Ancient Christianities: The First Five Hundred Years

How, over the course of five centuries, one particular god and one particular Christianity came to dominate late Roman imperial politics and piety


Oct 15, 2024
6.12 x 9.25 in.
3 b/w illus.
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The ancient Mediterranean teemed with gods. For centuries, a practical religious pluralism prevailed. How, then, did one particular god come to dominate the politics and piety of the late Roman Empire? In Ancient Christianities, Paula Fredriksen traces the evolution of early Christianity—or rather, of early Christianities—through five centuries of Empire, mapping its pathways from the hills of Judea to the halls of Rome and Constantinople. It is a story with a sprawling cast of characters: not only theologians, bishops, and emperors, but also gods and demons, angels and magicians, astrologers and ascetics, saints and heretics, aristocratic patrons and millenarian enthusiasts. All played their part in the development of what became and remains an energetically diverse biblical religion.

The New Testament, as we know it, represents only a small selection of the many gospels, letters, acts of apostles, and revelations that circulated before the establishment of the imperial church. It tells how the gospel passed from Jesus, to the apostles, thence to Paul. But by using our peripheral vision, by looking to noncanonical and paracanonical texts, by availing ourselves of information derived from papyri, inscriptions, and archaeology, we can see a different, richer, much less linear story emerging. Fredriksen brings together these many sources to reconstruct the lively interactions of pagans, Jews, and Christians, tracing the conversions of Christianity from an energetic form of Jewish messianism to an arm of the late Roman state.