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Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith (Yale Nota Bene) Paperback – 10 Oct 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (10 Oct. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300090889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300090888
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 12.7 x 19 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 623,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"A cool draught of wise and intelligent scholarship." -- J.D.F. Jones, Financial Times

"Anyone concerned with the history of apocalypticism and millennial cults, whether ancient, medieval, or modern, should read this book carefully." -- E. Randolph Daniel, Church History

"Learned, fascinating and readable ... Norman Cohn combines scrupulous scholarship with readability in a unique way ... This book will become a classic." -- Anthony Storr, Independent on Sunday

"This is an exciting as well as a learned book, not only for those students of ancient religion but for those with any interest in modern apocalyptic faith." -- Jasper Griffin, New York Review of Books

About the Author

Norman Cohn is professor emeritus at the University of Sussex and author of Noah's Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought (ISBN 0 300 07648 7, 11.50 pb.), also published by Yale University Press.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Cosmos, in the sense of all-embracing, all-pervading order, was taken for granted in the Ancient Near East: everything in heaven and earth, in nature and in society, had been established and set in order by the gods and was still watched over by the gods. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
introductory, brief, excellent 9 Mar. 2005
By Wyote - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an elementary introduction to ancient religion, focusing on the issues in the title: cosmos, chaos, and the world to come. It considers ancient Egyptian religion, Mesopotamian religion, Vedic religion, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and very early Christianity--all extremely briefly, focusing only on the issue of the cosmic struggle against chaos, and the development of the apocalyptic worldview. If you are only slightly aware of what all that could mean, this book will entertain you greatly. I am well aware of all of them, and I learned little beyond details from this book, and yet I enjoyed reading it very much.

However, if you want depth on any of these topics, there are other books for you. For Zoroastrianism, begin with Mary Boyce. For early Christianity, begin with E. P. Sanders and move on to Ehrman. For ancient Mediterranean religion, begin with "Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide." And consider "The Other God."

Cohn's argument that Zoroastrianism had a huge influence on ancient Judaism and Christianity, is in my opinion unquestionable, and yet neither emphasized nor even recognized in academic circles, nor widely known among the general public. Somehow it is perceived as embarrassing to Judaism, and yet I think that is ridiculous: after all, the influence on modern Judaism is minute, and who does Zoroastrianism threaten? Jesus, Paul, Hillel and the author(s) of Daniel were still Jews, even if influenced by Zoroastrianism. In fact, in my opinion, they are far more interesting! Similarly, isn't Christianity more interesting precisely because it assimilated so much "pagan" influence? So I hope this book is read widely and its argument more popularly acknowledged.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Excellent read 23 Sept. 2003
By William Alexander - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a brief but fascinating journey through the history of ancient apocalyptic faith. Cohn takes us to the very roots of civilization, explaining how the traditional cycles of life coincided with religious belief. The cycles of death and rebirth, day and night, summer and winter, mixed in with occasional droughts, floods, and enemy invasion mirrored religious belief in an ordered cosmos that was originally formed by the gods out of a pre-existent chaos. Cosmos wasn't absolutely secure however; chaos was always a threat to the daily ordered life of each civilization, so the benevolent gods continuously fought the "chaos monsters" that constantly threatened the ordered world. Complex pantheons and creation myths arose out of these beliefs and sacrifices and gifts were brought to the gods to give them strength and worship in their enduring battle of protection of the people against chaos.
Cohn takes us to the earliest religious beliefs of Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Vedic Indians, and the Zoroastrians describing their beliefs, interconnectedness, innovations, and future implications. He safely credits Zoroaster for the innovation of the first apocalyptic faith, the belief in a consummation of the never ending fight against chaos wherein the supreme god, Ahura Mazda would one day finally and forever defeat the gods of chaos; an age of prosperity, order, and goodness would then be ushered in.
Cohn then proceeds to Judaism and the specific experiences of the Israelites, particularly related to the Babylonian exile, when elite Jews discovered the compelling apocalyptic of Zoroastrianism and adapted it to their own faith in Yahweh. Christians co-opted and greatly expanded these beliefs with a firm conviction of a coming apocalypse and an elaborate cosmic battle myth at the end of the age.
Cohn doesn't waste words; there is a lot of information in these 240 pages, each sentence is filled with fascinating facts. I found his writing style slightly unconventional and it was difficult for me to absorb at times, I am re-reading several sections. I also wish Cohn would have addressed Islam and completed the apocalyptic story of the Middle Eastern religious faiths.
A very good read.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Another Fine Cohn Concoction 9 Jan. 2002
By Ricky Hunter - Published on
Format: Paperback
Norman Cohn contines his exemplary work as a historian of religious history with Cosmos, Chaos and the World to Come (The Ancient Roots of Apolcalytic Faith). This book begins a little drier than his previous works but picks up speed nicely with his discussions of Zorastrianism, Judaism, and very early Christianity while showing the connections between the former and the latter two in terms of its prophetic, apocalyptic writings. This book makes a nice companion piece to this author's earlier and seminal work on millenniarism during the medieval period. A fine addition to the Cohn canon.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating 24 April 2003
By M. Lorenzo Warby - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am a longstanding fan of Cohn's writings. I read this book in a day, finding it extremely lucid and informative. It brought the cosmologies of the ancient world alive, showing how their underlying themes make sense to everyday lives of the time.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful book! Well researched and well communicated 30 Dec. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is not only a wonderful description of the rise of the belief in impending apocalypse but also a well written explanation of the rise of Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism. It is absolutely brilliant! A must read for anyone wondering where monotheism and apocalyptic thinking came from.
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