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Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years…

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

by Diarmaid MacCulloch

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1,465257,704 (4.21)1 / 68
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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
A large volume. I read only the first few hundred pages. The book can only confirm an unbelievers unbelief. Not comforting to literalist. I did not find summary or conclusion sections. This book would be quite useful to scholars of Christian history. Contains extensive references, further reading with commentary, and index. ( )
  jack2410 | Feb 2, 2017 |
  CPI | Aug 8, 2016 |
Diarmaid MacCulloch must be a walking encyclopedia. In Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, he has written a thousand page behemoth which covers (as the subtitle suggests), three millennia of human history.

I don’t exaggerate when I say “human history,” either. One of the things I realized during my reading of this book was that nothing happens without the influence of religion. Our cherished Western idea of the “separation of church and state” is quite ridiculous when viewed either practically or historically.

MacCulloch starts, counter-intuitively, a thousand years before Christ. This was a wise move. It’s only when you understand the Jewish and Greek cultural background that you are able to situate the birth of Christianity accurately.

During the early years of Christianity, the church broke into three main groups, along language lines. The first group consisted of Semitic language speakers who spread south into Africa and east all the way to China. The rise of Islam effectively squashed this expression of the church. The two more familiar wings are the Greek speaking orthodox church and the Latin-flavoured Roman Catholic church. Of course, the Reformation is dealt with in detail as well. (In 2005, he published The Reformation: A History.)

The history of Christianity is also a history of politics. During the first three hundred years, it was the story of how Christ-followers defied and evaded political power. After Constantine, it was (tragically for me) the story of capitulation and power-mongering.

A book like this makes me wonder what will come next. Unlike more simplistic histories which treat the progression of culture and religion as inevitable, MacCulloch describes the various false starts and cut-off limbs which prove that history is anything but predictable.

This book is dense but readable. As you might expect, I found the subjects I was most knowledgeable about to be the most interesting to read. The areas I was weaker in seemed more difficult to understand. If you have a background in church history or theology, this book is worth the investment of your time. ( )
5 vote StephenBarkley | Jul 16, 2014 |
This book is a real tour de force. It requires real discipline to go through it, as it is not an easy read. The breadth of material that he has covered is stupendous. This is not an easy history, and is quite complex. The focus of the book is very much centered around the developments in the West,with not too much mention of the developments in Africa and Asia. Personally, I can live with this, as I see Christianity as a Western religion.
The manner in which he has laid out the chapters is marvelous, and I think that he has, by and large, managed to keep a rather neutral tone through the book. This is really good, and is not easy to do.
The amount of material that he covers, and the amount of material that the reader has to cover is tremendous. While I read the book rather slowly, the sheer amount of material, and the complexity of the movement of Christianity did sometimes leave me a bit bemused as to what was happening. However, this is a really good read. I was not aware of the strong Greek influence on early Christianity, and this came as a surprise. Hence, the first 3,000 years.
There is a decline in church going in Europe, and I wonder what he feels about the future of the Church. This has not been covered and could be the subject of a next book. ( )
  RajivC | Mar 7, 2014 |
This thousand page tome is excellent, with all the limitations of a single-volume work on such a large topic. The writing is excellent and the narrative coherent, but it is very dense. Don't expect this to be a quick read. It is heavily documented, but as usual the notes are stuck in the back instead of at the bottom of the page. (Okay, I'll stop ranting now.) The author begins a thousand years before the birth of Jesus and comes right up to the beginning of this millennium. He pays as much attention to the church in the East as to Rome and the West, which I consider to be the distinguishing feature for an history of the Church. It is a traditional history in that the focus is upon social and political structures: how the the union of the Church with the State affect political and economic events? His treatment of saints, miracles and other supernatural phenomena is classically skeptical, but not dismissive: he tries to view events from the standpoint of the participants who hold a worldview so radically different from his own. Another great strength of this work is the sections in the back on "Further Reading." It's a great first textbook on the history of Christianity.
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Ultimately, despite a few hiccoughs, MacCulloch proves a learned and genial guide to the welter of Christianities that come within his purview. And, on a generous reading, every bit of this unruly efflorescence of Christian life is precisely the story MacCulloch wants to tell, since it proves “a vital lesson to learn for modern Christians who wish to impose uniformity on Christian belief and practice which has never in fact existed.”
It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive and surprisingly accessible volume on the subject than MacCulloch’s. This is not a book to be taken lightly; it is more than 1,100 pages, and its bulk makes it hard to take anyplace at all. Want a refresher on the rise of the papacy? It is here. On Charlemagne and Carolingians? That is here, too. On the Fourth Crusade and its aftermath? Look no farther.
added by eereed | editNew York Times, Jon Meacham (Apr 1, 2010)
Sprawling books like MacCulloch's pose a unique challenge. His admirers know him best for his penetrating work on the theological divisions that led to the Reformation schisms. But with this book, he has shown his readers that he can hold our attention over the long-haul as well. [...] Every home should invest in a copy of this fine book. You won't finish it in a single session, but you will find yourself reading it for years to come.
Diarmaid MacCulloch, one of the best historians writing in English, has tackled with verve the gargantuan task of telling the story of the world’s largest faith community over the whole of its history. [...] MacCulloch has given us a model of lucid and sympathetic exposition, vast in scale, wide in coverage, and conspicuously fair-minded: this is a generous book, in every sense of the word.
added by Widsith | editThe Telegraph, Eamon Duffy (Oct 11, 2009)
The great strength of the book is that it covers, in sufficient but not oppressive detail, huge areas of Christian history which are dealt with cursorily in traditional accounts of the subject and are unfamiliar to most English-speaking readers [...] Yet the book as a whole is dull, and a struggle to read. [...] Despite overcrowding, I shall keep this book on my shelves, for reference. But I can’t imagine anyone reading it for pleasure.
added by Widsith | editThe Spectator, Paul Johnson (Sep 26, 2009)
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For Philip Kennedy Faithful friend, who has managed to persist in affirming a Christian story
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In seventeenth-century England, there lived a country parson called Samuel Crossman. A rather reluctant Anglican of Puritan outlook, he spent most of his ministry in a small Gloucestershire parish, whose chief hamlet is delightfully called Easter Compton, though briefly at the end of his life he was Dean of Bristol Cathedral.
‘Who is so silly as to believe that God, after the manner of a farmer, planted a paradise eastward in Eden, and set in it a visible and palpable tree of life, of such a sort that anyone who tasted its fruit with his bodily teeth would gain life?’ Origen might be saddened to find that seventeen hundred years later, millions of Christians are that silly.
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The National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of "The Reformation" returns with the definitive history of Christianity. Breathtaking in ambition, it ranges back to the origins of the Hebrew Bible and covers the world.

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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