This book focuses on a single brief passage in the New Testament: Galatians 3:26–28, the heart of which is, “There is no Jew or Greek; there is no slave or free; there is no male and female.” Patterson demonstrates that declaration of faith is one of the earliest, perhaps the earliest, creed in Christian history. Unlike other creeds it is not about who Jesus is or about salvation; it is about the commitment of the earliest Christians to struggle against the social categories that define some humans as inferior to others. Patterson skillfully describes the ancient ideologies that degraded foreigners, slaves, and women. For example, slaves were described as livestock and (male) philosophers debated whether women were fully human. Patterson explains how some of the early Christianity we see in the New Testament likewise assumed and reinforced the ideologies that kept these dehumanized subjects in their places. But Patterson’s primary aim is to show how other Christians insisted that their allegiance to Christ committed them to treating all people with the dignity owed to children of God.
Patterson covers a lot of difficult terrain: early Christian writings (both in and outside the Bible), Roman history, Greek philosophy, ancient mythology, even hermaphroditic statuary—all in 160 pages. Exploring all this could have made for a deadly dull book because it requires us to pay close attention to complicated texts and to understand systems of thought quite foreign to our ways of thinking. But Patterson is a master teacher. He makes ancient writings and ideas accessible without dumbing them down. He is admirably lucid in his explanations and honest about the limitations of the available evidence. And he writes with a clarity and conciseness that other authors can only envy.