Sunday, July 22, 2018
Bart Ehrman - The Triumph Of Christianity (Oneworld, 2018) ***
One of the most mysterious things to me is why people believe in the existense of a supernatural being, call it god, who has created and who governs all things. As such, I have been an avid reader of all the books by Bart Ehrman, a former believer and theologian, who has written some of the most insightful books on early christianity.
In "The Triumph Of Christianity", he takes a few centuries further in history, covering the expansion of the early views of a jewish eschatological sect. He explains how the sect grew under the guidance of (saint) Paul, the man who was responsible for expanding the sect among non-jews until the time of Theodiosius in the fourth century, when christianity became the state religion.
The history of christianity is a bloody one, full of intolerance against the christians in the early days, with torture and martyrdom being inherent in the way people looked at other groups. The Romans were usually tolerant towards other religions of conquered nations, as long as they showed respect for their own Roman gods, which was of course inacceptable to the christians. Once christianity became the state religion in the 4th century, they became as intolerant against other religions as what they had experienced themselves. Theodosius at first issued legislative measures that proscribed pagan sacrifices, worship in temples and such other religious rituals, then later also in the privacy of the home.
Even if christianity was still the religion of the minority of the population in the regions ruled by the Romans, the number of christians quickly increased significantly across the entire region, not because people believed it, but because they had no choice.
Even if not his best book, Ehrman writes well, with the many historical facts not disrupting the narrative. He gives a good insight in the religious and political thinking in those times, also demonstrating that things could have been completely different today if some individuals had not made the choices they made then.