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Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years Hardcover – March 9, 2010

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Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years + The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061768944
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061768941
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The fifth-century Christian church faced a doctrinal issue, now largely forgotten, that precipitated intramural Christian savagery unparalleled until the 11-centuries-later Thirty Years’ War. The bone of contention was the nature of Jesus Christ. That he wasn’t a mere man was indisputable. But was he a human-divine cross-breed, so to speak, or was he purely divine and his human body an illusion? Neither was accepted, but the conclusion of the council of Chalcedon in 451 that he was fully divine and fully human—that is, said dissidents, of two natures—incensed those who held he was of one nature, entirely divine. The fight broke out well before Chalcedon, entailing the death-from-assault of the patriarch of Constantinople during the 449 council of Ephesus, thereafter disowned as the “Gangster Synod.” Chalcedon eventually triumphed, but not until well after 250 years of intermittent violence in which monks behaved like the Waffen SS. Jenkins condenses centuries of church and imperial strife with admirable clarity despite the continuous blizzard of historical names and ecclesiastical terms the narrative entails. He suggests that this era, not the later Dark and Middle Ages, is the most violent (un-Christian?) in Christian history and that it may have lessons for the present and future conflict between Christians and Muslims over the nature of God. --Ray Olson


“Are you hungry for a rip-roaring tale of theological intrigue filled with conspiracies, Byzantine plots, murder, and mayhem? Or are you longing for a solid, informative, and accurate history of the development of Christian orthodoxy? If your answer is yes to both, Philip Jenkins’s Jesus your book.” (Christianity Today)

“Jenkins...has done a remarkable job of documenting this little-understood slice of history. There’s lots of excitement and plenty of intrigue, and Jenkins does a fine job in his recitation of this strange story.” (Publishers Weekly)

“In showing general readers how he finds fresh ideas and the resurrections of past teachings invigorating to religious studies, Jenkins provides an accessible book . . . the book enlightens readers on the backstory to current Christian divisions . . . ” (Library Journal)

“Jenkins condenses centuries of church and imperial strife with admirable clarity...” (Booklist (starred review))

“Jenkins manages to explain very clearly why people in the early Christian era were so passionately concerned with issues of high theology.” (The Economist)

More About the Author

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Lost History of Christianity and has a joint appointment as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities in history and religious studies at Penn State University and as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe and has been a guest on top national radio shows across the country.

Customer Reviews

This book is a great read on this subject, highly recommended.
M. Mariba
The Christian faith might well be quite different had the Monophysite culture prevailed.
Hande Z
Jenkins writes well, his book is thorough and highly entertaining.
Timothy R. Campbell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

98 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Thomas R. Johnson on May 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree with much of the other reviewers in that this is a well-researched book on a very complicated subject, as the issues raised by early Christians would seem to have little resonance today. One truly does need a "scorecard" to keep track of the distinctions that caused such debate and even mayhem among Christian communities of the 5th-10th centuries and Jenkins went to the work to provide it for the modern reader. While it is a quite readable book, it does indeed have places where it drags as Jenkins tries his hardest to explain quite esoteric beliefs espoused by long-forgotten (and often unpronounceable) players that threatened to take Christianity in very different historical directions. Whether it was God's guiding hand or the personalities of those monks, bishops, popes and emperors (and sometimes their wives) involved in these conflicts that led to today's Christian church is a question Jenkins often poses at his reader.

I want to mention that Jenkins has performed a great service by helping disabuse many of the notion that the Christian church used to be a more unified body in antiquity. We in the West often wrongly assume that Rome dominated and shaped Christianity from St. Peter's time to the Reformation. Jenkins clearly shows that this wasn't the case as churches in Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople vied for supremacy and used their definition of orthodox doctrine to justify their oft-abhorrent actions. The Christian church from the beginning has argued over "Who is Jesus?" and little has changed in this regard over the past 2000 years. Jenkins concludes by comparing some of those early non-orthodox, non-accepted beliefs with today's understand of Christ and draws some fascinating paralells.
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140 of 152 people found the following review helpful By Hande Z on May 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jenkins tells the history of the Christian Church before the first Council of Nicea (325 CE) when Antioch and Alexandria were the centres of the faith and takes us to the sixth century in a fascinating account of the time when the Christians were divided in their belief of the nature of Jesus Christ. Arius from Antioch led the culture of the two natures of Jesus - the divine and the human, with the latter being subordinate to the former. Athanasius the Bishop of Alexandria eventually won the early part of the "Jesus Wars" when his One Nature Christ doctrine became the orthodox view at the time. In 451 Council of Chalcedon decreed that Christ was of two natures, one fully human and the other fully divine, but the ideological battle did not end but continued for almost 200 years more before the roots of the modern doctrines became more firmly established. "The Jesus Wars" is an informative account, written in an accessible style in spite of the numerous events and names that had to be covered. That had to be done at the expense of the scholarly approach of a standard history book. Some of the inferences and comments as well as references (even Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" was cited) might attract criticism from serious history enthusiasts, but the book as a historical account seemed accurate. It tells a single continuous story in one of the most important 300-year history of Christianity and compels the reader to realise that the doctrines and liturgies that Christians take for granted today weren't quite like that at first. The Antiochean and Alexandrian divide was manifest in Calvinistic and Lutheran thinking. The Christian faith might well be quite different had the Monophysite culture prevailed. What was it like then, and what it might have been today are questions the answers to which can be found in this book.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In the plethora of current works on non-orthodox early movements from the likes of excellent scholars such Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagel (plus the absurd novels of Dan Brown and his imitators, which I shudder to mention in the same sentence), there has been precious little recent consideration of the establishment of Christian orthodoxy from a historical perspective. Into that breach steps Philip Jenkins with his interesting and readable "Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians would Believe for 1,500 Years."

Jenkins illuminates often neglected history of the competing strains of Christianity, the charges of heresy and counter-heresy leveled over and over again as theologians and bishops sought to settle the apparent contradictions inherent in ideas like the Trinity and "The Divine Made Flesh." If some imagine these conflicts as intellectual, they were at the time considered deadly serious, and a deluge of blood was shed on both sides.

While on occasion one might grow confused about the various heresies, Jenkins does yeoman work helping the reader keep them straight, including excellent appendices following at the end of certain chapters. As for entertainment, he also offers a variety of interesting character sketches of the prime movers in the debate, neither beatifying nor overly vilifying them. No doubt some will take offense, but for those interested in learning of the battles that set the fault lines for a millennium and half of Christianity, this is a welcome read.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By George F. Simons on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Philip Jenkins has written a serious history of the Christological controversies that strongly marked the fifth to seventh centuries. It is an era whose strident tensions and bloody conflicts over the identity of Jesus were punctuated by ecclesiastical councils and driven by political powers. In this period one sees the forces in play that evidence the transition from classical times to the Medieval Period in the West and the strident disruptions which left many of the ancient churches, warred upon by Christian brethren of different persuasions, welcoming the tolerance of Islamic invaders. It is in fact the story of the collapse of Roman and Christian rule over Egypt and the East which in effect insulated the protagonists from each other, or, as the author puts it, "How the Church lost half the world."

The book brings back into focus that, compared to the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation of Catholicism in the 16th and 17th centuries and the subsequent sectarian conflicts in the West, the period under study here was far more violent than the latter fragmentation has managed to become despite its well known atrocities. It seems incomprehensible today that debates over whether Jesus had one nature or two, one will or two, could he and did he really die, and the like, could have produced Bishops who could sic their hit teams of cudgel and knife wielding monks on their fellow bishops and their congregants. But they did, even with imperial and military support in many cases. Fist fights were not uncommon at meetings of bishops wrangling with concepts that would seem arcane and perhaps incomprehensible to most Christians today.

Do theological debates of this nature rage today?
Read more ›
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