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And Man Created God: Kings, Cults and Conquests at the Time of Jesus [Paperback]

Selina O'Grady
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2013
At the time of Jesus's birth, the world was in ferment. Across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia - societies rife with gods and messiahs, priests and warriors - the old certainties of family, village and tribe were being overturned. Religion was becoming the source of order and stability. And Man Created God takes the reader on a dazzling journey across the empires of the ancient world to reveal how emperors and kings manipulated religion to consolidate their power. In Rome, Augustus was deified by his brilliant spin doctors; in what is now Sudan, the warrior queen Amanirenas exploited her godlike status to inspire her armies to face, and defeat, Rome; while in China, the usurper Wang Mang won and lost the throne over his obsession with Confucianism. In this riveting account of the interplay of faith and power, Selina O'Grady answers the most urgent question of all: how did the tiny Jesus cult triumph over more popular religions - the goddess Isis, the miracle worker Apollonius, even the cult of Augustus - to become the world's dominant faith?

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843546973
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843546979
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 228,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was brought up by very religious parents. My father was a strict Irish Catholic; we had an altar in our house and prayed every night before the statue of the Virgin Mary. My mother was Jewish, but as a young woman had joined what would probably now be considered a cult, living in a kind of commune in New Jersey under the spiritual guidance of the Russian esotericist Ouspensky. Although she converted to Catholicism when she married my father, she remained wedded to Ouspensky's teachings. I lost my belief in God when I was a child but have always remained sympathetic to, and fascinated by, religious belief and the longing for the transcendent.

I have co-edited two books, Great Spirits: The Fifty-Two Christians Who Most Influenced Their Millennium (a series of essays on men and women ranging from Bach to Martin Luther King), and A Deep but Dazzling Darkness, an anthology from Anglo-Saxon to modern times of the experience of belief and disbelief. I also worked in television and radio, including as a producer for BBC 1's moral documentary series Heart of the Matter, presented by Joan Bakewell, and a producer on Radio 4's history series Leviathan.

My spur to beginning writing was reviewing works of history for the Tablet, the San Francisco Chronicle (I lived in that fabulous city for three years), and the LIterary Review. From writing those reviews, I learned what I think makes a good and enjoyable history book: it is the combination of the big causal picture - why something happens - fleshed out with the bits of gossipy, visceral detail that the reader will always enjoy and remember when all the dates have flown out of the window. I hope you will find this combination in And Man Created God.

Product Description


This vividly compelling account of how Christianity rose triumphant from the religious and civil tumults of its earliest days is a must read. The comparisons with the other state and imperial religions of the day, from Rome to China and all in-between, are recounted with a cinematographic force that brings that epoch astonishingly and informatively to life. No-one should be allowed to lay claim to Christian or indeed any religious faith who has not read this book first, and meditated on its import. It lays the facts bare, unsparingly and with a sharp eye; and the facts speak very loudly for themselves. --A C Grayling

This is a dazzling, dizzying, compelling panorama of the world that Jesus knew and the worlds he had never heard of. Selina O'Grady shows us the overall map of what were really a series of interlocking but very distinct worlds... which come alive with her remarkable command of detail... It is a remarkable book... I cannot think of anyone who will not learn a huge amount from reading this book. --Tablet

In her sweeping account of relations between faith and power at the dawn of the Christian era, Selina O'Grady presents the political uses of pagan religion, set amid all the luxury and decadence of Roman life, with great relish and descriptive power... The result is an enjoyable, informative romp through the subject of comparative religion... With accomplished journalistic flair, she posits answers with far greater confidence than any academic, choking on footnotes, could muster. --Economist --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Selina O'Grady was a producer of BBC1's moral documentary series Heart of the Matter presented by Joan Bakewell, Channel 4's live chat show After Dark and Radio 4's history series Leviathan. She has reviewed regularly for the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Review and Tablet, and she is the co-editor of two books: Great Spirits: The Fifty-Two Christians who Most Influenced their Millennium and A Deep But Dazzling Darkness.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling collection of facts 4 Jan 2013
This is a huge collection of facts about religions and dynasties throughout the known world around the time of the birth of Jesus. You will learn for instance something about the rivalries of the different factions in the Chinese court, or who murdered whom to attain power in the various power bases of the Near East, or ditto for India and so on. And of course, with considerable repetition, the various rivalries between individuals vying for power in Rome. Some may enjoy this and much of the information given does contribute to forming a picture of what life might have been like then. Personally, I found a lot of this rather tiresome. Is it really relevant to the title of this book to hear in some detail how (potential) emperors murdered their rivals or were in turn themselves murdered? To know what kind of beard so-and-so had, or the robes some particular empress our courtesan wore, or what actual sacrifices they offered, or the names and numbers of rivals they had executed, doesn't really tell me much about the actual story of the birth of the large-scale religions.

And then: when one finally gets to the moment when Christianity is in the process of being founded, not primarily by Jesus but by Paul it is argued, the book sort of rushes to an end. As in a sense it must: because that greatest of the world religions had not truly beeen 'founded' at the death of Peter and Paul. From my own sketchy knowledge, the actual foundation of Christianity was a lengthy process extending over the 300-400 years subsequent to the birth of Christ, including the process by which Christianity became the virtual state religion of the Roman Empire.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an enjoyable account of the world 2000 years ago 21 Sep 2012
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting account of the world around 2000 years ago, bringing together the events at that time across the Roman Empire and in Africa, the Middle East, India and China.

In doing so the author has shown how religon was used as tool of government by Augustus and his immediate successors in Rome, as well as by other leaders in Africa and elsewhere, and explains clearly the influence of various religons around the world at the time of Jesus. Here are adherents of branches of the Jewish faith, including the Suduccees, The Pharisees, and their oponents the Samaritans, as well as the early disciples of the Christain faith . Here too are Jains, Buddhists, followers of Isis, Greek and Roman gods (including Augustus after his death)and Confucians. The ways of life of the rulers and their peoples,and impacts of their religous beliefs are all described here in this informative and enjoyable book.

In many ways this book is as much, if not more, a political history of the time as it is a study of the religous movements of the day.

The most interesting aspect of the book for me was the way in which concurrent events in different parts of the world are brought together and are compared and contrasted by the author.

There is some repetition of information, which can be helpful sometimes and a little unnecessary at others, but overall this a great read for the general reader with an interest in religon and/or history.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First century zeitgeist 14 Oct 2012
By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating study of the religions in the known world at the time of Jesus. The book sticks fairly rigidly to those few years while Jesus was alive, but travels widely from Europe to North Africa to the Middle East, Pakistan, India and China. The sheer range and variety of it is impressive.

Covering so many different religions and ideas could have made for a very dry and boring book, but the author makes it live by using the stories of some colourful individuals as a framework on which to hang her points.

It quickly becomes apparent that there was a certain 'zeitgeist' of the time, in that similar ideas keep recurring in different religions in different places. Many of these recurring ideas ended up in Christianity as we know it today.

Another interesting theme is how the intellectual elite, on the one hand, and the masses on the other, viewed and used religion. I was intrigued to learn how the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire in the years before Jesus created the environment in which certain ideas could flourish.

I have only one small criticism: the book claims that it will explain how the tiny Jesus cult triumphed over more poular religions, but I don't feel it achieves this aim. What it does explain very eloquently is why Christianity was attractive enough that it lasted until the time of Constantine. But by 312 AD Christianity was only followed by a small minority of the empires's population. The book does not explain at all how it went from there to becoming the world's most popular religion.

Overall a very readable and informative book, and covering content which is not easily found elsewhere. Recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small matter of faith 15 Oct 2012
By Hande Z
"At the end of the first century B.C. the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. Many of them flourished briefly before vanishing from view", O'Grady writes. This book is an account of the battles of the gods and how some survived and thrived while others are vanquished. But, of course, the gods themselves did not clash. Their followers did. It is the peculiar nature of the individual gods to speak only to their own followers that has led to war and death.

The adherents of the gods that survive to this day may also not appreciate that there was a time when going to the mosque, the synagogue, the church, and the temple was not quite so the same as it is now. Present day worshippers are also generally unaware that some of the attributes and demands of their gods today are not what they were centuries ago. Some of these gods survived and triumphed because of the process of syncretism. O'Grady cites some intellectuals such as Emile Durkheim and Robert Bellah for the view that the process virtually made the concept of the Supreme God inevitable.

O'Grady traces the origins of the early Greco-Roman gods from those of the earlier Near Eastern parts of the Roman Empire, explaining the consequences of those gods that make too little demands (their followers get assimilated into the religion of other gods) and those that make severe demands (they win few converts). "There is a trade-off between how many followers a religion has and how deeply it can alter its followers' behavior. Religions settled at different points between those two axes of power -breadth and depth - just as they did on how far they addressed themselves to the individual and the group.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
Brilliant. An explanation of how the idiots got that stupid
Published 7 days ago by Mr. J. R. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired gift! Challenging title!
This book was given as a gift to me. I had previously seen it in glancing and been put off by the title. Read more
Published 18 days ago by P. Worthington
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating from beginning to end
Excellent book, well researched and put together. Provides a novel view on the beliefs of the civilisations of Africa and Eurasia at the height of Rome's power.
Published 4 months ago by J. Poulton
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Revelation.
Very informative; particularly on historical detail. Should be a recommended read and a topic for discussion in every sixth form or sixth form college.
Published 9 months ago by Soelse
5.0 out of 5 stars True History that very rarely told
I have not finished reading this book, but it clearly shows that religions have been falsely weaved into what they are today by those seeking to use "religion" as a tool to... Read more
Published 11 months ago by L. Moris
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
I enjoyed this book, well written and researched and with a vast scope it will be of interest to anyone curious about life at the turn of the 1st century A.D.
Published 13 months ago by Jan
3.0 out of 5 stars The title's promise of a unifying theme is not fulfilled
This book's subtitle - "Kings, Cults and Conquests at the Time of Jesus" - should have been the main one. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Ralph Blumenau
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and thought provoking book
This interesting book is a mix of several themes which for this reader brought new insights into the history around the time of Jesus. Read more
Published 17 months ago by P. Davey
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting read but with an abrupt ending
This is a very interesting books that brings together the major religions in the "known" world at the time when Jesus was supposed to have been born. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Strv 74
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Richard Dawkins might enjoy this.
Ms Selina O'Grady has written a very readable and very accessible book about the origins of Christianity. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Steve Shanahan
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