A New History of Early Christianity

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Overview

The relevance of Christianity is as hotly contested today as it has ever been. A New History of Early Christianity shows how our current debates are rooted in the many controversies surrounding the birth of the religion and the earliest attempts to resolve them. Charles Freeman’s meticulous historical account of Christianity from its birth in Judaea in the first century A.D. to the emergence of Western and Eastern churches by A.D. 600 reveals that it was a distinctive, vibrant, and incredibly diverse movement brought into order at the cost of intellectual and spiritual vitality. Against the conventional narrative of the inevitable “triumph” of a single distinct Christianity, Freeman shows that there was a host of competing Christianities, many of which had as much claim to authenticity as those that eventually dominated. Looking with fresh eyes at the historical record, Freeman explores the ambiguities and contradictions that underlay Christian theology and the unavoidable compromises enforced in the name of doctrine.

Tracing the astonishing transformation that the early Christian church underwent—from sporadic niches of Christian communities surviving in the wake of a horrific crucifixion to sanctioned alliance with the state—Charles Freeman shows how freedom of thought was curtailed by the development of the concept of faith. The imposition of "correct belief," religious uniformity, and an institutional framework that enforced orthodoxy were both consolidating and stifling. Uncovering the difficulties in establishing the Christian church, he examines its relationship with Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman society, and he offers dramatic new accounts of Paul, the resurrection, and the church fathers and emperors.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

"[Freeman] surveys a surprisingly diverse range of early Christian communities, . . . [and] recounts how small and politically marginal bands of Christians. . . transformed into an imperially powerful church serving Roman emperors (notably, Constantine and Theodosius) and persecuting heretics unwilling to embrace the creeds those emperors helped to hammer out."—Bryce Christensen, Booklist

— Bryce Christensen

Colloquium

"A fresh and provocative book: insightful, adventurous and controversial."—Laurie Guy, Colloquium

— Laurie Guy

Interpretations

"This book combines clear descriptions with a large amount of detail, presenting them in manageable bits, so that even the interested lay reader will find this book accessible with a little study. . . . Much to Freeman''s credit and to the benefit of readers, he leads them through the years in which Christianity was shaped by these imperial forces, considering to what extent these were internal and external changes. This book is a great edition to the bookshelf of both educators and pastors who are interested in the origins of Christianity."—Andrea Janelle Dickens, Interpretations

— Andrea Janelle Dickens

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

"As usual, Freeman writes clearly and avoids the tediousness that can afflict scholarly texts."—Randal Hunhoff, Arkansas Democrat Gazette

— Randal Hunhoff

Ward Blanton
"A History of Early Christianity is a masterful book, and a pleasure to read. Freeman narrates the development, diversity, and spread of Christianity with originality and verve. It is a story that brims over with fascinating accounts, intriguing quotations from figures in the ancient Mediterranean, and illuminating historical analysis. It is also a crucial resource for our understanding of ongoing cultural negotiations of religious and political spheres, all those theologico-political paradoxes that face us now more than ever. I do not think there exists a more engaging and illuminating history of early Christianity than this one."—Ward Blanton, University of Glasgow
Christopher Rowland
"Even those who are adherents to Christianity may be puzzled by the tensions which exist in its primary sources, and this meticulous attempt to probe its origins and development is to be welcomed. Charles Freeman embraces the different kinds of approaches and positions which are found in the ancient texts, Christian and otherwise, painting a vivid picture of the nature of Christianity in all its diversity in the earliest centuries of its existence."—Christopher Rowland, author of Christian Origins
Richard Rubenstein
"This is a bold and imaginative historical synthesis which fills an important need. For the first time, Freeman makes the complex story of Christianity's birth and early development available in concise, lively, eminently readable form. A tragic story in many ways, but a great pleasure to read."—Richard Rubenstein, author of When Jesus Became God
Booklist - Bryce Christensen
"[Freeman] surveys a surprisingly diverse range of early Christian communities, . . . [and] recounts how small and politically marginal bands of Christians. . . transformed into an imperially powerful church serving Roman emperors (notably, Constantine and Theodosius) and persecuting heretics unwilling to embrace the creeds those emperors helped to hammer out."—Bryce Christensen, Booklist
Colloquium - Laurie Guy
"A fresh and provocative book: insightful, adventurous and controversial."—Laurie Guy, Colloquium
Interpretations - Andrea Janelle Dickens
"This book combines clear descriptions with a large amount of detail, presenting them in manageable bits, so that even the interested lay reader will find this book accessible with a little study. . . . Much to Freeman's credit and to the benefit of readers, he leads them through the years in which Christianity was shaped by these imperial forces, considering to what extent these were internal and external changes. This book is a great addition to the bookshelf of both educators and pastors who are interested in the origins of Christianity."—Andrea Janelle Dickens, Interpretations
Arkansas Democrat Gazette - Randal Hunhoff
"As usual, Freeman writes clearly and avoids the tediousness that can afflict scholarly texts."—Randal Hunhoff, Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Library Journal
Faith-based narratives of ancient Christianity often tell of a dynamic faith predestined by divine plan to triumph over paganism and heresy (Catholic) only to fall prey to the twin evils of power and superstition (Protestant). Freeman (The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason) rejects the notion of a single original Christian message and the possibility of a coherent theological understanding of Jesus. He describes, instead, the ancient Christian movement's great diversity and how what would come to count as heretical or orthodox was fluid, contested at every step, and profoundly linked to imperial politics. Freeman spins a "decline and fall" narrative—he writes that "imperial Christianity created an ethos in which free discussion was next to impossible" and a dogmatic creedal Christianity was imposed on Western and Byzantine Europe. VERDICT Freeman has a gift for crafting a compelling story out of the messy details of history, painting nuanced portraits of key figures through compelling quotations and precise historical observation. Highly recommended for general readers and students, as well as those who enjoy the "A People's History of Christianity" series from Fortress Press.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300125818
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/27/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Freeman is a specialist on the ancient world and its legacy. He has worked on archaeological digs on the continents surrounding the Mediterranean and develops study tour programs in Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Freeman is Historical Consultant to the prestigious Blue Guides series and the author of numerous books, including the bestseller The Closing of the Western Mind and, most recently, Holy Bones, Holy Dust. He lives in the UK.

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