- 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: 204 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,850 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
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.
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“If in this city you ask a shopkeeper for change,” he complained, “he will argue with you about whether the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you inquire about the quality of bread, the baker will answer, ‘The Father is greater, the Son is less.’ And if you ask the bath attendant to draw your bath, he will tell you that the Son was created ex nihilo [out of nothing].” (6)
Key issue - Son created or eternal?
“Gregory’s wry comment is fascinating both for what it says and what it implies. It suggests that ordinary tradespeople and workers felt perfectly competent—perhaps even driven—to debate abstract theological issues and to arrive at their own conclusions.’’ (6)
This seems. . .different to the modern ear. Analysis, meditation, careful reasoning - what a thought!
“It reveals that disputes among Christians, specifically arguments about the relationship of Jesus Christ the Son to God the Father, had become as intense as the centuries-old conflict between Christians and pagans.’’ (6)
“And it implies that Arianism, which orthodox Christians now consider the archetypal heresy, was once at least as popular as the doctrine that Jesus is God.’’ (6)
“Gregory’s shopkeeper questions whether Jesus Christ is “begotten or unbegotten”—that is, whether he is a creation of God or the Creator Himself. The bath attendant says that he was created “from nothing,” meaning that he was brought into existence like the rest of God’s creatures. And the baker asserts that Christ is separate from and lesser than God. All these are Arian positions, so called because they were developed in sharpest form by an Alexandrian priest named Arius. The ill-fated George was also an Arian: one who believed that Jesus Christ was, indeed, the holiest person who ever lived, but not the Eternal God of Israel walking the earth in the form of a man.’’ (6)
Rubenstein writing as a historian, not a theologian. Hence, although explaining the doctrinal, Biblical, religious ideas carefully and clearly, most of the focus is the political, personal, military, economic influences.
Arias and his fundamental arguments likewise are drawn quickly but throughly. For example. . .
“Was Christ, then, to be considered human? In one sense, the answer was yes. Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, not some divine apparition or mask of God. But his moral genius and the importance of his mission raised him high above even the greatest prophets. The Savior was sui generis. Many Arians believed that the Eternal had somehow conceived him (or conceived of him) before time began, and used him as an instrument to create the rest of the universe.’’
Jesus vital in god’s purpose. Nevertheless. . .
“Even so, they insisted, he could not possibly be God Himself. How could an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator experience temptation, learn wisdom, and grow in virtue? How could he suffer on the Cross and die the death of a human being? Surely, when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” he was not talking to himself! When he admitted that nobody knows the day and hour of Judgment, “not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,” he was not just being modest. And when he told his disciples that “the Father is greater than I,” he meant exactly what he said. (6)
This presentation is countered with clear explanation offered by Athanasius. . .
“Yet he had to be both fully human and fully divine, argued Athanasius. Could the death of a mere human being redeem our sins, grant us immortality, and, eventually, resurrect our physical bodies? Of course not! But could Omnipotent God, the Beginning and the End, suffer for our sake without becoming human? The answer was equally plain. Therefore, whether or not it seemed “reasonable” to people schooled in Greek philosophy, Jesus Christ was both true man and true God. Hosius would surely have found this exposition convincing. His people—the people of western Europe—would not accept a Jesus who was too much like them. They knew they were feeble sinners, struggling to survive in a hostile environment. The Christ they wanted and needed was a High God who could save them by His grace and comfort them through the ministrations of His Church.’’
This was one objection. In fact, many Christians still accept this. There was another. . .
“In fact, Arian theology implicitly reduced the role of the institutional Church. If Jesus’ life and character were supposed to serve ordinary Christians as a usable model of behavior, the principal mission of the clergy would be to help people transform themselves, not maintain theological and political unity throughout the empire. This was another reason Constantine would probably favor the doctrine of Alexander and Athanasius. The Church he needed was one that would help him keep order among ordinary folk: people who would never become immortal unless God decided for reasons of His own to save them.’’ (62)
Desire for power, control, authority, was probably decisive.
An Incident in Alexandria
The Silence of Apollo
A Quarrel in God’s House
The Great and Holy Council
Sins of the Body, Passions of the Mind
The Broken Chalice
Death in Constantinople
East against West
The Arian Empire
Old Gods and New
When Jesus Became God
Rubenstein’s sociological foundation shows here . . .
“One underlying question was this: To what extent were the values and customs of the ancient world still valid guides to thinking and action in a Christian empire? Some Christians, among them Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia, had a stronger sense of historical continuity than others. Those whose ideas and social relationships were still shaped to a large extent by the optimistic ideals and tolerant practices of pagan society, and for whom Christianity seemed a natural extension of and improvement on Judaism, tended to be Arians of one sort or another.’’ (73)
‘Christianity as extension of Judaism’ is obvious. Jesus was a Jew!
“By contrast, the strongest anti-Arians experienced their present as a sharp break with the past. It was they who demanded, in effect, that Christianity be “updated” by blurring or even obliterating the long-accepted distinction between the Father and the Son.’’
‘Update Jesus!’ What???
“From the perspective of our own time, it may seem strange to think of Arian “heretics” as conservatives, but emphasizing Jesus’ humanity and God’s transcendent otherness had never seemed heretical in the East. On the contrary, subordinating the Son to the Father was a rational way of maintaining one’s belief in a largely unknowable, utterly singular First Cause while picturing Christ as a usable model of human moral development. For young militants like Athanasius, however, ancient modes of thought and cultural values were increasingly irrelevant. Greek humanism and rationalism were shallow; Judaism was an offensive, anti-Christian faith.’’ (73)
The key issue, the decisive idea, was to turn eyes away from the human messiah. Why? Focusing on a mystery, an incomprehensible puzzle, left priests and the church to intercede. Power is good, more is better.
Along with the exposition of the ideas, Rubenstein devotes many pages to analysis of the personalities. Constantine, Arius, Athanasius, Eusebius, etc.,etc.. Outstanding!
Includes a list at the end. Lists about forty names. Excellent!
Two-hundred fifty nine notes. One map. No photographs. Eleven page index (links worked great).
About the author -
“RIchard E. Rubenstein is professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University and an expert on religious conflict. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, he was a Rhodes Scholar and studied at Oxford University.’’
I only graded this book down one star because the "new" book that was sent to me had been heavily thumbed through.
The 4th century was a violent time in history - each side had its "street mobs," which were especially riotous in Alexandria, where Bishop Athanasius was known to resort to thuggery and murder to silence Christians who didn't agree with him. In time even the desert monks wandered into the city and attacked homes of so-called heretics. Anti-Semitism was on the rise, so they attacked synagogues as well. So much for Christian charity...
The Nicene faith of the West taught that the Father and Son were equal in all things, whereas the Eastern bishops believed in large part that the Father was greater than the Son. Arius, a presbyter (priest) in Alexandria in the early 4th century, gave his name - Arianism - to a branch of Christianity that flourished mostly in the East and was eventually decreed as heresy, but for a few centuries gave the West's Nicene branch of Christianity a run for its money. In all the books I had read about early church history, Arianism was never dealt with in this much detail; it was briefly explained, then dismissed as yet another heresy. But this book brought it to the fore and really piqued my interest. Arians believed Jesus was divine, however, not by means of the Incarnation, but instead by "adoption," as it were. Arian Christians believed that God 'created' Jesus, whereas the Nicene Christians believed Jesus was 'begotten' from God, a much bigger difference than it might seem at first glance - i.e., Arians believed that Jesus was similar in essence to the Father, but not of the SAME essence. The author explains (page 210), "For Nicene Christians, incorporating Jesus into the Godhead was a way to preserve and extend the worship of Christ without sacrificing monotheism. For others, defining Jesus as God incarnate sacrificed monotheism by definition. It was not just a question of Jesus being recognized as God, but of God becoming Jesus."
The East and West also disagreed over the position of Mary. The author wrote (pg. 228), "Was it correct to call her 'Theotokos,' the God-bearer, or was she the mother of the man, Jesus, in whom God dwelt? In other words were Christ's human and divine natures totally fused, so that one could rightly say that God had once been an infant and had suffered on the Cross? Or were these two separate natures, divine and human, somehow integrated in one Person?"
At the time Arianism was fading into the twilight of history, a new religion was on the horizon, one in which "Jesus was not the incarnate God of Nicene Christianity or the superangelic Son of the Arians.... He was a divinely inspired man; a spiritual genius ranking with the greatest prophets. Moses and Muhammad himself...." Yes, he's referring to the rise of Islam and the role of Jesus in that religion. The author's closing words, "With the ascension of Islam, Arianism as a discrete religious philosophy disappeared in the East as well as in the West. But the great questions that had generated the controversy over Jesus' divinity remained - and remain yet - to haunt the imagination and provoke the conscience of humankind. " (pp.230-231.)
And may I add an AMEN to that! My Five Stars for a GREAT book!
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by the majority of Christianity.