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Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome Paperback – October 30, 2007


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Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome + The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries + The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061349887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061349881
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #290,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Contemplating the rapid spread of early Christianity, Lucian the Martyr marveled in the fourth century that "almost the greater part of the world is now committed to this truth, even whole cities." To explain Christianity's remarkable success in capturing the cities of the Roman Empire, Stark deploys an empirical social science that exposes the flaws in previous historical theorizing. By parsing records of church construction, inscriptions on tombs, and names on imperial contract permits, Stark converts plausible conjectures into testable hypotheses about the growth of Christianity in the 31 largest Roman cities. And while some of the statistically validated hypotheses fit within conventional wisdom, others compel fresh thinking. The traditional belief that Christianity spread through mass conversion, for instance, gives way to a numerically substantiated dynamics of person-to-person conversion. And despite recent acclaim for the Gnostics as the true early Christians, the evidence links the Gnostic impulse to dying pockets of stubborn paganism, not the rising new faith. Like Stark's Victory of Reason (2005), this book will spark controversy--the kind that attracts curious readers. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Pairing data with a fresh reading of scripture, this approach provides several surprises. . . . An intriguing read. (Kirkus Reviews)

Stark converts plausible conjectures into testable hypotheses about the growth of Christianity . . . this book will spark controversy. (ALA Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Rodney Stark's research is simply the best.
Daniel Lamb
This is a well written and well argued book that deserves a wide audience.
Amazon Customer
I do think anyone serious about church history should read this book.
Thomas M. Magee

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By George R Dekle on June 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A lot of historical scholarship consists of perceiving historical phenomena and then working out plausible explanations for the phenomena. Such explanations are largely untested, but they often become accepted as "historical truth" when they are little more than "just so stories." The example from the final chapter of Schlesinger's "huge upswell" of popular democracy during the era of Andrew Jackson is a case in point. Going back and counting the votes from previous elections shows that the voter turnout in the Jackson era was actually lower than many previous elections.

It is all well and good to devise hypotheses to explain historical events, but they should not be accepted as truth unless they can be tested. Stark undertakes to test a number of historical hypotheses relating to the rise of early Christianity, and does so through statistical analysis. This entails a lot of spadework, but the results are worthwhile.

A lot of Stark's findings validate many of the hypotheses of previous scholarship, and this should lead to no controversy. A lot of his findings invalidate the hypotheses of "cutting edge" Biblical scholarship, and this should mean that Stark's book won't be profiled on prime time television.

Some of Stark's more interesting findings are: (1) Orthodox Christianity, not "Gnosticism" or some other "Lost Christianity" was the original form of the religion. (2) "Gnosticism" was a loopy, lunatic fringe blend of paganism and Christianity. (3) Orthodox Christians did not persecute paganism into oblivion. (4) Pentecost most likely did not result in 3,000 newly baptized Christians, but simply 3,000 wet Jews and pagans. (5) Paul did not invent Christianity and actually had very little to do with the spread of Christianity throughout the Empire.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Daniel C. Harlow on March 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Rodney Stark, a sociologist who in the 1990s began applying the tools of his craft to the study of early Christianity, is always worth reading. Cities of God is an interesting, provocative, and often illuminating study of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire. It applies the methods of quantitative analysis to the geography, urbanism, and other aspects of the Christian movement and its major forerunners and competitors. Most of Stark's conclusions are neither new nor radical, but they are significant because they are supported by modes of analysis not typically employed by biblical scholars or historians of antiquity.

Among Stark's CONVINCING CONCLUSIONS:

(1) Christianity spread not through mass conversions but through the example and witness of rank-and-file believers who traveled for commercial and other reasons. (2) Sea travel was more important than Roman roads in facilitating the spread of Christianity and other eastern religions. (3) Christianity found especially fertile soil in large cities--especially port cities and Hellenized cities. (5) Cybele and Isis worship were important stepping stones--ritual, emotional, and intellectual--for many pagans who came to embrace Christianity. (5) Gnosticism (a dubious category) and Demiurgical religions were neither offshoots of Judaism nor early and widespread forms of Christianity but amalgams of paganism and Greek philosophy (especially Platonism) that had little appeal to most Greco-Romans, whether Christian or pagan. (6) Mithraism was never a serious competitor to Christianity but a male-dominated army cult with little appeal to the masses. (7) Constantine was not responsible for the triumph of Christianity. (8) It was the emperor Julian (the "Apostate") who exacerbated tensions between pagans and Christians.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on February 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are a great many famous biblical scholars, but most of them write narrow, even crabbed, books on narrow, crabbed subjects.

Which is why Rodney Stark is such a breath of fresh air. He ask the big questions, then hunts down the answers using sociology and statistics, not the usual tools of the biblical scholar. In book after book, he wrote en about early Christianity in ways that challenge old stereotypes, and did it in his typically brisk, clear style.

Within the first few pages in "Cities of God" he argues that, "Only monotheism can generate the level of commitment to mobilize the rank and file in missionizing activities" (p 13). And he cites the studies showing how conversion takes place.

Against the usual argument that the power of Christianity came from its promises of eternal life, Start says that the faith spread because of the way it could "provide an antidote to life's miseries here and now. The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives" (p 30). A breathtaking statement.

Stark also overturns all the usual liberal dogmas about how Gnosticism represents a more authentic Christianity. As Stark tartly notes, Gnostic manuscripts to not denote social movements. On the contrary. "Gnostic writers are known to have gathered only small schools of devotees" (p 143). They were not an alternative Christianity. They were paganism's attempt to paganize Christianity.

This is a well written and well argued book that deserves a wide audience.
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