The idea for this handbook came to us in early summer 2012 in the midst of a busy excavation season near Larnaca, Cyprus. Bill Caraher had published a blog reflection on Kimberly Bowes’ recent state-of-the field publication on early Christian archaeology in the journal Religion Compass, and Stefan Vranka of Oxford University Press invited us to put together a handbook on the subject. This opportunity presented a chance to fill a lacuna in modern Anglophone scholarship with a collection of fulsome essays highlighting how archaeology has contributed to historical studies of early Christianity.
The work itself unfolded over the course of years through the labors and talents of scholars, editors, and publishers. Our contributors shared their time and expertise in Roman and Late Antique material culture and its intersections with early Christianity. They were patient with our numerous editorial requests. Several scholars agreed with remarkable good cheer and enthusiasm to write chapters rather late in the project to fill gaps that had appeared during the compilation process. Other contributors and colleagues provided valuable feedback on the introductory chapter and the enterprise of early Christian archaeology in general: Darlene Brooks Hedstrom, Alexandra Chavarría Arnau, Rangar Cline, Cavan Concannon, R. Scott Moore, Sarah Porter, Richard Rothaus, and Fr. Richard Rutherford. Stefan Vranka and an outstanding editorial team at Oxford University Press shepherded the handbook through its various stages with interest, dedication, and professionalism.
The project was supported through generous financial and resource support of institutions and donors. Our institutions provided funding to different ends: Messiah College funded release time for David Pettegrew to work on the project over a two-year period; the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary funded translation work; and the University of North Dakota College of Arts and Sciences provided William Caraher with support for travel. William F. and Nancy Caraher, long-time supporters of the archaeology of early Christianity, graciously funded the index of this volume. In addition, several superb students (Cassy Baddorf, Clay Carpenter, and Jonathan Werthmuller) helped with proofreading, copyediting, indexing, and GIS. This book also benefited from extensive conversations with colleagues and friends both at our institutions and on our archaeological projects. Our families recognized the value of the project and were a constant source of support and encouragement.
On a broader intellectual level, this handbook would not have been possible without the work of James F. Strange, New Testament scholar and avid field archaeologist, who sadly did not live to see it completed. He was a leader among the generation of scholars (p. viii) who championed the value of rigorous and systematic archaeology as an independent source of information for the historical study of Judaism and Christianity within their ancient environments.
Finally, this volume reflects the work of all those scholars and teachers who taught us how to study the Roman, Late Antique, and early Christian world. We dedicate this volume to three of them: Timothy E. Gregory, Thomas Kay, and Walt Stevenson.