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A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years Hardcover – 24 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1216 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (24 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713998695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713998696
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 7.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 199,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A triumphantly executed achievement. This book is a landmark in its field, astonishing in its range, compulsively readable, full of insight even for the most jaded professional and of illumination for the interested general reader' --Rowan Williams, Guardian

'a prodigious, thrilling, masterclass of a history book. MacCulloch is to be congratulated for his accessible handling of so much complex, difficult material' --John Cornwell, Financial Times

'Magnificent ... alive with detail and generous in judgement ... MacCulloch is at his most moving when he fills in one of the gaps in the West's understanding of history'
--Richard Holloway, The Times

About the Author

Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University. His Thomas Cranmer (1996) won the Whitbread Biography Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. He is the author most recently of Reformation: Europe's House Divided 1490 - 1700 (2004), which won the Wolfson Prize for History and the British Academy Prize. His six-part television history of Christianity airs on BBC television this autumn.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 25 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm what you might call a slightly bewildered agnostic, but I've always had a particular interest in Christianity. So much of its own history - fragmented, argumentative and hypocritical - has always seemed to be at odds with much of Christ's core message, and I've never quit understood how so many Christians can fail to see that contradiction in their own faith's history. But this book, which is surely destined to become a classic in the field, goes a long way to explaining why Christianity has had so many schisms, so many sects and splinter groups, reformations and counter-reformations.

It is an immense book, and justifiably so - such a complicated history, ranging across the entire globe and spanning more than two thousand years, could scarcely be anything less, but it rarely flags or fails. It is a difficult history to tell, particularly when the major Churches begin to establish themselves - the early African churches, the Ethiopian Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church - and it becomes impossible to tell the full history in any meaningfully chronological way.

But it's well-worth the challenge, particularly in the areas not usually focused upon in the West - such as the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches. I personally found it particularly interesting to see the history of Christianity as a whole and how all the different Churches that seem so far apart relate and respond to one another; and particularly how the various trends in religious attitudes and behaviour have evolved and changed over the centuries.

It's hard to tell MacCulloch's own position from this book, and that's another mark in its favour. If I had to tell, I'd say the overall tone is one of fond and perhaps somewhat bemused affection, tempered with a healthy dose of enlightened scepticism. It makes for a lively and engaging read, although not one to be entered into lightly.
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197 of 205 people found the following review helpful By C. Harris on 19 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book goes with a TV series, but it is not the over-illustrated coffee-table type book you might expect. On the contrary, it is long (1150 pages) and scholarly, though not dauntingly so. The style is readable and engaging, and the book provides an excellent overview of the history of Christianity. It begins with Judaism and Greek philosophy, giving the background to religious thought in the Roman period. It then covers the origins of Christianity, before going on to trace its development and the varying forms it took as it spread over the world. The mainstream of Catholic / Protestant /Orthodox Christianity is well covered, but the book is particularly good on the odd corners of Christianity, such as the sects that took hold in China and India.
The tone is mildly sceptical, but respectful, so believers and non-believers will find nothing to object to, and both will learn much about what Christianity actually is.
Highly recommended.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Philip A. Shand on 27 April 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After all the plaudits which have been heaped upon this book, it seems presumptious of me to say anything. When I first saw it in a bookshop, I was overawed by its size, but after reading one particular review I was convinced that I should attempt it. The amazing amount of information is presented in an accessible form and it is a joy to read. There is a comprehensive bibliography; in some cases, one has the feeling that bibliographies are added to lend credibility to what may be a dubious 'agenda' to the book, but here that is not the case. Unfortunately, without access to a university library, it can be more tantalising than helpful. The illustrations are carefully chosen, and do their purpose:they illustrate the text appropriately. Perhaps my most positive comment is to say that no-one need, or should, be detered by the size; it would not be possible to do justice to the subject in anything less.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By R. Iain F. Brown on 23 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a non Christian I found this hard going from time to time. It was not always compulsive reading. Nevertheless having ploughed througn it and looking back on it, I find it immensely rewarding in the long term. It provided for me some understanding of such a diversity of beliefs,practices and forms of governance within the supposedly single tradition that I can only marvel at it. A very important framework in time and space within which much can be understood with a formidable and a very helpful reading list as a springboard for futher exploration of narrower specific interests. Tough but worth it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ribble on 23 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is quite simply a magnificent book. MacCulloch's scholarship, and his ability to synthesise and organise a vast amount of material, are truly remarkable. But equally impressive are the wisdom, humanity and occasional acerbic wit that he brings to the task. Time and again his approach results in a different and enlightening perspective on world history. As an non-believer, I feel that he is scrupulously fair to (and hence equally critical of) all sects and forms of Christian belief, now and in the past. But I imagine that this will sometimes make the book uncomfortable reading for some more ardent believers! Above all this is a terrific read, and one of the most engrossing history books I've yet come across.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
An encyclopaedic account. The story is often told with freshness and offers some unusual perspectives and countless nuggets (and indeed whole slabs) of fascinating information.

Provocatively subtitled "The First THREE Thousand Years", it begins with two substantial chapters about the thousand years before Christianity, describing the cultures out of which Christianity arose: one chapter is about Greece and Rome and the other about Israel; and already we are warned that these roots will imply tensions within Christianity. There will be further tensions as differing and opposing strands develop, and these are beautifully brought out.

Most western readers will be much more familiar with the story of the Western churches than with that of the Eastern ones. Yet the Eastern Church covered the areas where Christianity originated; it was greatly boosted after the Emperor Constantine, after having legalized and favoured Christianity, had moved his capital to Constantinople; the Western Empire succumbed to the barbarians while the Eastern Empire remained in existence for another thousand years. For a time, therefore, what MacCullough calls "the centre of gravity" of Christendom lay in the East, and it was the Muslim conquest of so much of the area that tilted it to the Latin West, described by MacCullough as being originally "the poor relation of the Greek- and Semitic-speaking Churches of the East" (p.290). The passionate theological disputes in the Western Church (Athanasianism versus Arianism) were complicated enough.
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