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The Christians as the Romans Saw Them Paperback – April 10, 2003
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"Should fascinate any reader with an interest in the history of human thought."
"The pioneering study in English of Roman impressions of Christians during the first four centuries A.D."
"A fascinating . . . account of early Christian thought. . . . Readable and exciting."
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Top Customer Reviews
Wilken examines five pagan critics, starting with Pliny the Younger's letters to the emperor Trajan circa 112 C.E. Galen, Celsus, Porphyry and the Roman emperor Julian round out the cast of characters. As the accounts unfold, the development of Christianity can be seen clearly: from a small, almost unknown sect in Pliny's day to the powerful apparatus it became by the time Julian launched his reactionary attacks in the late 4th century. The attacks on Christians become more theological as time progresses, showing an increasing sophistication as knowledge about Christianity became better known. Pliny mentioned the Christians in passing, one event among many in his role as a provincial governor. By the time of Celsus, Porphyry and Julian, whole books are being written to refute Christian ideas.
Wilken points out that Pliny's concerns with the Christians mirror his function as a politician. With Galen, a concern for philosophical schools is reflected in his attack on Christianity, namely the creation doctrine and how it compares with the Greek conception of creation as Plato defined it in his work, Timaeus. Celsus attacks Christianity on several fronts, most importantly that Christianity is an apostasy from Judaism and that Jesus was a magician.Read more ›
Wilken divides the book into sections, each headed with the name of a well-known and influential pagan critic of Christianity. There are four sections -- Pliny, Celsus, Porphyry, Julian (the Apostate)-- plus 2 chapters not focused on a particular critic. They are chronological, and each builds upon the revelations of those before it. This format makes the book wonderfully easy to follow.
My only criticism of Wilken is that he tends to repeat himself (it gets worse toward the end, when he is tying together the various critics interpretations), but I think he does it on purpose, to make sure the reader will understand the point. All in all, the reiteration does not detract from the pleasure of reading the book, and it DOES impress important points in your mind as you read.
THE CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM presents a fresh view of Christianity (one that began as very different from the Church of today) in a relatively short, clearly and even humorously written, well-researched volume that is surprisingly difficult to put down. Based solely on this book, I intend to read Wilken's other work soon.
When Pliny found that they were engaged in nothing more sinister than worship and instruction in right living, he wanted to be as kind as possible. He told Trajan he had decided not to condemn anyone on the basis of rumor and not to put anyone to death who renounced Christianity. Trajan approved.
Pliny's perspective is the first of five 'outside looking in' perspectives of ancient Christianity presented in this book. The physician Galen, the philosophers Celsus and Porphyry, and the Emperor Julian the Apostate also wrote about this upstart religion, and it is instructive to see how Roman attitudes changed over the years.
Galen thought of Christianity as a second-rate philosophy which had many admirable characteristics, but was ultimately based on fallacious reasoning. Celsus, the first pagan thinker to study Christianity in depth, took Christians to task for what he saw as all sorts of lunatic ideas. Porphyry penned what is probably the most incisive critique of Christianity ever written. Julian attacked Christianity with the fervor characteristic of many former Christians. He not only sought to discredit it with literature, he sought to destroy it with legislation. Interestingly, one of the laws with which Julian sought to undermine Christianity dealt with public education. Apparently Julian didn't like prayer in schools any more than the modern Supreme Court.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book was not what I was expecting. I wanted to read what Romans supposed Christians did that made it all right to send them into the circus ring to be slaughtered by wild... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Phebe
I've benefited enormously from Wilken's book. It is accessible, careful to not overstate matters, and full of terrific insights. Read morePublished 13 months ago by David George Moore
Over the years I have read many books that examine the early Christian church, as it existed within the milieu of the pagan Roman Empire. Read morePublished 13 months ago by The Reviewer Formerly Known as Kurt Johnson
This book definitely feels like it's written by an american. Not a smooth read, but gets the job done.Published 17 months ago by Georgia
I had to buy this book for my religious studies course at college. It's really a great read, not too hard to understand, and very interesting.Published 24 months ago by M. Leung
I don't know what I expected when I picked up CHRISTIANS AS THE ROMANS SAW THEM; no doubt I fished it out of some bargain bin or library sale for a quarter, `just in case' I might... Read morePublished on January 27, 2014 by Bryan Byrd
Its a great book that discusses how Christianity became the strong faith it is! I would recommend this book to anyone wh loves history!Published on December 6, 2013 by Rosa Harrison
Fascinating to read critics of Christianity with such close proximity to the time of the coming of the Messiah. Read morePublished on August 29, 2013 by E hall