- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: HarperOne (October 31, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060858427
- ISBN-13: 978-0060858421
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 39 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #669,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome Hardcover – October 31, 2006
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Contemplating the rapid spread of early Christianity, Lucian the Martyr marveled in the fourth century that "almost the greater part of the world is now committed to this truth, even whole cities." To explain Christianity's remarkable success in capturing the cities of the Roman Empire, Stark deploys an empirical social science that exposes the flaws in previous historical theorizing. By parsing records of church construction, inscriptions on tombs, and names on imperial contract permits, Stark converts plausible conjectures into testable hypotheses about the growth of Christianity in the 31 largest Roman cities. And while some of the statistically validated hypotheses fit within conventional wisdom, others compel fresh thinking. The traditional belief that Christianity spread through mass conversion, for instance, gives way to a numerically substantiated dynamics of person-to-person conversion. And despite recent acclaim for the Gnostics as the true early Christians, the evidence links the Gnostic impulse to dying pockets of stubborn paganism, not the rising new faith. Like Stark's Victory of Reason (2005), this book will spark controversy--the kind that attracts curious readers. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Pairing data with a fresh reading of scripture, this approach provides several surprises. . . . An intriguing read. (Kirkus Reviews)
Stark converts plausible conjectures into testable hypotheses about the growth of Christianity . . . this book will spark controversy. (ALA Booklist)
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Stark begins by given descriptions of all the significant cities in the ancient Roman world. These descriptions alone are quite valuable and provide insight into the Roman world and day-to-day life within it. But his collection of cities is just the beginning, as Stark goes on to explain how they became Cities of God.
The subtitled of the book is "The Real Story of How Christianity Became Urban Movement and Conquered Rome." True enough, but another subtitle could be, "How to Use Statistics to Test Historical Propositions." Stark is a big believer in the use of statistics and math to solve histories elusive problems. The extent to which he succeeds I will leave to readers and his peers statisticians. But the book is an interesting read just to see how such an approach to history could work. For my part, I thought some of Stark's propositions, such as that cities closer to Jerusalem were Christianized sooner, that Hellenistic cities Christianized sooner than Roman ones, and that large cities Christianized sooner than smaller ones, were well established.
I am less confident in his conclusions about certain mystery religions "paving the way" for monotheism. Even if the numbers reflect ancient reality, the conclusion does not seem to follow from the premise. However, Stark's arguments about Gnosticism and related heresies being late and derivative are well taken.
Stark also continues to advance two theories he mentioned in his The Rise of Christianity. First, he emphasizes relationships and the practical usefulness of a religion over its beliefs and dogma in explaining its spread. In Cities of God, he seems to give more importance to belief than before. This is a useful corrective, as belief often helps explain the emphasis on relationship and practical usefulness in a religion. Second, Stark believes that the Gentile mission was not all that successful at first and that most early Christians were Jewish Diaspora converts. He gives more evidence for his theory here, but anyone looking to test the theory will still have to look elsewhere for fuller discussions.
All told, Stark makes some good arguments, fails to prove others but raises good questions in the process, and leaves the reader with more knowledge and insight than when he or she started.
I agree with his conclusions about the growth of the church. I don't think there is anything to foreign with his points. The way he explained the church really causes one to take a second look at the works of Paul. I think some view Paul as a catalyst. This book shows how Paul was following a trend. His point of the church growing through friends of relatives telling others is really interesting. People think growth comes from a Billy Graham. That helps but his book shows the growth comes from personal evangelism.
I do think anyone serious about church history should read this book. He gives a wealth of information about the world which early church founders operated in. This helps us, in today's world better understand the events of the early church.
It starts off with a quick overview of the 31 largest cities in the Roman empire, which includes the origin, population, and demise of each city. Stark then goes on throughout the book to summarize hypotheses around where major religious movements were in the first few centuries. For example, he comes to the conclusion that major port cities were the first to harbor churches, and also that cities with major Jewish Diaspora communities were the first to have churches. He also gets into Gnostic origins and pagan religions.
This book is pure gold. I will be referencing it for God knows how long.