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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Survey of the End of Paganism
Fox has written a definitive, if not THE definitive, study of the transition from Greco-Roman paganism to a Christian Empire. Fox paints a picture of a thriving pagan worldview, and debunks the view that paganism in late antiquity was already on its deathbed when Christianity came onto the scene. The book is divided into three major sections. The first examines the the...
Published on November 3, 2000

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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly But Difficult to Read
For a period of 400 years, Paganism and Christianity existed side by side, competing for the hearts and purses of the people of the Mediteranean world. What happened and how the Christians ultimately triumphed has been the subject of several books, none as exhaustive and detailed as the current text. The intrigues between these two forces (discussed at some length), as...
Published on March 24, 2006 by Dr. James Gardner


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99 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Survey of the End of Paganism, November 3, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: PAGANS & CHRISTIANS (Hardcover)
Fox has written a definitive, if not THE definitive, study of the transition from Greco-Roman paganism to a Christian Empire. Fox paints a picture of a thriving pagan worldview, and debunks the view that paganism in late antiquity was already on its deathbed when Christianity came onto the scene. The book is divided into three major sections. The first examines the the nature of paganism in the Hellenistic World, and explores what it meant to "practice pagan religion" in the 3rd century Roman Empire. Fox pays considerable attention to the role of oracles in expounding pagan theology, and provides a more concrete study of how the ancients viewed the gods than I have seen elsewhere. In the second section of the book, Fox turns to the early Christians. He fleshes out the social and economic situation under which Christianity developed. The concerns and attitudes of 3rd century Christians are seen to be very different from those of their modern counterparts. Early Christians are seen to have had an obsessive, perhaps pathological, concern with sexuality and martydom that to modern sensibilities will seem extreme, even to a committed Christian. Fox considers such questions as to how quickly Christianity spread, how widespread it was in the generation before Constantine (not very), and who was likely to become Christian. Fox also considers why Christians were persecuted, while other groups (Jews, for instance) were not. In the final section of the book, Fox turns to the figure who proves to be most responsible for the triumph of Christianity--the emperor Constantine. Constantine is seen to have played a pivotal role in organizing the church, settling doctrinal disputes, and aggressively promoting the new religion, at the expense of the established paganism. Fox's answer to why Christianity triumphed seems in the end to be Constantine himself. The chance rise to power of a Christian emperor, who then put all the power of an emperor behind his religion, made all the difference. The rise of Christianity is then seen not as a result of any inherent superiority in that faith, or any fatal weakness in paganism, but rather as the result of what was essentially a historical accident. The biggest drawback of this book is that it ends with the death of Constantine. At the time of his death, the Empire was by no means Christian, nor was the end of paganism assured. Fox sets the stage for the rise of Christianity as a major religious force, but does not cover the endgame, which was to play out over the next two centuries.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Build up to a revolution, December 13, 2005
By 
Sarakani (Harrow United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
In the autumn of 312CE a revolution took place. It was a relatively violent one that had an improbable beginning. The classical world was turned upside down. The old gods were banished. The temples destroyed and ancient festivals and rituals were forgotten or appropriated in a new guise. The revolution extended over the whole of Europe and much of Turkey and Egypt over a period of some two centuries during its most intense and violent phase. The improbable event was emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity - and once this became the "legal franchise" any competition was ostracised or hunted out of existence.

Yet what kind of world was the world of the "Pagan"? This book lovingly brings to life the kind of religion that prevailed in the civilised Western world from around 500BCE to around 400CE and its increasingly fraught relationship through its ups and downs with Christianity. Most of the action centres from 150 to 312CE. Paganism is losely defined and we can see that all it stands for is "other than Christianity". We begin to see the world of the Pagan that existed not just in the areas once occupied by the Romans but also extending east to the Middle East and beyond. Regions that were subsequently overrun by alternative versions of monotheism, perhaps taking their cue from Western Christianity.

This subject would be too vast for any canvas. Noted scholar Robin Lane Fox teases together the most vital threads of Paganism and Christianity, how they were similar, how they differed and how they were united. The book is a monumental work of some 800 plus pages yet we can see that the scope is yet narrow. Nothing here about architecture or specific details of daily life. You are expected to come with some background knowledge though the book is suitable for the interested beginner.

Paganism gives way to Christianity in a well balanced gradation of chapters. Towards the end, the revolution is only summarised. This book is concerned with the build up. We note that Christianity's triumph was slow and convoluted - even improbable.

We are treated to topics such as oracles, the prominent sites of paganism with good maps, the distinctions between Greek and Roman approaches to paganism - the attitudes of Pagans to different gods, their views on sex and marriage and their topics of concern. Civic metropolitan life (including private lives) in general leaps out of the pages. We begin to understand what the gods meant to the ancients. Many details are blurred, e.g., on Pagan attitudes to re-incarnation. I feel that Fox's grasp of this issue is vague and uncertain. He does not advance the ideas from Protograros and Meno (Plato) or Pythagoras. There may be other areas in this book that a Classical scholar could pick holes in. Perhaps the ideas of Gnostic Christians and the various sects of Christianity and their differences are not highlighted.

On Christianity in general the topics are fuller than for Paganism - the latter is presented more as a pastiche to contrast it to its evolving rival. A very large chapter on the Christian view of sex, marriage or celibacy. On bishops, martyrdom, Constantine's conversion and a blow by blow analysis of one of his famous speeches which is restored to its true context. Fox seems to have done quite a bit of detective work and his brilliant knowledge of Latin and Greek has given him a razor sharp understanding of certain issues that other scholars would miss. There is a section on Mani and his religion.

Entertaining, gripping, this book never gets too sentimental and remains a balanced portrait of the nuts and bolts of the evolution of early Christianity as a gentile religion. We can see the good and bad sides of both camps - wanton animal sacrifice vs., intolerance and irrationality? Perhaps the Christian intolerance was a symptom of how they had been persecuted quite a few times by successive emperors. The persecution is put under a microscope. Christianity's claims to compassion are also vivified.

This is a book on the general evolution and involution of that aspect of culture we call religion in a very broad sense and thus useful for anyone interested in history. Sensitive, poignant with blunt edges.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly But Difficult to Read, March 24, 2006
This review is from: PAGANS & CHRISTIANS (Hardcover)
For a period of 400 years, Paganism and Christianity existed side by side, competing for the hearts and purses of the people of the Mediteranean world. What happened and how the Christians ultimately triumphed has been the subject of several books, none as exhaustive and detailed as the current text. The intrigues between these two forces (discussed at some length), as well as the internictine fights within each of them (not discussed at the length I would have liked) is a great area for study, and Fox provides lots of examples.

The great weakness of this book is that the writing style is unusual. It is not completely dry (as some historical texts can be), yet it does not flow easily either. The author seems to mix styles, even within chapters, making it difficult to adjust one's reading style to his writing style. The result is that reading more than a few dozen pages at a time is difficult to do, and I notice that I am not alone among the reviewers to identify this problem.

From my own personal perspective, I found it more useful to go through the author's detailed index and then choose subjects which were of interest to me (e.g., Constantine and the Cross, Vestal Virgins, etc), and then read those segments.

There's definitely lots of good information in this book. Harvesting it is the problem.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitive study, April 16, 2005
By 
Stephen Balbach (Ashton, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
This is a masterpiece of historical writing. However for reasons I will explain below, it can be a difficult book to read, so if you find yourself getting bogged down, here is some guidence on one way to approach it. I believe it is out of print and not as popular as it could be for lack of understanding what kind of book this is.

First, read the Amazon review by "A Reader" from 2000 below, which provides an excellent high-level summary and context. Next, understand this is an academic history book by a professional historian, it is a "survey", it is not a narrative. While one can read it cover to cover word for word, it is not required, and except for the most dedicated, it would present a challenge of time and energy. This is a survey of Paganism and Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, up to the time of Constantine.

The book is laid out in 3 sections (as described by "A Reader" below) and a total of 13, very long, chapters. Each Chapter is broken in to sections, 3 to 5 each, labeled simply (I, II, III..). The trick is to decipher what each chapter, and section, is about. Fox gives his Chapters obtuse names, and sadly doesnt name the sections at all, however, he does provide guidence for the patient reader: By reading the first few paragraph intro, and the last few paragraphs summary, of each section and chapter, one can determine what that section is about. In this way its possible to get a lay of the land cover to cover in a few hours. Then, go back and read those sections you are most

interested in, underlining interesting phrases (the book is full of gold quotable nuggets), and come back to or skim the rest later. I give it 4 stars because of the vauge Table of Contents, otherwise this is a history classic.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Daunting but rewarding, June 29, 2007
This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
After reading this book, you will feel like you know all there is to know about the pagan context of early Christianity and how the Church spread from humble beginnings to become the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine. This feeling would, of course, be mistaken, but one can be forgiving for harbouring this illusion because of the massive erudition and study that has gone into this book. It is quite simply required reading for anyone interested in Christian origins. It busts more than a few bubbles no matter what background you bring to it. Christian readers will be heartened by Lane Fox's refusal to endorse 'pagan copycat' ideas about the development of Christian theology (pp.22, 377-378), his rebuttal of the idea of widespread 'heresy' competing with orthodoxy in the early years of the Christian movement (p.276) and his robust defense of the Book of Acts as a reliable, first-hand account of the early Church (pp. 99-101, 305, 430-432). But there is also much to give pause for thought: the somewhat dubious endorsement of 'perfectionist' sexual ethics (pp.336-374), widespread fictionalizing of 'apostolic' texts (e.g. p.340) and intolerant, hypocritical leadership.

In other words, Robin Lane Fox tries his best to be an impartial historian, giving each 'side' (in this case, pagans and Christians) a chance to put their 'best foot forward', not flinching from unseemly aspects of both, while giving them the benefit of the doubt where he feels it is appropriate. Reading the book is cause neither for triumphalism over the miracle of the emergence of Christianity nor for skeptical bashing. Instead, it is an occasion to open one's mind and learn things one probably did not know before, and try one's best to incorporate this knowledge into a balanced view of religious history.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clashing Epiphanies - Zeus and Friends versus The Word, September 2, 2006
By 
T. Dodge (Pennsylvania) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
As a commoner and nascent tourist I visited Western Turkey earlier this Spring (2006). One of the tour highlights was a stop at Sardis. Immediately alongside the remains of the Temple of Artemis are the ruins of the Church of St. John. Two utterly contrasting worlds - a mixed scene of palatial pagan columns and common Christian brick rubble. The architectural contrast shocks the senses, living the struggles shocked the Western world. This incredible story is probed and poked by R.L. Fox in his magnificent book "Pagans and Christians".

For thought-provoking content, I give "Pagans and Christians" full 5 stars; for ease of reading, others have adequately expressed my concurring sentiments. Fox will likely make you think long and hard about long ignored facts. Read it closely and then return to it again and again for advancing insights buried within the hundreds of resting places provided by R.L. Fox in this monumental work.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, rare portrait of a mystery, November 9, 2002
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This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
The Christian Church does not talk much about how it obtained dominance in the European world. One reads of BIble stories and martyrs and popes but nothing on the events that led to the overthrow of the gods of a religious people. In this book, one discovers that early Christians were the "Atheists" since they did not worship a pagan god.
Pagan gods were wondrously easygoing. Each town or family had their own god. Acceptance or rejection was entirely personal. Gods could be adopted, created, borrowed or discarded depending on the social circumstance. Christianity demands that only "God" (Jesus) receive adoration, thus setting up a conflict that resulted in one side winning and outlawing the former gods.
What is particularly interesting is the daily life of the people and how their religion affected them. Pagans were generous with their money, held services, performed rituals and prayed for success or money. Even more interesting is the manner in which Christianity adapted and adopted from pagans - both in theology and ritual. The mystical union of god and man was a uniquely pagan thought as was the "Mind of God". We read about the ferocious fights concerning divinity ("Was Jesus one or separate with God?"), scripture (books were "voted" holy at synods) and ceremony. Christianity owes at least as much to paganism as it does Judaism. Get this book and The Unauthorized Version, Fox's other masterpiece.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Long Tour De Force, July 17, 2009
By 
S. Pactor "reader" (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
I was reading Fox's recent "Traveling Heroes" and really enjoying it. As it turned out, I already had Pagans and Christians on the shelf, had started it years ago, and never finished. My book mark had even stayed in the position I left it. Reinvigorated by Traveling Heroes, I went back to Pagans and Christians and started over from the beginning. I agree with other reviewers- this book is maybe the best book on the subject ever written. My only (small) criticism, is that Pagans and Christians feels about 100 pages too long. It's really hard for me to criticize such an amazing accomplishment, but I did feel like certain passages went over long. This is a very interesting subject, and a must for anyone who seeks command of major issues in world history.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very valuable., June 6, 2006
This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
This book contains a history of evolving religious experience both Christian and otherwise. For anyone interested in the development ethics and religious experience it is one of the best sources (sources on the history of dogma are very common, but this is different).

I am convinced that if terminology is confusing that readers will find that they can penetrate the book with a dictionary, and that the book will help them select primary sources to study to enhance their comprehension of the period.
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33 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mass of meandering verbiage, October 8, 2001
This review is from: Pagans and Christians (Paperback)
Doubtless, the author knows his subject. But, like many contemporary academics, he is unable to clearly and concisely state a thesis, marshal the facts and arguments and to then move on. I suspect this type of thing results from a fear of making oneself an easy taget for some carping, caviling "scholar".
The author, with his undisciplined, meandering style, managed to turn a fascinating subject and his own deep knowledge into an insufferably long (799 pages) and tedious mass of mush. It is hardly surprising that this book is out of print.
Yes, there are some fine nuggets to be mined herein. However, they are easy to miss when your eyes are glazed over. This book is not recommended for the general reader looking for an interesting, informative book of manageable length.
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Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox (Paperback - Jan. 1988)
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