Brett Williams's Reviews > The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert L. Wilken
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it was amazing

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 viewed tradition. While alien in modern America, tradition in Rome was everything. What gods your ancestors worshiped one hundred years ago - associated with your town or region - was precisely the same gods to be worshiped in your own era. Add to this the friction of a flood of ideas from around the empire and protection of what is native was strong enough to kill for. Then along came the Levantine religions, which shunned those outside their in-group, insulting the fabric of Roman community. To tell Rome their gods were not only wrong but evil, we might expect the result.

We find that since the Romans sensed an entity above all other gods, Celsus was shocked to find Christians had paradoxically "invented" a Satan with the power to constrain an almighty God - an act Celsus considered blasphemy. Striking is Wilken’s notion that Roman religion didn't need replacing when Christianity (and many mystery cults about the same time) came along. But something was missing, else why the replacement? Whatever the reason, we find they (the Romans) were not so different from us.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 24, 2005 – Finished Reading
September 16, 2015 – Shelved

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