The Rev. Robert W. Prichard, Ph.D.,The Arthur Lee Kinsolving Professor of Christianity in America, and Instructor in Liturgics, at Virginia Theological Seminary, recommends the following books as part of the Bishop Payne Library's monthly series highlighting a faculty member's "picks":
Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
Peter Brown, an emeritus professor of history at Princeton, is the most eminent living historian of the Church in the Roman Empire of the 4th and 5th centuries. In this volume he looks in detail at the connection between church practice and doctrine on one hand and the patterns of wealth and philanthropy on the other. He suggests that a new group of Christian “super rich” emerged by the end of the 4th century and developed a fondness for supporting large ascetic institution as opposed to an earlier Christian practice of giving to the poor. As Brown sees it this new practice influenced and was influenced by the debate about free will and predestination, the growth of monasticism, the relationship between Rome and other centers of Christian activity, changing attitudes about sexuality, and Christian views about the end of time. As is usually the case in Brown’s work, Augustine of Hippo occupies a big place in this narrative. Brown also introduces readers to much lesser known people such as Valerius Pinianus and Melania the Younger, a super-rich Roman couple who began to give their fortune away around the time of Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410.
Rebecca A. Goetz, The Baptism of Early Virginia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).
Goetz, who is an assistant professor of history at Rice University, has written a thoughtful study of the attitudes about Native Americans and Africans of the early settlers in Virginia. Her book falls roughly into two parts. The first three chapters deal with those who were at least open to the possibility that evangelization of Africans and Native Americans could lead to their conversion to the Christian faith. The final three chapters deal with the colonists’ construction of a theory as to why such a conversion was not possible, a theory that provided a partial justification for the institution of racial slavery. In her epilogue she then suggests that the justification created by the early Virginians would provide the rationale for nineteenth-century apologists for slavery. In the course of her argument, she fills in some often-overlooked reasons for the failure of early attempts at evangelizing Native Americans.
John J. Zaborney, Slaves for Hire (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012).
Zaborney, a professor of history at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, has filled an important gap in our understanding of the institution of slavery in the American South by producing this study of the business of renting slaves in pre-Civil War Virginia. His account explains why and how slavery outlived its agricultural roots in the upper South, where the cultivation of labor-intensive crops became decreasingly profitable because of the depletion nutrients in the soil. Slaves who were no longer needed for cultivation were rented out for construction and manufacturing, spurring industrial growth in the South, and preserving the profitability of slave ownership. In the process of telling his story, Zaborney argues that there is insufficient evidence to support premise that has sometimes been advanced that renting was generally beneficial to slaves because it provided the opportunity for slaves to earn some funds of their own and eventually purchase their freedom. His argument also implies an answer to question of why non-slave owners were often supportive of the institution of slavery—even those who lacked the funds to own slaves could rent their labor.