Book Pocket Review, Title A New History Of Early Christianity, Author Charles Freeman, Rating 3.5,
A New History Of Early Christianity
The East saw the greatest destruction of pagan shrines, but their obliteration was also common in the west. Martin of Tours, one the most popular bishop-saints of the late fourth century, was renowned for miracles which caused the collapse or burning of a shrine. There is a dramatic falling off of pagan activity in the archaeological record after the fourth century and the written sources of the time give us triumphant accounts of the breaking up of pagan statues.
This is a very readable historical treatment of the early gestation of Christianity. The approach is explicitly historical rather than theological, allowing the author to examine the early documents and archeology in light of the culture and politics of the early Christian writers. In particular the diverse perspectives and the many contradictions found in their writings can make more sense when considering wider historical influences, such as the region the writer came from, the language(s) they spoke and didn't speak, whether they were Jewish or Gentile, their position in society, and so on.
Some of this is openly speculative, as very little is known about most of the early Christian writers, particularly those who authored what became the canonical New Testament. I found the speculation reasonably grounded in the wider history of the times, knowing that there is much one will never know about those early times. The author is clear about what is known and what is speculation, as any ancient historian must be.
Freeman’s elucidation of the narrowing of Christian thought in the 4th century AD, as the Roman empire first embraced Christianity then made it the state religion, is fascinating, particularly the substantial role of Roman politics in the shaping of the orthodox Christian interpretation of the early Roman Catholic Church, and the resulting state and church suppression of pagan worship.
There is much more, ably presented by an accomplished historian of the ancient world.