- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (July 10, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156013150
- ISBN-13: 978-0156013154
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #316,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome 1st Edition
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The Gospel narratives may suggest that Jesus was divine, but they do not insist upon it. Hundreds of years after Jesus' death, the Church councils made Jesus' divinity a central tenet of belief among many of his followers. When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ's Divinity in the Last Days of Rome by Richard Rubenstein is a narrative history of Christians' early efforts to define Christianity by convening councils and writing creeds. Rubenstein is most interested in the battle between Arius, Presbyter of Alexandria, and Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. Arius said that Christ did not share God's nature but was the first creature God created. Athanasius said that Christ was fully God. At the Council of Nicea in 325, the Church Fathers came down on Athanasius's side and made Arius's belief a heresy.
Rubenstein's brisk, incisive prose brings the councils' 4th-century Roman setting fully alive, with riots, civil strife, and spectacular public debates. Rubenstein is also personally invested in the meaning of these councils for religious life today: he wrote this book, in part, because he grew up in a mixed Jewish Catholic neighborhood and was bewildered by animosity between the religious groups on his block. Digging back in history, Rubenstein learns that before the Arian controversy, "Jews and Christians could talk to each other and argue among themselves about crucial issues like the divinity of Jesus.... They disagreed strongly about many things, but there was still a closeness between them." But when the controversy was settled, Rubenstein notes, "that closeness faded. To Christians, God became a Trinity and heresy became a crime. Judaism became a form of infidelity. And Jews living in Christian countries learned not to think very much about Jesus and his message." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The Gospel stories of Jesus' life, death and resurrection are familiar tales in Western literature. Yet, the Gospel narratives do not themselves pose or answer the theological question of Jesus' divinity. None of the disciples become engaged in disputations about whether Jesus is fully God or fully human. It took almost 300 years for these questions to be raised in such a serious way that Christianity was changed forever. Rubenstein, a Jew who proclaimed in a now famous book (After Auschwitz, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992) that God died "after Auschwitz," examines the details of the fractious period in early Christian history when Christianity was defining itself against other religious sects through a number of councils and creeds. Although he focuses on several of the controversies surrounding the divinity of Jesus, Rubenstein zeroes in on the fiery battle between Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, and Athanasius, who was Bishop of Alexandria. Arius contended that Christ did not share God's nature but was simply the first creature created by God the Father. Athanasius, on the other hand, argued that Christ was fully God, asserting that the incarnation of God in Jesus restored the image of God to fallen humanity. With a storyteller's verve, Rubenstein brings to life the times and deeds of these two leaders as well as the way that the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 established the Christian orthodoxy that was later used to judge and exile Arius as a heretic. As a result of Nicea, the author says, "To Christians God became a Trinity. Heresy became a crime. Judaism became a form of infidelity." Rubenstein's lively historical drama offers a panoramic view of early Christianity as it developed against the backdrop of the Roman Empire of the fourth century. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
For those looking for a detailed account of what happened at the Council of Nicea, you'll likely be disappointed as the council itself is covered rather briskly. However, the events leading up to the council are covered in great detail. For those who believe that Nicea ended the controversy over Arianism, you'll discover that it really was one event, however momentous, in a very long battle that culminates with the concept of the Trinity.
This book follows the conflict over the major theological doctrines that Paul would soon leave in his wake, and it's not pretty. It starts out with the man who kind of started it all, Arian, a priest who "believed" that Jesus was elevated by god, but not god, and follows the battles in the east, (Egypt) over that doctrine, which would involve Constantine, and finally lead up to the Nicene Creed... only that's just the beginning. That's just a speed bump in the battle for Jesus' position in the cosmos.
One thing that is surprisingly consistent, is that `to a man,' there are no good guys in this story. These bishops and priests were cantankerous, mean, vindictive, petty, deceitful, and in some cases, murderous. They would stop at nothing to assure that their ideology would triumph over their enemies.
One character in particular (I don't want to spoil it--but you'll know the minute you read about him) was so awful that I spent most of the book wondering, "When is this monster going to die." Only he didn't. Like so many of the worst of human beings, he went on to live a long life, killing hundreds, probably thousands, and responsible for the deaths of thousands more. Although he was exiled over five times, in constant conflict in Alexandria, and wasn't necessarily able to live a peaceful life. There was some justice in that.
Bottom line, the early church was simply a group of mobsters all fighting for territory, each once worse than the next.
The book details council after council, creed after creed, decree after decree, sabotage, treachery, murder... and even treason. The only thing I didn't like about this book was that I felt it could have used a map, as long as a timeline, since you've got emperor's dying, councils being called in various cities, capitols moving... very much a country and an ideology in violent flux.
You don't come away from this book the same as you went into it. It's a common misconception that Christianity was sort of an underdog, and that it was a homogenous group of people simply looking for the freedom to worship. That is completely false. In fact, in this book, the author talks quite at length about the persecutions of the early church, and then goes on to show how the persecuted would soon become the persecutors, a phenomenon that we see happening at this very moment in American politics.
This may even help to explain the profound dysfunction of the church even now, as it continues to fight and argue over ideologies and battle science, and attack each other, all in the name of who they think Jesus is, who they want him to be, and how willing they are to allow dissent.
This is a wonderfully amazing recounting of the battles and struggles that would mark the beginning of Christianity, the beginnings of the greater Catholic Church, and the fall of Rome to be superseded by the church afterwards. If you're at all interested in the history of Christianity, and the people who brought it to you, this is a wonderful book. I strongly recommend it.
"With an issue so crucial as the Trinity,
it is imperative that we have a solid understanding of Scripture and history
because both paint a very vivid picture
that is quite contrary to what most of the Church is teaching today.
By Richard Rubenstein. "
My words: Fast paced, puts you on the streets and into the brawl that was the 3rd century world of Christianity.
Balanced; although it is obvious Mr. Rubenstein's choice of sides, he is fair and balanced in presenting both.
And this is my opinion of the two sides: Trinitarians will murder you in the name of God (for the greater good) while
the monotheist want dialogue and just to be left alone to worship and believe as they see fit.
And thusly to wit and to quote humble men of greater stature than I:
"What is considered orthodox and heretical has changed many times throughout Christian history. As we will point out in ..... on the beginnings of heresy, what came to be considered "orthodoxy" was in reality a heretical view of Christ that won out. It won out not on the strength of its biblical logic, but by intimidation and force." Quoted from "ONE GOD & ONE LORD"