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Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300080773
ISBN-10: 0300080778
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300080778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300080773
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,344,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By on September 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
Concise, elegant, massively documented and beautifully endnoted, Ramsay MacMullen's book is a devastating account of the rise of Christianity and the destruction of Paganism. With 85 pages of notes to 159 pages of text, with widespread use of primary sources, archeological evidence and the secondary literature, MacMullen's book is an exhaustive update of Gibbon for the present day. The book consists of four chapters, those being Christian Persecution, the losses of the Pagans, the rise of superstition and the assimilation of pagan elements into Christian practice. I think Stalin would find it grimly amusing reading, since it suggests that whatever success Christianity achieved was by fanaticism and violence. We start off with an account of how Christians systematically suppressed non-Christian works, as well as the "heretics" amongst themselves. We hear Eusebius, the first great Church historian, announce that it is not the duty to tell the whole truth but only what is of profit. Students of the Russian Revolution will remember the gruesome story of the child who informed on his "kulak" parents, was murdered by his relatives, and became the hero of a gruesome cult. In this book we hear how the emperor Justinian was moved to raptures on hearing of how a Jewish boy convert survived being thrown into a furnace by his father. Justinian learned how angels prevented the boy from being burned, and then he had the father crucified.
Persecution: MacMullen challenges those who argues that Christianity was an improvement for women and slaves. Women did play some role in leading Pagan cults, none at all in Christianity, and he tells how while a pagan governor demanded the compensation for the family of a murdered prostitute, Saint Jerome supported beheading for extramarital fornication.
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46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on March 25, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most readers of religious history are familiar with the pagan roots of Christmas, such as tree candles and the date of the feast itself. In this magnificently researched monograph, MacMullen digs far deeper and finds paganism lurking in the dimmest corners of Christianity. His book focuses on the first millennium, but even today's Christians (especially Catholics) will recognize many of the rituals and beliefs he discusses.
The book is not without controversy. The traditional view has been that, during the century after Constantine's conversion, most of the Roman Empire (and lands beyond) converted to Christianity with wholehearted gusto, and pagan beliefs survived only in remote pockets. Not so, according to the author's overwhelming evidence: paganism had an extremely long half-life. MacMullen also dispenses with the long-held traditional argument that women and slaves converted to Christianity because paganism did not offer them much. (If anything, as he clearly and succinctly shows, the reverse is true.) Furthermore, MacMullen discusses how, beginning in the fourth century, upon subsuming power, Christians dealt with pagans in the traditional (non-Christian) way: they persecuted them with intimidation, torture, forced conversions, and death. Persecutions continued for many centuries, indicating that the underlying pagan culture was indeed very hearty.
The problem with the early Church's aggressive approach is obvious: many converts were not true believers, or they didn't quite understand what they were accepting. In addition, the relatively new Christianity, "a religion of the book" that was strong on doctrine, lacked a distinctive culture or the ability to satisfy everyday needs and desires (whether worldly or supernatural).
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By George A Sherman on February 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
MacMullen does a valuable service by showing that persecution of non Christians was methodically practiced by the Church long before the Inquisition. The Church was indeed persecuted by Romans in its formative years. However, when Constantine made his calculated move to consolidate, and save what was left of his empire by supporting monarchial Christianity, its leaders, Augustine of Hippo among them, persecuted non believers with fanatical zeal. MacMullen's evidence is irrefutable. His new book shows that bloody and unbloody persecution by nascent ecclesiastical christianity formed part of the dynamic contributing to the growth of the church.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kirialax on August 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
Of all of the scholars who have written widely on Christianity, paganism, imperial patronage, and the transformation of the late Roman world, Peter Brown and Ramsay MacMullen stand above the rest. I've read a number of Brown's works, but this is the first of MacMullen's books that I've read. The general slant on the church's intolerance towards paganism makes this an excellent companion volume to Peter Brown's Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Curti Lecture Series).

This book is divided into four main sections with a conclusion at the end. The first chapter, "Persecution" deals with the attempt of the Christian church to eliminate religious alternatives. This chapter also introduces the book and here MacMullen lays out some of the challenges that the source material presents, namely that there is very little pagan material to work with. He also gives a little attention to some general issues in the study of early imperial Christianity, such as its expansion. However, that is not what the crux of this chapter is on. The focus is on the Christian desire of a systemic set of universal beliefs led to intolerance. He juxtaposes the positions of Christians before Constantine to the position of Symmachus, a pagan official at the end of the fourth century trying to convince Ambrose, that intractable bishop of Milan, for toleration. There is no doubt that there was persecution, and while this chapter explores it, MacMullen fails to really get below the surface and see why there was some much intolerance, of both pagans and other Christians alike.
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