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A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  5,245 ratings  ·  463 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 May 5th 2010 by Allen Lane (first published October 1st 2009)
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Bonnie I have found the historical review of Jesus, by Bart D. Ehrmann, to be a well balanced, historically comprehensive, and intellectually satisfying summ…moreI have found the historical review of Jesus, by Bart D. Ehrmann, to be a well balanced, historically comprehensive, and intellectually satisfying summary of the impact of Jesus' "apocalypsist" teachings. The author of this book is a well published historian author, and he is honest about his personal philosophical perspective on Christianity. Ehrmann states the historical fact of Jesus' crucifixion with incredible clarity, and without succumbing to wishful thinking regarding the brutality of the Roman crucifixions of Jesus time. He also shares some personal facts about his upbringing as an evanglical Christian, his college education, and his ultimate disillusionment with the Christian faith, and the promises of the evanglical Christian "Right", which is still committed to the hope of a miraculous apocalyptic return of the Savior, and the restitution of the human race through death, rebirth and (hopefully?) the Rapture. (The Christian Rapture is not discussed in his book, "How Jesus Became God". But Bert Ehrman does truthfully state his agnostic philosophical position, which I found refreshing. The content of his historical review of Jesus life is extensive, and it is surprising. It is historically grounded, and well documented. Professor Ehrman's academic credentials are well rounded, and his writing is lucid, his concepts deep, and his understanding of the Christian faith is well grounded. I found the book deeply satisfying, and I recommend it highly. And.... I am a Catholic Christian. This book did not destroy my faith. Rather, it reaffirms it.(less)
Ploppy Actually he does, several times:
"When Jerusalem was wrecked by the Roman expeditionary force in 70 CE and the oldest and most prominent community of C…more
Actually he does, several times:
"When Jerusalem was wrecked by the Roman expeditionary force in 70 CE and the oldest and most prominent community of Christians was permanently dispersed, Peter and Paul had probably been dead for around half a decade, apparently victims of a persecution whipped up in Rome by the Emperor Nero."
"the pogrom unleashed in Rome in the 60s CE by the increasingly unbalanced Emperor Nero..."
"Piling audacity on audacity, he then put workmen to dig up the floor in his newly built church, where they unearthed the bodies of two martyrs from the time of Nero’s persecution, complete with names, Gervasius and Protasius, ‘long unknown’, and indeed the first martyrs ever known in the Church of Milan."
Any other reasons why this book praised by the archbishop of Canterbury is so bad?
It's one thing to wonder why people don't read with a critical mind, I myself wonder why people don't read the words that are right there in front of them.(less)

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Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘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
Apr 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: won-t-finish
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
Nov 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a monumental piece of work by an erudite scholar. It covers the whole range of Christian history from its roots in Judaism to modern day.

As a starting point it delves into the Old Testament contrasting it's God jehovah -a jealous and vengeful God - with the loving God that sacrifices his son in the New Testament.

It shows the rise of Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect, through the rebranding by St Paul, and on to an established state religion. It is a truly astonishing journey. Thr
BAM Endlessly Booked
This book is seriously insane! I'm only halfway through and we've already covered: Rome, early popes, African christians, the Orthodox Church, the beginnings of various brotherhoods and convents, ways to pray, Constantine, early theologians and philosophers, pergatory, the energy of God. I can't list everything. The only issue I have is that it's just too much at once. This is the perfect book for someone studying theology.

The Virgin Mary, the Tartars, the reformation and restoration, Martin Lut
Ben Fairchild
Apr 17, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Matt Tandy
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a double priests kid (both my parents were Anglican clergy) an assumption was usually made that I knew quite a bit about Christianity. This was not accurate as I neither had much interest in the subject, nor access to a decent history about the faith. MacCulloch has rectified this with A History Of Christianity. Detailed yet readable, he takes an unbiased look at both the good and bad of the religion, never apologizing for either. He also doesn’t ignore the spiritual, faith aspect of his subj ...more
Justin Evans
Jun 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-etc
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
Stuart Woolf
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'll begin my review this way: there are a few reviewers who did not like this book due to the secular (but by no means anti-Christian) perspective most educated readers would expect from a serious church historian. (Naturally, many of these reviewers associate MacCulloch with the atheistic academic left, which I'm sure would come as a surprise to the author, given his background in the Church of England.) If Christian apologetics masked as church history is what you are looking for, then I have ...more
Erik Graff
Nov 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  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
tom bomp
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
For most of the book, my biggest problem is one that's basically impossible to solve in something with such a sweeping objective - too much stuff passes by in a flurry of names and dates without enough detail to understand it. To be clear he does go into detail on some stuff! But I kept finding myself wanting more. And obviously that's an unreasonable ask in even a big book on the history of 2000 years.

When it gets to modern times it's more things that I have Strong Opinions on and feel a bit h
Clif Hostetler
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, religion
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
Matt J
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
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
Wendell Jones
Jul 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exactly three months later, I'm done! Review obviously to come. ...more
Mar 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
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
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Christianity is complex. After having had read this book two years earlier, I had to reread this book in order to understand why I didn't understand it the first time I read it. The first time I had read this book I was trying to make sense of the Trinity and how it developed and caused differentiation between sects of the Christian faith. I realize now that was a mistake. Whether it be one person, one nature, and one will; or two people, one nature, and one will; or ....... doesn't make sense a ...more
Richard Thomas
Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-history
A thorough history of the christian religion from an Oxford don and the son of a Church of England parson whose background and upbringing give the whole book a flavour of what has made the Anglicans or the C of E such a distinctive part of Christanity. His deep learning and understanding of his subject are set with an elegant and flowing prose style so the book is both a pleasure to read and a means of understanding most of the hows, whys and wherefores of Christianity. It is a large book but if ...more
John Wiltshire
I have a feeling that 'currently reading' may stay the status of this book for quite a while. It's not only huge, it's pretty overwhelmingly erudite. One fifth of the way in, I've concluded I'm a 'cultural' Christian. My Christ is obviously English and he, like me, loves churchyards and cathedrals, waits every year with eager anticipation for a decent carol service so he can join robustly in the old, familiar favourites, and if it ever snows at Christmas, likes to read Elliot's Journey of the Ma ...more
Dinah Küng
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 21, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What I purchased, I thought, was going to be an objective, historical account of the Christian faith, and what I got was a biased, obsessive attempt to discredit the Christian faith and its roots.

I have read the first two and a half chapters and have sensed MacCulloch's subtle, but chronic orientation toward presenting "disproving" or "invalidating" conclusions based on far-fetched assumptions and speculation.

Seeking a historical account, I could not accept this awfully apparent bias with each n
Dec 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Nicholas Whyte
May 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing[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
Frank Roberts
Oct 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is probably the best one-volume history of Christianity that you can find. So if you want an overview of church history, and don't mind wading through a 1000 page book (though, with 2000 years of history to tell, how much shorter could such a book be?) this book is for you.

I have to admit, MacCulloch almost lost me in the early part when he said the biblical book of Philemon was later used to support slavery by Christians. Admittedly, me disagreeing on this is like a flea barking at a pit b
Eric Brown
Dec 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
MacCulloch gives sardonic and playful commentary, emerging from his status as a self-professed "friend of Christianity", as an aid to his herculean task of writing a popular history and prognosis for established Christianity in an era of doubt, while also trying to address modern outbreaks of fervour, from Latter-Day Saints to Pentecostals. Weaknesses and glosses seem to multiply the closer he gets to the modern era, but that is partially the danger of moving from popular historian to commentato ...more
Emlyn Roberts
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very good book. No nonsense. First half was more interesting from a historical point of view. Any book disliked by religious fundamentalist must be on to something!
Aaron Arnold
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This kind of book is exactly why the adjective "magisterial" was invented. It's so learned, engaging, and comprehensive that by the time you finish it your mind feels full. It's nothing less than an attempt at a truly "ecumenical" (pun intended) history of Christianity, covering not only its temporal history, which as you can tell by the subtitle goes back much farther than the BC-AD line, but also all of the different denominations, their doctrinal disputes, the major figures, philosophical lin ...more
Feb 15, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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Great book, but taking forever for me to finish! 11 45 Sep 24, 2016 04:48PM  

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