Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity

Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity

by James J. O'Donnell


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A provocative and contrarian religious history that charts the rise of Christianity from the point of view of traditional” religion from the religious scholar and critically acclaimed author of Augustine.

Pagans explores the rise of Christianity from a surprising and unique viewpoint: that of the people who witnessed their ways of life destroyed by what seemed then a powerful religious cult. These “pagans” were actually pious Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Gauls who observed the traditions of their ancestors. To these devout polytheists, Christians who worshipped only one deity were immoral atheists who believed that a splash of water on the deathbed could erase a lifetime of sin.

Religious scholar James J. O’Donnell takes us on a lively tour of the Ancient Roman world through the fourth century CE, when Romans of every nationality, social class, and religious preference found their world suddenly constrained by rulers who preferred a strange new god. Some joined this new cult, while others denied its power, erroneously believing it was little more than a passing fad.

In Pagans, O’Donnell brings to life various pagan rites and essential features of Roman religion and life, offers fresh portraits of iconic historical figures, including Constantine, Julian, and Augustine, and explores important themes—Rome versus the east, civilization versus barbarism, plurality versus unity, rich versus poor, and tradition versus innovation—in this startling account. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061845390
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 133,673
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

James J. O'donnell is a classicist who served for ten years as Provost of Georgetown University and is now University Librarian at Arizona State University. He is the author of several books including Augustine, The Ruin of the Roman Empire, and Avatars of the Word. He is the former president of the American Philological Association, a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, and the chair of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies. He is seen here at an ancient monastery on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire, in Syria.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Part I Religion Without A History

Chapter 1 The Tour Guide's Version 9

Chapter 2 The Games of the Century 17

Chapter 3 An Eloquent Man Who Loved His Country 45

Chapter 4 What Is a God? 55

Chapter 5 Divine Butchery 71

Chapter 6 Ways of Knowing 89

Chapter 7 The Specter of Atheism 97

Chapter 8 Gods at Home 105

Chapter 9 Divine Exaltation 115

Part II The History of Paganism

Chapter 10 Constantine in his World 121

Chapter 11 A New Leaf 135

Chapter 12 The Birth of Paganism 149

Chapter 13 The Baptism of Paganism 159

Chapter 14 The First Christian Emperor 165

Chapter 15 The Servant of Christianity 177

Chapter 16 The Triumph of Paganism 191

Chapter 17 What Remained 201

Chapter 18 Cicero Reborn 213

Chapter 19 A Roman Relgion 225

Epilogue 237

Notes 243

Further Reading 261

Index 263

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