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    Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World - Larry W. Hurtado
    Call Number: BR 165 .H77 2016
    ISBN: 9781481304733
    Publication Date: 2016-09-15
    "Silly," "stupid," "irrational," "simple." "Wicked," "hateful," "obstinate," "anti-social." "extravagant," "perverse." The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity-including branding Christianity "new." Novelty was no Roman religious virtue.

    Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in Destroyer of the gods, Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a "bookish" religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men.

    Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day. In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic--a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project.

    Christianity's novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as Destroyer of the Gods demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another.

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    Pagans: the end of traditional religion and the rise of Christianity - James J. O'Donnell
    Call Number: BR 128 .A2 O36 2015
    ISBN: 9780061845352
    Publication Date: 2015-03-17
    A provocative and contrarian religious history that charts the rise of Christianity from the point of view of traditional religion from the religious scholar and critically acclaimed author James J. O'Donnell.

    Pagans explores the rise of Christianity from a surprising and unique viewpoint: that of the people who witnessed their ways of life destroyed by what seemed then a powerful religious cult. These "pagans" were actually pious Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Gauls who observed the traditions of their ancestors. To these devout polytheists, Christians were immoral atheists who worshipped only one deity and believed that a splash of water on the deathbed could erase a lifetime of sin.

    Religious scholar James J. O'Donnell takes us on a lively tour of the Ancient Roman world through the fourth century C.E., when Romans of every nationality, social class, and religious preference found their world suddenly constrained by rulers who preferred a strange new god. Some joined this new cult, while others denied its power, erroneously believing it was little more than a passing fad. In Pagans, O'Donnell brings to life various pagan rites and essential features of Roman religion and life, offers fresh portraits of iconic historical figures, including Constantine, Julian, and Augustine, and explores important themes: Rome versus the East, civilization versus barbarism, plurality versus unity, rich versus poor, and tradition versus innovation.

    The story of paganism turns out to be the story of how the new Christian cult staked its claim to exceptionalism. In this nuanced account of religious repression, O'Donnell offers an iconoclastic history of religion that tells an exciting new story with deep relevance to the way we think about religion in our own time.

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    Jim Verdini

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