was that of Antiochus the Apostate during the Jewish War, who denounced his own father, the chief magistrate of the Jews, for plotting to burn the city down. Zetterholm describes the Antiochus incident in terms that suggest Antiochus was assimilated and therefore denounced his father. That may well have been the case, but it could also have been that his father was indeed plotting arson and that Antiochus had qualms about that. Antioch, Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee were all part of the Roman Province of Syria; if one part was in rebellion there would be reason to suspect that another part was.
It is with the contested status of the Jews in Antioch in the background that one should view the controversy over table fellowship between Jesus-believing Jews and Jesus-believing gentiles in Antioch. Zetterholm offers a very informative analysis of alternative stands on the eschatological status of Jews, Godfearers, and gentiles in the setting. I would add this caution: it may not be so much the background of hostility against Jews that was relevant, which is what is focused on in the book, but that of some Jews against gentiles. The literary evidence is that certain Jews refused table fellowship with gentiles, not vice-versa. An identification with Judean nationality in time of war may have been the key. Zetterholm's analysis of circumcision as a visible mark of identity for males in the gymnasia is important in this context.
Zetterholm uses social movement theory in his analysis. I think the concept social movement is relevant, but not necessarily social breakdown theory, solidarity theory, resource mobilization, and so forth. I would also disagree with his reading of the historical information at one juncture: he suggests that Paul knew and taught the "Apostolic Decree" of Acts 15 (p. 194); I disagree insofar as Paul said there was no reason to avoid idol meat unless it caused scandal on the part of "weaker souls."
Zetterholm provides many useful observations about a separate Christian identity. Ignatius, a bishop from Antioch, saw Christianity and Judaism as incompatible. The Gospel of Matthew migrated into a gentile synagogue/collegium. Jesus-believing gentiles who took monotheism seriously would find a status as godfearers, as favored by James, untenable, since they would have had to participate in polytheist civic rites from which only Jews were exempted. Interestingly, Zetterholm does not emphasize the fact of Ignatius's organizational form (solidarity with a bishop) as one quite different from that of the synagogue.
This is an important book. It raises many of the right questions, and it offers serious approaches toward answering them. The fact that a reader such as this reviewer sees matters differently here and there is suggestive of just how engaging the book is. It works the mind.