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The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World Hardcover – February 13, 2018
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“How did a small, provincial Jewish sect called Christianity convert the mighty pagan Roman Empire? Bart Ehrman answers this baffling question with the same wit, passion, and rigorous scholarship that have made him one of the most popular religion writers in the world today. The Triumph of Christianity is a marvelous book.”
— Reza Aslan, New York Times bestselling author of Zealot
“The great appeal of Ehrman’s approach to Christian history has always been his steadfast humanizing impulse... Ehrman always thinks hard about history’s winners and losers without valorizing the losers or demonizing the winners… Reading about how an entire culture’s precepts and traditions can be overthrown without anyone being able to stop it may not be heartening at this particular historical moment. All the more reason to spend time in the company of such a humane, thoughtful and intelligent historian.”
— The New York Times Book Review
“Drawing on a wealth of ancient sources and contemporary historical research, Bart Ehrman weaves complex questions into a vivid, nuanced, and enormously readable narrative.”
— Elaine Pagels, National Book Award-winning author of The Gnostic Gospels
“Like a good college lecture class, [Ehrman’s] book offers both a wealth of historical information and, to make sense of it all, a few plausible theories — including his own. He doesn’t tell us what to think. He gives us a lot to think about.”
“Ehrman is a great scholar, and this — as one would expect — is a book full of learning and nuance.”
— The Spectator (UK)
“Well worth reading for those wishing to dispel myths around the early Christian churches.”
— Publishers Weekly
“The value of Ehrman’s book, as is so often the case with his writings, is in his ability to synthesize complex material and distill it into highly readable prose.”
“One of Christian history’s greatest puzzles after the age of the apostles is how a tiny band of mostly-illiterate outsiders converted the proud and massive Roman Empire in just three centuries — a historical blink of an eye. In The Triumph of Christianity, Ehrman brings impressive research, intellectual rigor, and an instinct for storytelling to this extraordinary dynamic.”
— David Van Biema, former religion writer at Time and author of the forthcoming Speaking to God
“Accessible and intriguing.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Bart Ehrman is the leading expert on early Christian texts and here he takes the story on into the fourth century in a vivid and readable narrative that explores why Christianity “triumphed” as a world religion. The work is particularly valuable for its critical survey of the work of other scholars in the field.”
— Charles Freeman, author of A New History of Early Christianity
About the Author
Bart D. Ehrman is a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity, and the author or editor of more than thirty books, including the New York Times bestsellers Misquoting Jesus, How Jesus Became God, and The Triumph of Christianity. A Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he has created eight popular audio and video courses for The Great Courses. He has been featured in Time, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, and has appeared on NBC, CNN, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, BBC, and NPR. His most recent book is The Triumph of Christianity.
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Ehrman approaches this book from a critical historical perspective, not a religious/theological perspective, but it is a respectful and honest look at the early Christian centuries. Regardless of where you stand, there's a lot to learn here (such as a brilliant reconstruction of Paul's modus operandi for converting gentiles). It's an engaging and thought-provoking read.
Unlike other histories which focus on Constantine's seemingly miraculous conversion, Ehrman's starts at the real beginning in the first century, when what had first been dismissed as a minor variation on Judaism began to gain acceptance among gentiles, thanks primarily to the missionary work of the man later known as St. Paul. Over the next several centuries Christianity grew steadily but quietly, generally tolerated though occasionally subject to persecution, until by the early 300s it had a large enough presence in the Empire that the Emperor Constantine thought it politically worthwhile to convert. Constantine and his immediate successors (except his nephew Julian the Apostate, who ruled for less than two years) encouraged Christianity's spread and in return received the loyalty and support of its growing numbers of adherents. Eventually Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, leading Christians to dominant status.
This is a typically well-researched and well-documented work by Ehrman. He writes for a general audience but never abandons scholarship to do so. The Triumph of Christianity should become a standard reference on the subject.
1. I have had a bit of a passion about this topic (i.e. why western civilization became dominated by Christianity – and associated effects) for a decade or so.
2. Bart Ehrman was one of my early favorites in this pursuit – with his many books (including frequently used college textbooks), the numerous lectures he has recorded for the Great Courses enterprises, and his prolific blog.
That said, this book seems to succinctly and successfully distill the essence of historic (i.e. non theological) scholarship on the topic. Importantly, it facilitates understanding by us non scholars with even just a basic understanding of relevant historic events (e.g. Paul’s missionary endeavors, reigns of important Roman emperors, conversion of Constantine).
Clear writing style is definitely an Ehrman forte as is his ability to express sincere (and unaggressive) historian neutrality. He consistently gives due space to more theological views and takes pains to cogently explain what is known, not known or cannot be known from the current state of scholarship.
Building on earlier work by Rodney Stark in the late 1990’s, Ehrman also deftly delves into some basic (and understandable) math about conversion rates (from “pagan” to Christianity) in the Roman Empire over the first 4 centuries of the Current Era (CE or AD). In doing so, he explores some variations of assumptions and tries to establish a range of most plausible conclusions, based on what is known from accepted historic evidence. Again, with admitted prejudice, he seems to land on solid scholarly ground.
The only regret I had was that the historic extent of the book ended in the early 5th Century CE. With Ehrman still relatively young and seemingly disposed to share his well-earned expertise we can likely be optimistic for more.