And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus [NOOK Book]


At the time of Jesus’ birth , the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. In Syria ecstatic devotees castrated themselves in the streets to become priests of Atargatis  In Galilee, holy men turned oil into wine, healed the sick, drove out devils, and claimed to be the Messiah.  Every day thousands of people were leaving their family and tribes behind them and flocking into brand new multi-ethnic cities. The ancient world was in ferment as it underwent ...

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And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus

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At the time of Jesus’ birth , the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. In Syria ecstatic devotees castrated themselves in the streets to become priests of Atargatis  In Galilee, holy men turned oil into wine, healed the sick, drove out devils, and claimed to be the Messiah.  Every day thousands of people were leaving their family and tribes behind them and flocking into brand new multi-ethnic cities. The ancient world was in ferment as it underwent the first phase of globalisation, and in this ferment rulers and ruled turned to religion as a source of order and stability. Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (though he never dared officially to call himself so) was maneuvering his way to becoming worshipped as a god – it was one of the most brilliant makeovers ever undertaken by a ruler and his spin doctors. In North Africa, Amanirenas the warrior queen exploited her god-like status to inspire her armies to face and defeat Rome. In China the usurper Wang Mang won and lost his throne because of his obsession with Confucianism.

To explore the power that religious belief has had over societies through the ages, Selina O’Grady takes the reader on a dazzling journey across the empires of the ancient world and  introduces us to rulers, merchants,  messiahs, priests and holy men. Throughout, she seeks to answer why, amongst the countless religious options available, the empires at the time of Jesus ‘chose’ the religions they did? Why did China’s rulers hitch their fate to Confucianism, a philosophy more than a religion? And why was a tiny Jewish cult led by Jesus eventually adopted by Rome’s emperors rather than the cult of Isis which was far more popular and widespread?  The Jesus cult , followed by no more than 100 people at the time of his death, should, by rights, have disappeared  in a few generations. Instead it  became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Why did Christianity grow so quickly to become the predominant world religion? What was it about its teachings that so appealed to people?  And Man Created God  looks at why and how religions have had such an immense impact on human history and in doing so uncovers the ineradicable connection between politics and religion - a connection which still  defines us in  our own age. This  is an important, thrilling and necessary new work of history.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This popular history offers a sweeping view of the first century C.E. development of four world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism (Islam developed later). O'Grady (coeditor, A Deep but Dazzling Darkness: An Anthology of Personal Experiences of God) defines "the world" as that geographical boundary defined by the Roman mapmaker Strabo (from Ireland to China and south as far as Ethiopia) where political powers used religion as a stabilizing force of empire. While often sounding Marxist in her approach (e.g., beliefs are "one crucial way by which states exercise control over their subjects"), she embraces Weberian social theory as her guiding principle (e.g., that "individual beliefs coupled with personal interests and motives shape the course of human history"). Broad generalizations aside (was John the Baptist's father a Sadducee, as she casually claims, or merely a Zadokite priest?), this is an interesting, readable text. VERDICT A pleasant historical ride. Recommended for history of religion collections.—Sandra Collins, Byzantine Catholic Seminary Lib., Pittsburgh
Publishers Weekly
In this mundane and dreary book, O’Grady treads monotonously familiar and well-covered territory regarding the development of the world’s religions during the first century C.E. Ranging over various cultures, their gods, and their religious groups—from Judaism to Buddhism and Jainism to ancient Chinese religion—she offers the unsurprising thesis that many gods died out because they failed to rise above their local identities and because religious leaders failed to develop the power and hope that their religions might offer in the face of other political or cultural threats. In the case of China, for example, rulers embraced Confucianism, a philosophy more than a religion, and disseminated it to few other than the culture’s elite, to whom it had great appeal. O’Grady points out that Isiacism—the cult of Isis—which featured a compassionate goddess and a life after death, was a serious competitor to early Christianity, but the Romans adopted the latter as the empire’s religion. Her rather unsurprising conclusion is that Christianity won the day in Rome because of Paul’s preaching of a universalism that proclaimed equality in the face of inequality and displacement in the sprawling new cities in the empire. O’Grady’s dull and unrevealing book fails to live up to its overly sensational title. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“A must-read...No one should be allowed to lay claim to Christian or indeed any religious faith who has not read this book first and meditated on its import.”—A. C. Grayling, author of Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age and The Good Book: A Humanist Bible

“O’Grady has written a powerful book on an immense subject. She writes with clarity and distinction and is a pleasure to read.”—Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity, and A History of the American People

“A wonderfully illuminating, prodigious tour de force of ecclesiastical anthropology.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Selina O’Grady’s remarkable book brilliantly explains the origins of today’s world by explaining the forces that set it in motion 2000 years ago…In a pellucidly clear and absorbing narrative O’Grady not only describes how religions were used by empires to bind new populations to them, but most fascinatingly of all  explains how what she calls the ‘tiny Jesus cult’ managed to survive its inauspicious beginnings to become a world religion.”— Rebecca Fraser, author of A People's History of Britain and Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life

“In this remarkably interesting and vividly written book Selina O’Grady shows how four great empires of the Axial age—the Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Chinese—used  religion, with its universal claims on human aspiration and destiny—to extend their power and legitimate their rule by creating compliant or “good” subjects under the expanding economic and social conditions…This is an important book—written from outside the perspective of belief—that helps to explain the enduring appeal of religion  in our supposedly secular age.”—Malise Ruthven, author of Islam in the World  and The Divine Supermarket: Shopping for God in America

Kirkus Reviews
A seminal epoch explored in terms of statecraft and religion, sociology and belief. The first century B.C. was largely dominated by imperial Rome and its regional client kings. Octavian defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra and became Augustus, master and overlord of the Roman world. In its German campaign, Rome suffered disastrous defeat. It was a time when conquest by trade was preferable to war, when mystery cults held sway, and pagan gods could be human enough to do business with mortal men. Charity was an unknown notion to the Romans, but clearly, religion held empires together. In Alexandria, still under Hellenic influence, compassionate Isis was the divinity of choice. The Arabian exporters of frankincense and unguents had their own gods, as did Palmyra. China, under Confucianism, was the world's oldest empire. There, the crafty usurper Wang Mang displaced the Han Dynasty for a few unhappy years. Despite Roman hegemony in Jerusalem and most of the known world, though, the Jews would not or could not be assimilated. In her fine synthesis, journalist O'Grady (co-editor: A Deep but Dazzling Darkness: An Anthology of Personal Experiences of God, 2003, etc.) brings antiquity to vivid life, relying on myriad sources, including Horace, Josephus and Saul of Tarsus, Suetonius, Cicero, Plutarch, Schama and Gibbon. There are tunics, togas, coins, carvings, slaves and struggles, all vibrantly presented in an admirably accessible text. O'Grady demonstrates the universal symbiosis of state and faith before and during the formative years of Christianity, and she offers a secular gloss of the remarkable success of Pauline Christianity in a tumultuous world. A wonderfully illuminating, prodigious tour de force of ecclesiastical anthropology.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250016829
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 183,244
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Selina O’Grady was a television producer for BBC1’s moral documentary series Heart of the Matter, Channel 4’s live open-ended chat show After Dark and was also a producer on Radio 4’s history series Leviathan. She was a regular reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Review and Tablet and the co-editor of two books: Great Spirits: The Fifty-Two Christians who Most Influenced their Millennium and A Deep But Dazzling Darkness, an anthology from Anglo-Saxon to modern times of the experience of belief and disbelief.

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