Thursday, April 15, 2010

“Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years”

first_three_thousand_years Tyler Cowen:

The author is Diarmaid MacCulloch and here is one excerpt: was small wonder that the preoccupations and character of Ethiopian faith developed on very individual (not to say eccentric) lines.  It was the Ethiopians, for instance, who meditated on various Coptic apocryphal accounts of Pontius Pilate and decided that the Roman governor who presided over Christ's crucivixion should become a Confessor of the Church, to be celebrated in their sacred art and given a feast day in June and a star place in the liturgy at Epiphany, the greatest feast of the year, when the priest intoned a phrase from the Psalms which was also an echo of his words: "I will wash my hands in innocence."  The Copts and Ethiopians did not forget Pilate's complicity in the death of Christ, but in retelling his story they made him realize the full extent of his guilt, and they brought a symmetry to his fate by making him die on a cross...

I can't remember the last time I read a book that was so chockful of information and offered such a steady flow of interesting, substantive points.  Virtually every sentence counts and as a result the book is quite slow to read -- in the good sense.  The writing flows very well.

It promises you 1016 pp. of text but in "real terms" you are getting much, much more.  If you are only going to read a few books on European or religious history, this probably should be one of them.  It is broadly in the Paul Johnson mode but better researched, more serious, and less subjective, though it is ultimately subjective nonetheless.  Overall I would describe the author as sympathetic to Christianity and he comes from an Anglican background, although I am not sure how "formal" a Christian or Anglican he is, at least not from the vantage point of p.346.

If there's any danger in buying this one, it's that the book is better than you are.

Nonetheless you can purchase it here.  You can find a good review here.