david shin's Reviews > The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries

The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
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Mar 15, 07

bookshelves: non-fiction

Coming from a professor at a secular institution, initially I thought it was a fairly academic and unbiased approach to early Christianity. There's an attempt to use social research methods to quantify and justify findings of early Christianity's rise among the middle class rather than the popular belief that Christianity rose among the poorest.

However, I have come to be very skeptical of the author after his subsequent releases, which are titled (and I'm not making this up), "The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success" and "Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome."
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message 1: by Paul (new)

Paul Dubuc Is your rating of the book based on its content or on the titles of the author's other books? Is your opinion of the subsequent books based on reading them, or just on the titles? I'm looking for "unbiased" opinions of this book.


[Name Redacted] He titles his books in a deliberately provocative way because, like members of the Jesus Seminar, he's aiming for the populist demographic. But he's also proposing correctives to popular but untenable theories, and that's a very necessary endeavour.


[Name Redacted] You might also be interested in his follow-up book "Cities of God" because he explains how similar early Christianity was to a number of other pagan religious cults which also initially flourished among the upper classes. However sensationalistic the titles, his overall argument is that there's nothing special or miraculous about the growth of Christianity -- it's an easily predictable sociological phenomenon.


message 4: by Paul (new)

Paul Dubuc Ian wrote: "You might also be interested in his follow-up book "Cities of God" because he explains how similar early Christianity was to a number of other pagan religious cults which also initially flourished among the upper classes ..."

Christianity initially flourished among the upper classes? Not until it was in its 4th century, I think.


[Name Redacted] Nope. It did flourish among the upper classes in the first four centuries. Even the NT texts attest to this.


message 6: by Paul (new)

Paul Dubuc Ian wrote: "Nope. It did flourish among the upper classes in the first four centuries. Even the NT texts attest to this."

Interesting. Could you provide a NT reference? Thanks.


[Name Redacted] Well, all the descriptions in the Gospel texts of Peter, Andrew, James & John -- among other early disciples -- fit the model of the wealthy fishing families of that time and place. And the descriptions of Jesus associating with wealthy publicans (eg: Zacchaeus) and public officials, and the well-to-do family of Lazarus, Martha & Mary, are most likely reflective of historical reality since those aren't the sorts of details the authors would have invented if they wished to make their narratives more palatable to their audiences.

In Acts we are also introduced to John Mark's wealthy mother, Mary, who hosts meetings in her house and has servants; Ananias and Sapphira, who are wealthy landowners; and Lydia, who is wealthy merchant of then-expensive purple/crimson dye, and also has her own servants. We are also told about wealthy Christians who send financial aid to the poorer communities.

And in the Pauline epistles Paul refers to wealthy Christians who helped support the poorer members of their community.


message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul Dubuc Ian wrote: "Well, all the descriptions in the Gospel texts of Peter, Andrew, James & John -- among other early disciples -- fit the model of the wealthy fishing families of that time and place. And the descrip..."

Thanks, Ian. This all makes sense. I think much of that support might have dried up in places and times of persecution toward the end of the 1st century.


[Name Redacted] By then they had powerful/influential friends in the Empire; Stark cites letters and texts describing the intervention of well-placed Christians and Christian-sympathizers as preventing many executions and purges.


message 10: by Paul (new)

Paul Dubuc Ian wrote: "By then they had powerful/influential friends in the Empire; Stark cites letters and texts describing the intervention of well-placed Christians and Christian-sympathizers as preventing many execut..."

Thanks, Ian. I'm more interested in reading the book now.


[Name Redacted] I definitely recommend reading it in conjunction with "Cities of God" -- there's a bit of an overlap, as CoG is an expansion of a single chapter from "The Rise of Christianity" but the statistics and historical/textual evidence is worth it. Especially the comparison of Christianity to its contemporary pagan faiths!


message 12: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Hale Stark is an agnostic.


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