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When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity during the Last Days of Rome

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  632 ratings  ·  62 reviews
A thoroughly researched and vivid re-creation of one of the most critical periods in the history of Western religion

The life of Jesus, and the subsequent persecution of Christians during the Roman Empire, have come to define what many of us know about early Christianity. The fervent debate, civil strife, and bloody riots within the Christian community as it was forming, h
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 10th 2000 by Mariner Books (first published 1999)
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Read this with The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul. Rubenstein describes the battle between the Arians and the Athanasians, a dispute finally resolved by Constantine in the 4th century. The alliance with Constantine's political force then made orthodoxy and heresy possible. Levy's book on the history of Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred from Moses to Salman Rushdie is also a really good companion book)

The Arians, lead by Arius, believed that it was crucial that Jesus was h
Read this on the recommendation of a friend, and it was an amazing find. The Council of Nicea and the Arian heresy had been on the fringes of my consciousness, but I never really understood their significance. Much like Misquoting Jesus did, this book shows how arbitrary much of current Christian theology is. The Arian heresy could well have become the dominant belief, but the Trinity conception triumphed thanks to intrigue, murder, and politics. Any Christians who feel morally superior to Islam ...more
Scholarly development eschews sensationalist title.
Lee Harmon
After nearly three hundred years of persecution, Christianity made a breakthrough in 324, when Constantine became emperor of Rome. Led by two charismatic priests—Arius, who preached that Jesus is subject to God, and Athanasius who argued that Jesus is God himself in human form—the debate over Jesus’ degree of divinity escalated from heated argument to violence and bloodshed. Rubenstein guides you through the power struggles of the time, concluding in the year 381, when the Council of Constantino ...more
Mike Moore
A very readable and engaging history of Christianity's transition from a marginalized underground mystical movement to the state religion. The focus is on the Arian controversy, which was a major obstacle to unity as well as representing an open theological question that had direct ramifications on the political conception of the state. The book gives peripheral treatment to the ennoblement of bishops and the creation of the Christian establishment, which were the largest structural changes in t ...more
Apr 18, 2008 DROPPING OUT rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
This book is engagingly written. That's about the best thing I can say about it. The book's Preface gives the sub-text. The author (whose books, Aristotle's Children and Thus Saith the Lord I admired) conceived of writing this book over 30 years ago. Having researched it to satisfy his curiosity, he ought to have stopped there. Otherwise it is a re-hash of secondary literature and primary documents in translation.

The Preface tells us that Professor Rubenstein, as a Jew, had long been fascinated
I read this a decade ago, and I find that I recommend it to people once or twice a year. I've just been reading some of the reviews here on Goodreads, and some people seem very concerned that the controversy explored in this book is over the divinity of Christ. I would point out that it's much more the one-in-body vs one-in-purpose argument, are God the Father and God the Son the same personage? Anyone who believes this question is settled, popularly, in the present day, is mistaken. I know of a ...more
Robert Schut
Feb 07, 2015 Robert Schut rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: NO ONE
Shelves: new-testament
I thought it might be interesting to see how a Jewish writer would portray the divinity of Jesus so I bought this book. Since I am a Christian writer and teacher I also need to stay aware of other works in this field. I was surprised to hear his portrayal of early church history. It is sometimes difficult to separate history from the author's opinion and that was true in this case. Fortunately, I am well read on this subject and felt that he cheated his readers out of a fair analysis of the subj ...more
Dominic Foo
First details upon the form of the book itself before going into its contents. This book is by a non-specialist academician writing outside of his area of expertise. It is however a well researched book and highly readable with an easy flowing narrative of the events of the Arian controversy, from the Christian persecutions preceding Constantine to its conclusion with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381. While not exactly a scholarly work, it however organises in a succint and clear manne ...more
Jim Razinha
Quite interesting look at the Council of Nicea, the opposing factions of early Christianity and the political maneuvering that resulted in the doctrine of Jesus' divinity as opposed to him being just the son of God. Not for light reading, this is a dry read for a casual historian, but it portrays the story behind the events that kept apologists employed trying to explain the trinity.
It wasn't as good as other books I've read covering the same historic period. The author seemed to scatter his telling, making it hard to follow, and was perhaps too reverent to his subject.
This book by Richard E. Rubenstein examines the battle between Arian and Nicene Christology. In this well-researched book the author steps into the historical and political context that initiated, shaped and "terminated" this conflict. Indirectly, the author taps into many of our commonly accepted views and challenges them. This conflict, which is mostly about the nature of the relationship between Jesus (the son) and the Father is not simply a theological issue. Civil wars and imperial strategi ...more
Victoria Gaile
I skimmed through this very quickly looking for some specific information, but I'd give this three and a half stars based on its general approach and writing style.

The author describes it, in the acknowledgements, as "a work of storytelling and interpretation," and this seems an apt description. If you'd like to know more about how Christianity came to believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine (ie, the Arian controversy) with more attention to human history and historical context
A bit heavy going at times, but all the same a fascinating look at the early history of the Christian church and the first heresy. Very interesting to see the way the Socratic tradition of the Eastern empire precluded the blind devotion that the early church fathers required and how, as the power of the church grew it became more and more disinclined to accept anything but strictly orthodox belief.
I never really gave much thought before to how Jesus can be the son of God and yet not a separate
A very good narrative without taking sides. Most Christians have no clue as to how they got the religious beliefs they follow. This narrative gives a good account of how the warring factions within 4th century Christendom left a decades long trail of blood throughout the eastern part of the Mediterranean to determine whether Jesus was God, or man, or something in between. Bishops turned their private thugs and street gangs loose on those who opposed their beliefs. The 4th century looked like a C ...more
The author provides in my opinion a balanced and very interesting perspective of the development of the Catholic Church and its relationship with the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries. The focus is the theological construction of Jesus and primarily the Arian heresy. The author approaches the issue as a matter of conflict resolution and includes cultural, political, philosophical and religious conflicts at play in the ultimate "resolution" of the essence/substance of Jesus.
Rev. Sharon Wylie
I would give this book five stars if you have an inherent interest in the formation of the Nicene Creed and the details of the Arian controversy of the early Christian church. This book is immensely accessible, reading like a historical potboiler, while providing thorough examination of fact and reasonable supposition, with a clear identification of which is which.

But if you don't have that inherent interest...whew, this topic can wear you out. Answering the seemingly simple question of whether
I belong to a book group at church that reads about church history and many of the authors that are getting people all riled up these days -- Bishop Spong, Marcus Borg, etc. I affectionately refer to us as "Heretics Anonymous". This is our latest choice.

It's really a gripping story of the Christian church in the 4th century and how the Council of Nicea came to be, which led to the Nicene Creed, which "settled" the question of who Jesus was, his relationship to God (and the Holy Spirit), and that
This is an excellent book. I think all history is subjective, but this author does due diligence to present the case in as neutral a fashion as possible, which is attested to by the immense variety of his sources. The book really accentuates the struggle that ensued over the person of Jesus and what he meant to the church universally. It can be somewhat troubling to find out that the neat little christological package we accept without question today was hotly debated and succored under duress a ...more
This book was quoted in a Phillip Gulley book so I decided I needed to read it. The struggle between Arius and Athanasius, two 4th c. Priests , became violent. Arius preached that Jesus, although holy, is less than God. Athanasius preached that Jesus is God. The two sides battled until Constantine settled the Question when he, as the emperor of Rome, endorsed Athansius and his followers. With the meeting at Nicaes and the Niceum Creed that followed, Christianity set a course and a belief system ...more
This is a riveting read chronicling the battles in the early church over the nature of Jesus. Fascinating stuff for faithful and heathens alike.
A solid, accessible overview of the history of early Christianity and the interplay between cultural, political, and spiritual trends of the time.
Very scholarly, perhaps too much so. I was most interested in the Arian Controversy, but got a lot of extraneous church history. Any one like to suggest other books on this subject?
Great little book about the transition in early christianity from a belief that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are three separate entities (an original christian belief) to the current Catholic view that they are all one according to the niceen creed.

Actually a very interesting book, and probably a surprise to many christians who did not know that originally Christians held the belief in three separate beings.

Rubenstein delves into the Arian controversy, named after Arius, a proponent of the thr
Matt Jones
Is a narrative account of Christian church history concerning twhe debate over the nature of Jesus in the third and fourth centuries. It gives slightly Arian-biased account of the arguments for/against Jesus being "very God" and highlights how the Roman poer structure was exploited by unscrupulous bishops on both sides of issue.

That part actually gave me nightmares - churchmen wielding the salvation-stick for their own ends.

I found its tone very easy to listen to, reminiscent of undergrad histo
Sharon Zimmerman
I read this for a class and am glad I did. Anyone that seeks to understand the conflict and challenges in early church should read this. It's too easy to sit from and our vantage point in time and assume that once the church was accepted by Rome the difficulties were past. This well written book helped me to understand the identity crisis faced by the church after the early church leaders like Paul and John had passed.
I appreciated the unbiased viewpoint of the author. As a Jew, he was not writi
Cysers MochyDhienk
apik..... terjemahan indonya keren.... layak baca smua agama.... saya muslim, dan respect atas dedikasi penulis....
Tjbrowne Browne
Contrary to what the title may imply, this book is not a spiritual text. In actuality it is an amazing history on the Arian controversy during the early Christian church written objectively by a Jewish scholar. It also provides a lot of insight on the acceptance of Christianity in Roman society through Emperor Constantine that I found absolutely fascinating. History, as a genre, has a reputation as dry, date-ridden, and boring. I rated this particular book is "amazing" because Rubenstein breaks ...more
It appears our current version of Christianity has as much to do with the Emperors of Rome as it does with God. Before Christianity became the state religion of Rome many variation of the religion existed. Constantine wanted to define one version as the religion of Rome. This did not quite happen and it took another two hundred years before what we consider Christianity evolved. A fascination look at history that is rarely taught and would probably be considered heretical by many today.
Jul 25, 2012 Steve is currently reading it
This book is fascinating and explains a lot that has gone unexplained for too long. It touches on the growth of animosity between Christians and Jews. Has the 'Holy Trinity' ever confused you, and no priest really answered your questions? Read this book. An early power struggle for control of Christianity is elucidated in the pages of this book. The Church teaches things outside of what Jesus taught and this book offers an explanation of how that happened.
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“These Greek-speaking city folk were no country bumpkins, like those they called pagans—pagani—a term meaning “rustics” or “hicks.”18 They inhabited one of the liveliest, most urbane, and culturally diverse regions on earth. Many could read and write; the early Christians, like the Jews, considered themselves People of the Book and prized the ability to read Scripture.” 0 likes
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