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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
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,...
Published 23 months ago by markr

versus
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling collection of facts
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...
Published 19 months ago by Gerard P.


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A dazzling collection of facts, 4 Jan 2013
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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. It was only after that period that the basic of tenets of Christian doctrine had finally been established and the canonical version of the New Testament decided on and alternative versions supressed; a highly significant development.

A worthwhile book, no doubt, and one which stimulates my curiosity. But I would like to read something which gave more a sense of insight, or interpretation, of all of those historical facts. WHY is it that Christianity won through in a way that so many of its rival religions did not? There are many hints on the relevant issues, but no truly convincing interpretation or explanation here.
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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 - See all my reviews
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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
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M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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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 (Singapore) - See all my reviews
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"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."

The historical path opens many misconceptions as to the uniqueness of a given religion. Buddha was also conceived in a virgin - 500 years before the other famous virgin birth. Some practices that Christians would no doubt reject today as bizarre and ungodly (such as self-castration) were not just practised by the followers of the Near Eastern Goddess Atargatis, but also adopted by early Christians such as Origen.

O'Grady relates the rise of monarchs in the east and how they inspired the rise and domination of some religions and eclipse that of others. She explains why Buddhism failed to oust Brahmanism in the country of its birth yet flourished elsewhere in China, Japan, and Tibet. She gives a fascinating account of the rise, fall, and rise of Confucianism, though not a religion yet having the attributes of one. She describes vividly how Paul invented Christianity against the odds, especially when Jesus himself, was preaching Judaism (albeit his own version) and not Christianity as it is known today. "Paul, unlike all the other Apostles, had never heard Jesus talk, had never argued with him, touched him and eaten meals with him. But Paul did not need the historical Jesus; in fact he would hardly ever refer to events in Jesus' life. Paul's Jesus was the Jesus he would encounter on the road to Damascus and in subsequent visions, spirit rather than man." O'Grady's account of the internecine strife among the religious leaders as well as the struggle for domination between the religious leaders and the secular monarchs is also illuminating - the split between Peter and Paul, and how the Jewish revolt against the Romans ensured the survival of the early Christians. The rest of the account, as they say, is history.

O'Grady relates the rise of emperors in the east and how they inspire the rise and domination of some religions and eclipse that of others. She explains why Buddhism failed to oust Brahmanism in the country of its birth yet flourish elsewhere in China, Japan, and Tibet. She gave a fascinating account of the rise, fall, and rise of Confucianism, though not a religion yet having the attributes of one. She describes vividly how Paul invented Christianity against the odds, especially when Jesus himself, was preaching Judaism (albeit his own version) and not Christianity as it is known today. "Paul, unlike all the other Apostles, had never heard Jesus talk, had never argued with him, touched him and eaten meals with him. But Paul did not need the historical Jesus; in fact he would hardly ever refer to events in Jesus' life. Paul's Jesus was the Jesus he would encounter on the road to Damascus and in subsequent visions, spirit rather than man." O'Grady's account of the internecine strife among the religious leaders as well as the struggle for domination between the religious leaders and the secular monarchs is also illuminating - the split between Peter and Paul, and how the Jewish revolt against the Romans ensured the survival of the early Christians. The rest of the account, as they say, is history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The title's promise of a unifying theme is not fulfilled, 29 Jun 2013
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This book's subtitle - "Kings, Cults and Conquests at the Time of Jesus" - should have been the main one. The main title and the blurb on the back are, I think, misleading in that they suggest that the book is all about "the interplay between faith and power" , about the way rulers "manipulated [or even invented] religious faith to consolidate their power". That is true of several instances; but that theme forms a relatively small part in this rambling, frequently unchronological and occasionally repetitive book.

Other themes receive much more attention, notably how religions travelled along trade routes, so that the great trading nations received a rich amalgam of cults which often developed a syncretic relationship, and which, by and large, accepted each other. O'Grady shows how the new mystery cults bound their followers together in a select community, expected more from them than mere worship at their temples, established a personal relationship between their deity and the individual, and made moral demands on the latter. These cults still accepted other gods alongside of them. Only Judaism and Christianity rejected all other gods and resisted amalgamation: Herod's attempt to accommodate the gods of Rome alongside of the God of the Jews was violently rejected by his Jewish subjects. (O'Grady does not discuss the syncretism that can be found in Johannine and Pauline Christianity: the notion of a divine figure rising from the dead, to give just one example, was to be found in pre-Christian cults in the surrounding areas.)

But even such themes surface only occasionally in these very discursive chapters which will have long passages on politics and social life (unrelated to religion), or on colourful descriptions of the sights to be seen and the dangers to be encountered along the trade routes. O'Grady has read widely, and there will be much interesting material that will be unfamiliar to many readers.

For the blurb is justified when it describes the scope of the book as "panoramic". O'Grady first deals with the region associated at the time with Jesus (the Roman Empire and the wider Middle East). Here we have chapters on the reign of Augustus. We learn how Augustus was deified; how in the Eastern half of the Empire this fitted in with a long tradition of the deification of rulers, while in Rome itself (where Julius Caesar's acceptance of divine honours had contributed to his downfall) had to be introduced more gradually, and in the Western part of the Empire from scratch. In this section there are also chapters about the cult of Isis (which has nothing in it about its relationship to Power); about the Queen of Meroe (Nubia) who ruled her subjects as a divinity.; and about the trade of myrrh and frankincense between Arabia Felix and Rome (which has next to nothing about cults).

The next section is about the Parthian Empire (around modern Iran). After that there is a section on the Kushan Empire (in north-west India and stretching up into modern Uzbekistan). This was the home of both Hinduism (which the author calles Brahmanism) and Buddhism; she suggests why Buddhism, even when the austerity and intellectualism of Theravada Buddhism was softened by the more populist Mahayana Buddhism, eventually failed to hold its own against Brahmanism in India.

Then she moves to the Chinese Empire, almost all of whose beliefs, customs, rituals, titles and institutions were exotically different from the cultures of the empires to the west of it. We have a description of how the state "religion", Confucianism inculcated obedience to the Emperor, though O'Grady says that Confucianism was confined to the elite (is that really true?) while the general public were more attracted by the Queen Mother of the West, a personal deity who provided solace to her followers and whose worship involved rituals. Obedience to the Emperor was also backed by the Mandate of Heaven; but this was so capricious that it cannot ne equated with the granting of the Divine Right of Kings. O'Grady then plunges into the political history of court intrigues, which are hard to follow, with all those Wangs and a plethora of favourites, concubines, current and dowager empresses. There are two chapters chronicling the extraordinary rise of Wang Mang (45 BC to 23 AD) to Emperor (AD 9 to 23) and then the extraordinarily incompetent and superstitious way in which he mismanaged the country. I guess that only a tiny proportion of the readers of the book will ever have heard of him.

After that O'Grady circles back to the Roman Empire, to tell the familiar story of the crucifixion of Jesus, followed by the final chapter entitled "And Paul Created Christ", to the birth of Christianity.

It would be churlish to give less than three stars to a book which so packed with information, and I have resisted the urge to give it only two because of the undisciplined way in which it is presented.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and thought provoking book, 19 April 2013
By 
P. Davey - See all my reviews
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This interesting book is a mix of several themes which for this reader brought new insights into the history around the time of Jesus.
The Roman and European history will probably be reasonably familiar to most readers but as the story moves east to Greece, Parthia, the failed Roman excursions to obtain the riches of the incense trade from Arabia and ivory from Africa the story will be less familiar. Further east again to India and China where the roots of current conflicts between the Han and other ethnic groups can be seen. It may come as a surprise to learn how extensive long distance trade was two thousand years ago and how lucrative it could be for those who were successful. Although records in many cases are tenuous and partial, having been written by the winners in conflict, the story is still interesting and threads common to much in the ways of politics and power to this day can be seen.
The second main theme concerns the sociology of religions and the ways in which some religions thrived in the turmoil of the growing trading cities and entrepôts scattered across the known world, whereas others faded away or amalgamated. In the period preceding that covered by the book religions were local with gods of different names covering the same interest areas but in the cities the borders broke down and religions developed which brought many groups and races together. All except the Jews who determinedly maintained their monotheism and belief in a jealous God who was the one and only God of supreme power and the creator of all. The Romans for whom this could have been a problem as they, for strictly political reasons, developed the idea of the emperor as divine, found ways, initially, by which they could co-exist.
The third theme concerns the rise of Christianity and this is the section where views will be strongest because Christianity is the world’s major religion after 2000 years and shows no sign of disappearing. The author has a difficulty, on the one hand using the available documentation to describe the historical development of what became Christianity, and on the other not wanting to use it to discuss the validity of the new Religion. This leads to some rather selective translations and partial readings of the New Testament and reliance on secondary sources. Although not stated directly there is the suggestion that the New Testament was written and/or edited after Paul had undertaken his missionary journeys and written his letters so that the gospels would agree with Pauls teaching, this is not an interpretation that most serious scholars would accept. Most critically when discussing why Jesus was put to death, and the manner in which this was done the author presents it as a political activity by the Jewish authorities to protect the status quo of the Jewish ruling elite and that this suited the Roman authorities. But it is absolutely clear on the reading the Gospels that the real reason Jesus was put to death was the claim, very clear to the Jewish authorities at the time, that Christ was claiming to be God. This was blasphemy and therefore he had to die. They could also see that should his claims be accepted their power and wealth which came in large part through the Temple and its activities, would be seriously jeopardised. Unlike his usual behaviour Pontius Pilate the Roman governor had no problem with the religious issues and could see that all the evidence pointed to Jesus being no threat to the state and wished to release him.
The final chapter: ‘And Paul created Christ’, once again is a selective reading of Acts of the Apostles. Disagreements there most certainly were between Paul with his mission to the ‘Nations’ the term used to describe all those who were non Jews, because Paul was determined that these peoples should not have to follow all the rules and regulations of the Jewish faith, but that said he argued and consulted with the Apostles, in particular with Peter, in what can be seen as the first Council. It should be no surprise that such issues would need discussion as the religion developed from a local Jewish organisation with local leadership to one with a worldwide appeal. There is nothing that Paul taught which is not present in the Gospels and the recorded teachings of Jesus. What was at stake was interpretation not invention.
A very interesting book which should be read by a wide audience for the wide sweep of its history of the period but with circumspection when discussing the specifics of Christianity. Quite rightly the author is clear that this is a book of history and the sociology of religions and not an argument in favour of religion in general or of any specific religion, none the less in the opinion of the writer the selection of readings and their presentation give a strong bias against Christianity in particular since it is the only current religion discussed in any detail.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting read but with an abrupt ending, 21 Mar 2013
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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. With the "known" world it means the parts of the globe that were known to the Romans.

Professor O'Grady manages to mix information about religion, history and ethnic problems in a very good presentation. It is well written and manages to present a balanced view. This is not a book written by a religious writer. I have no idea if and what religion she practices but the book is written from scientific standpoint. Jesus is presented as an holy man but if he was the son of God and could perform miracles is not discussed at all.

We are taken on a tour through the known world from a few centuries BC to a few AD. All major religions are discussed and presented. That means that Islam is not dealt with at all since it came later. One of the interesting conclusions that she presents is that all the pagan religions had very few demands on their followers in comparison with Judaism and for a King or a conqueror to deal with a people with the later type of religion it is a far bigger problem. Apart from Judaism you come to think about Islam and realize that the conclusion is very much valid today as well.

Reading through the book you are more or less waiting for it to address the question how Christianity managed to become the worlds largest religion and not the others. It is here that the book more or less fails. The Question is dealt with by professor O'Grady but only from a few viewpoints and very incomplete. What I expected to be the major chapter of the book is in fact the shortest and it leaves far more questions than answers. In fact I learned more from looking up Paul the Apostle on Wickipedia than I did from this book. It is as if the writer ran out of steam and just finished it off to get it to the printers in time.

Sadly, the book also ends with a strange attack on "Pax Americana" that is totally misplaced in a book of this importance.

But 80 % of the book is very well done and all of the book is worth reading.

PS. BTW, if you have committed many sins I learned from this book that it might be a good idea to convert to Zoroastrianism. If you belong to that religion you only have to stay three days in hell instead of an eternity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Richard Dawkins might enjoy this., 27 Jan 2013
By 
Steve Shanahan (ireland) - See all my reviews
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Ms Selina O'Grady has written a very readable and very accessible book about the origins of Christianity. Although she, largely, lets the reader draw their own conclusions , she does cover the pertaining and relevant "religious" norms of the times. Until reading this excellent book I had never heard of Apollonius and agree with Ms O'Grady when she suggests that this intelligent man might have been as good a role model as Jesus. However, he seems to have suffered from poor PR and did not have a Paul/Saul to further his case.
The book gives many insights into how Christianity evolved as well as covering the other major religions. Augustus, Buddha and Confucius head an ABC of all the relevant cults and movements from Western Europe to Eastern China. Whether you are a religious practitioner or a non-practising atheist like me, you will find it difficult to put this book down. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating from beginning to end, 18 May 2014
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This review is from: And Man Created God: Kings, Cults and Conquests at the Time of Jesus (Kindle Edition)
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A True Revelation., 4 Dec 2013
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Very informative; particularly on historical detail. Should be a recommended read and a topic for discussion in every sixth form or sixth form college.
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