Cover image for The triumph of Christianity : how a forbidden religion swept the world / Bart D. Ehrman.
The triumph of Christianity : how a forbidden religion swept the world / Bart D. Ehrman.
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Physical Description:
xiv, 335 pages ; 24 cm
The beginning of the end: the conversion of Constantine -- Back to the beginning: the conversion and mission of Paul -- The religious world of conversion: Roman paganism -- Reasons for the Christian success -- Miraculous incentives for conversion -- The growth of the church -- Christians under assault: persecution, martyrdom, and self-defense -- The first Christian emperor -- Conversion and coercion: the beginnings of a Christian empire -- Gains and losses.
In The Triumph of Christianity, Bart Ehrman, a master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, shows how a religion whose first believers were twenty or so illiterate day laborers in a remote part of the empire became the official religion of Rome, converting some thirty million people in just four centuries. The Triumph of Christianity combines deep knowledge and meticulous research in an eye-opening, immensely readable narrative that upends the way we think about the single most important cultural transformation our world has ever seen - one that revolutionized art, music, literature, philosophy, ethics, economics, and law.


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From the bestselling authority on early Christianity, the story of how Christianity grew from a religion of twenty or so peasants in rural Galilee to the dominant religion in the West in less than four hundred years.

Christianity didn't have to become the dominant religion in the West. It easily could have remained a sect of Judaism fated to have the historical importance of the Sadducees or the Essenes. In The Triumph of Christianity , Bart Ehrman, a master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, shows how a religion whose first believers were twenty or so illiterate day laborers in a remote part of the empire became the official religion of Rome, converting some thirty million people in just four centuries. The Triumph of Christianity combines deep knowledge and meticulous research in an eye-opening, immensely readable narrative that upends the way we think about the single most important cultural transformation our world has ever seen--one that revolutionized art, music, literature, philosophy, ethics, economics, and law.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus), a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, provides a lucid and convincing account of the growth of Christianity in the Roman world. He begins with a question: how to explain the phenomenal success of Christianity within a pagan empire? His answers reject the theory that Christianity's spread was due simply to Emperor Constantine's embrace of the faith or continual missionary activity (which he says didn't happen after Paul). Instead, he shows Christianity's achievements to have been the result of an incremental numbers game in which geometric progression won the day. Ehrman doesn't provide new research, but his careful synthesis of existing scholarship creates an approachable study of the early church. Strong aspects of the book include Ehrman's placing of such issues as Christian exclusivity, Christian care for plague victims, and Christian martyrdom within the context of the wider Roman ethos. The book covers much familiar ground but is well worth reading for those wishing to dispel myths around the early Christian churches. Agent: Roger Freet, Foundry Literary + Media. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

"I used to believe absolutely everything that Bill just presented," the scholar Bart D. Ehrman once said during a 2006 debate with the conservative theologian William Lane Craig. "He and I went to the same evangelical Christian college, Wheaton, where these things are taught.... I used to believe them with my whole heart and soul. I used to preach them and try to convince others that they were true. But then I began... looking at them deeply myself." Ehrman, in other words, is no longer an evangelical, or even a Christian. Although he's written a number of valuable books on the shortcomings of fundamentalist readings of Scripture, not every enemy of fundamentalism has approved. On his popular blog, Ehrman has occasionally responded to personal attacks by the atheist crowd, who do not share his considered equanimity. In 32 years, he's managed to write or edit more than 30 books, while also pausing to debate Christology with Stephen Colbert. The field of New Testament studies has never been a reliable starting point for scholars seeking publishing superstardom. One explanation for this is the subject matter itself. A true understanding of the forces that shaped Christianity - seemingly familiar but in fact highly arcane - requires the ability to synthesize and express deep learning in a dozen interlocking subjects. Ehrman, who considers himself a historian but has done extensive work in textual criticism, has managed to achieve his remarkable renown by writing a string of best sellers that skillfully mine and simplify his more scholarly work. That may sound pejorative, but it's not. Ehrman's outreach to a popular audience - among whom I happily include myself - is wholly to the good, if only because throughout history average Christians have proved oddly unwilling to dig into the particularities of their faith, beyond familiarizing themselves with a few tentpole doctrines. They share this reluctance with one of Christianity's most spectacular converts, the Roman emperor Constantine, who credited his victory at the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312 to the auspices of the Christian deity, despite not knowing much about Christianity, including the degree to which it was riven by sectarian disagreement. The following year, Constantine ??-issued the Edict of Milan, granting Christians the right to practice their faith unmolested. In "The Triumph of Christianity," Ehrman describes the Edict of Milan (which was neither an edict nor written in Milan) as the Western world's first known government document to proclaim the freedom of belief. At the time, Ehrman notes, "Christianity probably made up 7 to 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire." A mere hundred years later, half the empire's "60 million inhabitants claimed allegiance to the Christian tradition." Ehrman declares, without hyperbole, "That is absolutely extraordinary." Over the centuries, countless books have been written to explain this, a great many of them by Christian writers and scholars who take the Constantinian view: Their faith's unlikely triumph was (and is) proof of divine favor. Interestingly, pagan advisers argued in vain to the first Christian Roman emperors that pagan beliefs had been what won the empire favor in the first place. When the emperor Valentinian II removed the altar of the goddess Victory from the Roman Senate house in A.D. 382, for instance, a pagan statesman named Symmachus reminded him, "This worship subdued the world." very little about the historical triumph of Christianity makes sense. When Constantine converted, the New Testament didn't formally exist and Christians disagreed on basic theological concepts, among them how Jesus and God were related. For those living at the time, Ehrman writes, "it would have been virtually impossible to imagine that these Christians would eventually destroy the other religions of Rome." Some saw glimmers of danger, however. An otherwise unknown pagan philosopher named Celsus wrote a tract called "On the True Doctrine" that attacked Christians' penchant for secrecy, refusal to partake in public worship and naked appeals to "slaves, women and little children." The great appeal of Ehrman's approach to Christian history has always been his steadfast humanizing impulse. In his superb book "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture," which concerns textual variants in early Christian texts that were driven by theological agendas, Ehrman argues that these corruptions weren't typically the product of willful obfuscation but rather the work of careful scribes trying to make sense of often perplexing language, imagery and traditions. Ehrman always thinks hard about history's winners and losers without valorizing the losers or demonizing the winners. The losers here, of course, were pagan people. Ehrman rejects the idea that Constantine's conversion made much difference; the empire, he writes, would most likely have turned Christian in time without him. So how did Christianity triumph? To put it plainly, Christianity was something new on this earth. It wasn't closed to women. It was so concerned with questions of social welfare (healing the sick, caring for the poor) that it embedded them into its doctrines. And while there were plenty of henotheist pagans (that is, people who worshiped one god while not denying the validity of others), Christianity went far beyond henotheism's hesitant claim upon ultimate truth. It was an exclusivist faith that foreclosed - was designed to foreclose - devotion to all other deities. Yet it was different from Judaism, which was just as exclusivist but crucially lacked a missionary impulse. Ehrman, summarizing the argument of the social historian Ramsay MacMullen, imagines a crowd of 100 pagans watching a persuasive Christian debate an equally persuasive adherent of the healing god Asclepius: "What happens to the overall relationship of (inclusive) paganism and (exclusive) Christianity? ... Paganism has lost 50 worshipers and gained no one, whereas Christianity has gained 50 worshipers and lost no one." Thus, Christian believers go from roughly 1,000 in A.D. 60, to 40,000 in A.D. 150, to 2.5 million in A.D. 300. Ehrman allows that these raw numbers may look "incredible. But in fact they are simply the result of an exponential curve." At a certain point, math took over. (Mormonism, which has been around less than 200 years, has seen comparable rates of growth.) Ehrman quotes a valuable and moving letter from a devout pagan named Maximus, which was written to Augustine near the end of the fourth century: "God is the name common to all religions.... While we honor his parts (so to speak) separately... we are clearly worshiping him in his entirety." But when pagan intellectuals decided to confront Christianity on its exclusivist terms - "We believe in one God as well!" - they effectively stranded themselves on their own 20-yard line. The heartrending pagan inability to anticipate the complete erasure of their beliefs gave Christianity one clear path to victory. And yet, when the caliga was on the other foot, Christians had different opinions about religious oppression and compulsion. Many of Christianity's earliest apologists wrote of their longing to be left alone by the Roman state. Here is Tertullian: "It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that everyone should worship according to his own convictions." These Christians "devised," Ehrman writes, somewhat cheekily, "the notion of the separation of church and state." But when Christians seized control of the empire, the separation they had long argued for vanished. The charges once lobbed against Christians - atheism, superstition - were turned against pagan people. Ehrman is careful to note that, for the most part, there was no Christian secret police forcing pagans to convert: The empire was too large and diffusely governed to make such an effort feasible. In addition, "there was no one moment when the world stopped being pagan to become Christian." Rather, it happened in the manner of Hemingway's theory of bankruptcy: gradually, then suddenly. Reading about how an entire culture's precepts and traditions can be overthrown without anyone being able to stop it may not be heartening at this particular historical moment. All the more reason to spend time in the company of such a humane, thoughtful and intelligent historian. ? ??? bissell'S most recent book is "Apostle." His essay collection "Magic Hours" is being reissued in paperback in March.

Library Journal Review

Triumph has a positive ring to it, yet Ehrman (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina Chapel Hill; Misquoting Jesus) provides a decidedly neutral evaluation of Christianity. In his hands, the rise of Christianity from obscurity was neither miraculous nor a historical inevitability; it was simply unsurprising. Ehrman's study starts with two foci: the emperor Constantine and his choice to devote himself to the Christian faith; and the apostle Paul, whose interpretation of the Gospel was instrumental in the religion's trajectory. From these, the author maps out the early growth of Christianity against a detailed background of Roman society and history, seeking to explain its appeal, the reasons for an otherwise tolerant society's hostility toward it, and how that hostility missed its mark. He not only brings a clear presentation of his own views but also gives alternative interpretations a fair hearing. VERDICT Ehrman's lively and thoroughly researched volume is bound to become a standard text on early church history. It is a rare work that delivers so vast a history in such a comprehensive and coherent fashion. [See Prepub Alert, 8/13/17.]-JW © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Time Linep. xiii
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 The Beginning of the End: The Conversion of Constantinep. 13
Chapter 2 Back to the Beginning: The Conversion and Mission of Paulp. 39
Chapter 3 The Religious World of Conversion: Roman Paganismp. 74
Chapter 4 Reasons for the Christian Successp. 105
Chapter 5 Miraculous Incentives for Conversionp. 131
Chapter 6 The Growth of the Churchp. 160
Chapter 7 Christians Under Assault: Persecution, Martyrdom, and Self-Defensep. 178
Chapter 8 The First Christian Emperorp. 217
Chapter 9 Conversion and Coercion: The Beginnings of a Christian Empirep. 243
Afterword Gains and Lossesp. 279
Appendixp. 287
Notesp. 295
Indexp. 323

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