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The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity Hardcover – November 27, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Compelling. . . . An outstanding achievement.”—Maria E. Doerfler, Commonweal
(Maria E. Doerfler Commonweal)

“Brilliant . . . a riveting story.”—Publishers Weekly 
(Publishers Weekly)

“Ambitious and wide-ranging . . . [This] highly accessible volume abounds with lively tales and fascinating connections, and the color illustrations are a delight. Wilken’s recent scholarship has also given him a global perspective of impressive sweep.”—Philip Jenkins, Christian Century 
(Philip Jenkins Christian Century)

“Elegantly written [and] highly readable.”—First Things 
(First Things)

“Robert Wilken has written the best kind of authoritative historical survey.  Its treatment is learned, thorough, but also accessible for all aspects of early Christian history, and especially for the great significance of Islam to the entire Christian world from the seventh century forward.”—Mark Noll, author of The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys
(Mark Noll 2012-08-06)

“A marvelous and unique survey, learned and authoritative, yet also a perfect introduction to the early history of Christianity.  Robert Wilken redraws many boundaries, expanding horizons, summarizing and analyzing with consummate skill.  This beautifully written book sets new standards on multiple levels, and should stand for a long time as the benchmark by which all other surveys are measured.”—Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy
(Carlos Eire 2012-08-06)

“This is a rich and wonderful book, not only because of Robert Wilken's narrative gifts, but because of his immense scholarly range and sympathies.  His is one of the few treatments of Christianity's first millennium for Anglophone readers that embraces the faith's whole history, cultural and geographical, Eastern and Western, Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian, European, Asian, and African.  It is a pure joy to read.”—David Hart, author of Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies
(David Hart 2012-08-06)

“Robert Wilken reminds us that our association of “global” developments in culture, communications and economics with the beginning of the Third Millennium forgets the world of the First Millennium, which was integrated by a universal faith.  This book is both unique and timely, the fruit of broad erudition and deep reflection.”—Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago
(Francis Cardinal George 2012-08-06)

“I’ve been a fan of Robert Wilken for decades, but even he outdid himself on this one, a remarkable blend of scholarly precision and attractive readability.  It’s even more: I found it also spiritual reading, from a professor who detects something beyond the worldly at work in one of the most colorful institutions around.”—Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York
(Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan)

“A lively, engaging, and highly enjoyable tour of the church’s first millennia.” —Jacob Sweeney, Semper Reformanda (blog)
(Jacob Sweeney Semper Reformanda 2013-04-01)

"Readable and reliable."—Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, Catholic Books Review
(Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Catholic Books Review)

“[A] masterly and generous-spirited account . . . [that] brings new freshness and clarity.”—Eamon Duffy, New York Review of Books
(Eamon Duffy New York Review of Books)

"[W]ilken's book would make a nice addition to the library of a pastor or seminary student seeking an up-to-date overview of the first millennium of Christian history. His writing style makes it easy and interesting to read....His emphasis on the spread of Christianity beyond the Roman empire shows that the gospel has had a global reach from the very beginning of the church's history."—Joel Otto, Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly
(Joel Otto Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly)

From the Author

An excerpt from Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years:

In the early sixth century, a merchant set out from Egypt to sail to the southern coast of India. Like earlier visitors from the Roman Empire, he had undertaken the long journey to bring home peppercorns from the Malabar coastal region, and he called India the land where “pepper grows.”

The name of the sixth-century traveler was Cosmas, and because of his journey to India he is known to historians as Cosmas Indicopleustes, Cosmas the Indian Navigator. Cosmas was a Christian, and in his Christian Topography he reports on Christian communities discovered in his travels. He spent some time in Malabar, the southwestern coast of India, in present-day Kerala, where he found a church with a bishop appointed from Persia. He also visited Socotra, an island in the Arabian Sea, approximately two hundred miles south of Yemen and east of Somalia, where there were Christians with clergy who received their ordination from Persia. But even more striking, he got as far as Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and there he discovered a church composed of “Persian Christians” performing, in his words, the “full ecclesiastical rite.”

Our histories tell us little about the mission to the Far East. As the spread of Christianity to northern Europe was the work of Latin-speaking monks, and the spread of Christianity among the Slavs was the work of Greek-speaking monks, so the spread of Christianity to the east was the work of Syriac-speaking monks from the Church of the East.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300118848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300118841
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Peter S. Bradley on November 25, 2012
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Robert Louis Wilken's "The First Thousand" years is an exemplary survey of Christianity's first millenium. Wilken starts with the life of Jesus and follows an approach encyclopedically organized around topics and geography to close with the Christianization of the Slavs in the 10th Century. Along the way, he touches on chapters devoted to architecture, christological issues, the rise of Islam, music, China, India, Northern Europe, Justinian and Charlemagne.

That's a lot of ground to cover. Wilken is a wonderful prose stylist and his writing is graceful and informative. He also brings his own perspective to the survey and so we are treated to insights and topics that readers don't normaally get in usual surveys. For example, those familiar with Wilken's previous works will greet the discussions of Celsus [from The Christians as the Romans Saw Them] and the Cappodocian Fathers and Maximus the Confessor [from The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God] like they were renewing an acquaintance with old friends.

As a survey, Wilken does cover some familiar ground - and strangely he does repeat information provided under one topic when he moves to tangentially related topics - but by and large Wilken's choice of topics is new, particularly in the decision to give non-European Christianity the attention it deserves.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bill on November 13, 2012
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If you enjoyed Prof. Wilken's "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought" and "The Christians As the Romans Saw Them," then you will almost certainly enjoy this book, intended for the general reader but crammed with interesting information about the Church's growth and struggles during its first millenium. Written with the engaging style and narrative flow of his earlier books, Prof. Wilken covers an immense amount of territory--geographic, religious, and historical--in a book that is relatively short for the scope of its subject matter, including forays into the evangelization of far-flung areas such as Central Asia, India, and China. The author is adept at placing important events in their full context. See, for example, how adroitly he places the events surrounding Christ's birth in Palestine within the context of both the Roman Empire's temporal power and the Pax Romana. The several chapters he devotes to the rise and rapid spread of Islam confirm his belief that this new religion posed the greatest threat to Christianity during its initial thousand years. Some professional reviewers have credited this book as Prof. Wilken's "tour de force." IMHO, that's a well-deserved appellation!
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49 of 62 people found the following review helpful By VA Book Lover on November 14, 2012
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I am a huge fan of Wilken's book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God. I found it to be one of the most elegant and profound expositions about the early church that I have ever read.

But this new book, which I was looking forward to as a kind of grand synthesis, is something of a disappointment. 100 pages in I find myself wondering why he wrote the book. Nothing is new, and at 359 pages it moves at a brisk pace where much detail is lost -- indeed, where the gaps yawn like chasms.

The delay in the book's publication suggests that the author felt the need to digest the vastly more complicated narrative of this 2010 history Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. They are different beasts, though.

The more apt comparisons are two classics: The Early Church (The Penguin History of the Church) (v. 1) and The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, 2nd Edition (The Making of Europe). What I cannot figure out is why or how Wilken supercedes either of these classics. Whatever his ambition, he doesn't succeed. Sure, the writing is elegant, but both Chadwick and Brown are hard to surpass.

My advice: stick with the classics.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Mccarthy on December 29, 2012
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For this non-expert Catholic, this text was an extraordinary learning experience. What made is so was the way that Robert Wilken organized his text in such a way that each chapter's relevance to what we think, believe, and practice today adds to impact of every chapter.

What we see in this text is the effort of different early theologians, popes, etc. to wrestle with the unplumbable mystery of the Incarnation, and how each of these thinkers perceived it with differing emphases which led to different practices, and devotions, and styles of art and architecture, etc.

Which leads me to what I consider to be the most important line in the whole book, which occurs on page 133, and is attributed to Symmmachus, a Roman senator, where he says: "What difference does it make by what wisdom a person seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a mystery by one path."

To the practicing Christian, this book offers so much. We see in its early chapters Jesus' and his immediate followers emphasis from the beginning on community, and on building a community. We see the beginnings of Christian symbolism in the catacombs. With Constantine, we see the beginnings of Christendom, and the initial outlines of the tormented relationship between church and state. We see the origins of a theology of the Holy Spirit at Nicea, and the beginnings of anti-semitism, as well as of monasticism and asceticism - all as relevant today as they were then.

There are wonderful chapters on Eastern Christianity, and on the gradual emergence of the authority of the Bishop of Rome, and on the rise of Canon Law, and the historic implications of how the church dealt with Arianism, Donatism, and Pelagianism, and on rise of Islam with all its profound implications.

In short, this is a fabulous read. I suspect that there is no better history of the Christianity's first thousand years than this.
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