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A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
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A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  1,847 ratings  ·  237 reviews
The author of The Reformation returns with the definitive history of Christianity for our time. Once in a generation a historian will redefine his field, producing a book that demands to be read--a product of electrifying scholarship conveyed with commanding skill. Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity is such a book. Ambitious, it ranges back to the origins of the Hebrew Bib...more
Hardcover, 1016 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Allen Lane (first published 2009)
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‘What religion am I?’ asks Homer Simpson in one episode of his family's eponymous cartoon. ‘I'm the one with all the well-meaning rules that don't work out in real life…uh…Christianity.’ One of the many pleasures in Diarmaid MacCulloch's amazingly comprehensive book is getting a handle on what historical basis there is for the rules and doctrines of this prolific and mercurial religion, which nowadays seems characterized by extreme reactions of either perfect secular indifference or increasingly...more
It took three library renewals to get through this book (and thanks to an ice storm, the fifth this year!, I still owe the library a one day fine, a whole nickel that they thank you for and dump in a desk drawer with a bunch of rubber bands, and I love living in the country and having that library), and then work kind of slammed me a little, so it’s just been sitting there languishing on my currently-reading shelf for two weeks. And in all that time I still haven’t come up with something deeply...more
This is a very good history. It depresses me a bit because it is written in the cynical, anti-establishment style which is typical of the educated elite today, but it is valuable for its quality and the insight which it offers regarding the multitude of different takes on Christianity (most of them sincere and justified, none of them isolated from political expediency) which were the fruit of the early Church. Its quite humbling for those who maintain 'the correct doctrines' and at the same time...more
This is a rather astonishing overview of the history of Christianity. An ambitious subject to handle in one volume, and the author does a fine job as discussing the most disparate strands of this almost universal faith.

The title seems a bit odd at first, considering Christianity is only two thousand years old. But the author does not skimp at first, covering the Platonic and Hebraic traditions and how they affected the background of early Christianity.

One of the more interesting assertions is...more
This book should have been called Christianity: A Speculative History from a Somewhat Antagonistic Viewpoint. I only read the first 150 pages, plenty far enough to understand how MacCulloch feels about Christianity. Most of the book is, by nature, extrapolation based on a very fragmented set of documents and conflicting histories, but MacCulloch is always overanxious to undermine Christianity by taking huge leaps of speculation and is never, at least that I saw in the first 150 pages, willing to...more
Erik Graff
May 02, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: religion
This book may be too ambitious. It claims to cover three thousand years of global history, but it does so sketchily, most of its focus being on, first, the Middle East and, second, Europe and America. The Britishness of the author is clear as is the fact that he himself is not a Christian. The content ranges from the breezy, as in his descriptions of modern trends, to the dense, as in his treatment of the controversies animating the earliest church councils. Most readers will find parts of it ob...more
Clif Hostetler
The title provides an early indication that the Ancient Greek and Hebrew roots of Christianity are covered by this book in addition to the past two thousand years that are more commonly accepted as the era of Christianity. That's a very long span of history, in fact too broad of a scope to cover in great detail even with 1184 pages (actually 1000 pages plus table of contents, notes, bibliography, index and illustrations). Nevertheless, the author does a good job telling the story in a free flowi...more
Dinah Küng
Aug 12, 2012 Dinah Küng rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Dinah by: my son
Well, I'm currently reading this, and probably will be for some time. This is my go-to book at bedtime. It's rich with explanations of periods and time that my education skipped over—oh, let's be frank, my education didn't even go faintly near, periods like the entire history of the Eastern Christian Church and the millenium of Byzantine history.

Where I come from, the midwest of the 1950's, it just didn't happen, right?

Trying to make up for that now, I'm discovering whole worlds of thought and d...more
to read 1100+ pages of christianity's history is to read 1100+ pages of world history since christianity has been a prime mover of human history. every continent and every religion has found a place of clarity in this book. it does not disappoint. whereas it is true that to cover 3000 years of human and religious history, the writer must default to an inch and a half below the surface and some readers may be disappointed in that factor, i decidedly was not. the sheer breadth of the work, by defa...more
MacCulloch's history of the Reformation, which I read a few years ago, was powerful, informative, engaging, and even inspiring in places. I had high hopes for his one-volume Christian history with its intriguing title.

He spends hundreds of pages on the roots of the Christian tradition (that first one thousand years) beginning in Greece and not the Ancient Near East. While it seemed a pretty standard presentation of these ancient histories, it was primarily a history of ideas, which intrigued me...more
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...more
Whew! What did I learn? I don't know how much I can remember but there's a whole lot of very interesting information packed into this book - 1100+ pages. I read MacCullough's The Reformation a few years ago and was very impressed. This book isn't quite as tight as the former but the scope of this book is 10 times as long and many continents broader.

MacCullough covers it all - from the works of "David" to Islamic terrorism. From Jerusalem to New York, China and Africa. From the Israelites to ear...more
Kirk Lowery
This thousand page tome is excellent, with all the limitations of a single-volume work on such a large topic. The writing is excellent and the narrative coherent, but it is very dense. Don't expect this to be a quick read. It is heavily documented, but as usual the notes are stuck in the back instead of at the bottom of the page. (Okay, I'll stop ranting now.) The author begins a thousand years before the birth of Jesus and comes right up to the beginning of this millennium. He pays as much atte...more
Matt J
I was looking for a straight forward, unbiased and thorough history of Christianity so when I found this book at my local bookshop and read the title I assumed that exactly what it was. Unfortunately, after reading the first 300 pages I decided to put it down. This book is certainly thorough, however, it is neither straight forward or unbiased. Firstly, the author's style of writing is very "busy". Points and ideas that could easily be made in 1 or 2 sentences usually takes the writer 4 or 5 to...more
Justin Evans
MacCulloch makes reading exhaustive history exhilarating rather than exhausting, and although everyone will have a favourite nit to pick - mine being the dubious treatment of Hegel, and the absence of anything about Erigena - only the most die-hard partisan could claim that this is anything other than brilliant. Ignore anyone who tells you it's anti-(insert your own sect here), and read it. Take your time. And I'm sure you'll be mining the 'recommended reading' section at the back of the book be...more
Frank Roberts
A massive book--over 1000 pages. It was not easy to finish just because of the size of the book, though the style was very readable and engaging. I didn't get bored throughout; quite the opposite--I was eager to read and learn more. This history helped connect lots of other historical events and developments for me, as if the religious aspect provided a key element to understanding the past two millennia of Western history, an aspect that has been neglected in other histories.

Other than providi...more
Rosa Smith
For all its scope, this never fails at being readable. The style is engaging; MacCulloch clearly loves his subject, but as a product of late western enlightenment ideals, has enough distance to be able to bring an outsider's perspective to it. He is wry and funny and occasionally cynical without being overly critical.

This is not, nor is it intended to be, a coruscating iconoclastic destruction of Christianity. If I have a criticism, it is that MacCulloch too often accepts the justifications of...more
Wendell Jones
MacCulloch is so uptight PC he must squeak when he walks. The first tipoff is his use of CE and BCE instead of Anno Domini (AD) and BC. CE refers to a "common era". The terms he uses are used by certain publishing houses and writers to "avoid offending non-Christians". The use of these terms seems ludicrous considering the subject of his book. His survey of Christianity seems to me to not be dispassionate or objective. It gets more PC the closer he gets to our time. The book is over 1,000 pages...more
An ambitious and massive work. The title alone should tell potential readers that they are in for an interesting journey.

Three thousand years in even 1000+ pages is pushing the limits for any topic. For the history of Christianity and its pre-history (the other 1000 years) in many places it is eclectic and only mars, not scratches the surface. MacCulloch does bring a lot of interesting if not probably important nuggets to the surface. The decisions about what to include and not alone are worth...more
Let me say at the outset that I try to be a rationalist and am an atheist. I came to this book looking to understand Christianity, which like any other religion inspires in me a quiet unease, given its reliance on faith in the supernatural rather than seeking a rational understanding of our world. I have found that although called a religion 'of the Book', Christianity cannot be understood by reading the Bible alone (as I have), because that tells you nothing about its evolution or how it is act...more
In Canada religious statistics come out every decade. The 2001 census determined that 16% of Canadians are irreligious. More telling is that only 32% of Canadians actually go to church once a month or more.

One could easily conclude that 3 out of 4 Canadians call themselves Christian but, in reality, never actually go to church. Three quarters of Canadians agree – organized religion is bullshit.

While the insane history of these ideas make us sick inside we can agree they’re fascinating. A survey...more
Magnificent history, surprisingly comprehensive, encyclopedic in scope, densely written, but a pleasure to read, witty. Is particularly informative on the branches of Christianity that were stunted, withered, have fallen from the tree (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Cathars, the Utraquists, etc. Is also impressive in its consideration of those figures (e.g., Evagrius, Dionysius the Areopagite) usually slighted or neglected because some of their thought was considered heretical, but who had, n...more
What a read! As a student of theology and church history by way of profession, I was pleased for this rather pleasant review of things I already knew but never so concisely or accurately written. The history of the church is a remarkable chronicle of blood letting and faith. It seems we have always had it within us to miss the point of our faith with such unimaginable cruelty, that the trail of blood and destruction makes you wonder if anyone ever read The Gospels. And too, as I listen to what p...more
Easily one of the best books I have ever read. MacCulloch tackles the monumental task of tracing a history of all of Christianity with clear prose, wit, and incredible intelligence. He begins 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, in order to create the context of the world into which he was born and how that context created Jesus as a person, his disciples, the general movement, and the reactions of the authorities. More importantly, he traces the history of the three major 'Churches': Latin (We...more
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]This magisterial and thorough book goes through Chrstianity's roots in Judaism and Greek philosophy, the life of Jesus and the immediate aftermath, and then the historical development of the movement that his followers became. I learned a lot; MacCullough's broad historical focus took us to places I had not really thought of before, like the early history of Christianity in Asia (including China), and explained to me stuff I thought I alr...more
Janet Daniels
A self-proclaimed "sympathetic friend" of Christianity, the author, Diarmid MacCullough, tells the story of Christianity in masterful, sometimes humorous, prose. I was reminded of the griot in "Roots" by Alex Haley. While Alex waited patiently for some mention of his forbear, Kunta Kinte, the griot told the story of his tribe throughout many generations. Diarmid MacCullough does the same for Christianity.

There is so much in this volume, not only historical "fact" but also theological themes and...more
Micah Wilger
Diarmaid MacCulloch is a skilled historian in that he not only gets his facts right, but he has the rare and powerful gift of being able to take history and turn it into narrative. MacCulloch makes an interesting stylistic choice in this work, choosing to begin his history 1,000 years before the time of Jesus (hence the title). He examines Ancient Greek culture, and then paints a portrait of the Hebrew people becoming a nation. With this foundation, MacCulloch proceeds to examine the Christian t...more
Rajiv Chopra
This book is a real tour de force. It requires real discipline to go through it, as it is not an easy read. The breadth of material that he has covered is stupendous. This is not an easy history, and is quite complex. The focus of the book is very much centered around the developments in the West,with not too much mention of the developments in Africa and Asia. Personally, I can live with this, as I see Christianity as a Western religion.
The manner in which he has laid out the chapters is marve...more
Alex Milledge
I read this book because my Ancient/Medieval Philosophy Teacher recommended it and one of my favorite intellectual topics is Church History.

This book is the comprehensive, one-volume history of Christianity. I was riveted by the title "Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years." I thought the book was going to make a point about the origins of Christianity, and how the ideas in Christianity were eclectically taken from other religions to incorporate into the gospel story (i.e. Buddha's tempta...more
It took me so long to read this very long book that I've forgotten the first 2000 years :)

The author is British and slips in some dry humor pretty regularly. YMMV. From my US perspective, the Anglican Church gets more attention than I would expect while US religious developments get less. Perhaps this is because it feels like he races through the last 200 years. The information about Christianity in Asia was probably the most interesting to me, as I was least familiar with that.

On a technical no...more
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Great book, but taking forever for me to finish! 10 29 Jun 26, 2014 01:53PM  
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