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Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years Hardcover – March 18, 2010

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From Publishers Weekly

Where does Christianity begin? In Athens, Jerusalem, or Rome? How did the early creeds of the church develop and differentiate? What was the impact of the Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation? How have vital Christian communities emerged in Asia, Africa, and India since the 18th century? Award-winning historian MacCulloch (The Reformation) attempts to answer these questions and many more in this elegantly written, magisterial history of Christianity. MacCulloch diligently traces the origins and development of Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianities, and he provides a more in-depth look at the development of Christianity in Asia and Africa than standard histories of Christianity. He offers sketches of Christian thinkers from Augustine and Luther to Desmond Tutu and Patriarch Bartholomew I. Three appendixes contain a list of popes, Orthodox patriarchs, and a collection of Christian texts. Assuming no previous knowledge on the part of readers about Christian traditions, MacCulloch traces in breathtaking detail the often contentious arguments within Christianity for the past 3,000 years. His monumental achievement will not soon be surpassed. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* MacCulloch signals the parameters of his prodigious scholarship when he brackets the Resurrection as a riddle no historian can resolve, then marvels at how belief in the Risen Lord has transformed ordinary men and women into martyrs—and inquisitors. Despite his refusal to affirm the faith’s founding miracle, MacCulloch demonstrates rare talent for probing the human dynamics of Christianity’s long and complex evolution. Even when examining well-known episodes—such as the Church Fathers’ fight against Gnosticism or the stunning conversion of Constantine—this capacious narrative opens unexpected perspectives. Readers encounter, for instance, surprising connections between Christian doctrine, on the one hand, and ancient Greek philosophy interlaced with Roman politics on the other. As the chronicle fractures into Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant strands, MacCulloch exposes unfamiliar but unmistakably human personalities who have shaped the worship of the divine. Readers meet, for instance, Gudit, a savagely anti-monastic Ethiopian queen, and Filofei, an irrepressibly ambitious Russian monk. Much closer to our time, we confront Christian enthusiasms that militarists harnessed in World War I, Christian hatreds that Nazis exploited in World War II. Concluding with the perplexities of evangelists facing an implacably secular world, MacCulloch leaves readers pondering a problematic religious future. A work of exceptional breadth and subtlety. --Bryce Christensen

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1184 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (March 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021260
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Diarmaid MacCulloch is the author of The Reformation, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Wolfson Prize, and the British Academy Prize, and of Thomas Cranmer, winner of the Whitbread Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, and the Duff Cooper Prize. Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, he was brought up in a country rectory in East Anglia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

261 of 282 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on April 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a long and scholarly history of the background, birth and growth of Christianity. The author is an Anglican and church historian. The narrative makes it clear that there has never been just one church, but many interpretations of who Jesus Christ was : from the early gnostic "heretics" (who lost the PR/political battles and were banned) to the Western Roman Church to the Eastern Greek Church to the Reformation and beyond (which spawned Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, et al). The love of Christ as shown by early Christian martyrs and by St. Francis of Assisi is contrasted with the intolerance of differences as shown by the religious wars and the Crusades. It is very readable and assumes no prior knowledge by the reader. With the approach of Easter, Mr. MacCulloch has written a book for the lay reader.
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46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on May 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are in the market for a comprehensive 1000 page overview of the history of Christianity this is the one. Diarmaid MacCulloch has written a masterful synthesis. He covers all that one might reasonably expect in such a volume -- moving from ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel up to the contemporary culture wars, including the Orthodox East as well as the Latin West. He transitions seamlessly from topic to topic and is almost never merely superficial. He successfully balances the need to relate relevant details with the virtue of concision. His interpretations are often stimulating and characteristically judicious.

The book either can be read profitably straight-through (for those with strong attention spans) or used as a reference source as the occasion arises. It helpfully contains extensive source endnotes, suggestions for further reading, and an index, plus page references for inter-related topics are noted parenthetically throughout the text.

That the development of Christianity might be treated historically at all may seem heretical to some. History seldom consistently comforts belief. MacCulloch points out, for example, that right off the bat "one of the greatest turning points in the Christian story" may have been that the last days, as apparently expected by many early followers of the movement, had not arrived by the end of the first century CE.

He emphasizes that certain major historical outcomes were contingent, not inevitable. For example, the victories of Christian over Islamic forces in 678 at Constantinople and in 732-33 near Poitiers helped shield the West from Islam and "preserved a Europe in which Christianity remained dominant, and as a result the centre of energy and unfettered development shifted west from its old Eastern centres.
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293 of 329 people found the following review helpful By Hande Z on March 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Although he left out the history going back a few thousand more years in the development of god in ancient Sumerian, Mesopotamian, and Egyptian cultures, which led to the god Jehovah's appearance to the Jews of the Old Testament this was an admirably well narrated story about the development of Christianity in which the author traced to roots in Greece and Rome 1000 years before the Common Era. Maculloch wrote in an impartial tone even as he pointed out excesses, absurdities, mythical incidents and contradictions. "In the Gospels, events in historic time astonishingly fuse with events beyond time". His account of the synoptic gospels pointed to contradictions but not in as great a detail as say, GA Well's "Did Jesus Exist?" But his account spanned a greater range than Wells'. He wrote in detail about the development of the various early churches in the Roman Empire, and explained why the church flourished - in its diverse forms. His chapter on the split in the church from the western and eastern orthodoxy to protestantism was an interesting and informative. Patience is required not because the writing style was turgid (on the contrary, it was extremely clear) but because it is a long account. His final chapters dealt with the rise of Christianity as a world religion and ecumenical efforts to seal the inevitable rifts created by diverse cultures and the hermeneutical method of understanding a vague Holy Book. It is a book for the believer and non-believer alike. One might not like or agree with his comments but the historical tracings are indispensable to anyone who wants to know the history of the religion as opposed to what the religion is about.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Anthony T. Riggio on June 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Review of the book "Christianity" by Diarmaid MacCoullough

This was a daunting book with a scope beyond the less educated. It was scholarly but opinionated and much too Anglican centric in its overall presentation.

If you are a lover of History and somewhat familiar with Western Civilization you might have the "stick-to-it-iveness" to read it to the end. The subject of Christianity is beyond huge and its impact on the civilization of man and on man's thinking is without comparison in its overall influence.

I realized, probably for the first time in my experience, the number of schisms or differences in the interpretation of Christ's divinity and words and their reactions as heretical, intellectual or philosophical. As a Roman Catholic, reading this book, I anticipated being chagrined by an Anglican view of Christ, I was not. For the first time, I began to somewhat understand the reasons for the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism, but I still abhor the need to intellectualize the simple words of Christ into congruity with the philosophy or language du jour and the splitting away from the central body of that teaching. I guess my Catholic-ness is a burden to my overall objectivity when talking about matters of Christ's teachings.

However, this being said the followers of Christ have been in a constant battle as to not only as to his divinity but the tenets of his teachings. The whole idea of Christ's teachings being hijacked by emperors and monarchs and being used for political advantages is an unfortunate by-product of man being man. But then without this, would Christianity have ever flourished to the degree it has today?
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