Item description for The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert Louis Wilken...
Overview This book offers an engrossing portrayal of the early years of the Christian movement from the perspective of the Romans.
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Studio: Yale University Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 7.76" Width: 5.07" Height: 0.63" Weight: 0.4 lbs.
Release Date Apr 10, 2003
Publisher Yale University Press
ISBN 0300098391 ISBN13 9780300098396
Availability 0 units.
More About Robert Louis Wilken
Robert Louis Wilken is William R. Kenan Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia. He is the author of numerous books, including The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, published by Yale University Press.
Robert Louis Wilken currently resides in the state of Virginia. Robert Louis Wilken was born in 1936.
Reviews - What do customers think about The Christians as the Romans Saw Them?
Title is misleading May 18, 2008
This book dealt more with what the non-Romans (Greeks, Syrians) thought of the Christians than what the Romans thought. Pliny the Younger and Julian the Apostate are the only Romans in the book in detail. Detailed more in the book are Galen, Celsus, and Porphyry (who aren't Romans), the two former are Greek and the latter is Syrian. Decent read, flows well.
"a people apart" Jan 29, 2008
From its inception, the Jesus movement that later became known as Christianity had a deeply ambivalent relationship with its surrounding culture. On the one hand, Luke wrote that the first believers "enjoyed the favor of all the people" (Acts 2:47). But that genial state of affairs was short-lived. When Paul stood before King Agrippa, the governor Festus interrupted Paul's defense and screamed, "You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane!" (Acts 26:24). It's fair to say that this deep ambivalence between Christ and culture has never been resolved even to our own day, and that, perhaps, it never should be.
Robert Louis Wilkin, professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, introduces the broad and deep antipathy that developed in the first five centuries toward the Christian movement, at least as that was expressed by the cultured elites. He presents the views of the pagan critics with both sympathy and understanding. In particular, he devotes one chapter each to the views of Pliny the Younger, the physician Galen, Celsus, the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry, and the Roman emperor Julian who was raised as a Christian but abandoned his faith to become a vociferous critic.
For about a hundred years the emergent Christian movement was invisible to most people in the Roman empire. But across the decades Christians earned a reputation as an alternate and anti-social community that existed on the margins of the state. They were fanatical, seditious, obstinate, and defiant. Tacitus called them "haters of mankind." They scorned long-held Roman religious traditions. Many of their adherents came from the lower classes and seemed gullible. They refused military service, and met for clandestine rites rumored to include cannibalism, ritual murder, and incest. All of which is to say, in the words of one critic, that the Christians "do not understand their civic duty." They actively undermined society with their indifference to civic affairs. As for their beliefs, Wilkin highlights a cluster of Christian doctrines that drew the ire of pagan critics--miracles, the reliability of the Bible, the historical particularity of revelation, creation of the world out of nothing, the primacy of faith over reason, and Christianity's relationship to Judaism.
In his short epilogue, Wilkin acknowledges that Christians responded to their critics: "There was a genuine dialogue, not simply an outpouring of abuse. The credit goes as much to the Christians as to the pagans." But credit also goes to the critics, for in their attacks they forced believers to clarify and develop their own intellectual tradition. Wilkin concludes with advice that is just as timely today as it was two millennia ago: "Christianity needed its critics and profited from them."
Alright for beginners, but repetitive Oct 23, 2007
First of all I already had most of the information that I found in this book, and if you've done any research whatsoever into the field odds are that so do you. However it could have been a good start for the beginner.
There are however several annoying flaws. As you may have guessed from my header this book is very repetitive; on more than one occasion I turned a page, started reading, and wondered if I'd accidentally gone back to the previous page. But no, I was reading a new page. Not only did it repeat the information over again, but it often used almost identical wording to do so.
Less egregious, but still annoying, is repeating the same information in different chapters. Once more the wording is virtually identical, but in some cases one chapter includes a quote and the other doesn't.
I realise this book is written for the lay person (and in all fairness I am a lay person), but credit us with the ability to remember the contents of the previous chapter! Not to mention the content of the previous page!
The book is also tolerably neutral, it's simply impossible to find a truly neutral book given the subject at hand. Pagans, Christians, and some non-believers may find parts of this book very irritating and annoying on that count.
It's also an easy read, I finished it up in two days, so if you want a quick read on the subject this is it. It also has a lot of facts together in one place, and a lot of references to other books.
I'd look for something else if you can find it, if not this will serve.
"A Tale of Two Books, part I", or "This Man Owes Us an Explanation" Jul 30, 2007
When this book first came out I was in college, and non-Christian friends aware of my beliefs would use it to taunt me. I felt comfortable enough, and being pre-med I had little time to explore its' arguments at that time. Recently, I read "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought" by the same author, and my curiosity was rekindled.
I would give anything to read the preface to the first edition, because there is a significant incongruity between the new preface and the contents of the book. Now the author states he meant to use pagan critics as way to understanding early Christianity, and moreover, that such critics exerted a positive influence on the early Church. Clearly, that was not his original intention. This man simply wanted to disparage Christianity. Proof of this lies in the reviews below from people who found their dislike of Christianity vindicated in this book.
The author favorably presents all the critics' arguments in slanted terms. He fatuously speaks of an ongoing "dialogue" between Christianity and paganism when the former was outlawed, at times violently persecuted and its' writings targeted for destruction. He praises the magnanimity shown by Pliny and Trajan in prohibiting anonymous accusations against Christians and in absolving Christians who recanted. Otherwise Christians were to be executed and the author sees no problem with that. He even defends Porphyry's writings as justification for Diocletian's persecution.
Nineteen years after this book, Prof Wilken wrote "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought" which is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. It seems almost impossible that the two books could have been written by the same person. It would appear as if Prof. Wilken realized over time he had it wrong initially. Pagan criticism was based mostly on ignorance and prejudice. Christian doctrinal development owed little to apologetics vs. pagans. If anything, Christianity owed much more to disputations vs heretics and Jewish polemics.
Or else Prof Wilken had a deep conversion. I for one would be extremely interested in reading his personal spiritual journey.
So for those who think that here they may find validation of their anti-Christian views I have a warning: don't get too excited-the arguments in this book failed to convince its' own author.
Fascinating look at how pagan criticism of Christianity was much the same as today's Feb 23, 2007
How did established pagans view upstart Christians in the first few centuries of Christianity? Well, as detailed by Wilkens' relatively brief (214 pages) yet fascinating work, much like critics of Christianity today view Christians: as superstitious, anti-reason dogmatists. Said pagan critics also zeroed in on arguments that Jesus himself never claimed to be God - it was his later followers who elevated him to God-like status - and that while claiming that Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish Old Testament prophecies, Christians nonetheless did not follow Old Testament laws, a glaring inconsistency.