A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity

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“Evokes the sights and sounds of the ancient world with daring and imagination... An intellectual tour-de-force that challenges us to see the history of Christianity through the eyes of those who actually lived it.”—Los Angeles Times

In this provocative, irresistibly entertaining book, Keith Hopkins takes readers back in time to explore the roots of Christianity in ancient Rome. Combining exacting scholarship with dazzling invention, Hopkins challenges our perceptions about religion, the historical Jesus, and the way history is written. He puts us in touch with what he calls "empathetic wonder"—imagining what Romans, pagans, Jews, and Christians thought, felt, experienced, and believed-by employing a series of engaging literary devices. These include a TV drama about the Dead Sea Scrolls; the first-person testimony of a pair of time-travelers to Pompeii; a meditation on Jesus' apocryphal twin brother; and an unusual letter on God, demons, and angels.

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Review:

A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity by Keith Hopkins is a rollicking work of revisionist history about Christianity's ascent as the dominant religion of the West. In its tour of Roman paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism, A World Full of Gods employs a range of techniques of description, analysis, and historical reportage. The first chapter is a report from two time-travelers visiting Pompeii just before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius; soon after comes a description of the ascetic Jewish sect at Qumran that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls--in the form of a TV drama. Hopkins, a professor of ancient history at King's College, Cambridge, justifies his experimental style by asserting that "to reexperience the thoughts, feelings, practices, and images of religious life in the Roman empire, in which orthodox Christianity emerged in all its vibrant variety, we have to combine ancient perceptions, however partial, with modern understandings, however misleading." Rather than presenting a focused argument, A World Full of Gods offers immersion in a sensibility--a history of Christianity that has little interest in the historical Jesus and instead traces the influence of imagination on the growth of Christianity. Jesus, Hopkins argues, "is not just, nor even primarily, a historical person. Rather, like the sacred heroes of other great religions, he is a mirage, an image in believers' minds, shaped but not confined by the images projected in the canonical gospels." --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

Keith Hopkins is a professor of ancient history at King's College, Cambridge, and a fellow of the British Academy.

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