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Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars An elephant in the room?, 28 May 2014
This review is from: Pagans and Christians: In the Mediterranean World from the Second Century AD to the Conversion of Constantine (Paperback)
This is a tour-de-force of scholarship providing us with a cornucopia of information about religion in the ancient world during the two centuries before Christianity became dominant. The detailed account of pagan practise is particularly fascinating. The takeover of Christianity can be read here as largely fortuitous. The prospects for dominance by the religion did not look good in the middle of the third century, given that it was not popular in the army or the upper classes, was more popular with women than men, and was mainly confined to cities in the Asian and African parts of the empire. Constantine happened to be associated with Christians amongst his family and advisers. In Roman belief, success in battle depended, at least in part, on the support of a god; so having once associated with the Christian diety, successive victories could work to deepen Constantine's belief.

That said the excellent scholarship of this book still looks to leave an elephant in the room, which is the deeper nature of religion in this period. There are elaborate descriptions of pagan practise, but not much discussion of what they might have been trying to achieve. Similarly there is a dismissive attitude to both the mystery cults and Christian heresies, particularly Gnosticism. The book is not alone in this, but reflects an unfortunate consensus in both academic and popular publications.
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