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And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus Hardcover – March 26, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this popular history of the Roman and neighboring empires around the time of the first century, O’Grady focuses on the state’s use of religion to advance its interests, including the difficulties these empires experienced governing religiously diverse populations. As a work of reportage, the book is eminently successful, nicely chronicling, for example, the explosive social, political, and religious tensions in Judaea leading up to Jesus’ trial and execution. Yet, often these reports amount to little more than a collection of historical vignettes. Although the geographic swath she examines, extending from the Mediterranean to China, is impressive, it scarcely comprises, as the book’s subtitle boldly asserts, the “world” at the time of Jesus. O’Grady is, however, a gifted storyteller. Her writing accessibly, engagingly, and vividly evokes the sights, sounds, smells, and colors of much of the ancient world. This invitation may be enough to spur readers who want to delve in more closely. --Christopher McConnell


“A wonderfully illuminating, prodigious tour de force of ecclesiastical anthropology.” ―Kirkus (starred review)

“Selina O'Grady has written a powerful book on an immense subject. She writes with clarity and distinction and is a pleasure to read.” ―Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity and A History of the American People

“Selina O' Grady's remarkable book brilliantly explains the origins of today's world by explaining the forces that set it in motion 2000 years ago…In a pellucidly clear and absorbing narrative O'Grady not only describes how religions were used by empires to bind new populations to them, but most fascinatingly of all explains how what she calls the ‘tiny Jesus cult' managed to survive its inauspicious beginnings to become a world religion.” ―Rebecca Fraser, author of A People's History of Britain and Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life

“This vividly compelling account of how Christianity rose triumphant from the religious and civil tumults of its earliest days is a must read. With cinematographic force it brings that epoch so astonishingly and educatively to life that no-one should be allowed to lay claim to Christian or indeed any religious faith who has not read this book first, and meditated on its import. It lays the facts bare, unsparingly and with a sharp eye; and the facts speak very loudly for themselves.” ―A.C. Grayling, author of Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age and The Good Book: A Humanist Bible

“In this remarkably interesting and vividly written book Selina O'Grady shows how four great empires of the Axial age - the Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Chinese - used religion, with its universal claims on human aspiration and destiny - to extend their power and legitimate their rule by creating compliant or "good" subjects under the expanding economic and social conditions…This is an important book - written from outside the perspective of belief - that helps to explain the enduring appeal of religion in our supposedly secular age.” ―Malise Ruthven, author of Islam in the World and The Divine Supermarket: Shopping for God in America


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (March 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250016819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250016812
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was brought up in London by very religious parents. My father was a strict Irish Catholic; we had an altar in our house and prayed every night before the statue of the Virgin Mary. My mother was Jewish, but as a young woman had joined what would probably now be considered a cult, living in a kind of commune in New Jersey under the spiritual guidance of the Russian esotericist Ouspensky. Although she converted to Catholicism when she married my father, she remained wedded to Ouspensky's teachings. I lost my belief in God when I was a child but have always remained sympathetic to, and fascinated by, religious belief and the longing for the transcendent.

I have co-edited two books, Great Spirits: The Fifty-Two Christians Who Most Influenced Their Millennium (a series of essays on men and women ranging from Bach to Martin Luther King), and A Deep but Dazzling Darkness, an anthology from Anglo-Saxon to modern times of the experience of belief and disbelief. I also worked in television and radio, including as a producer for BBC 1's moral documentary series Heart of the Matter, presented by Joan Bakewell, and a producer on Radio 4's history series Leviathan.

My spur to beginning writing was reviewing works of history for the Tablet, the San Francisco Chronicle (I lived in that fabulous city for three years), and the LIterary Review. From writing those reviews, I learned what I think makes a good and enjoyable history book: it is the combination of the big causal picture - why something happens - fleshed out with the bits of gossipy, visceral detail that the reader will always enjoy and remember when all the dates have flown out of the window. I hope you will find this combination in And Man Created God.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Hande Z on October 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"At the end of the first century B.C. the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. Many of them flourished briefly before vanishing from view", O'Grady writes. This book is an account of the battles of the gods and how some survived and thrived while others are vanquished. But, of course, the gods themselves did not clash. Their followers did. It is the peculiar nature of the individual gods to speak only to their own followers that has led to war and death.

The adherents of the gods that survive to this day may also not appreciate that there was a time when going to the mosque, the synagogue, the church, and the temple was not quite so the same as it is now. Present day worshippers are also generally unaware that some of the attributes and demands of their gods today are not what they were centuries ago. Some of these gods survived and triumphed because of the process of syncretism. O'Grady cites some intellectuals such as Emile Durkheim and Robert Bellah for the view that the process virtually made the concept of the Supreme God inevitable.

O'Grady traces the origins of the early Greco-Roman gods from those of the earlier Near Eastern parts of the Roman Empire, explaining the consequences of those gods that make too little demands (their followers get assimilated into the religion of other gods) and those that make severe demands (they win few converts). "There is a trade-off between how many followers a religion has and how deeply it can alter its followers' behavior. Religions settled at different points between those two axes of power -breadth and depth - just as they did on how far they addressed themselves to the individual and the group.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By tom patty on March 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read hundreds of books about religion. Most of the best books on this subject are written by Karen Armstrong. But here is a book about religion that is now at the very top of my list of favorites. Why? First it is written like a novel. I couldn't put it down. This is fascinating stuff. Second, I loved the way the author covers vast areas of geography (from Rome to India and Africa) and vast periods of time (from the 12th century BC to 100AD) and yet I never felt I was "lost." I love the way the author tells you what chapter she first mentioned something so you can go back and remind yourself what she said. If you want to know about Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam and how they all connect and interrelate, this is the book for you.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
How did it happen that Christianity so infuses the culture of the West? Christians, of course, will say that it is due simply to their religion being right, and so naturally it is the world's most popular religion (although no religion can claim a majority of the world's population as believers). Historians, however, will trace contingencies way back, and will try to figure out how a minor religion in first-century Rome took over, so that a few centuries later Rome would pick it as the official religion. After all, there were other choices at the time, some of them quite popular. How do empires use religion and vice versa? This is the huge subject of _And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus_ (St. Martin's Press) by Selina O'Grady. O'Grady has written before on religious themes, and has produced a "moral documentary series" for the BBC. Her understanding of this period seems encyclopedic; she has details not only of Roman and Christian belief, but of Judaism, and of Confucianism in China, and more. Her book has surprising depth and comprehensiveness, along with clarity and good humor, making it a pleasure to read.

At the center of O'Grady's story is Augustus Caesar. Having assumed supreme political power as emperor, he also assumed godship. The Roman emperors had left the lesson that an individual might be deified, a lesson taken up by the Christians. Rome was ready to expand and take over the world, and in doing so, to take under its umbrella religion the gods of new territories; there was a good degree of tolerance. This could not be reciprocated by the Jews, whose god admitted that he was a jealous god. Perhaps also the devotion to Isis might have carried over.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau on June 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book's subtitle - "Kings, Cults and Conquests at the Time of Jesus" - should have been the main one. The main title and the blurb on the back are, I think, misleading in that they suggest that the book is all about "the interplay between faith and power" , about the way rulers "manipulated [or even invented] religious faith to consolidate their power". That is true of several instances; but that theme forms a relatively small part in this rambling, frequently unchronological and occasionally repetitive book.

Other themes receive much more attention, notably how religions travelled along trade routes, so that the great trading nations received a rich amalgam of cults which often developed a syncretic relationship, and which, by and large, accepted each other. O'Grady shows how the new mystery cults bound their followers together in a select community, expected more from them than mere worship at their temples, established a personal relationship between their deity and the individual, and made moral demands on the latter. These cults still accepted other gods alongside of them. Only Judaism and Christianity rejected all other gods and resisted amalgamation: Herod's attempt to accommodate the gods of Rome alongside of the God of the Jews was violently rejected by his Jewish subjects. (O'Grady does not discuss the syncretism that can be found in Johannine and Pauline Christianity: the notion of a divine figure rising from the dead, to give just one example, was to be found in pre-Christian cults in the surrounding areas.
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