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God Against The Gods: The History of the War…

God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and… (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Jonathan Kirsch (Author)

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4851130,697 (3.9)12
Title:God Against The Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism
Authors:Jonathan Kirsch (Author)
Info:Penguin Books (2005), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading

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God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch (2004)



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The story of the suppression of polytheistic religions in the ancient world by the ever more powerful monotheistic religions is well known. Kirsch (The Harlot by the Side of the Road) offers his own version of this oft-told tale in a lively and engaging chronicle. Although many scholars point to Israel as the fount of monotheism, Kirsch shows that the earliest impulses toward monotheism can be found in Egypt with pharaoh Akhenaton's attempt to move the nation to the worship of one god. This Egyptian likely influenced Moses, according to Kirsch, and much of the history of early Israel is the history of the worship of one god emerging out of the worship of many gods. Monotheism gained momentum with the development of Christianity and was codified under Constantine. His son Julian strove to return polytheism to the scene by issuing edicts of toleration concerning polytheistic religious customs, but Julian's successor Theodosius I restored monotheism as the official practice of the Empire. Kirsch helpfully points out that the conflict between the worship of many gods and the worship of one true god never disappeared from the lives of Israelites, Jews, or Christians, in spite of many historians' claims to the contrary. In addition, Kirsch observes that monotheistic religions have too often used the worship of one god as a way to persecute those who do not share similar beliefs. While Kirsch breaks no new ground, he demonstrates clearly the ways in which this conflict gave rise to the tensions that exist even within monotheistic religions today. ( )
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1 vote | MarkBeronte | Jan 8, 2014 |
There was some interesting information in there, but most of it I already knew. I also felt there just wasn't enough information most of the time. To top it off, it should really have had a subtitle about how it focuses almost solely on the Western world, and the Roman one in particular. I was really hoping there would be some information about, for example, Arabian polytheism and those peoples' conversion to Islam. But they barely even get a mention, which was disappointing. And what about the combination of colonization and conversion to monotheism that went on in many African and South American countries? Nothing. ( )
  Merinde | Mar 31, 2013 |
Although a serviceable account of the struggle between polytheism and monotheism in the Mediterranean region, principally from the time of Josiah to the death of Julian, the books cover promises more than the text delivers. This reader was disappointed that Kirsch did not address directly the question as to why Christianity, a minority religion, triumphed over paganism so quickly after the death of Julian. The author mentions, almost in passing, that Roman emperors had totalitarian powers as if that was an obvious and inarguable explanation for the phenomenon without demonstrating that it was true or why it inevitably led to the effective end of monotheism. ( )
1 vote mmyoung | Nov 27, 2010 |
A superficial and boring account of monotheism and polytheism in antiquity. It doesn't even come close to living up to its fancy title. The book contains miscellaneous historical anecdotes but not any serious or original historical research. The author fails to put his strange mixture of stories into a broader perspective.
1 vote thcson | May 30, 2010 |
Kirsch writes on a terribly important subject, if only he would keep his focus upon it. The first half or so of God against the Gods is an eye-opening exploration of the differences and conflicts between monotheistic and polytheistic religions, and certainly concludes that the polytheists, while not perfect, were on the whole *far* more tolerant and far less murderous than the Abrahamic religions that sought to eradicate them. Almost equally valuable is the history lesson Kirsch provides, weaving threads of connection between the monotheism we understand today and its probable birth in ancient Egypt. We learn particularly about the somewhat final showdown in Rome between Christians (Constantine and descendants) and pagans (Julian).If only it were so. Though a fascinating read in and of itself, the book becomes a kind of historical narrative about Constantine-era political intrigue. Yes, the religious aspect is central, but the book careens from an overview of the conflict between two theologies to a truncated history book on the bloody chess game played between Roman Augusti and Caesars. I would love to read that book, but not here. Certainly there was more to explore beyond Julian concerning mono-vs.-polytheism, even into the modern world. Why stop so short?In all, a worthwhile read, though expect to go somewhat off track halfway through. ( )
4 vote Qshio | Jul 26, 2009 |
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Ann Benjamin Kirsch,
Jennifer Rachel Kirsch,
Adam Benjamin Kirsch and Remy Elizabeth Holzer,
my beloved and gifted family.

And for
Laurie Fox,
my agent, muse, fellow writer and cherished friend.

" ... inscribe us in the Book of Life ..."
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Something deep in human nature prompts us to imagine the existence of a power greater than ourselves, whether we call it "Yahweh," or "Christ" or "Allah," "Mother Nature" or "the Higher Power"or "the Universe."
Only rarely does an archaeological discovery challenge everything we have been taught to believe about the history of religion.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142196339, Paperback)

"Lively… points out that the conflict between the worship of many gods and the worship of one true god never disappeared." —Publishers Weekly

"Jonathan Kirsch has written another blockbuster about the Bible and its world." —David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief of the Anchor Bible Project

"Kirsch tackles the central issue bedeviling the world today - religious intolerance… A timely book, well-written and researched." —Leonard Shlain, author of The Alphabet and the Goddess and Sex, Time and Power

"An intriguing read." —The Jerusalem Report

"A timely tale about the importance of religious tolerance in today’s world." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Kirsch is a fine storyteller with a flair for rendering ancient tales relevant and appealing." —The Washington Post

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:20 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In this ... book, [the author] explores the final struggle between monotheism and polytheism in the ancient world, a war that was fought by a series of charismatic, visionary but also violent monarchs in the name of the One True God - an Egyptian pharaoh, a Jewish king, and two Roman emperors. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the world of classical paganism was not steeped in sin. In fact, [according to the author], religious liberty and diversity were core values of classical paganism, and it was monotheism that introduced the terrors of true belief, including holy war, martyrdom, inquisitions, and crusades.-Dust jacket.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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