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God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism
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God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  391 ratings  ·  50 reviews
As conflicts over religious extremism dominate our front pages, the bestselling author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road presents a work of history that could not be more timely: a surprising look back at the origins of religious intolerance during the tumultuous fourth century.

This is the epic story of how classical paganism, with its tolerance for many deities and

Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 25th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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Ian Pagan-Gladfly
One True God or Many?

This is a study of the 2,000 year war between polytheism and monotheism, which ended in the victory of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

I wish I could say I appreciated the book more than I did. I'm intuitively sympathetic to the approach of the author. However, I just don't think he did justice to a great subject.

It's a Bit of a God's Breakfast

While it's an interesting narrative in the style of historian Tom Holland, it seems that Kirsch is first and foremost
Amy Freese
(I borrowed this book from my local public library.)

I have to say that I am just a little surprised at how quickly I read through this book! It was just that interesting for me.

I was raised with a Baptist teaching and as an adult I have learned there are many sides to Christianity which I was not taught. Many of the Bible stories did inspire my imagination as a child, but in no manner different from Walt Disney. It was the same level of awe and mystery for me. In the middle grades I developed a
Jonathan Kirsch writes his history with a clear distaste for monotheism. I think that is clear from the start. But, he is also very clear about the reason for his distaste, which is that monotheism, with its absolute insistance on the worship of the One True God, brought religious intolerance into existence. The rest of the book is a very good explication of this main thesis, which will make one question the accidents of history that left us with this monstrosity that has encircled the globe wit ...more
Paul Fidalgo
Kirsch writes on a terribly important subject, if only he would keep his focus upon it. The first half or so of God against the Gods is an eye-opening exploration of the differences and conflicts between monotheistic and polytheistic religions, and certainly concludes that the polytheists, while not perfect, were on the whole *far* more tolerant and far less murderous than the Abrahamic religions that sought to eradicate them.

Almost equally valuable is the history lesson Kirsch provides, weavin
Julie Ann Dawson
They were accused of sacrificing their infant children, engaging in orgies, and performing all sorts of evil acts. They hid behind closed doors in secret, engaging in what others thought were demonic rites. They were the early Christians.

It was interesting to see how classical pagans viewed the early Christians, and realize that the very things Christians were accused of are the same things Christians accuse pagans of today. Kirsch does a wonderful job of putting the battle of monotheism and po
An interesting history of the battle and cultural turning point from polytheism to monotheism. Jonathan Kirsch first gives a quick history of early civilizations attempts at monotheism then spends the rest of the book detailing the rise of Emperor Constantine and Christianity then the rise of Emperor Julian and Paganism. The interesting parts of the book happen when we get glimpses of how monotheistic thought became the prevalent religion amongst latter day Romans.
The early "Pax Romana", the pe
Perhaps the world would have been a much better place by now if monotheism had lost to polytheism. It was not until the advent of monotheism that we get Holy Wars and the killing of people because they did not believe in what one thought was the 'true faith.' Until the third and fourth centuries people were allowed to pretty much worship as they pleased, whichever gods and/or goddesses they wanted without fear of being tortured or killed. Paganism did not know of heresy, it was only with biblica ...more
This book was fascinating. It covered the decline of Hellenism and the rise of Christianity in ancient Rome, all the while examining the core differences between Hellenism and Christianity. Namely, that the polytheistic approach of Hellenism is essentially tolerant and kind (accepting of all beliefs and approaches to worship), while the monotheistic approach of Christianity is essentially rigid and intolerant (accepting of only one way to correctly worship and be blessed).

I honestly didn't expe
Aug 07, 2010 Meen marked it as to-read
Recommended to Meen by: Found it on GR searching for something else!
If we must have religion and theisms--and apparently we are inevitably magical thinkers--I hate the arrogance of having JUST ONE god, and how that kind of thinking so clearly, so stridently defines an in-group and an out-group. Now, we do seem inevitably also to form up into "us & them," but damnit, religious justifications for it are so insidious, so exculpating, so hard to argue against. (A really good examination of this thesis is Regina M Schwartz's The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy ...more
Eric Villalobos
Before anything, I want to say that I liked the book. I found it informative and interesting. That being said, I have issue with Kirsch's black-and-white depiction of Monotheism and Polytheism. Monotheism is inherently intolerant and the core value of Polytheism is religious tolerance, according to Kirsch. The book is generally about the war between Christianity and Classical Paganism in ancient Rome with some background and some other examples of early Monotheism at the beginning. I understand ...more
In God Against the Gods, Kirsch examines the histories of mono and polytheism to shine light on little known facts. With a brief discussion of the failure of monotheism in ancient Egypt, Kirsch focuses much of his work on Classical Greece and Rome.

I had high hopes for this book, hopes that were not met and I found myself unable to completel the book. While I applaud Kirsch for attempting to shine light on the ancient pagan world and how monotheism began, I was often confused by his judgemental s
God Against the Gods depicts the emergence and eventual triumph of monotheism over polytheism in the West. It begins with Pharoah Akhenaton, who attempted (and failed) to transform Egypt from a polytheistic society to one that worshipped only the sun god, spends substantial time on the history of Judaism, and then focuses, for most of the book, on the ascendancy of Christianity during the fourth century.

What I found most interesting was the story of Emperor Julian, whom later Christian historian
John Lucy
I had a seminary professor who taught her view of the Old Testament as THE understanding of the Old Testament. Because the Old Testament of the Judeo-Christian Bible is open to an incredible number of interpretations, such a teaching method is irresponsible at best. Kirsch, I think, does much the same thing.

In a book detailing a great many stories of the conflict between monotheism and polytheism, Kirsch clearly attacks the very possibility that Judaism, or any religion really, could be real...
Yifan (Evan) Xu (Hsu)
The book was recommended by statistic and finance professors of IUB during college years. It wan't until after graduation that I started to read it, and its interesting stories certainly refreshed my memories of joys i had in statistical and finance classes. But as reading progressed, the book unveiled profound thoughts of the author: the evolution of human's understanding of risk and risk management.

Throughout the book, a few figures representing classic theories are given adequate exposure t
Fascinating look at the shift from polytheism to monotheism, It opens ancient Egypt, when the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (better known as Akhenaton) tried set up the first monotheistic religion. It then moves on to Moses and the other Jewish prophets and their attempts to keep the straying Jews (golden calf, other gods etc..., in line with the monothestic faith they wanted all their tribe to follow. It then discusses the tribulations of the Jews and the development of Christianity and their interactio ...more
Published in 2004, this book covers material I have read in other books on this period of time. This book is most specifically about the time period of the Roman Era from Constantine to the end of Julian's reign. He does briefly relate the Egyptian flirt with monotheism during Akhenaton's reign, some again with the early Isrealites, but most is about the Roman era and the contest between polytheism and atheism at that time. There is an interesting chapter about the "pagan" religions, (a name giv ...more
Beth Barnett
I enjoyed this book - it covered a different angle and time period covered in the history of western religions.

Generally, this book was a secular, historical study of the evolution and coming-of-age of the monotheism tradition (in Eurasia/Africa), from pre-Judeo-Christian monotheistic developments, through the rise of Christianity within the polytheistic Roman Empire (0-400CE).

Kirsch was surprisingly sympathetic to Rome's polytheism, which was an interesting slant. Most of the time authors seem
Aisling Van dam labauve
This is a fantastic book. It was interesting to read about how society shifted back and forth a bit between monotheism and polytheism. It seems there is something within us that needs a balance- a female and a male diety- but this is suppressed within monotheistic religions, sometimes with devastating results. It seems to me that if our society followed the lead of ancient Pagans and showed tolerance for the beliefs of others, there would be less bloodshed in the name of religion and everyone wo ...more
Kirsch is a jobbing writer rather than a professional historian, and this is something of a hack job,bringing together numerous other works regarding the struggles between the pagan world and the rising tide of Monotheism. That isn't to say this is not an enjoyable read however. There may not be any original research in here, or even any new insights into the issue, but it is page turning stuff, especially the section on the emperor Julian.
Michael Brady
God Against the Gods describes the unhappy and ultimately terminal interaction between monotheism and polytheism, especially as the latter waned under the influence of Constantine and later Roman emperors as Christianity became the state religion starting in the 4th century. Jonathan Kirsch's book is uneven in spots, rich in others. He wears his biases on his sleeve, but writes well enough for the reader to overlook it most of the time. I'm getting to a point in my studies where I've seen a much ...more
Interesting book about the rise of monotheism and its eventual triumph over polytheism. The author starts with Akenaton and Josiah, but spends most of his time on the reign of Constantine the Great and his immediate successors. The basic premise of the book is that polytheism, despite the bad name it gets, was a tolerant approach to religion whereas monotheism was much more rigid in its demands and intolerant of other religions by its very nature. Some of the most interesting sections were on th ...more
Although a serviceable account of the struggle between polytheism and monotheism in the Mediterranean region, principally from the time of Josiah to the death of Julian, the books cover promises more than the text delivers. This reader was disappointed that Kirsch did not address directly the question as to why Christianity, a minority religion, triumphed over paganism so quickly after the death of Julian. The author mentions, almost in passing, that Roman emperors had totalitarian powers as if ...more
There was some interesting information in there, but most of it I already knew. I also felt there just wasn't enough information most of the time. To top it off, it should really have had a subtitle about how it focuses almost solely on the Western world, and the Roman one in particular. I was really hoping there would be some information about, for example, Arabian polytheism and those peoples' conversion to Islam. But they barely even get a mention, which was disappointing. And what about the ...more
Very readable. I was hoping for more of a polemic against polytheism. But no, polytheism is really the hero vs. the autocratic excesses of adherents of monotheism. Kirsch makes a good case and I'll concede. But we're talking Theology here, not social science. It doesn't really matter. Religion without love is religion without love whether you worship Jehovah or wood sprites. But, as religious histories go, this was very easy going. Not much written about the early centuries of Christianity is th ...more
This book was fascinating. It really surprised me how close the world came to being primarily polytheistic. I cheered on Emperor Julian for standing up for his own faith as well as extending tolerance to a faith that called him nasty names at the very least. The author points out that the blessings of the monotheistic faiths do outweigh their serious bad behavior, and he presents the bad behavior of pagans as well, providing a balanced picture. All told, I enjoyed this book and was educated by i ...more
It started off interesting, and then I just got bored. I realize that the politics of the Roman Empire and Christianity are completely (or nearly so) enmeshed, but then I lost interest in how the emperors just kept killing off all their relatives. I wanted to know more about the tolerance by pagans and how the people reacted to Christianity (other than those who converted), not just the government.
I loved this book. I loved the discussion of the 'war' between the world of polytheism and monotheism. I think the author didn't hide his preference too well, but since I kind of agree with him it didn't bother me too much. I just find it very interesting the change from gods to God and what effect it seems to have had on the world at large.
I am not going to finish this. It's not much more than a rant against Christianity. In those instances of hard information, Kirsch doesn't offer anything I didn't already know from a dozen other books and what has already been covered elegantly by Karen Armstrong in a History of God.
I just couldn't finish this book (and I very rarely abandon a book). I got 30% through and then it got so in-depth, to a point that I didn't know where it connected to anything I already knew, that I had to jump ship. I would not reccomend this book.
Kris E
Solid reading for anyone interested in the beginnings of religion, and the way Christianity stole from older beliefs then promptly condemned them.

The writing isn't great, as it's pretty clear where the author’s favors lie, but worth reading none-the-less.
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