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Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  659 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
The Fifth-Century Political Battles That Forever Changed the Church

In this fascinating account of the surprisingly violent fifth-century church, PhilipJenkins describes how political maneuvers by a handful of powerful charactersshaped Christian doctrine. Were it not for these battles, today’s church could beteaching something very different about the nature of Jesus, and t
ebook, 352 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by HarperOne (first published February 20th 2010)
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Nov 21, 2012 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
Honestly, I struggled a bit to get through this. The history is convoluted, involving dozens of religious, civil and military leaders over hundreds of years, and the intricate political machinations are dizzying and difficult to keep track of, not to mention the complicated theological disputes about the Trinity, Christology, and Mary. Dr. Jenkins includes maps at the beginning and several appendices that list the dramatis personae, briefly explain the outcomes of the several councils, and defin ...more
William Poe
Another good read on the history of Western culture through the lens of Christianity. Jenkins covers a huge amount of information that I cannot keep straight without referencing the material. What struck me was just how violently Christians attacked one another over the smallest variation in whatever was the "orthodox" view of the moment. Any study of the history of Christianity will lead one to realize just what a human-constructed faith it is, and how detrimental it has been to the development ...more
Jun 27, 2013 Wealhtheow rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: Cera
This book details how the political maneuverings in the 5th century affected what is officially thought and taught about Jesus. It's all quite complicated and bloody, filled with armies of monks marauding across Europe and the Middle East, and all over philosophical differences so slight I can hardly keep them straight. Alas, this book delves deep into convoluted details of theology, which I could not possibly care less about, and so I gave it up on page 23. I skimmed forward and found that vari ...more
Jul 01, 2010 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
I had seen a review of this book, and duly checked it out of the library; who knew that Church controversies of the 5th century could be so interesting, and so much fun to read? If one thinks about how the Church decided what was normative in belief at all, one imagines conferences with debate teams, with everyone working out their differences amicably. Who knew that the process looked more like a poorly run political convention? But in a world where it was sincerely believed that believing the ...more
Jun 21, 2010 jordan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the plethora of current works on non-orthodox early movements from the likes of excellent scholars such Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagel (plus the absurd novels of Dan Brown and his imitators, which I shutter to mention in the same sentence), there has been precious little recent consideration of the establishment of Christian orthodoxy from a historical perspective. Into that breach steps Philip Jenkins with his interesting and readable //Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Em ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Who was Jesus? Was he God? Was he a man? As a Christian, I tend to wait for "all of the above" before answering. Yet this Christology, which I take for granted, came at the cost of many lives and centuries of debate, schism and reconciliation.

Jenkins wades into 5th-century Christian history, a time at which the church should have been consolidated into the Roman Empire but was instead riven with factionalism over the nature of Christ. Eastern churches, based in Alexandria--and later Antioch--pre
Apr 28, 2010 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The formative years of Christianity, when malicious political maneuvering, murder, mob incitement, mayhem, martyrdom, and armies of militant monks split the church, and emperors and empresses helped determine the beliefs we take for granted today. This eye-opening read that would have horrified Jesus might serve, if we let it, as a warning about the deadliness (and the soul deadening effects) of our very human attraction to the fun and righteous sport of intolerance. hummm our current trend towa ...more
May 04, 2015 Charlie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-church
How did Christians go about constructing what is today regarded as orthodoxy? Many educated Westerners have a vague memory that there were councils that produced creeds and definitions and edicts, but most have little understanding of the processes, personalities, and agendas that so greatly shaped Christianity and therefore much of the world's culture. Jesus Wars is Philip Jenkins' highly readable guide to the fifth century, in which much of the military-political infrastructure of orthodoxy wa ...more
Ben McFarland
In Jesus Wars, Philip Jenkins casts some light on a dark corner of history that has always intrigued me: the years from 400-700 AD when the Roman empire fell, the Byzantine empire continued, the creeds solidified, and Islam began to rise. This period definitely isn't Medieval -- and it definitely isn't Roman. Yet important things happened, just with a theological focus that came later to seem pedantic and hair-splitting. Of all people, Philip Jenkins is uniquely qualified to comment on this beca ...more
Sep 11, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am absolutely fascinated with the Roman Empire. Probably because that's where my ancestors lived – my family comes from all over Italy, some were Italian Jews, most were Italian natives, and I always wonder who we were. Am I related to any gladiators? Were my ancestors Christian or pagan? What did they do for a living in Rome? The questions are endless. I like thinking about it. I wish there was some way I could know.

This book was about the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire and all of the
Dec 14, 2010 Cornflower rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Christians in the pews
Recommended to Cornflower by: My Anglican priest
Jenkins has a very folksy way of going about describing the machinations of the 4-6th centuries, honing in of the religious controversy between mono- and dyophysitism within Christianity, and the political climate during those centuries. He does so by acknowledging the Christian struggles of the first threee centuries (when the question was whether Jesus was divine), and some of the consequences of those centuries (too briefly mentioning the relation between non-orthodox Christians and Islam in ...more
Dec 26, 2014 Libby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't praise Philip Jenkins enough! In Jesus Wars, he takes one of the most complex, abstruse questions in the history of the Western World and make it clear enough for the average joe in the fifth pew to understand. Wow! What an accomplishment! At the same time he clarifies the subject of Christology, he presents these dusty ideas and arguments with the passion and fascination that they held for the early Christians of Alexandria and Antioch. These concepts may seem trivial or overly academic ...more
While it is good to learn about the post-First Council of Nicea history of the Catholic Church (back when “Catholic” meant basically everybody who was Christian), with all its colorful clerics, Emperors, Princesses and barbarians who affected the development of same, as well as the various Christian Heresies which read like hair-splitting on the sub-atomic level, I guess I was looking for more of a philosophical exploration of the ramifications of the Heresies themselves. What does it really mea ...more
Ron Tenney
Nov 21, 2012 Ron Tenney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this book. I saw Larry Larson reading in the cruise and it peaked my interest.
This is a part of history that has never held much interest for me. So I came in with zero background. I must say that the names, dates, councils and factions are a bit overwhelming. The author does put in a few appendices that are very useful. You might as well mark them as you will be going back to them often.

One Nature? Two natures? What was the nature of Jesus Christ? How was he actually related t
I've been reading a lot of books recently about the Bible and the early Church. This book talks about what happened after Constintine made Chritianity a legal religion within the Roman Empire and how it developed during the next 300 or 400 years. But mostly it is about the battles within the Church about what people were supposed to believe.

I'm a history buff, and for me this is a totally new era of history and a new subject.I wanted an overview and to some extent I got one.

There is a lot of rea
Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete DUTRA
I wish I could take half a star: first, the author only balks about the violence and tyranny involved in the Christological debates, not at the idolatry and superstition already constituting a kind of Christopaganism usually associated with latter Dark Age; second, he ends up commemorating Chalcedon without telling us if its (kinda) triumph was better than the alternatives, and why.

Yet, a very useful story of the Christological debates from Chalcedon until the onset of Islam. A very sad history
Feb 22, 2014 Jpp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Um relato nem sempre exato mas fascinante sobre os primeiros séculos da igreja católica . Frente a uma história oficial que focaliza nos martírios cristãos e na ortodoxia católica, Guerras santas lembra que os dogmas da igreja foram em primeira lugar escolhas políticas dos imperadores e dos patriarcas. Além do Cristo, os verdadeiros fundadores da cristianismo aparecem sendo Constantino , Teodosio e Marciano.
Nindyo Sasongko
Aug 22, 2013 Nindyo Sasongko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jenkins is always profound in rewriting history. His talent in story-telling makes this book easy to read, yet still provokes us to place our world in a world full of disputations. This book poses us to reality of what was happening surrounding the Christological dogma. Profound!
Jun 09, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly well done. Those who read it with only skepticism will miss his ending in which he understands that God works through our messy history.

I had read most of this material before but never with the benefit of a coherent development. Prof. Jenkins does himself proud, without ideology.
Dave Courtney
The title is self explanatory: Jenkin's is looking to show how 9 people (Patriarchs, Queens and Emperors) decided what sort of Christian doctrine would win out in the end as the world moved towards our current age. In his conclusion he suggests that history shows us that it was the most unlikely doctrinal stances that remained to conquer the modern age. Of course a quick glance at the appendix reveals a larger list of characters who are inevitably enveloped in this historical narrative (and one ...more
Nov 12, 2016 Enso rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. That was long.
As a non-Christian but educated in the West and Christianity, this was an odd read at times. I'm not entirely sure who the intended audience is but it is probably educated Christians of an academic bent. If you want to understand the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries and the politics and actions around the councils that established "orthodox" Christian belief, this is probably a helpful book. It is a bit of a dry "dates and names" history at times but it is hard
Sep 29, 2013 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading history. This post is inspired by a book I read about early Christian history. Early Christian history makes the news every now and then, often when a book (like The Da Vinci Code) tells of conspiracy theories and a real Jesus much different then the biblical one. The real history is fascinating.

There are two common stories told about how the early Christian church settled on the official doctrines that many Christians still recite in creeds today.

1. The “they got it all from the
Apr 20, 2011 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a vigorously objective account of the fifth century ecumenical church councils, with the primary emphasis on Chalcedon. It is ecclesiastical history written in the way that a modern journalist would report the inside workings of a hard-fought political campaign. The author describes the Chalcedonian Council as it it were a particularly raucous Party Convention. Gives an "insider look" at the issues and personalities involved, at the forces that shaped and determined the outcome, that gav ...more
May 23, 2014 Franz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A kind of prequel to his outstanding The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, an historical account of Christian churches in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and points east, Philip Jenkins, professor of history at Baylor University and Co-Director for Baylor's Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion, has produced an equally outstanding and well-written account of the l ...more
Himanshu Bhatnagar
This isn't a book for the lay reader. If you're looking for a thriller filled with blood and gore, with schemes and machinations galore, this isn't the book for you.

What it is, instead, is a very deep, very erudite, very skilful dissection of the internal politics of the Christian world as it came to terms with its own pre-eminence. It is a study of the factionalism, the inter-personal rivalry, the theological conflicts and the bitter schisms that afflicted the Christian church in a most crucial
Dec 02, 2013 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My favorite line is on Page 234. After describing how angry Alexandrian Christians remained in the eighth century about the Chalcedonian Council of the fifth century, Philip Jenkins remarks, "In any theological struggle, the first thousand years are always the bitterest."
One is thankful for Jenkins' deadpan humor when reading "Jesus Wars." It relieves what can otherwise be some rather heavy wading. I don't know about you, but I'm not very up on my fifth century history, and I found myself gettin
Geoff Glenister
Sep 01, 2015 Geoff Glenister rated it really liked it
This is an eye opening portrait of the violent, accusatory, adversarial politics of the Church during the late 4th, 5th, and early 6th century - the period of time when the creeds were defined. It's really hard to find anything redeeming in this history - constant bickering over words that amounts to hair-splitting results in one faction banishing another, and then that faction comes back to power the banish the first. In one stunning example, in the 300's, ousia was used interchangeably with hy ...more
Phil Scovis
Mar 24, 2015 Phil Scovis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book on fifth-century religious councils has so much potential to be a boring lecture. Instead, this book is a sort of historical soap-opera, written with a modern perspective of horrified fascination. Some alternative counterfactual histories are considered: Egypt becomes the seat of the Catholic papacy, and Rome a backwater of schismatic sects. The outcome so easily turns on long-forgotten political issues, there is the lurking suspicion that modern Christian doctrine is arbitrary or acciden ...more
Lawson Stone
I found this book engaging and stimulating. The writer takes a tone almost of the investigative journalist exposing scandal, and I feared I was about to be "Bart Ehrman-ed" but the writer uses this tone mainly to keep the reader's attention through some very…byzantine…narrative. Probing beneath the style, I found the discussion very helpful for sorting out the various currents of thought surrounding the debates between Nicea I and Nicea II (325-787). the shades of distinction among various appro ...more
May 05, 2011 Kent rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Jenkins reviews in great detail the history of Christian doctrinal infighting from the first century through the middle-ages, and even currently. The complex issues of Christology are addressed comprehensively by mashing up the various theological councils from the fourth though seventh centuries and their resulting creeds. It seems that one faction's heresies are another faction's orthodoxies. The winning and so called orthodox doctrines adopted by the church (or, at least the western half of t ...more
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John Philip Jenkins was born in Wales in 1952. He was educated at Clare College, in the University of Cambridge, where he took a prestigious “Double First” degree—that is, Double First Class Honors. In 1978, he obtained his doctorate in history, also from Cambridge. Since 1980, he has taught at Penn State University, and currently holds the rank of Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities. He ...more
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“In any theological struggle, the first thousand years are always the bitterest.” 4 likes
“Ironically, the same church gathering that had denounced Paul of Samosata back in 268 had explicitly condemned the term homoousios, which that earlier council had regarded as one of Paul’s heretical innovations. In 268, the church dismissed the word as heretical nonsense; sixty years later, it was the watchword for unifying orthodoxy.” 1 likes
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