I’m at one of my favorite points in the writing process for my next book. Maybe it’s not right to say I’m at a point in the “writing,” since I haven’t written a word yet and won’t be writing a word for a while. But writing is so much more than actually hammering out words on a keyboard. The huge bulk of the work involves doing the research. And I’m at one of my favorite points just now, the long transition period between one phase of reading and another, preparatory to the writing itself.
I’ve described various aspects of my writing process before, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever explained how I sequence my reading for a new project. For me, it’s a two-stage sequence. I’ll explain it in reference to the current book on the Christianization of the Empire (I’ve been calling it the Triumph of Christianity, but I’m not sure I’m happy with the title any more. Doesn’t matter. A book’s title is like the interior trim on the house you’re building – it comes very near the end, not at the beginning).
When we finally decided last summer that this would be the book I was going to do next (as I think I’ve mentioned: last summer there were four, count them, four, different books that I thought was each going to be the next one!), I plunged right into the research. My first step was to re-read the classics that everyone who works in the field knows about, or should know about, books that I had read some years ago, some of which I’ve read more than once. In this case that included such books as Adolf von Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (1902); Arthur Darby Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Autustine of Hippo (1933); the more recent classic by Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (1984), and the controversial book by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (1996).
I constructed bibliographies of relevant books, books dealing with Roman Imperial history; Roman Religion; The Spread of Christianity in the Roman World; Early Christian Missions; Opposition to Christianity by pagans (issues related to persecution and martyrdom); and related things. And I started reading broadly in these various fields. As I read, I run across references to other scholarship, other books and articles. And when I read those, I found references to other books and articles. Then I read those. And so on and on.
I suppose there were maybe 150-200 books that I read, and…
THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don’t belong yet, JOIN UP! It costs little and gives a lot. And every penny goes to help those in need!