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Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome [Paperback]

By Rodney Stark (Author)
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Item description for Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome by Rodney Stark...

Draws on new scholarship and statistical information to challenge popular beliefs about early Christianity, addressing such topics as the purpose of Gnosticism, Paul's efforts to convert Jews, and the dissolution of paganism. By the author of The Rise of Christianity. Reprint. 20,000 first printing.

Publishers Description

How did the preaching of a peasant carpenter from Galilee spark a movement that would grow to include over two billion followers? Who listened to this "good news," and who ignored it? Where did Christianity spread, and how? Based on quantitative data and the latest scholarship, preeminent scholar and journalist Rodney Stark presents new and startling information about the rise of the early church, overturning many prevailing views of how Christianity grew through time to become the largest religion in the world.

Drawing on both archaeological and historical evidence, Stark is able to provide hard statistical evidence on the religious life of the Roman Empire to discover the following facts that set conventional history on its head:

Contrary to fictions such as The Da Vinci Code and the claims of some prominent scholars, Gnosticism was not a more sophisticated, more authentic form of Christianity, but really an unsuccessful effort to paganize Christianity.

Paul was called the apostle to the Gentiles, but mostly he converted Jews.

Paganism was not rapidly stamped out by state repression following the vision and conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, but gradually disappeared as people abandoned the temples in response to the superior appeal of Christianity.

The "oriental" faiths--such as those devoted to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of love and magic, and to Cybele, the fertility goddess of Asia Minor--actually prepared the way for the rapid spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire.

Contrary to generations of historians, the Roman mystery cult of Mithraism posed no challenge to Christianity to become the new faith of the empire-- it allowed no female members and attracted only soldiers.

By analyzing concrete data, Stark is able to challenge the conventional wisdom about early Christianity offering the clearest picture ever of how this religion grew from its humble beginnings into the faith of more than one-third of the earth's population.

Awards and Recognitions
Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome by Rodney Stark has received the following awards and recognitions -

  • Book of the Year - 2007 Winner - Top 10 category

Citations And Professional Reviews
Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome by Rodney Stark has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Christian Century - 09/09/2008 page 48

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Item Specifications...

Studio: HarperOne
Pages   280
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8" Width: 5.34" Height: 0.68"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 12, 2014
Publisher   HarperOne
ISBN  0061349887  
ISBN13  9780061349881  

Availability  151 units.
Availability accurate as of Mar 25, 2017 07:55.
Usually ships within one to two business days from La Vergne, TN.
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More About Rodney Stark

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Rodney Stark is the author of How the West Won, The Victory of Reason, The Rise of Christianity, God's Battalions, and many other books. He serves as Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University, where he is codirector of the Institute for Studies of Religion. A Pulitzer Prize nominee, Stark has won three Distinguished Book Awards from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. He also served as president of that organization, and of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. Before earning his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, Stark was a staff writer for several major publications. Visit the author online at

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Religion

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Reviews - What do customers think about Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome?

Well written, advances some arguments, raises interesting questions  Nov 10, 2007
Rodney Stark writes well. On topics that can turn even talented writers boring, Stark's books consistently arouse interest and curiosity. His books are smooth, easy to read, and avoids cumbersome language. As a result, it usually takes me about half the time to finish books by Stark compared to other books related to classical history. Cities of God is no exception.

Stark begins by given descriptions of all the significant cities in the ancient Roman world. These descriptions alone are quite valuable and provide insight into the Roman world and day-to-day life within it. But his collection of cities is just the beginning, as Stark goes on to explain how they became Cities of God.

The subtitled of the book is "The Real Story of How Christianity Became Urban Movement and Conquered Rome." True enough, but another subtitle could be, "How to Use Statistics to Test Historical Propositions." Stark is a big believer in the use of statistics and math to solve histories elusive problems. The extent to which he succeeds I will leave to readers and his peers statisticians. But the book is an interesting read just to see how such an approach to history could work. For my part, I thought some of Stark's propositions, such as that cities closer to Jerusalem were Christianized sooner, that Hellenistic cities Christianized sooner than Roman ones, and that large cities Christianized sooner than smaller ones, were well established.

I am less confident in his conclusions about certain mystery religions "paving the way" for monotheism. Even if the numbers reflect ancient reality, the conclusion does not seem to follow from the premise. However, Stark's arguments about Gnosticism and related heresies being late and derivative are well taken.

Stark also continues to advance two theories he mentioned in his The Rise of Christianity. First, he emphasizes relationships and the practical usefulness of a religion over its beliefs and dogma in explaining its spread. In Cities of God, he seems to give more importance to belief than before. This is a useful corrective, as belief often helps explain the emphasis on relationship and practical usefulness in a religion. Second, Stark believes that the Gentile mission was not all that successful at first and that most early Christians were Jewish Diaspora converts. He gives more evidence for his theory here, but anyone looking to test the theory will still have to look elsewhere for fuller discussions.

All told, Stark makes some good arguments, fails to prove others but raises good questions in the process, and leaves the reader with more knowledge and insight than when he or she started.
Stark's Numbers  Sep 25, 2007
In his "Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome" (2006), Rodney Stark chastise historians for not using "quantitative methods" (page 22). In his conclusion, Stark quotes the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. as having said: "almost all important [historical] questions are important precisely because they are not susceptible to quantitative answers," then Stark scathingly replied: "Such arrogance thrilled many of his listeners, as clever nonsense so often does. For others it prompted reflections on how someone so poorly trained had risen so high in the profession of history. In truth, many of the real significant historical questions demand quantitative answers" (page 209). In his "Cities of God," Stark gives us quantitative answers, he quotes a lot of data, making use of statistical models, and makes arguments which on the surface appear to be persuasive, if not down right convincing.

But what of his own numbers? It is interesting to note that the population figures which Stark gives in his "Cities of God" (2006) significantly differ from those figures in his earlier book "The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History" (1996). In the following list, I will give the population figure for "The Rise of Christianity" (1996) first, followed by the population figure given in his "Cities of God" (2006). All figures are for the period of 100 AD. All figures are from Stark's own books! According to Stark, the city of Rome had a population of 650,000 in his 1996 book, but only 450,000 in his 2006 book; Alexandria went from 400,000 to 250,000; Antioch from 150,000 to 100,000; Carathage from 90,000 to 100,000; Sardis stayed the same at 100,000; Smyrna went from 75,000 to 90,000; Athens from 30,000 to 75,000; Edessa from 80,000 to 75,000; Nisibis from 80,000 to 67,000; Cadis (Gadir) from 100,000 to 65,000; Syracuse from 80,000 to 60,000; Ephesus from 200,000 to 51,000; Corinth from 100,000 to 50,000; Memphis from 90,000 to 50,000; Caesarea Maritima remained the same at 45,000; Cordova the same at 45,000; Damascus the same at 45,000; Autun the same at 40,000; Pergamum from 120,000 to 40,000; Apamea from 125,000 to 37,000; Salamis stayed the same at 35,000; London from 40,000 to 30,000; and Milan from 40,000 to 30,000. It is very odd that the same author is willing to give significantly different population figures for the same cities during the same period. Nor did Stark give any explanation as to why the numbers are different.

On page 34, in his "Cities of God," Stark asks the question: "Did Rome have a million residents or only 200,000?" and in footnote 31, Stark cites: "Parkin, 1992; Russell, 1958." In "Demography and Roman Society" (1992), Tim Parkin writes: "For the city of Rome itself, a figure of between 750,000 and 1 million seems right" (page 5). And in a footnote he adds that "Russell (1958) 63-68, (1985) 8-25, however, gives a figure as ludicrously low as under 200,000" (page 162). These authors justify Stark's question: "Did Rome have a million residents or only 200,000?" (page 34). But on page 52, in his "Cities of God," Stark gives the population of Rome as 450,000, but he has no footnote this time, and he doesn't tell us how he reached his decision. He doesn't give any justification. So did he pick 450,000 out of thin air?

Sir Peter Hall, in his "Cities in Civilization" (1998), writes: "Precisely how big was ancient Rome ... historians must painstakingly make their deductions from what they know about numbers of houses and apartment blocks and the housing densities within them, volumes of water piped into the city, recipients of the grain dole, seating capacities of theaters and amphitheaters: all very indirect, and so potentially unreliable. Unsurprisingly, the estimates vary wildly, from the 250,000 of Ferdinand Lot to the 1,487,560 (plus slaves) of Giuseppe Lugli; but the great majority, for dates extending from the late Republican Age to the fourth century AD, fall in the range from three-quarters of a million to around one and a quarter million, most of them close to one million" (page 621). Thus Hall claims that the "great majority" of scholars opt for a figure between 750,000 and 1,250,000. In 1996, Rodney Stark put the population of the city of Rome just below the minimum (of the "great majority") at 650,000, but in 2006 he lowers his estimate even lower to 450,000.

Why does Stark claim that the "estimated" population in Rome was 650,000 in one book (1996), only to estimate it at 450,000 in another book (2006)? Why did he lower his estimate of Ephesus from 200,000 to 51,000? Are these numbers random, or was their some method to determine them? And how can his own estimate be almost ¼ of his previous estimate? Was Stark hoping that no one would compare his two books? I'm at a loss to understand him. Furthermore, he made such a big deal in his book (pages 15-23) as to how he was so much better than most historians in that unlike them, he actually follows the scientific method and understands how to use "quantitative methods" (page 22). He boasts that "the entire basis of this book is to assemble reliable and pertinent facts" (page 17).

Many years ago, I read Stark's article entitled "Epidemics, Networks and the Rise of Christianity" published in the journal "Semea" (56 [1992]:159-175), when it first came out. And because of that, I waited eagerly for his book, "The Rise of Christianity," to be published (1996). I'm no specialist, but I thought highly of his argument, it seemed well thought out and well presented. He writes well and presents lots of data (which, by its nature, is hard to corroborate), and so he is very persuasive. But anyone, even I, can compare numbers. The figure 650,000 is not that same as 450,000; and 200,000 is not the same as 51,000. Stark had an obligation to his readers to explain his methodology and why he is presenting new figures. He didn't do so, and I'm afraid that this failure makes it hard for me to trust his other quantitative analyses. Perhaps in some future book, he will explain his methodology and why it was necessary for him to alter his population figures from his 1996 to his 2006 book. But until then, I cannot recommend his research.
A Thorough Statistical Analysis of the Rise of Christianity  Jun 13, 2007
A lot of historical scholarship consists of perceiving historical phenomena and then working out plausible explanations for the phenomena. Such explanations are largely untested, but they often become accepted as "historical truth" when they are little more than "just so stories." The example from the final chapter of Schlesinger's "huge upswell" of popular democracy during the era of Andrew Jackson is a case in point. Going back and counting the votes from previous elections shows that the voter turnout in the Jackson era was actually lower than many previous elections.

It is all well and good to devise hypotheses to explain historical events, but they should not be accepted as truth unless they can be tested. Stark undertakes to test a number of historical hypotheses relating to the rise of early Christianity, and does so through statistical analysis. This entails a lot of spadework, but the results are worthwhile.

A lot of Stark's findings validate many of the hypotheses of previous scholarship, and this should lead to no controversy. A lot of his findings invalidate the hypotheses of "cutting edge" Biblical scholarship, and this should mean that Stark's book won't be profiled on prime time television.

Some of Stark's more interesting findings are: (1) Orthodox Christianity, not "Gnosticism" or some other "Lost Christianity" was the original form of the religion. (2) "Gnosticism" was a loopy, lunatic fringe blend of paganism and Christianity. (3) Orthodox Christians did not persecute paganism into oblivion. (4) Pentecost most likely did not result in 3,000 newly baptized Christians, but simply 3,000 wet Jews and pagans. (5) Paul did not invent Christianity and actually had very little to do with the spread of Christianity throughout the Empire. (6) Paul was much more successful in converting Jews to Christianity than in converting Gentiles. (7) Hellenized Jews provided large numbers of Christian converts during the first four centuries of Christianity.

Stark's writing, as always, is entertaining, educational, and thought provoking.
Good book, but not great  Apr 17, 2007
The author uses quantitative data on big cities circa the first century or so to test a number of hypotheses about early Christianity. His results are interesting and convincing, but there are no big revelations here. The most surprising finding was that Paul likely targeted Hellenized Jews, not Gentiles, and that the Jewish element of Christianity persisted for centuries.

Overall, a competent and readable book, but it would not be near the top of my list of books on early Christianity.

--Alan Zundel, the HeartAwake Center
Another grand effort by a leading, perhaps the leading, historian of early Christianity  Mar 8, 2007
I am not a Christian, but I am interested in the history of Christianity. Rodney Stark, I've concluded, is probably the leading historian of Christianity and, best of all, he doesn't defend, proselytize. mythologize - he simply describes the history. And, surprisingly, according to Stark, the history of Christianity is a more positive force than many historians want to give it credit for.

Stark takes many contemporary historians, like the late Arthur Schlesinger, for their devotion to personal ideologies than to fact. As an example, Stark thoroughly dissects Schlesinger's misunderstanding of Andrew Jackson's popularity in a Pulitzer Prize winning book.

With that quality in mind, Stark debunks many popular, but apparently false, myths about early Christianity. Factoids: many Roman emperors appointed many pagans to political office during the ascendancy of Christianity in Rome, contrary to the myth that Christians forced paganism out of existence.

The book is rich in historical detail, some of it drawn from surprising sources: the inscriptions on ancient tombstones. The basic theme is that Christianity became an urban religion that ultimately conquered the failing Roman Empire. Another surprise: the larger cities developed Christian populations sooner then smaller cities.

Overall, for any student of history, Stark provides a valuable contribution. There is no overtly religious content in the book, so people with an aversion or animus to religion can read it comfortably.


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