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River of God, The: A New History of Christian Origins [Paperback]

By Gregory J. Riley (Author)
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Item description for River of God, The: A New History of Christian Origins by Gregory J. Riley...

Demonstrating that authentic Christianity is inherently pluralistic, Riley exposes the notion of one standard Christianity--to which the various Christian traditions of the world claim fidelity--as a myth.

Publishers Description
Where did Christianity come from?

Acclaimed author Gregory Riley embarks on a remarkable journey in this readable and persuasive account of the origins of Christianity. Riley demonstrates that early Christians held widely differing beliefs about God, Jesus, the Devil, and the human soul, and follows these beliefs back to their sources in Greek science and philosophy and the religions of the ancient Middle East. An expert on the context in which Christianity arose, Riley maps out a new understanding of the forging of Christianity, and conveys a vital message for today about the true nature of Christian faith as inherently diverse.

Citations And Professional Reviews
River of God, The: A New History of Christian Origins by Gregory J. Riley has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 114
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 87

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Item Specifications...

Studio: HarperOne
Pages   252
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.12" Width: 5.35" Height: 0.67"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Dec 13, 2013
Publisher   HarperOne
ISBN  0060669802  
ISBN13  9780060669805  
UPC  099455014953  

Availability  2 units.
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More About Gregory J. Riley

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Gregory Riley, Ph.D., educated at Harvard University, is professor of NewTestament and Early Christianity at the Claremont School of Theology in California and the author of the acclaimed One Jesus, Many Christs.

Gregory J. Riley currently resides in the state of California. Gregory J. Riley was born in 1947.

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > Substores > jp-unknown1
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Ecclesiology
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology

Christian Product Categories
Books > Education (K-12) > Social Science > History

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Reviews - What do customers think about River of God, The: A New History of Christian Origins?

Decent intro book but lacks detail  Aug 10, 2004
The River of God not only deals with the subject of the origins of Christian beliefs, but also reviews alleged sources of Judeo-Biblical theology. Occasionally some frank statements are made and backed up fairly well. For example consider: "3 millenia prior to the Christianity of 4th century (Constantine) no one of record was a monotheist and certainly not a trinitarian. There was no devil, humans did not have souls and there was no need for a messiah. At the inception of Christianity neither the trinity nor the terms necessary to decribe the term existed." Each of these subjects as well as other beliefs are revealed to the reader as having pre-Christian non Judaic/Biblical origins which serve as an eye opener for someone new to the subject. Overall however, the specifics regarding time frame, proofs of where the beliefs originated and when and how they found their way into Judeo-Christian thought and the Bible are usually not well developed. Some important items such as bodily resurrection origins are only mentioned in passing. Persian Zoroastrianism is cited as the origin of many of the beliefs, but as some scholars have pointed out, because a belief is a time period contemporary of the Hebrew Bible, it is not an automatic that it ends up being incorporated into the Bible. Again, this is a decent book to begin research on the subject but if one is looking for specific detail regarding various belief origins you will have to for the most part research further.
Jesus as a Jewish Gnostic  Jul 1, 2004
This work by Gregory Riley of the Claremont School of Theology, also author of "One Jesus, Many Christs," makes the case that the major doctrines of the New Testament and early Christianity came from the Jewish Gnostics, who were centered in Galilee, Jesus' home base.

The peoples of the Mediterranean world, including the Hebrews, all believed that the earth was a flat disk sitting on top of a disk of water. Over that was a hard dome, not more than a few thousand feet high, on top of which sat the gods. All the gods had bodies, including the Chief One. The Hebrews, like everyone else, never believed that God was an immaterial spirit or that people had spiritual souls that could unite with God after death. People just lived out their lives on earth under the gaze of the gods and the fates.

This view was challenged by the great mathematician Pythagoras in the 6th century b.c., who stated the earth is a sphere, and by Eratosthenes, who in the 3rd century b.c. computed that the earth is 40,000 kilometers in circumference, wonderfully close to its actual size. Riley says we cannot over emphasize the dramatic effect this new Greek science had on religious beliefs (the whole premise of his book is that religious beliefs are constantly changing in response to their times). For one thing, these discoveries made the material universe immense, infinite. For another thing, there was a commensurate change in the idea of God. The Greeks developed the via negativa method of describing the new God as immaterial, ineffable, and unknowable. Plato extended this idea of God to humans, describing their bodies as shells from which the soul-an emanation of God of sorts-would escape after death and return to God.

Riley says that these ideas were slow to catch on, but they did. In Jewish society they took root among the very well educated class, especially in Galilee-a true crossroad of many cultures and religions. (Jerusalem was in the isolated highlands). Riley says that at the time of Jesus, all the Pharisees, Essenes, Gnostics, and Hellenists together were a very tiny fraction of Jewish society. The educated classes among the Jews, especially the Gnostics, were very interested in the new Greek ideas of God. If God was all perfect, however, what caused evil in the world? For that answer, the Jewish Gnostics relied on Persian Zoroastrian religion, which proposed a cosmic conflict between the god of good and the god of evil.

The Gnostics had to demote the Evil One from a god to a fallen angel, but he served the purpose of drumming up all the evil and suffering in the world. In their scenario, a lesser emanation of God had created a very imperfect world, which God allowed the devil to corrupt and control in order to test his human creations. The New Testament teachings of Jesus embody the doctrines of the Jewish Gnostics almost verbatim. Riley emphasizes what revolutionary teaching this was at the time. People did not know they had immortal souls. Neither did they suspect what great danger they were in. This constituted the "new wine" of Jesus' teaching. Riley writes:

"Fundamental to the teaching of Jesus was the dualism of body and soul. From the point of view of religious studies, Jesus was a genius-what scholars call a master figure-and his dualism was unique. In many ways it was similar to that of Orphism, Pythagoranism, and Plato, yet it is fair to say that the cosmos of Jesus had a darker side, for he was also conscious of the spiritual warfare inherent in the kingdom of God. No Greek philosopher believed in the Devil, nor did the Zoroastrians have a view of body and soul based in science (as did the Greek philosophers), Jesus brilliantly combined both traditions into something new."

Riley says that the signature parable of the NT was the first parable seen in the Gospel of Mark (4:3-8, 14-20) of the sower going out to sow his seed. The seed that fell beside the road was picked up by the birds (the devil), on rocky ground (persecution), and in the weeds (cares and temptations of the world).

Riley states that the new doctrine overturned the values of the world, making death, suffering, and persecution the means of eternal happiness. Jesus himself would submit to "persecution" (orchestrated by the Devil, no less) to demonstrate his belief in the afterlife. The Devil would use every means of tripping up people, including the use of "false prophets and religions." This warning gave impetus to the desire of bishops from the beginning to stamp out religious dissent and other religions-all seen as instruments of the devil.

This negative view of the world goes a long way in explaining the incipient violence of Christianity and its ability to alienate people from the world, nature, and their own bodies and emotions. These doctrines still have a powerful grip on western society.

Riley is also able to point out where the writers of the New Testament and later Church councils were picking and choosing among Gnostic doctrines. For example, Plato had assigned five concentric shells that would isolate the Monad from the world, emanations of the godhead that did his bidding. The Gnostics extended this divine group, called the "pleroma" or "fullness," to 365 beings. The author of John limits these intermediary gods to the Word. The author of Colossians states twice that in Jesus alone "is the "pleroma" of God (The Holy Spirit would be worked in later.)

Jesus as springing from the Jewish Gnostics makes him a much more interesting character. Just his being from Galilee sets the authorities of Jerusalem on edge. And how did Jesus as the (perhaps illegitimate) son of a tradesman ingratiate himself with the well-educated Gnostic Hellenists of Galilee? He could have distinguished himself by his special talents or beauty or both.

Excellent history of the evolution of religious concepts.  Jul 11, 2003
I really like this book. The analogy to an actual river is a concept of brilliance.
All these religious ideas have interplayed with others. They are the products of the human mind in various stages of cultural evolution.

The anthropomorphic god who walked in the cool of the day in the garden. He became the ethereal Monad in the perfect spheres of the geocentric universe.

What is a soul? What is the body? Riley shows that 5'th century
BCE Greek science created the concept of a soul. It was adopted by the religous beliefs. First Greek then Zoroastrian then Jewish then Christian.

Great read!

The River of God: The Whole Story  Oct 25, 2001
In The River of God, Gregory Riley shines light on much of the history of Christian origins often ignored by scholars. Most researchers of Christianity restrict themselves to the influence of the West (Greek and Roman) and often confuse Rabbinic Judaism with the Judaism of Jesus' times; Prof. Riley adds the whole of Middle Eastern religious history to the story of our search for God. Riley includes the development of Cannanite and Mesopotamian religion in the history of ancient Judaism. In addition to Greek ideas of Orphism, Pythagoreanism and Plato, he recognizes the Egyptian and Persian Zoroastrian influences on the development of Christian concepts of afterlife. Riley outlines the role of Persian Zoroastrianism on our understanding of Satan and a world savior. He details how various ancient religious models of God from both East and West as well as Greek science contributed to the development of our understanding of the division of body and soul and the creation of the doctrine of the Trinity in the fourth century. The River of God is not a general overview of world religions; it is specifically about the development of Christianity from a modern Christian perspective. Prof. Riley writes with a broad brush in his outline of the development of Christianity and, while scholars will quibble over some of the details and generalizations, I found The River of God to be an excellent overview of our understanding of "the process of the River of God."
A New History with Nothing New  Aug 6, 2001
I guess The River of God is technically a new history of Christian origins since it is a new book. However, new does not equate with original. Riley disappoints by not coming up with any original ideas from what I could see. He just rehashes the same old story of Christianity forming from many cultural influences. If you have read anything from somebody at the Claremont School of Theology, the various Ivy League theology schools, or the Jesus Seminar, then you have already read what this book has to offer. I expect more from a professor than to simply publish a long book report of other people's ideas.

This is also not a book for Christians who believe in the bible and the God of the bible. Riley's Jesus is more of a relativist created by cultural influences before him as opposed to being God in the flesh.


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