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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hopkins hits the nail of christian origins on the head
Some have criticized Hopkins' book for not being scholarly. If they mean by this that it does not bore the reader with yet another positivist history of early christianity, they are right. However, critics cannot fault the author for his research. The footnotes present factual evidence in the scholarly tradition to back up Hopkins' interpretation. This book is way...
Published on December 1, 2000 by George A Sherman

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and interesting at times
Multiple modes of presentation including time travelers, scripted show, description, letters critiquing sections of the book are sometimes interesting and entertaining. Clearly the author is well informed and feels free to present viable but unpopular views. Fundamentalists and literalists beware. Yet overall the book is a mixed bag and unsatisfying because the imbalance...
Published on December 10, 2004 by L. F Sherman


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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hopkins hits the nail of christian origins on the head, December 1, 2000
This review is from: A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity (Hardcover)
Some have criticized Hopkins' book for not being scholarly. If they mean by this that it does not bore the reader with yet another positivist history of early christianity, they are right. However, critics cannot fault the author for his research. The footnotes present factual evidence in the scholarly tradition to back up Hopkins' interpretation. This book is way overdue. It meticulously and creatively lays out the context of the christian origins. The lay reader will come away with an existential hermeneutic of history based on informed knowledge of the context of christian origins. This is the most important contribution of Hopkins' book. The author traces the role of episcopal christianity in establishing the 1)canon of scripture (necessitated by Marcion and then gnostic christians), 2)the chain of bishops(replacing reliance on Jewish scriptures for legitimacy), and 3) the rule of faith. This sequence was critical in creating the identity of that form of christianity that became a historical force to be reckoned with. The bishops forged a historical reality from the myth of Christ, thus institutionalizing the church under their control. The modern secular world has compartmentalized religion to time and place. The ancient world was not secular. Religious symbolism was literally "in your face" for the ancients. Hopkins does the interested modern a service by opening the door to the complex and syncretistic cultural world of the Roman Empire. In short this book provides a useful tool for appreciating, not merely gaining information, about the world, challenges, and contributions of christianity.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An eccentric exercise in "popular" history, January 20, 2002
By 
pnotley@hotmail.com (Edmonton, Alberta Canada) - See all my reviews
Keith Hopkins is an internationally respected classicist who decided that he would do something different for his book on pagan religiousity the rise of Christianity. He would go out of his way to make his book more accessible to a popular audience and at the same time adapt some postmodern elements. So in his first chapter he introduces two time travellers who visit pre-Vesuvius Pompei who make them some properly footnoted comments on the culture and lifestyle of the region. Later they go to Egypt, look at the temples, the man seeks a love spell directed at the woman who isn't talking to him, then he is unfairly arrested and barely escapes before being tortured. At other points Hopkins has a TV interview of an aged Jewish sectarian, and later has an imaginary conversation between a Christian and his pagan colleagues. At the same time there are (fictional?) letters from other scholars which criticize Hopkins' prejudices.
The result is certainly interesting. We certainly get a sense of the public, vigorous and somewhat misogynist sexuality of the Romans. The account of the ascetiscism of the Dead Sea Scrolls Sect is certainly interesting. Hopkins' discussion of Christianity emphasizes the potential alternatives to the central doctrines that became Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. He then goes into considerable details about the world-views of Manicheanism and Gnosticism, with its own elaborate geneologies and cosmologies. Hopkins also emphasizes the strong tendencies towards acesticism within Christianity. "It is ideal that we should feel no desire," says one Christian intellectual. Hopkins goes into considerable detail about the Acts of Thomas, with its miracles and its emphasis on newly converted Christian wives refusing their pagan husbands. The book also benefits from plates of thirty illustrations which are well chosen. One important fact that Hopkins properly reminds us is that the early Church did not emphasize the Gospels. ("It seems amazing now that the New Testament was not recognized as a single set of privileged Christian scriptures before the end of the second century.") Their major polemical tool was trying to find prophecies of Jesus in the Old Testament. (The most famous of these is the classic mistranslation of Isaiah, in which the Hebrew, "A young woman shall conceive," was mangled into the Greek "A virgin shall conceive.") And so we get fascinating details about the topes of Christian martyrdom literture, about brother-sister marriages in Egypt, and pagan accusations of ritual murder against Christians.
At the same time one might want something more. The book is well researched but the contrast with Robin Lane Fox's Pagans and Christians is striking. There Lane Fox patiently sifted through the whole range of somewhat scarce evidence to give a picture of surprising Pagan vitality on the eve of Constantine's conversion. By contrast Hopkins account is somewhat sketchier. Hopkins gives the most recent figures on the growth of Christianity, with perhaps 0.3% of the population of the Empire around 200 and maybe 10% by 300. But the reasons for this growth are not given in much detail. Hopkins suggests that Christianity offered a sense of community and structure (especially in charity) that allowed it to grow until Constantine's patronage ensured its triumph. It is not clear, however, from Hopkins' account, why only Christianity possessed these traits that allowed it to grow and why the Roman elite would look upon it as a new state religion. One wonders whether the emphasis on Gnosticism and Manicheanism really represent their importance at the time, though given the lack of evidence it is not surprising that Hopkins cannot tell us more. All in all, this is an interesting, somewhat eccentric book, which could use more sociology.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual Take on History, August 6, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity (Hardcover)
The author, an esteemed university professor of history, takes an unorthodox approach with this book on the Late Antique/Early Christian period. The book reads almost like a novel, in that Hopkins sets up actual scenarios of people traveling back in time to witness for themselves what Rome was really like (they visit Pompeii in 76 A.D. - in enough time to escape Vesuvius). Other travelers visit other areas of the Roman Empire later in the first century and on into the fourth (i.e., Syria and Egypt). While the premise smacks of the new Michael Crichton novel envolving time travel, Hopkins does thoroughly footnote, and his bibliography indicates extensive study of the major scholars in the field. While this new approach may be problematic to some, it is fresh and opens up new ideas for further study. For instance, Hopkins recreates a Roman bath house, with obvious attention payed to the aftifacts that have been discovered and written accounts of life in Rome that have survived to the present day. There are some problems: passing by houses in Pompeii that display mosaics of dogs that say, in Latin, beware of the dog, Hopkins proposes that the dog, in reality, would be chained there as well. There is literally no way to know this for sure. While problematic in certain details, Hopkins should be commended for producing a vivid account of the period, a time in history that is already receiving a reassessment from scholars in many areas of research.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and interesting at times, December 10, 2004
By 
L. F Sherman "dikw" (Wiscasset, ME United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Multiple modes of presentation including time travelers, scripted show, description, letters critiquing sections of the book are sometimes interesting and entertaining. Clearly the author is well informed and feels free to present viable but unpopular views. Fundamentalists and literalists beware. Yet overall the book is a mixed bag and unsatisfying because the imbalance does not hold together to present a consistent perspective. Sometimes one may draw general conclusions at others instances may or may not be representative.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, December 13, 2001
By 
This book is a collection of essays with early Christianity as a (tenuous) link between them. I liked KH accounts of Mani, the originator of Manicheaism, his many examples of early tensions between the Christians and the Jews and, especially, his accounts of the "feverish imagination of the Gnostics". The core belief of Gnostics is that inside every human there is a spark of divinity, put there from a supreme Divinity which is lodged in the high heavens of outer space. The divinity within each human can be awakened only through a process of contemplation and self-knowledge. It can also be accomplished with the assistance of a divine mediator, such as JC. Although a human instructor can sometimes help, more often than not interference by the "human" dogma can, according to the gnostics, be counterproductive. The gnostic approach to the "teachings of JC" is thus very different from the "catholic" doctrine, which has invested a lot of effort into suppressing individual quest for inner truth in order to establish a universal belief system (for some reason, the efforts by Augustine, Iraeneus, et al. to push a one to-be-accepted-by-all dogma reminded me of the birth of Communism). Hopkins' book is basically a deconstruction of that dogma. The basic idea is that contemporary Christianity is a theological mishmash selected to support the ideological and political interests of bishops during the early AD and today seems rather uncontroversial. The last chapter does a pretty good Job in textual analysis of the 4 canonical gospels and their contextualization into the writer's theological and ideological interests. Personally, I found the accounts of life in the Ptolemaic Egypt and imperial Pompeii a bit slow, although Hopkins does his best to titillate the reader with tidbits of info on Egyptian sex magic ritual practices, Roman sex life and asceticism, which is the religious eroticism of the true Christian ("Laughter", wrote Clement of Alexandria disapprovingly, "is the prelude to fornication"). In short, this is not an integrated work of scholarship designed to press a theological or historic point. The idea is to entertain and to teach through the many delicious and well-selected morsels. I recommend it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fails in Parts; Successful As a Whole, December 10, 2001
By 
Ricky Hunter (New York City, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Keith Hopkins has tried to achieve something different and unique as a historian in A World Full of Gods (The Strange Triumph of Christianity). Each chapter is written in a different style including one as a television play about an interview with a survivor of a Qumran sect living in Rome (his least successful chapter) and two chpaters told by time travelers to the ancient Roman Empire (moderately successful). Only one chapter is presented in the usual style of "objective" history and even that could be an argued point. He also includes throughout correspondence from colleagues in the field of ancient religious studies that are actually quite interestng and illuminating both for showing the complexity of religions in the Roman Empire as well as demonstrating the complexity of studying this ancient period in our own era. Many of the bits do not work especially well but, as a whole, the book is very effective in painting a portrait of an era and a land that was awash in religion of all sorts as well as for demonstrating that is was more amazing than inevitable that orthodox Christianity would triumph over its many rivals. This book is not a scholarly exercise but it should give the reader more of an interest in this fascinating period of history.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting approach to history, December 4, 2001
This review is from: A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity (Hardcover)
The borders between history and fiction blur in Mr. Hopkins book, yielding an interesting read, but a lurking impression that maybe this isn't really history. It left me with rather the same feeling I have after reading a well-researched historical novel -- just how much artistic license has the author taken. Without having a broad base of knowledge, one must trust that Mr. Hopkins knows his subject and has only taken license in presentation is he believes that his fictional creations do not materially alter the facts. Although I don't expect his method will soon change the way history is written, I did enjoy his genre-bending; his approach kept my interest to the end and I did pick up some interesting information about religious trends that competed with Christianity in its formative years.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, December 13, 2001
By 
This book is a collection of essays with early Christianity as a (tenuous) link between them. I liked KH accounts of Mani, the originator of Manicheaism, his many examples of early tensions between the Christians and the Jews and, especially, his accounts of the "feverish imagination of the Gnostics". The core belief of Gnostics is that inside every human there is a spark of divinity, put there from a supreme Divinity which is lodged in the high heavens of outer space. The divinity within each human can be awakened only through a process of contemplation and self-knowledge. It can also be accomplished with the assistance of a divine mediator, such as JC. Although a human instructor can sometimes help, more often than not interference by the "human" dogma can, according to the gnostics, be counterproductive. The gnostic approach to the "teachings of JC" is thus very different from the "catholic" doctrine, which has invested a lot of effort into suppressing individual quest for inner truth in order to establish a universal belief system (for some reason, the efforts by Augustine, Iraeneus, et al. to push a one to-be-accepted-by-all dogma reminded me of the birth of Communism). Hopkins' book is basically a deconstruction of that dogma. The basic idea is that contemporary Christianity is a theological mishmash selected to support the ideological and political interests of bishops during the early AD and today seems rather uncontroversial. The last chapter does a pretty good Job in textual analysis of the 4 canonical gospels and their contextualization into the writer's theological and ideological interests. Personally, I found the accounts of life in the Ptolemaic Egypt and imperial Pompeii a bit slow, although Hopkins does his best to titillate the reader with tidbits of info on Egyptian sex magic ritual practices, Roman sex life and asceticism, which is the religious eroticism of the true Christian ("Laughter", wrote Clement of Alexandria disapprovingly, "is the prelude to fornication"). In short, this is not an integrated work of scholarship designed to press a theological or historic point. The idea is to entertain and to teach through the many delicious and well-selected morsels. I recommend it.
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18 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A flawed attempt to make history more readable., January 4, 2001
By 
Mark Howells (Puyallup, Washington State, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity (Hardcover)
I was disappointed with this book. The admittedly clever techniques of trying to explain early Christianity through the notes of time travelers, a television script, make believe letters between early Christians, and critiques of these techniques from "colleagues" simply didn't work for me.
Don't get me wrong, there is obviously solid scholarship behind this unique presentation. The information presented is very interesting but the method of story telling gets in the way. The author is a academic and not a novelist. The contrived nature of the novel-like elements detracted from the history being presented.
The book did add to my historical understanding of the development of Christianity, but I would not wish to read another work of scholarship written in a similarly "innovative" style
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent effort to convey a 'feeling' for the past, May 3, 2004
By A Customer
I found this book to be very readable and to have achieved what the author seems to have been trying to accomplish. Hopkins says he is trying to give readers a feeling for the complex spiritual landscape in which Christianity became dominant in the West. The only improvement I might have hoped to find in this book is a better linkage to historical events in secular society, in the usual event panorama presented in histories of this period. Nevertheless, I will keep this book handy to consult when I want to remind myself of the process of cultural evolution that shaped this important part of Western Civilization.
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A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity
A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity by Keith Hopkins (Hardcover - August 8, 2000)
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