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The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  406 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
This book offers an engrossing portrayal of the early years of the Xian movement from the perspective of the Romans.
Pliny: a Roman gentleman. The making of a Roman official; Travels of a provincial governor; A Christian association; Offerings of wine & incense
Christianity as a burial society. Church or political club?; A sense of
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 10th 1986 by Yale University Press (New Haven/London) (first published 1984)
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Scott Pilkington
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In his highly regarded and well-reviewed book: ‘The Christians as the Romans Saw Them’, Robert L Wilken counters his previous research into the early Apologists by looking at the pagan writing of the time about Christians, to see the issue from the other side of the coin. He argues that this is important as it is an area of focus not normally covered by ancient historians and/or theologians, to understand the apologists; you have to understand their pagan critics. Wilken attempts to use Roman an ...more
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We tend to think of Christianity’s global spread as somehow predestined. A little thought, of course, shows this to be far from the truth. In fact, many cultures have strongly resisted the message of the Gospel—most dramatically with violence and the creation of martyrs, but sometimes more successfully with intellectual arguments against the truth of Christianity. For example, Martin Scorsese’s recent film adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s "Silence" shows the torture and martyrdom of Christians—but i ...more
David S. T.
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book isn't quite Christians as the Romans saw them, but more so Christians as five different Roman critics (or anti-Christians) saw them. Four of the five individuals mentioned had written arguments against Christianity and forced the earliest of apologetics. This book definitely changed my view of the religious environment of the early Romans. One of the interesting things to me is that by the 3rd and 4th century Romans mostly were Henotheist (meaning there is one supreme god, Jupiter/Zeus ...more
Jun 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: centurions; goatherds
This book sheds some much needed light on a weird cult that has been causing trouble lately
Beau Johnson
The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

This book is a great historical picture of how the Christians were viewed in the first centuries CE. It, through the eyes of several contemporary (read: first and second century) authors, shows us just how counter-cultural the early Christians were. More than a vivid description of how the Romans viewed the Christians, it is a convicting account of how much as change, and how much hasn't.

Take, for example, what we learn from Tertullian. In this chapter the au
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
In the first century of the first millennium followers of Christ were under suspicion of subverting the empire, attacked and arrested in Rome and the provinces and executed unless they denounced Christianity and made sacrifice to the Roman gods. By 380 it had become the state church of the empire and its imperial patron, Constantine, was hailed as the model of a Christian ruler in Roman Church and as a saint in Eastern Christianity. Robert Wilken’s excellent social and cultural history of the pe ...more
I "read" this book (i.e. "had it assigned") in undergrad, but have gone back through it in the past couple of weeks as part of my "keeping up with political theory-ish stuff" project (counting this as part of the "Christian political theory" category).

Wilcken's project is to explore Christianity through the eyes of the pagan Romans, both in terms of the general cultural perception (in two chapters, one on the perception of Christians as a "burial society" and one on the perecption of Christians
Adam Robinson
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
CS Lewis said that for every 3 modern books you read you should read one ancient book. It's good for us. It reminds us that people before us were just as smart and intellectually curious as we are and also that they had egregious blind spots. That is not to their discredit. On the contrary, it should remind us that we moderns simply have different blind spots even now. Wilkens' book has done a couple for things for me. First, it has given me a much clearer picture of the Roman world during the f ...more
Mar 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: religious, history
I enjoyed this book for its examination of major trends in the reception of early Christianity by pagan intellectuals of the period. Wilken covers the major authors and their works, and his description of their contents and the challenges they presented to Christian apologists is lucid and accessible without being overly-simple or blatantly incomplete. I feel that, having read this book, I have a good background on the subject and could tackle more specialized works if I wanted to now.

My only co
Daniel Alvers
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic well written resource. I found the authors purpose to be unique and entertaining. I wasn't used to hearing "the other side" and not in the way its presented here. Objectivity is difficult to pursue in writing and seeing it presented well often means you are being taken for a ride. In this work you enjoy the ride because the writing is also done with fantastic skill. This work itself has drawn me into reading future works of his and I have began to notice that this work itself ...more
Greg Williams
Jun 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book looks at what the Romans thought of early Christianity by surveying some early Roman writings that mention Christianity in the first 4 centuries after Christ's death. As you can imagine, they were critical of this young religious movement that didn't integrate well with Roman society and refused to worship the emperor or the traditional Roman gods. But in reading their critique, we can gain some insights into what the early Christian movement was like.

I read this several years ago and
Sidney Smeets
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful little book showing the criticism against Christianitty to be remarkably consistent from ancient times 'till the present. Especially Celsus is astute in his observations and his humour helps keep his views accessible to modern readers. Christians have not been able to refute criticism regarding the virgin birth or the historicity of Christ in almost 20 centuries. I wouldn't hold my breath they ever will. A joy to read.
Scott Sees
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent introduction to the topic. I would recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in early Christianity, or Roman history, or just a case study in the backlash directed at new religious movements in the ancient world. The chapter "The Piety of the Persecutors" contains particularly worthwhile insights into ancient Roman religion.
Angela Pippinger
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book! I highly recommend anyone interested in religious history to take a look at this one.
Manuel Nunez
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite reads. It takes the written documents we have from the era of the early Church and gives us a glimpse, not just of how the pagans saw them, but what that world view of Roman paganism was like by their comments on thoughts and criticisms of Christianity.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2017
If you're familiar with early church history, you'll be familiar with most of these figures and the issues discussed. But, this is a helpful and thoughtful way of structuring the story of the early church in its Roman cultural context, written in clear prose. An excellent introduction.
Irene Adams
The beginning and the end are well worth reading, but the book bogs down in chapters 3, 4, and 5.
Those chapters seem very repetitive.
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Christians as the Romans Saw Them” is very interesting & intriguing. I really liked it & I think it would be a great book to discuss in a SS class or with small group of Christians in a home or at a coffee shop.

Robert Wilken’s examines Christianity in the Roman Empire by looking at it through the eyes of pagan critics. Wilken examines five pagan critics; starting with Pliny the Younger's letters to the emperor Trajan circa 112 C.E. Galen, Celsus, Porphyry & the Roman emperor Ju
May 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had put a whole bunch of books on my to-read list as a result of my feeling very inspired through following the course 'history of psychology' as part of my bachelor studies. History felt more relevant to me than all other courses because it shows how thinkers deviated from and built onto one another's ideas, thereby showing that dominant contemporary views are not fixed but product of history and will probably be put into perspective some time later. It showed the arrogance of many of todays ...more
Brett Williams
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We should have suspected this might be true.

One finds here an easy flowing style with occasionally riveting exposure of the ancient Roman world. Wilken treats us to a number of pagan apologists including Galen, Porphyry and Celsus. These are bright, inquisitive men, careful to examine the Christians through Roman eyes. Wilken opens up an aspect of the Roman world almost entirely forgotten by compiling these authors in their own words.

One value of Wilken's book is to read how strongly Romans view
Ken McGuire
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For years I have read multiple church fathers as an amateur, and have often seen this book referenced in modern editions. In addition, I have seen many of the texts he quotes. And so much of the information is not really that new to me.

But this is very good information, that is presented quite well, with great discernment. It introduces the reader to a fair bit of scholarship on this era that otherwise can be hidden away for experts. He finds quite interesting connections between what was happen
Oct 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and concise book on how pagan Romans viewed Christianity! Wilken accomplishes this task by explaining and evaluating the views and writings of Pliny, Galen, Celsus, Porphry and Julian. In addition he makes comparisons between the "societies" of the Roman world to Christianity, and delves into the repulsion of Rome against Christian response to persecution.

There are a lot of quotes from original sources (translated of course), but it is not an overly technical book. Familiarity with
Van Robarts
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This work is very good. Wilken documents how early Christians were viewed by those outside. Some saw the group as an association like a burial society, a superstition, or a philosophy. He details spokespersons like Pliny, Galen, Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian. The criticism included Christians abandoned Judaism, were anti-social and anti-emperor, Jesus was a magician and he never claimed to be a deity, among others. Wilken suggests that Porphyry was the most comprehensive critic. Wilken points out ...more
May 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wilken shows that criticism by late Roman thinkers strengthened Christianity, honing its tenets and reflecting the legimitacy of it as a philosophy. He chose a few specific writers: Pliny, a Roman provincial governor who dealt with some of the earliest Christian sects; Galen, a philosopher who considered Christianity one of the many new philosophical schools of the time; Celsus, who treated Christianity as an intellectual study; Porphyry, who criticized with influence (much of his original is re ...more
Lauren Langford
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most valuable part of this book is the author's successful endeavor to chronicle the evolution of Roman thought regarding Christians as the religion gained popularity within the Roman Empire. Additionally, Wilken demonstrated the ways in which Romans and Christians helped one another define themselves through critical analysis and open discussion of one another's differing viewpoints on faith, politics and social life. I read this book for school because I had to, but if you have an interest ...more
Coleen Dailey
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting read about the history of the early church in the Roman Empire as viewed by very early non-Christian authors. I was very surprised to read that initially Christians were not really thought about much about as a real religion but rather as just another sect to deal with. Although I agree that some emperors did more to eliminate them than others, Christians do not really appear in many of the writings until the 3rd and 4th centuries. I would recommend to anyone who is interested ...more
Jim B
Aug 27, 2013 rated it liked it
One of the challenges of writing about a long ago time is that people's way of looking at things is often unexpectedly different. Knowing Christianity in the modern era is so different from being a Roman, trying to figure out what this movement was - for example, was it a burial society, a political club, or a secret society?

Wilken reproduces a gratifyingly broad range of quotes from Romans reacting to the early Christian movement.
Nov 07, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was mainly about how the intellectual elite saw Christians and their arguments against the scripture and claims to connection with Judaism. Nothing about the average Romans view of the Christians, which I'm sure is due to lake of references. Still it's an interesting read and a point of you I hadn't previously explored.
Fred Kohn
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is essentially an analysis of certain writings of five pagan thinkers over the course of the 2nd to 4th century. The anti-Christian rhetoric was interesting, but what I found more interesting was the author's analysis of the opinions of pagans about what "proper" religion entailed, and why Christianity failed to meet this standard.
Apr 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At first I considered the book light reading due to the ease of material in the first few chapters. However, the book became progressively better as the author was simply building his argument in a historical context. This book is a great read, and challenges one to know the reasons for his/her faith.
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