Hot Best Seller

The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

Availability: Ready to download

The Darkening Age is the largely unknown story of how a militant religion deliberately attacked and suppressed the teachings of the Classical world, ushering in centuries of unquestioning adherence to 'one true faith'. Despite the long-held notion that the early Christians were meek and mild, going to their martyr's deaths singing hymns of love and praise, the truth, as Cat The Darkening Age is the largely unknown story of how a militant religion deliberately attacked and suppressed the teachings of the Classical world, ushering in centuries of unquestioning adherence to 'one true faith'. Despite the long-held notion that the early Christians were meek and mild, going to their martyr's deaths singing hymns of love and praise, the truth, as Catherine Nixey reveals, is very different. Far from being meek and mild, they were violent, ruthless and fundamentally intolerant. Unlike the polytheistic world, in which the addition of one new religion made no fundamental difference to the old ones, this new ideology stated not only that it was the way, the truth and the light but that, by extension, every single other way was wrong and had to be destroyed. From the 1st century to the 6th, those who didn't fall into step with its beliefs were pursued in every possible way: social, legal, financial and physical. Their altars were upturned and their temples demolished, their statues hacked to pieces and their priests killed. It was an annihilation. Authoritative, vividly written and utterly compelling, this is a remarkable debut from a brilliant young historian.


Compare

The Darkening Age is the largely unknown story of how a militant religion deliberately attacked and suppressed the teachings of the Classical world, ushering in centuries of unquestioning adherence to 'one true faith'. Despite the long-held notion that the early Christians were meek and mild, going to their martyr's deaths singing hymns of love and praise, the truth, as Cat The Darkening Age is the largely unknown story of how a militant religion deliberately attacked and suppressed the teachings of the Classical world, ushering in centuries of unquestioning adherence to 'one true faith'. Despite the long-held notion that the early Christians were meek and mild, going to their martyr's deaths singing hymns of love and praise, the truth, as Catherine Nixey reveals, is very different. Far from being meek and mild, they were violent, ruthless and fundamentally intolerant. Unlike the polytheistic world, in which the addition of one new religion made no fundamental difference to the old ones, this new ideology stated not only that it was the way, the truth and the light but that, by extension, every single other way was wrong and had to be destroyed. From the 1st century to the 6th, those who didn't fall into step with its beliefs were pursued in every possible way: social, legal, financial and physical. Their altars were upturned and their temples demolished, their statues hacked to pieces and their priests killed. It was an annihilation. Authoritative, vividly written and utterly compelling, this is a remarkable debut from a brilliant young historian.

30 review for The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Hypocrisy in Action In my email today I received an invitation from a group called Developing a Christian Mind [DCM] to one of their programmes in Oxford entitled Seeking Wisdom. I am assured that essential issues relating to the “Humanities, Medical Sciences, Natural Sciences, Philosophy and Theology, and Social Sciences” will be addressed over a two day weekend by well-known academics. I will be informed, specifically, “How postgraduates, postdocs, and academics at the University of Oxford can Hypocrisy in Action In my email today I received an invitation from a group called Developing a Christian Mind [DCM] to one of their programmes in Oxford entitled Seeking Wisdom. I am assured that essential issues relating to the “Humanities, Medical Sciences, Natural Sciences, Philosophy and Theology, and Social Sciences” will be addressed over a two day weekend by well-known academics. I will be informed, specifically, “How postgraduates, postdocs, and academics at the University of Oxford can approach their academic disciplines as Christians and what it means to respond to a Christian vocation and to honour God in university life?” Such an invitation is not unusual. Oxford is a superficially religious place. Every college has its own chapel in which services, typically sung in English plain chant, are held several times a week if not daily. Every Christian, Jewish and Islamic denomination has their own ‘outreach’ to the ever-stressed student population and offers some sort of comfort that another kind of life which is neither meritocratic nor economically constrained is possible if not imminent. Most students aren’t bothered with this spiritual marketing and consider the vaguely medieval spirituality of the place as a sort of background aesthetic radiation left over from the thirteenth century. It goes with the architecture. But some respond positively, even enthusiastically, to the aesthetic and ‘find themselves’, at least temporarily, in a personal religious awakening. These are the students, I imagine, who sign up for things like Developing a Christian Mind. But what is it, I ask myself, do they think constitutes a Christian Mind? Or I suppose the question should be what do the organizers think constitutes a Christian Mind. The programme brochure provides some clues. In the Humanities ‘stream’ a Christian Mind is apparently formed through discussion of musicology and the reading of “inspirational poetry”. In the Medical Sciences, Christian wisdom is to be found in those parts of the gospels which advocate “personalized, precision medicine”(!). There is little to say, on the other hand, about Christianity and the Natural Sciences except for a short session on evolution. It is in the Social Sciences that the organizers believe that Christianity has most to impart to their audience. Christian ethics, of course, rates top billing, followed by discussions about treating others respectfully even when they disagree. All seemingly innocuous stuff. So it is clear that the academics who are orchestrating and presenting the programme have a view on what kind of Christianity they are talking about. I would classify this as one of a rather moderate, soft, and inviting Anglicanism, an undogmatic Christianity of good fellowship and courteous discussion. The real purpose of the weekend, it appears to me, is to keep the students connected to the Anglican substrate of English society by implying that whatever it is they are studying is not incompatible with Christian belief. Hardly a fundamentalist hard sell therefore. But is it honest? Certainly not according to Catherine Nixey’s account of the Christianity of the late classical period which did its utmost to destroy all traces of scientific and artistic accomplishment resulting from Greek and Roman civilization. And Nixey is somewhat sympathetic to the Christian position. Her narrative history hardly mentions the thesis of Edward Gibbon that Christian belief itself was the source of terminal decline of the classical world. She concentrates only on the systematic, savage, and unrelenting war that Christian activists waged on civil and intellectual society from the second through the sixth century. This war was lead by fanatics who are functionally indistinguishable from today’s ISIS and Taliban. Augustine of Hippo, for example, the most prominent Latin churchman and theologian of his day, was unequivocal in his insistence that any resistance to forcible conversion to Christianity justified torture and even death. John Chrysostom, Augustine’s counterpart in the Eastern Christian Church, was equally radical in his denunciation of all non-Christians, particularly Jews, as less than human and subject to any penalties which could be devised by the state to force their submission, or face the ultimate punishment. The Christianisation of the Roman state had a marked anti-intellectual component. Classical scientific as well as literary texts were destroyed systematically as a matter of policy from the fourth century onwards. The great library of Alexandria with its 700,000 volumes was destroyed by a Christian mob under the direction of the local bishop. The Athenian Academy, founded by Socrates, was progressively persecuted and finally banned by the emperor at the urging of zealous Christians. Thought itself was subject to the approval of ecclesiastical authorities like the biblicist Jerome who considered any disagreement with his own exegetical opinion as heresy, punishable in the usual way - by death. Nixey tries to soften the blow of originary Christian anti-intellectualism by alluding to the perennial myth of the ‘saving’ of Western civilization within Christian monasteries during the disintegration of the empire and the so-called dark ages. Perhaps, but it is clear that any such salvation was largely incidental and accidental. Christianity destroyed far more than it preserved in its willful ascendancy to power. Christianity was the first religion to claim to know the entire truth of existence (it still does) and to insist that its truth is superior not just to the truth as perceived by others, but also superior to human life itself. The fact that a very significant strain of Christianity continues to resist the results of intellectual activity - in evolutionary research, in sexual development, in human rights - around the world is not an aberration but a norm. Even here in Oxford, until recently, the hold of the Anglican Church on the curriculum of study and the mores of the intellectual life has been largely stifling. This is not to say that religiously minded folk in Oxford or elsewhere cannot have academic integrity. But it does signal for me that the proselytizers like those of DCM are at least practicing a conscious deceit in pretending they know what they mean by a Christian Mind, and that, whatever a Christian Mind is, it has some sort of material or spiritual superiority over the minds the rest of us might possess. As far as the historical merit of Nixey’s narrative goes, I can only cite the perennial Oxford maxim: rely on the original texts. Nixey writes well but not necessarily with good professional judgment. Many of the historical characters she uses are of marginal importance and, despite the sub-title, Nixey doesn’t seem to quite know where she stands on the matter of Christian culpability. The book gives more than a hint that it was written in fits and starts by a part time author who loves her subject but can’t yet make a living out of it. Nonetheless, the DCM people would certainly benefit from a read if only to dampen their ardour for the arrogant fantasies they have concocted about the composition of the Christian Mind. Postscript: Shortly after finishing the above review I received yet another invitation, this from my own Blackfriars Hall in conjunction with its American counterpart in Washington DC to attend a conference on Catholic Truth in the Contemporary World. So I now can look forward to some appropriate content for my Christian Mind. How exciting.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tim O'Neill

    Nixey's pop history purports to present some kind of new perspective on the transition from the pagan Roman world to the dominance of Christianity, but all we get is dusty old Edward Gibbon rehashed for the post-Dawkins/Hitchens age. In the hands of skilled historian this could have been an interesting book; one which explains a fascinating period and an interesting subject. A balanced and objective scholar could have made it clear that this transition was sometimes violent and that the Christia Nixey's pop history purports to present some kind of new perspective on the transition from the pagan Roman world to the dominance of Christianity, but all we get is dusty old Edward Gibbon rehashed for the post-Dawkins/Hitchens age. In the hands of skilled historian this could have been an interesting book; one which explains a fascinating period and an interesting subject. A balanced and objective scholar could have made it clear that this transition was sometimes violent and that the Christians were not the meek lambs of pious legend or Hollywood sword and sandal movies, while still maintaining objectivity and fairness to the evidence. But Nixey is a journalist, not a historian, and so what we get is blunt polemic, warped depictions of events, cherry-picked evidence and blatant distortions, all driven, it seems, by some clear biases. Nixey has a story to tell and she does not let things like nuance, debate, counter-arguments or even contrary evidence get in her way. She is artfully selective about what she tells her readers and very good at twisting even that to suit her polemical purpose. Her story has "good guys" (the pagans) and "bad guys" (the Christians), and she makes sure she picks the evidence that supports those blunt caricatures and leaves out anything that doesn't. So, in her telling, the great temple of Serapis was destroyed by a wicked mob of Christian fanatics. Though she completely neglects to mention the temple was the base for a gang of pagan terrorists, that they were kidnapping torturing and crucifying Christian victims there, that this had led to a siege involving imperial troops and that the emperor intervened, ruling the murderers could escape but that the temple had to be torn down. *That* changes the entire episode, but Nixey decided not to let her readers know about any of it. And her book is full of this kind of omission. She downplays the previous pagan persecutions of Christians to try to prop up her idea that the Romans were "tolerant". But to do this she has to resort to long rejected claims by Dodwell (from 1684!) and Gibbon (from 1776!) and then misstates a reference by W.H.C. Frend. She paints a picture of widespread destruction of temples and pagan shrines, but does not consult the latest archaeological surveys that, in fact, show that these events were extremely rare. She quotes Christian writers who condemned classical learning repeatedly and at length, but totally fails to note the other Christian authorities who pushed for Greek and Roman learning to be preserved and studied - a glaring omission, given that the latter *won the argument* about the value of these works. Over and over again, her thesis depends on selective presentation of evidence, evasion of counter-examples, dismissal of alternative views, misrepresentation of information or overstatement of an idea. As a result of all these shifty tactics, her book has won praise from people with little grasp of the period or the relevant source material, but is being condemned by historians who specialise in the field. Leading expert in Late Antiquity, Dame Averil Cameron, has called Nixey's book "a travesty". And it is. This is a terrible book. Read my full, detailed critique here: https://historyforatheists.com/2017/1...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    (Hypatia, circa 350–370 CE to 415 CE, Philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician of Alexandria) Knowing what I already knew about the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria and the torture and murder of the brilliant philosopher and mathematician Hypatia, I knew the early Christians weren't exactly kind to those who didn't believe as they did. I knew there was much they destroyed of the ancient world, much that is forever lost to history because they had no tolerance for those whose belie (Hypatia, circa 350–370 CE to 415 CE, Philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician of Alexandria) Knowing what I already knew about the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria and the torture and murder of the brilliant philosopher and mathematician Hypatia, I knew the early Christians weren't exactly kind to those who didn't believe as they did. I knew there was much they destroyed of the ancient world, much that is forever lost to history because they had no tolerance for those whose beliefs differed from there own. I did not, however, realise the extent to which they decimated the art, culture, and wisdom of the ancients. Catherine Nixey's The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World is an incredibly interesting and informative book. Contrary to what many Christians believe, or want to believe, their forbearers were not the martyrs they liked to see themselves as, but instead were usually the ones who bullied, tortured, and killed others. Ms. Nixey goes into detail about the supposed martyrdom of the early Christians, and there was indeed some intolerance for the Christians. However, it was not because of their Christian faith that they were killed, nor were they killed by the thousands in the first few centuries of Christianity, but the hundreds. They were killed not because they believed in the Christian God, but because they refused to do their civil duty and offer sacrifice to the Roman gods in order to have their blessings; the refusal on anyone's part was death because they were not being good and faithful citizens. The Romans bent over backward to accommodate Christian beliefs, pleading with them repeatedly to do the bare minimum, even just to touch the incense used, and they would not be put to death. The Christians refused, delighting in seeing themselves as martyrs and even appearing to have instigated the Romans into killing them so that they would received rewards in heaven. Just as the fundamentalist Muslims today believe, the early Christians (and some today too) thought that dying for their beliefs meant they would be richly rewarded in the afterlife, including getting those delectable virgins. How could anyone possibly resist such temptation! Virgins? Ooh-la-la, sign me up! Kill me, torture me, just give me those beautiful virgins to ravage! (Note, sarcasm in full swing here. Also note, these people obviously have no respect for women. We never hear about how those poor virgins feel about being given to some horny fool and forced to have sex with him for all eternity... or until he steals her virginity and then moves on to the next piece of virgin and unsullied ass.) Nero is often cited as an example of one under whom the Christians suffered horrible injustices for their beliefs. Yes, that dude was one sadistic bastard and did terrible things to them. However, it was not because of their beliefs that he had them tortured and murdered (I will not go into any details because it is truly horrific the things that man did). Instead, he used them as a scape goat, blaming them for the burning of Rome in order to deflect the blame from himself. And having lain the blame on them, he then needed to punish them. Nero was known to do such things as he did to the Christians to many others as well. Like I said, he was a sadistic bastard and he obviously enjoyed torturing people, no matter who they were. Christian historians tend to ignore those things, just as they have historically ignored what the Christians did to others. As Ms. Nixey says, "The Romans did not seek to wipe Christianity out. If they had, they would almost certainly have succeeded." . And: "There is clear evidence that, far from persecuting Christians, Roman officials actively supported some of the most prominent." . Looking at the stories of martyrdom as an outsider and not through the lens of Christianity, one sees the Romans in a very different light. Ms. Nixey's narrative begins in Egypt and then proceeds through other cities of the ancient world, detailing the atrocities done in each of these places. The early Christians left a trail of destruction everywhere they went. They pillaged, they tortured, they murdered. They believed any who did not share their beliefs were demonic and thus deserving of death. Indeed, they believed their god WANTED them to kill these people and destroy their cultures, "He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed." ~Exodus 22:20 I won't here detail the various places and things the Christians destroyed. There are far too many to list and if you are interested, I highly recommend this book. Suffice to say, there was much destruction. For instance, "In the third century, there had been twenty-eight public libraries in Rome and many private ones. By the end of the fourth they were, as the historian Ammianus Marcellinus observed with sorrow, “like tombs, permanently shut.” . The early Christians abhorred "pagan" knowledge just as they abhorred the gods and customs of their non-Christian fellow citizens. Certainly the early Christians preserved some classical literature, but far more was lost, as they either outright destroyed scrolls or scraped parchments of earlier works and copied over them with Christian teachings. It's estimated that less than 10% of classical literature has survived. Ms. Nixey's purpose in this book is not to attack modern Christians, but to set the record straight. Too much has been glossed over through the centuries as Christian writers and historians tried to paint a much different picture, pretending that the ancient world was dark and miserable and all welcomed the advent of Christianity. ” "Christianity told the generations that followed that their victory over the old world was celebrated by all, and the generations that followed believed it.” The people who were being tortured and killed and whose cultures were being decimated would surely beg to differ. It is time we learn the truth. (Portrait of Hypatia by Jules Maurice Gaspard. 1908)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    I notice many reviews of this book tend to the extremes either rating it very highly or very negatively, I feel by way of contrast that it is a very middle of the road kind of book, ok, but it pulls it's punches. The title effectively sums up the book, the author is a journalist and maybe that is the kind of neat trick that she has picked up from her professional practise. Putting words into her mouth, the story she tells is of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, she goes back as far as the I notice many reviews of this book tend to the extremes either rating it very highly or very negatively, I feel by way of contrast that it is a very middle of the road kind of book, ok, but it pulls it's punches. The title effectively sums up the book, the author is a journalist and maybe that is the kind of neat trick that she has picked up from her professional practise. Putting words into her mouth, the story she tells is of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, she goes back as far as the letters of Pliny the Younger but most of the book is concentrated around the fourth to the sixth centuries AD flicking forwards to the highly selective copying of manuscripts in medieval monasteries and the excavation of Pompeii from the eighteenth century onwards. Her thesis is that Christianisation was a through going and eventually totalitarian revolution which saw extensive destruction and official intolerance in the service of the creation of a new kind of human - the Christian, a being tormented by demons and indifferent (if not hostile) to all worldly and carnal pleasures, who would react violently to any and all perceived slights to their beliefs. This involved the destruction of temples, the burning, neglect or reuse of books, destruction of statues, and the persecution of people, at first non-Christians and eventually (although this is just mentioned in passing in the book) Christians who were considered to be heretics. I think in terms of its presentation it is a bit of a mess (and obviously it is lacking in nuance), there is a lot of skipping about and repetition (with variation) particularly striking for a book which claims to be a 'narrative' history which might possibly lead the reader to expect more of a story. In her introduction she mentions that her original idea had been to structure the book as a travelogue, but she abandoned that because of the ongoing war in Syria. In my opinion she would have been better sticking to the travelogue - not because I would have liked her to have risked her life, but because I imagine the combination of travel to Tunisia, Egypt, Pompeii, Rome, Athens and Istanbul and the stories she has in this book of Saint Augustine, rioting monks, suicidal casual agricultural labourers, the end of the Academy in Athens and the European impact of the uncovering of Pompeii would have made for a better book - and providing it with an organising principle that it currently lacks. On the plus side this is an ok book, it puts forward a vigorous and definite viewpoint, it does not require prior knowledge, and it has colourful stories about violent narrow minded Christians. On the downside she cites the opinions of scholars without reference in the text to when they were writing so you need to be familiar with the literature to know if she is taking issue with somebodies current opinion or tilting at the windmill of somebody long dead or a view that is generally outmoded. She relies on Christian exemplary literature - the deaths of martyrs and the deeds of the saints which is likely to over state the destructiveness and general smiting of the unrighteous, she relies on the guesses and estimates of how many people were Christian prior to Constantine's conversion and how much non-Christian literature was destroyed, a certain amount was presumably lost through neglect (by not being copied in turbulent times) and some works may never have existed in many copies in the first place and so were inherently always at risk. Still I was struck by her account of the violence done to statues - faces and genitals hacked off sometimes crosses carved on the foreheads better that things rather than people being destroyed but I wonder at the extent of the insecurity that drives such actions, it seems a bad sign to me when a person feels threatened by an inanimate object. For me she pulls her punches, the unasked question to my mind reading this book is are the monotheistic religions intrinsically intolerant and destructive, but then again that is a tautology.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Josephine (biblioseph)

    I love to read negative reviews of books I'm interested in. Sometimes they convince me I *must* read a book, more than any positive review probably will. However, after reading several theological negative reviews that didn't say "Christians weren't really this bad!" they were still written by theological historians or students of theology and history, I turned to finding one written by an atheist. I warn you, it's a long review, but Tim O'Neill has posted one on his blog: History for Atheists. I love to read negative reviews of books I'm interested in. Sometimes they convince me I *must* read a book, more than any positive review probably will. However, after reading several theological negative reviews that didn't say "Christians weren't really this bad!" they were still written by theological historians or students of theology and history, I turned to finding one written by an atheist. I warn you, it's a long review, but Tim O'Neill has posted one on his blog: History for Atheists. (I learned a thing or two from it, probably didn't absorb it all.) You can also see a shorter version of that review on amazon or here on goodreads. It's currently ranked top. Worth a gander if you are interested in this book. Here's a review by Josh Herring, "a humanities instructor at Thales Academy, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Hillsdale College, and a doctoral student in Faulkner University's Great Books program." Here's the review from The Guardian by Tim Whitmarsh, you'll have to scroll to the end of the review to see any criticism of the book. Oh. Wow. Emily Wilson, who recently translated The Odyssey, has also written a review which was published in New Statesman. Huh.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aurva Bhargava

    It is said that “ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS”. Hence the post-Roman era is typically called as the Dark ages, since it was the period when Christianity held absolute power, which resulted in widespread destruction and corruption of everything that it touched. However, what was it like when Christianity was struggling to acquire power ? What effect did it have during that time? These are the questions that Catherine Nixey’s new book titled “The Darkening Age” attempt to answer. And it sheds light on It is said that “ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS”. Hence the post-Roman era is typically called as the Dark ages, since it was the period when Christianity held absolute power, which resulted in widespread destruction and corruption of everything that it touched. However, what was it like when Christianity was struggling to acquire power ? What effect did it have during that time? These are the questions that Catherine Nixey’s new book titled “The Darkening Age” attempt to answer. And it sheds light on some of the facts hitherto brushed under the carpet by the historians who have told the story of the triumph of Christianity based on christian sources, and thus, presented the narrative of a decadent barbarian empire which was saved by Christianity. However, this was not the case. The tale of Christianity acquiring power over Rome is one that brought considerable amount of sorrow to the classical world. Hence, “The Darkening Age” is an apt metaphor for those times. Early on in the book, Nixey explores the motivation of the Christians to convert the Empire. She unravels the obsession of the early christian writers with demons and the trope of using demonization to justify revolting against the empire. The ideological resistance via Pagans such as Celsus, Galen, Porphyry is presented in an elaborate manner. The use of the Maryrdom trope to "needle" the romans as well as recruit more people into the Christian cult is discussed. Nixey quotes historians such as Keith Hopkins, Candida Moss who have critically analyzed the myth of martyrdom. Having described Constantine's rise to power and the subsequent empowerment of the church, Nixey devotes the remainder of the book documenting the destruction of the classical world that occurred with 200 years of the Christian rule. This includes the destruction of countless temples (eg: The temple of Serapis in Alexandria in 392CE), murder of intellectuals (eg: Hypatia of Alexandria in 415 CE), burning of books, vandalization of art, sculpture. Chapter 8 titled “How to destroy a demon” provides ample amount of evidences of iconoclasm and the methods adopted to achieve them. For example, there were laws which, in order to snub the pagans, declared that the portions of the destroyed temples were to be used to repair roads, bridges and aqueducts. The motivation for partial dis-figuration of statues seems to come from the Jewish tract Avodah Zarah as per which in order to properly mutilate a statue (to drive the demon out of them), one should be “cutting off the tip of the ear, or nose or finger, by battering it –even though bulk of it is not diminished — it is desecrated.” One cannot help but find similarities to the destruction of the temples in India at the hands of the Muslims, which resulted in the chipped noses and broken limbs of the statues therein. Thus, there seems to be a method in this iconoclasm madness which has been passed on as a heirloom from one Abrahamic religion to the next. The book also discusses how the literary style of the classical world was appropriated by the Christians such as Jerome and Augustine for the service of Christianity so that the Roman elite could be converted and, more importantly, retained within the fold of Christianity. The book ends with the tale of Damascius the aging philosopher, who is forced to flee Athens, and shut down the Academy due to the laws of Justinian passed in 529 CE which forbade "… the teaching of any doctrine by those who labor under the insanity of paganism so that they may not corrupt the souls of their disciples." thus highlighting another critical aspect of the Christian rule – the use of law to curb the Pagans way of life. My ancestors from Goa had experienced a taste of this during the Portuguese rule where such laws made it difficult for a Hindus to practice their religion thereby forcing them to either convert or flee. The book reveals, in an engaging manner that the Triumph of Christianity and the destruction of Paganism is not a happy tale. On the contrary, it is a very sad one. The surviving works from the classical age, the literature, the defaced sculptures act as mute witnesses to this sad story. The loss of the classical world cannot be described. This becomes evident in Chapter 11 where Nixey quotes E A Judge asking, “What difference did it make to Rome to have been converted?” and answers that though cannot know for certain, something did change. As a post-christian author she focuses on the profound change in our attitudes towards food and sex due to Christianity compared to that in the Roman times where these were aspects of Kama, to be indulged in without giving in to excess. However the Christian view of both of these was evil, and hence had to be shunned as much as possible. I agree with the Nixey that our attitudes towards these have drastically been impacted by Christianity. However, there are more important things which she could have spoken about in this chapter, but fails to. This silence perhaps answer eloquently what difference it made to Rome to have been converted. The interactions that the Romans had with the Divine, their Mythology, their Sacred arts, the ability to sacralize life, the ability to view science, arts, rituals within the common framework of things that can produce Vidya — these things aren’t even spoken about, or even considered worthy of lament. This outlook that the Romans had is not unlike the Hindu outlook, where a learned person was equally at home performing rituals to the Devas while indulging in highly abstract mathematical/computational work, and be able to describe these in through ornate poetic language. There was no fake distinction between Science, Art, Rituals that we see even in the post-christian world. Life was one unified whole where pursuit of the three Purusharthas was simultaneously sought for. While Renaissance was able to revive science & art, these were still garbed in the Christian clothing. Further, Renaissance wasn’t able to revive the Pagan religion, despite the fact that it indulged in the fruits of the Pagan religion. Thus, the inability to understand western culture on its own terms is biggest difference that conversion of Rome has resulted in. And due to the predatory nature of Christianity, aided by colonization & later on globalization, this attitude has spread all over the world. I would highly recommend this book, especially to Hindus who will see a glimpse of their own civilization in the classical Rome suffering at the hands of Christianity. The motives, methods & madness of the followers of this cult is similar to the other cults whose acts brought much suffering to our Hindu ancestors. The use of the legal framework to subjugate the Pagans, the deceptions, the subversion of their culture, art, science – these are things that a keen observer can identify happening in our country even to this date.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    6 stars. Heartbreaking, vivid, and wonderfully researched If you're wondering if this book is for you, check out Josephine's excellent roundup of critiques in her review. 6 stars. Heartbreaking, vivid, and wonderfully researched If you're wondering if this book is for you, check out Josephine's excellent roundup of critiques in her review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Bargas

    I almost didn’t read this book after reading all of the negative reviews: accusations of poor scholarship, personal biases, a vendetta against Christianity. She certainly has her opinions that she supports with quotes from her sources. I did my own fact checking, and didn’t find all of the distortions of which they accuse her. Rather than write my own review, I thought it would be apropos to present some more favorable reviews that others have presented to serve as a counterweight to all the nega I almost didn’t read this book after reading all of the negative reviews: accusations of poor scholarship, personal biases, a vendetta against Christianity. She certainly has her opinions that she supports with quotes from her sources. I did my own fact checking, and didn’t find all of the distortions of which they accuse her. Rather than write my own review, I thought it would be apropos to present some more favorable reviews that others have presented to serve as a counterweight to all the negative reviews: https://vridar.org/2017/10/23/christi... https://amp.theguardian.com/books/201... The following is not a full review, but a positive comment by Matt Ridley http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Galina Krasskova

    It is so good to read a scholarly book that presents the monotheistic destruction of the classical world accurately: as religious and cultural genocide (though she's not quite so blunt). This is an excellent book challenging all too often unquestioned ideas of christianity in general and monotheism in particular as "inevitable" and most especially as "progress." I highly recommend it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    Yes, I would like to go back in time and wreak destruction on the barbaric Christians who gloated in the destruction of the Temple of Artemis and send lightning bolts to strike them down! Temple-destroyers! Murderers of Hypatia! Book-burners! In the wake of such senseless destruction, no real ‘triumph’ is possible. I’m afraid that Christianity spread the same way as the other monotheistic religions following it—through force and coercion. Nevertheless, it is the Greeks who will have the last laug Yes, I would like to go back in time and wreak destruction on the barbaric Christians who gloated in the destruction of the Temple of Artemis and send lightning bolts to strike them down! Temple-destroyers! Murderers of Hypatia! Book-burners! In the wake of such senseless destruction, no real ‘triumph’ is possible. I’m afraid that Christianity spread the same way as the other monotheistic religions following it—through force and coercion. Nevertheless, it is the Greeks who will have the last laugh: some of the only writers of merit from the Christian world were the neo-Platonists, themselves more indebted to Plato than to the Bible. And, as for the rest, who in their right mind would prefer the querulous St. Augustine to Plato, to Aristotle, to the pre-Socratics? Who would prefer the dull St. Anselm to Homer? I’m afraid that Milton and Dante were mere exceptions to the rule. Poor Symmachus—so-called pagan—whose pluralistic viewpoint was uprooted by a new cult: “We request peace for the gods of our forefathers. Whatever each person worships, it is reasonable to think of them as one. We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?” Farewell to the learning of the pagan world, farewell to the classical ‘idolatrous’ art, to the pagan philosophy of the Greeks; instead, we were forced to endure the fractious whines of St. Augustine, and the coming age of darkness and superstition. . . One day I would like to rebuild the Temple of Artemis. The destruction wreaked by the early Christians needs to be immortalized—not pushed to the sidelines of history and supplanted by grossly exaggerated stories of Christian martyrdom. “It has been estimated that less than 10% of all classical literature has survived into the modern era. For Latin, the figure is even worse: it is estimated the only 1/100 of all Latin literature remains. If this was ‘preservation’—as it is often claimed to be—then it was astonishingly incompetent. If it was censorship, it was brilliantly effective. The ebullient, argumentative classical world was, quite literally, being erased.” Truly, the so-called progress of history is a farce—there is no progress, just recurrent iterations of the same foolishness, again and again and again

  11. 4 out of 5

    Geevee

    A lively and highly accessible book that challenges the view that Christian society was a benign, accepting and accepted religion during its first few centuries. Temples, statuary, books and other art was destroyed, vandalised, hidden and in many cases crudely "Christianised" by defacement. On the face of it, this isn't a surprise as it's a simple human trait seen throughout our history that the "good and right" will erase or change the "bad and wrong" to suit the narrative needed to "progress" a A lively and highly accessible book that challenges the view that Christian society was a benign, accepting and accepted religion during its first few centuries. Temples, statuary, books and other art was destroyed, vandalised, hidden and in many cases crudely "Christianised" by defacement. On the face of it, this isn't a surprise as it's a simple human trait seen throughout our history that the "good and right" will erase or change the "bad and wrong" to suit the narrative needed to "progress" and keep aims and populations in line. What however becomes clear in this well-written book is the means, methods and indeed sheer damage done by a religion that tells others it is (or rather was at the time this book covers) the accepting and forgiving religion. There are countless examples in the early Christian period in Greece and Rome as well as later with Crusades, Inquisitions, civil (and therefore often religious) wars across Europe and the middle East, but what the author does so well is to peel away the impact on the treasures, arts and also the people of ancient Greece and Rome (and wider) where Christianity took hold and flourished - after reading this book one might say it strangled and covered these ancient pagan societies like a creeping ivy or dense grass. In the pages we read of edicts, laws and commandments - many more than 10 if you're anywhere near Shenoute, who frankly we learn is a very bad, unforgiving and murderous man - as well as demons, temptation and enemies of God. In brief alongside love of God these are all used as ways to theologise and physically create the belief in God and His power as well as the overarching righteousness and legal waiver to kill and destroy God's enemies and those who were unbelievers. Elsewhere in the book we meet Pliny, Cicero, Ovid, Hypatia and more. These are quoted or used to highlight aspects of the story, the beliefs and writings they had as well as the loss of their works or writings because of Christian anger and destruction. The book is not a comprehensive history; the author states this and also provides much in sources and in further reading for the interested reader or new student of this era and area. It does however show the considerable and large scale destruction and why this was wrought. It is also a hugely enjoyable book to read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Devoured this book in a few days. A wonderful antidote to the 'persecuted church' narrative so prevalent in today's society.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    I'm conflicted after reading The Darkening Age, having subsequently fallen down an online rabbit hole of critical reviews, particularly this one by Tim O'Neill for his blog History for Atheists. Catherine Nixey is an excellent writer, and her prose is a delight to read. She has set out to detail the Christian destruction of classical art and thought from the institutionalized Christianity of Constantine through the early 6th century. The question is whether that destructive force is overstated a I'm conflicted after reading The Darkening Age, having subsequently fallen down an online rabbit hole of critical reviews, particularly this one by Tim O'Neill for his blog History for Atheists. Catherine Nixey is an excellent writer, and her prose is a delight to read. She has set out to detail the Christian destruction of classical art and thought from the institutionalized Christianity of Constantine through the early 6th century. The question is whether that destructive force is overstated and whether the book misrepresents key historical facts. To the first question, Nixey offers this reasonable caveat in the opening pages: This is a book about the Christian destruction of the classical world. The Christian assault was not the only one – fire, flood, invasion and time itself all played their part – but this book focuses on Christianity's assault in particular. This is not to say that the Church didn't also preserve things: it did. But the story of Christianity's good works in this period has been told again and again …. The history and the sufferings of those whom Christianity defeated have not been. This book concentrates on them. Nothing wrong with having a focus, right? It's a focus that plays to my biases, however, so I have to be a bit on guard. As I read the book, I kept in mind that these acts of murder, vandalism and censorship were not practiced by all Christians and were not committed all at once, yet small acts (especially such indelible ones) can accumulate to shape history. The Christian desire to destroy "pagan" (an imprecise and almost meaningless word on Christian tongues) art and thought certainly exists, and has a long history. God reserves one of his ten commandments for the [we assume important] purpose of forbidding graven images. Deuteronomy 12:3 exemplifies a common directive: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. In my particular Christian upbringing, we were regularly taught about how important it still is to destroy idols; however, graven images are pretty hard to come by in California, so these were transmuted into metaphorical idols such as money, food or sex. As I read Nixey's descriptions of monks tearing down or defacing "pagan" statuary, I could easily imagine many of my Christian teachers proudly leading similar endeavors, had the opportunity presented itself. Nixey covers a lot of ground, but I'll summarize some of the major themes: - The belief in demons was real, and many believed that the statues of "pagan" gods contained actual demons that could be neutralized by chipping off extremities like hands or noses, inscribing crosses on their foreheads, and/or toppling the entire structure. - Early Christian fathers wrote against Greek and Roman philosophers, and often those refutations are the only reason we the heretical views. The Christians would, however, incorporate teachings that were useful or could be easily converted to Christian themes. They lacked a sense of humor and poetry. They also regularly discouraged intellectual development and pursuit. - Non-Christian literary works were regularly destroyed or written over, or simply not copied - ensuring a limited shelf life. - Sexually explicit works were equally targeted for censorship and destruction. - The number of Christian martyrs has been greatly exaggerated and fictionalized, there was a culture of martyrdom-as-desirable, and Christians were equally (if not more) prolific persecutors when the seat of power became theirs. - Some Christians formed roaming bands that prided themselves on tearing down statues and destroying temples. - A new class of ascetic monks, without the structure we associate with later orders like the Franciscans or Benedictines, were particularly violent and fanatical. - The ancient schools of philosophy and "pagan" practices were systematically driven into obscurity and then outlawed altogether. - The destruction of the Temple of Serapis at Alexandria was a particularly egregious example of Christian aggression, as was the murder of Hypatia (these are two historical points Tim O'Neill particularly takes to task, along with the demise of the Library of Alexandria, which I was very surprised to learn I had been poorly informed on). Certainly many of these factors are real and have played a role in the destruction of a lamentable amount of art, architecture and literature. The question becomes one of degree, and critics like O'Neill argue that Nixey has exaggerated the destructive role of Christianity, ignored mitigating factors and similar actions on the part of the "pagans", and outright misrepresented certain events from outdated or unreliable sources. I'm out of my depth to judge the specifics, but it sounds like they have the facts on their side when offering these correctives. I think an important takeaway is that reality is complex and multifaceted, without any easy conclusions or clear villains and heroes, and Nixey was shooting for a streamlined work that smoothed over details to create a clear narrative. So... it's a very readable and interesting volume with lots of fascinating information, but I'd recommend reading the critical review(s) first to keep your skepticism engaged.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Wineberg

    "With our faith, we desire no further belief" Before Christianity, no one identified by their religion, says Catherine Nixey. It was not their defining characteristic. Christians imposed their beliefs on everyone else, and required everyone to identify as Christian. That is the essence of The Darkening Age. It shows how the free-for-all that was life in the Roman Empire became the dour, sullen austerity of Christendom. The Roman Empire was about living life to the fullest. Sex was celebrated (Marc "With our faith, we desire no further belief" Before Christianity, no one identified by their religion, says Catherine Nixey. It was not their defining characteristic. Christians imposed their beliefs on everyone else, and required everyone to identify as Christian. That is the essence of The Darkening Age. It shows how the free-for-all that was life in the Roman Empire became the dour, sullen austerity of Christendom. The Roman Empire was about living life to the fullest. Sex was celebrated (March 17 was a national festival celebrating young men’s first ejaculations), the bathhouses were for both sexes, sex acts provided artwork on walls, floors and objects in homes. Shame was not in the culture. Fine food and wine were exalted. Every religion from the vast expanse of the Empire was tolerated. The attitude was: Believe what you will, I’m having a drink. It was actually very Christian of them. Nixey’s argument is that right from the beginning, Christianity favored martyrs over do-gooders to promote itself. Stories became epics, the ordinary became tragic and blood became holy, as Christianity’s fame and (forced) attraction spread. Christians were all about suicide and martyrdom, because eternal life after death was the promise and the goal. Christianity’s intolerance also began early on, denigrating any other form of worship, and once in power, punishing it by death to adherents. Homosexuality and lesbianism were banned, slavery was upheld, and death sentences became routine. It all began with Constantine’s conversion in 312. He exempted the church from taxes, paid bishops five times the rate for professors, and set about converting his entire Roman Empire. To do this, he literally demonized all other religions, claiming all of them were really demons among the good people of the empire. By 386 it was a capital crime to even criticize Christianity. Up to that point, Christianity had been considered an eastern cult with absurd myths at its center. The Darkening Age follows the collapse of civilization (the Roman Empire) from the time of Jesus to about 500 AD. In that time, the Romans went from tolerating Christians and their fierce sect (Pliny called it a “degenerate sort of cult”), to being taken over by it. The empire went from multi-faith to one single faith, as Christians, far from loving their neighbors, destroyed all vestiges of previous civilization, including the largest repository of knowledge and history – the library at Alexandria – and forced their religion on one and all, or face execution. They implemented spying by neighbors, required bishops to monitor each other for their faith, and instituted gruesome torture and murder for anyone suspected of lack of enthusiasm for Christianity. Throughout the book there is a heartbreaking refugee, a philosopher named Damascius. He fled Alexandria because philosophy was destroyed by Christianity. He made it to Athens, where he resurrected the Academy of ancient Greece, and it thrived once again -until the Christians took over. He fled again, this time to Persia, which was so vulgar and ignorant, he and his last seven philosophers fled back to the Roman Empire, where they faded from history. Christians were proud of their ignorance and despised learning. They dragged the most honored mathematician in the world to a temple, stripped her and flayed her skin off with pottery shards. They managed to burn books to the point where entire centuries show no evidence of non-religious writing at all. Monks scraped parchments clean and made copies of the bible on them instead. Statues were defaced, temples destroyed and the stones used to make churches. Nixey’s research says 90% of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts were mutilated or destroyed by Christians. They hammered nipples, carved crosses in foreheads, and smashed limbs. Essentially, any and every evidence of past learning or religion was removed from the Roman Empire as 60 million were cowed into allowing it to go on. Reading The Darkening Age is very familiar. It is exactly what Islam is going through today. Killing apostates, blowing up statuary, destroying museums, demonizing sex and regulating every movement of every resident. The fierceness and intolerance of the Islamic fundamentalists has all been seen before. Only the numbers are different, as 21st century man counts in the billions, and the entire world is Islam’s target. There are many lessons in The Darkening Age, but mostly it is a fiendishly uncomfortable and gripping read. David Wineberg

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andy Lake

    First off, I enjoyed The Darkening Age. It’s very well written and carries you along all the way through. And it redresses as it were a historical injustice, or at the very least a negligent oversight – and that is the coercive and persecuting side of Christianity in the first centuries after it became the religion of the Roman empire. But – this is polemical history rather than objective history. Catherine Nixey picks up on an old theme of the greatness and glory of classical antiquity and how i First off, I enjoyed The Darkening Age. It’s very well written and carries you along all the way through. And it redresses as it were a historical injustice, or at the very least a negligent oversight – and that is the coercive and persecuting side of Christianity in the first centuries after it became the religion of the Roman empire. But – this is polemical history rather than objective history. Catherine Nixey picks up on an old theme of the greatness and glory of classical antiquity and how it is eclipsed by the deadening impact of an austere Christianity - “Vicisti, Galilaee - Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath/ We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death…” as the Victorian poet Swinburne put it in his “Hymn to Proserpine.” And that wistful romanticisation of the glory that was Rome, and the Graeco-Roman tradition, infuses the whole work, tinged with not a little bitterness. Even in the title there’s a nod to the discredited historical myth of the glory of Rome giving way to the “Dark-Ages” and eventually some glory restored with the revival of antiquity and ancient knowledge in the Renaissance (etc) So how does the book lose its way? First, it is highly selective in its sources. For me, having studied this period and the growth of Christianity, it seems strange to see thinkers such as Origen and Augustine cherry-picked to find the lines that support narrow-minded thinking and oppression, when these are not characteristic of their thought as a whole. And that selectivity is evident in contrasting the deep intellectualism of the most eminent of pagan philosophers with most boorish and thuggish manifestations of Christianity (and they are indeed truly boorish and thuggish). It would have been quite possible to write a book the other way round, up to a point. And the author’s focus is almost entirely on an intellectual elite amongst pagans, rather than the masses and their response. I think also a modern outlook directs the author’s judgemental view of the period. She regards the statues that were desecrated and the temples that were pulled down as priceless antiquities and historic monuments. At the time, of course, they mostly were not. They were living centres of rival cults in competition with Christianity. I have no sympathy with the destruction and murder involved, but that’s how it was. So the events could be treated with more objectivity, or a more rounded creative involvement that sees both sides. After all, the Romans were hardly averse to looting, burning and torture, or building their shrines on top of the shrines of others – as all ancient cultures tended to do. Rome, like Greece before it – did not hang back when it came to cultural imperialism. But there is something important that doesn’t get a mention at all. The story told is of Christianity in the space of less than three centuries erasing the old pagan culture. But Christianity, like Judaism before it, was highly syncretistic. The Catholic and Byzantine Christianity that emerged were infused with Graeco-Roman culture and political organisation. Church architecture, iconography and the statues of saints owe much to the former pagan cults, and the organisation of the church owes much to the secular structures of power in Rome. Christian philosophy and theology to a large extent has foundations borrowed from Greek and Roman pagan intellectuals. BTW, the impact of eastern religious thought on Hellenistic and Roman thought (including Christian thought) in this period is almost absent from the book. If you go to Diocletian’s Palace in Split, you can see the old imagery on the walls where a temple was turned into a baptistry. Christians just took it over, and left the reliefs intact. The old myths and legends survived in the popular imagination and in literature, right through to Shakespeare and into the 20th century even. It’s only the most recent generations that has abandoned them, in favour of online entertainment and Hollywood, perhaps. But even in the latter, the old tales of Greece and Rome emerge in new guise. So – I’ve given the book 4 stars. It does what it aims to do very well. There are indeed historic misperceptions to correct, and that is the target of the polemic. And in an age where fundamentalism is growing and religious (and other) ideologues seek to erase contrary viewpoints, it is a timely reminder of the intolerance of Christianity from the moment when it gained the power to persecute rather than be persecuted. (And we can wind that forward through crusades against heretics, the Inquisitions and religious wars, rolling on through the centuries.) It would have been a better book, though, with a little more balance and some nuance about the interplay and cultural appropriation between the competing religions and worldviews.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stela

    I don’t know whether the beautiful province of Quebec, which has been my home for about fifteen years, now, has got the most places with saints’ names in North America, but it is sure you will see them on almost any plate on the road. Yet, Québec is also one of the less religious places I know of, despite (or because of) the fact that, until just some fifty years ago, the Catholic Church was maybe the most powerful instance in the country. And if you ask the Quebecers about that period, their sm I don’t know whether the beautiful province of Quebec, which has been my home for about fifteen years, now, has got the most places with saints’ names in North America, but it is sure you will see them on almost any plate on the road. Yet, Québec is also one of the less religious places I know of, despite (or because of) the fact that, until just some fifty years ago, the Catholic Church was maybe the most powerful instance in the country. And if you ask the Quebecers about that period, their smile fade and they reluctantly acknowledge some of the rules they had to obey were positively medieval. Was it this constraint they experienced that have made them so adamant that religion have not part in their lives anymore? Probably, and I would like to believe they closed, thus, the long period of abuse and persecutions Christianity is guilty of, but I know it is only wishful thinking. At the end of the day, this is a period that few have dared to denounce, and at their own risk, from Celsus in the second century, who was the first Greek intellectual to contest the new religion and whose work was afterwards destroyed (and whom we know only because Origen, a Christian apologist, wrote Contra Celsum, in which he polemically quoted from his On the True Doctrine some 80 years later) to the eighteenth-century English historian Edward Gibbon who, in his Decline and Fall, will blame the Christians’ indolence and disregard for the public welfare for the fall of the Roman Empire, and who will see his study banned by The Catholic Church and himself becoming a pariah in the English society. Not even the twenty-first-century Catherine Nixey will escape totally unscathed after publishing her brilliant and disturbing book, The Darkening Age. The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, being accused for example by Richard Tada in his article “The Myth That Christians Destroyed the Classical World Dies Hard” of uneven research, shoddy work and confusion of some religious notions, although he knows very well that she is not only a Classic teacher but also the daughter of a former monk and nun. Moreover, an otherwise very appreciatively review, like the one published by Tim Whitmarsh in The Guardian (and which considers the book an “exceptional account of murder and vandalism wrought by religious zealotry – and one that suggests modern parallels”) can’t help but reproach the author that she is biased in her perception of a benign and rational antiquity in opposition to a barbaric Christianity, when the Romans’ cruelty is well documented. For my part though, The Darkening Age has only reinforced my conviction that the distance between Church and God is even greater than between any atheist and God and that faith is a personal choice, never to be institutionalised, to be given the power to oppress. In fact, this is the theme of the book the author formulates, after emphasizing that everybody has talked about the things the Church preserved, but few about what it destroyed: to remind the modern world about an entire civilisation that had been lost, with its art and culture wiped out and its people reluctantly converted, deprived of their freedom and their past. No wonder the book opens and closes with the powerful image of the wisdom trampled down by the Christian feet during their triumphal march against paganism. The decapitated head of Athena in Palmyra marks its beginning and her torso used as a step in the former house of the last philosophers in Athena its completion. In between, the sorrow tale of two centuries (the 4th and the 5th) when the Christian Church “demolished, vandalized and melted down a simply staggering quantity of art”, burnt the last remnants of the library of Alexandria, hid under palimpsests precious manuscripts (Augustine wrote the Psalms over the last copy of Cicero’s De republica, an Old Testament covered a Seneca’s biographical work), eradicated the entire work of Democritus, almost the entire Latin literature, and so on. The bleak image the author offers is in open contradiction with the traditional narrative in which the Christians conquered a weakened and abusive empire, whose population was ready for a saviour. In fact, the slaves remained slaves (a priest who encouraged them to quit their masters was immediately excommunicated and there is even a saint, St. Theodore, whose speciality was hunting fugitive slaves), and the taxation remained as punitive as before, only the fonds were used now to support the Church (for example to pay the bishops five times as much as professors, and six times as much as doctors). Barely did the Christians come to power when the offensive began: first against the traditional Gods that had become suddenly demonic, by smashing them down, and closing, robbing and destroying their temples; then against the “pagan” science, philosophy, literature, by burning the books and the objects of art and by forbidding their teaching; finally against the freedom of spirit, by forcing conversion and forbidding any other manifestation of faith. Isn’t this a familiar pattern to be repeated all along the following centuries: conquer, destroy, erase, convert? How many other civilisations would be made to feel like Palladas, who’d asked in a sad epigram: ‘Is it not true that we are dead and only seem to live, we Greeks... Or are we alive and is life dead?’ There are two stories in the study, magnificently told, that show unequivocally the material and spiritual devastation Christianity inflicted: the destruction of the temple of Serapis (considered at its time more beautiful than the Parthenon) and the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria, one of the most famous figures of the 5th century: a brilliant philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, tortured and killed in 415 by a mob of Christians: As soon as she stood on the street, the parabalani, under the guidance of a Church magistrate called Peter – ‘a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ’ – surged round and seized ‘the pagan woman’. They then dragged Alexandria’s greatest living mathematician through the streets to a church. Once inside, they ripped the clothes from her body then, using broken pieces of pottery as blades, flayed her skin from her flesh. Some say that, while she still gasped for breath, they gouged out her eyes. Once she was dead, they tore her body into pieces and threw what was left of the ‘luminous child of reason’ onto a pyre and burned her. Furthermore, the Christian Church was not built only on the ruins of the old world, but also on exaggerations and lies, maybe to prove that not only idols have feet of clay, but also martyrs and saints. It is arguable today that the number of martyrs was as great as we have been led to believe, since in the first three centuries there were fewer than thirteen persecutions, and in the first 250 years AD we know only about Nero’s, who “persecuted everyone”, anyway. Origen himself admitted that the number of martyrs was small, despite the proliferation of stories about them. It is now thought that fewer than ten martyrdom tales from the early Church can be considered reliable. The martyr stories, inspiring and entertaining though they may be, show what the scholar G. E. M. De Ste. Croix called ‘an increasing contempt for historicity’. As for the saints (whom I’m familiar with mainly because of, as I’ve already told you, the name plates I see everywhere in Québec 😊), at a closer look most of them are fanatical, therefore cruel and abusive. St. Chrysostom encouraged Christians to denounce each other and his Discourses Against Judaizing Christians will be quoted with enthusiasm by the Nazi. The emperor Constantine, who boiled his wife in a bath because he suspected her of adultery with his son (whom he also killed), was seen by his contemporaries as a vicious, evil man. There is even a saint, Benedict of Nursia, who gained this distinction not either because he founded the Western monasticism, and because he destroyed many antiquities. Another one, Shenoute, pretended that those ‘who had Christ’ could do anything unpunished, and he went and destroyed a private home in His name. The great St Augustine himself approved without reservations both the forced conversions and the destructions for they were commanded by God. When the temple of Caelestis was levelled in Carthage, he exulted: ‘No craftsman will ever again make the idols that Christ has smashed (…). ‘Consider what power this Caelestis used to enjoy here at Carthage. But where is the kingdom of this Caelestis now?’ (Expositions on the Psalms) The final blow was Justinian’s Law 1.11.10.2, forbidding the teaching of any pagan doctrine. It was this law that caused the Academy to close. It was this law that led the English scholar Edward Gibbon to declare that the entirety of the barbarian invasions had been less damaging to Athenian philosophy than Christianity was. This law’s consequences were described more simply by later historians. It was from this moment, they said, that a Dark Age began to descend upon Europe. I will end my review with a story I didn't know before reading the book, a story at the same time amusing and sad, which shows once again the abyss between a disinhibited, gay, open-minded culture and a sombre, pedantic, over moralistic one: the story of the first line of the Catullus’s ‘Carmen 16’ poem, ‘Pedicabo et irrumabo’. True to Basil’s stern recommendations that such words endanger the safety of the soul, editor after editor (the same will happen with some explicit poems by Martial) avoided to publish or to translate it until the end of the 20th century. It was left out of the 1904 Cambridge University Press edition of his Collected Poems and in the 1966 Penguin edition was kept in Latin. Only in 1983, Richlin will translate it correctly, though “though such was the richness of Latin sexual slang that five English words were needed for that single Latin verb irrumabo”: ‘I will bugger you and I will fuck your mouths’. The censorship has been in place for almost two millennia and there is no definite sign it will completely stop rearing its ugly head anytime soon.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Al Bità

    The beginning of the 4th century CE was a crucial and highly significant time for what was to become known as Christendom: the new Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 CE, having set up his “new Rome” in Byzantium (to the increasing annoyance and chagrin of the Bishop of Rome!), and declared that henceforth Christianity would be the sole religion of the Roman Empire (albeit in a form (probably Arianism) that would soon be declared heretical). Constantine set up the first maj The beginning of the 4th century CE was a crucial and highly significant time for what was to become known as Christendom: the new Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 CE, having set up his “new Rome” in Byzantium (to the increasing annoyance and chagrin of the Bishop of Rome!), and declared that henceforth Christianity would be the sole religion of the Roman Empire (albeit in a form (probably Arianism) that would soon be declared heretical). Constantine set up the first major church council (the Council of Nicaea) in 325 CE. The fact that this Council was convened by the Emperor is also significant, establishing that the Church was subject to the Emperor. (The theological arguments and disputations of the time were so conflicting and rancorous that Constantine insisted that they use the Council to get their act together, or else…) The result was the first draft of the Nicene Creed (refined later) and while this did not stop the haggling by theologians (I doubt whether there has ever been total consensus between them ever since!) the Church was established on firm foundations. [The subservience of the Church to the State was a reality for hundreds of years — the first eight Church Councils were all convened by the reigning Emperor at the time. The first Council that was actually convened by the Roman Pope was the First Lateran Council in 1223 CE — 898 years after Nicaea.] Nixey’s book basically covers the 220-year period between the Council of Nicaea (325 CE) to the closing of the Platonic Academy in 532 CE, which Christians lauded as being the final triumphal victory over the “pagans” and paganism (and intellectuals decry as the beginning of the thousand-year Dark Age for Europe). From this time on, the only light Reason was required to provide was to bolster up the mono-theistic mindset of the State Religion. [Ironically, the rejection, and ejection from Europe, of the great scientific and philosophical wisdom of the past, were to make a triumphal come-back, thanks to the Arabs, during the 15th-century Italian Renaissance. This, together with the then recent technological accomplishments especially of the printing press and its power to communicate all things directly to individuals, resulted in the blazing forth of knowledge and enterprise throughout Europe in the 17th-18th centuries which we call The European Enlightenment.] Wisely, Nixey does not get sidetracked by the internal theological battles of this time of the birth of Christianity as we know it — they are far too complex, and in many cases still “unresolved” to be dealt with here. Instead the author concentrates on the way the new universal (catholic) religion dealt with those it perceived to be its immediate and external enemies: the “pagans” and paganism. I would argue that the core of Christianity is its emphasis on love and peace: the principles of the Sermon on the Mount; love one another; love your neighbour; love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; and never cease in forgiving people their transgressions. One would think that, with Christianity being declared the absolute and unopposed State Religion of the Roman Empire, the ruling body of the Church would seize the opportunity to embrace and enshrine these wonderful principles and ensure their incorporation in all matters dealing with the Faith, right? Wrong. What actually happened (in regard to “pagans” and paganism in Europe) is clearly and very readably provided by Nixey. Her writing is not heavy at all, but lightly, though unrelentingly, sets out the increasingly ruthless and merciless activities of often murderous antipathy by the Church and by individuals and associated sects and rabid groups, either in thought or in deed, towards its perceived pagan enemies over the next 220 years. Emperors, Archbishops, and Bishops became both prescriptive and proscriptive through their leadership. The destruction of Serapis and the Serapeum in 391 CE and the murder of Hypatia in 415 CE are specific examples. Among many other things, Augustine of Hippo’s extensive attacks on the “pagans” recommended action against them as being God’s will; he also believed that forced conversion was an honourable and righteous thing to do. Martin of Tours apparently had a great time overseeing and participating in the destruction of pagan temples wherever he went. The inherent anti-semitism of the New Testament is given full throat in the fiery sermons of John Chrysostom. And so it goes. Nixey’s many references are incontestable; and when one adds the odium theologicum or “hatred of theologians (for one another)” one cannot help but think that this antipathy and bellicosity, possibly enhanced by the sense of increased power and authority provided by intellectual “conquest”, and the potential in that power for the further acquisition of immense riches and properties, and hence great influence, all played a part. Hypocrisy, corruption, ambition, ruthlessness and intolerance are always found in all great monolithic organisations, and are still to be found there today. Nixey’s timely book is a reminder that these qualities were also there at the very birth of Christianity: it’s in its DNA. Lest we forget...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Gault

    The Christians of the period right after Constantine declared it the Roman religion around 310 AD were violently opposed to the worship of the traditional Roman gods. So they organized armies of thugs who defaced temples, statues and works of art that had survived a thousand years. These were not nice people. They took Hypatia of Alexandria, a polymath philosopher and flayed her alive - because, you know, God loves us. If you a church goer beware - if you read this you may never be able to see C The Christians of the period right after Constantine declared it the Roman religion around 310 AD were violently opposed to the worship of the traditional Roman gods. So they organized armies of thugs who defaced temples, statues and works of art that had survived a thousand years. These were not nice people. They took Hypatia of Alexandria, a polymath philosopher and flayed her alive - because, you know, God loves us. If you a church goer beware - if you read this you may never be able to see Christianity of a "religion of peace". A wonderfully readable and informative book, very extensively researched and I must say, deeply disturbing. Modern parallels are easy to find.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    One simple thing that is of enduring interest to me is the fact that the world was very different in the past. The transition from the classical to the Christian world was one of the greatest moral revaluations of all time. It was a change not of mere material circumstance but in the inner lives of mankind. This book is a highly partisan, unnuanced account of this shift. It is polemically anti-Christian and almost feels as thought it was directly written by an indignant classical "pagan," or at One simple thing that is of enduring interest to me is the fact that the world was very different in the past. The transition from the classical to the Christian world was one of the greatest moral revaluations of all time. It was a change not of mere material circumstance but in the inner lives of mankind. This book is a highly partisan, unnuanced account of this shift. It is polemically anti-Christian and almost feels as thought it was directly written by an indignant classical "pagan," or at least one of their representatives. While it purports to be a historical account, it's more like someone had an axe to grind and did not care to be bothered with counterarguments. I found this a bit insulting as a reader. But while the book cannot be taken as a definitive word on this subject, it still has merits. Nixey is a brisk writer. She provides translations from many key classical and Christian writers who were living through this epochal shift in values. You do get a feel of how the world was changing and how it might have looked from the perspective of those who did not welcome such change. The strepitus mundi, the roar of the world, was announcing a new set of values, what Nietzsche would later deride as "slave morality," while the voices of those who saw things differently were being stilled. There were some stunning differences in moral and sexual values that Nixey touches on but doesn't go into great detail, other than suggesting that things were much better before the Christians arrived. Their monotheistic idol smashing reminded me a lot of early Islam. The book is structured as a number of episodes, usually relating to some key Christian outrage. According to Nixey, the Christians were literally "dumb" and suffered from "idiocy," while the pagans were conciliatory, humane and brilliant victims of the lesser hordes. I suspect this is not the whole story, but she has certainly structured the book to make it seem like it is. The book is good and could have been great if some minimal effort had been taken at balance. As long as you don't take it too seriously you will still learn something.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    Recently I’ve been mining YouTube for the debates of the late, great Christopher Hitchens. As Hitchens more often than not eviscerated the biblical scholar they put in front of him, one of his most repeated arguments was in regard to the legacy that Christianity has left the world. Beautiful cathedrals, yes. Incomparable religious art, yes again. Yet, Hitchens asked, is any of this worth the trail of blood Christianity has left in its wake? Is it worth the destruction of the temples and art tha Recently I’ve been mining YouTube for the debates of the late, great Christopher Hitchens. As Hitchens more often than not eviscerated the biblical scholar they put in front of him, one of his most repeated arguments was in regard to the legacy that Christianity has left the world. Beautiful cathedrals, yes. Incomparable religious art, yes again. Yet, Hitchens asked, is any of this worth the trail of blood Christianity has left in its wake? Is it worth the destruction of the temples and art that preceded it? Catherine Nixey’s “The Darkening Age” would answer these questions with a resounding no. Beginning with Christianity’s innocuous rise as a fringe cult at the start of the 3rd century, it would within a few hundred years overtake the Roman Empire and carve out a swath of destruction. Temples to previous gods were razed, statues smashed or defaced, and whole libraries burned. While the thoughts of Roman and Greek philosophers of the age about the destruction of their cities are fragmented at best (the Christians were startlingly effective at erasing history they were uncomfortable with) we do have quite a few of the Christian theologians of the day describing in detail what happened. Such as Clement: “The Lord himself had said that: ‘I will sharpen my sword . . . and I will render justice to mine enemies, and requite those who hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh from the blood of the wounded.’” This was not a mark of God’s cruelty but of love. ‘Censure,’ the author reassured his reader, ‘is a mark of good will, not of ill will.’” It was, Clement and other Christians like him believed, a necessity to cleanse people of their dangerous thoughts and idols. If people had to die in the process (which they did) then it was God’s will. One particularly interesting point Nixey raises is that prior to Christian dominance by the end of the 4th century, there were selective persecutions of Christians. Nixed however tends to downplay them. They were in the “hundreds” not “thousands”. Christians were given the option of just offering up some incense to the gods and they would’ve been safe, so why didn’t they? Christians just wanted to be lunatic martyrs so no matter what the Romans said or did, the Christians were going to throw themselves off a cliff or set themselves on fire. The Romans didn’t want to kill Christians and when they did, they did so reluctantly. Nixed offers some letters between Roman functionaries to illustrate her points and yet one finds it difficult to be sympathetic to her arguments. It’s indisputable that what the Christians did to unbelievers in the form of murder, torture, and the destruction of their culture is worse than anything the Romans did to them. Yet, Nixed apologia for Roman atrocities ring hollow. How does one argue that because you killed 1,000 but your enemy killed 10,000 that you really weren’t so bad. Reading about what Christendom did to the culture of 4th and 5th century Rome, Greece, and Syria will anger you. It was a tragedy at the time and a horrible loss to posterity. One wishes however only that Nixey would be able to see persecution for what it is, regardless of who was inflicting it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    History is written by the victors. It stands to reason, then, that the history of Christianity's rise in power is also written and handed down to us by its victors. Historians, particularly in ancient times, wanted to, or perhaps were required to, put a positive spin on events. And so the history we're taught, whether in school or in church, is typically edited and shown in a pretty light. With this book, we take off those rose-colored glasses and examine the whole truth surrounding Christianity History is written by the victors. It stands to reason, then, that the history of Christianity's rise in power is also written and handed down to us by its victors. Historians, particularly in ancient times, wanted to, or perhaps were required to, put a positive spin on events. And so the history we're taught, whether in school or in church, is typically edited and shown in a pretty light. With this book, we take off those rose-colored glasses and examine the whole truth surrounding Christianity's rise. Catherine Nixey's writing style is more narrative nonfiction than textbook or scholarly work. The writing is reader-friendly, taking us back through a broad time period and allowing us to experience a bit of it for ourselves. The layout is not linear. We don't start out at one year and work our way forward through all the minutiae. Nixey takes a more topical approach here. We look at philosophers and Christian martyr's and political leaders, following them along and seeing how and why they made certain choices. We look at the overall culture, as well as the negative effects and fallout of Christianity's rise. This is not at all a Christian-bashing book. It's not written solely for atheists, any more than a book on the Civil War is written solely for northerners. Nixey does not attack belief in God or any other Christian beliefs. With this book, Nixey seeks only to provide an honest and complete picture of the tumultuous world of early Christianity. *The publisher provided me with a review copy, via Amazon Vine, in exchange for my honest review.*

  22. 4 out of 5

    Keith Scholey

    A dreadful Horrible History for (childish) adults - except HHs are better written, not selling a political agenda and well researched. One star is more than this piece of crap deserves.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Heather Brooks

    Loved the book. So sorely needed when history has glossed over the brutal rise of Christianity.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This was given me by a retired university professor and former colleague at Loyola University Chicago. Raised Catholic himself, his fields of study--astronomy, the classics, ancient history, Greek and Latin--and educational background at religious institutions led him to develop some antipathy towards the faith. Knowing that my own background was more in the history of the early Jesus movement(s), this gift was a natural. Unfortunately, there was little within new to me. What was different was pe This was given me by a retired university professor and former colleague at Loyola University Chicago. Raised Catholic himself, his fields of study--astronomy, the classics, ancient history, Greek and Latin--and educational background at religious institutions led him to develop some antipathy towards the faith. Knowing that my own background was more in the history of the early Jesus movement(s), this gift was a natural. Unfortunately, there was little within new to me. What was different was perspective. This is a book written for a general audience, weak on critical apparatus or scholarly exactitude. Basically it just picks up on themes like the destruction of literature or the persecution of philosophers and cites instances, mostly from the third to fifth centuries, extensively quoting Christian sources. The Christians do not come across well and, so, this screed does serve as an antidote to the more usual popular histories which focus more on such things as monastic scriptoriums or the rediscovery of the ancient philosophers, scientists and mathematicians in the late Middle Ages. So, too, it reminds the reader of how, historically and politically speaking, the Divine Monarch, Lord of Hosts, and God of Judgment and Vengeance has played a much greater role in human events than the god of mercy and compassion.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    Opening with an account of Palmyra's devastation by bearded zealots, but not the ones you think, aaaah, this polemical history makes its position clear from the off - the supposed 'Triumph of Christianity' at the close of the classical age was in many ways identical to the rise of Da'esh, except worse because more widespread and not so soon reversed. Fortunately, I entirely agree with that assessment. If this book was going to have a problem for me, it would be that just as I didn't read Fire an Opening with an account of Palmyra's devastation by bearded zealots, but not the ones you think, aaaah, this polemical history makes its position clear from the off - the supposed 'Triumph of Christianity' at the close of the classical age was in many ways identical to the rise of Da'esh, except worse because more widespread and not so soon reversed. Fortunately, I entirely agree with that assessment. If this book was going to have a problem for me, it would be that just as I didn't read Fire and Fury, or books about the awfulness of Putin's Russia, well, why should I read another deeply depressing book telling me something I already know? But if nothing else there's the difference that I didn't follow this story in the papers and magazines as it unfolded, so while I may know the basics, I don't have that same level of detail on how everything turned to shit. And beyond that, there's the point that in those other instances, you're reading something with which everyone except the ludicrous autocrats' partisans already agrees - whereas here culture remains so deformed by its centuries under the monotheist heel that even neutral parties can tend to forget the atrocities which hastened the end of the pagan world. Although Nixey does point out that of course 'pagan' wasn't a term anyone would have recognised or used until it was needed as the christians' hated other - people worshipped this god or that, or both, joined this cult or the other, but all generally without feeling that painfully insecure need to make it such a major part of their identity. In the standard version, of course, it was those beastly pagans cruelly persecuting the gentle christians. This despite the record showing that in three centuries of christianity as underground cult within a pagan empire, there were only 13 years of centrally-mandated persecution, and even then, the slightest adherence to the external norms of the imperial cult would get you off. The merciless, invasive persecutions, the insistence that everyone be pure in thought as well as deed, private as well as public - ascribing that to the pagan Romans is mostly projection by the christians, who would indeed prove just that unrelentingly thorough once they had the whip hand. Whereas in order to get themselves martyred, they really had to go out of their way to refuse any proferred olive branch - which many gladly did (I'm surprised and slightly disappointed that Nixey resists any temptation to extend her opening parallel and use the term 'martyrdom operations' for these performative suicides). Equally, the suspect who, once arraigned, answers every question with the same repeated 'I am a Christian' recalls similar behaviour by various flavours of terrorist we've seen tried lately, from that Britain First twat to the more recent Paris suspect. I suppose it makes sense; there's only one thing going through their mind, so why should more than one thing come out of their mouth? The great and glorious variety of the human mind reduced to a single looped statement of loyalty - the natural end state for any ideology founded on exclusion and proscription. Of course, unlike these joyless monomaniacs, Nixey knows that the same thing over and over gets incredibly dull, so for all that her tale is a bleak one, there are moments of humour. I noisily cracked up when she quotes a historian saying that the real question should be "Why were the Christians persecuted so little and so late?". And then there's Augustine - always an exception to his peers in his gift for the odd great line - reassuring a congregation that they didn't need pagan gods (or in his mind, devils) even for the small stuff. Some used to, because of course multiple gods for different tasks had long been the practice, and was not yet wholly verboten. And from all the grand claims the christians made for their god, some new followers understandably assumed that he should be kept for the big problems. Not necessary, says Augustine: "Let us reduce it to the very least things. He sees to the salvation of your hen." But it was precisely this easy rubbing along that the christians couldn't abide. To them tolerance was not a virtue, but a sin, letting others destroy themselves, as surely as letting a child play with a knife - so beating the heathens or apostates, burning their books, even killing them was all for their own good really. Especially in the sillier expressions of this militant intolerance, such as the christian fear of being contaminated by the smoke of a pagan sacrifice, I was reminded of the ludicrous displays which we still see today when they get arsey about halal meat, or Easter eggs not using the word 'Easter' (itself a pagan word, of course, but then as another chapter notes, ignorance of everything bar scripture and the bare necessities has long been considered a virtue by many christians). Inevitably, not everyone is too keen on this new version of events. Consider this example: https://historyforatheists.com/2017/1... (though be warned that the website header looks like a nineties acid trip threw up). Tim O'Neill, despite identifying as an atheist, seems to agree with the review he quotes from Catholic publication the Tablet, whish says that Nixey "bought into the old ‘blame the Christians’ model. She drives it through with a steely-eyed determination, unrelieved by nuance or counter-argument.” Interesting choice of phrase, that. The christians were in charge for, at the bare minimum, 14 of the 20 centuries they've stained. And even now, for all that they may try laying claim to underdog status, kindly remind me how many senior atheists get seats in Parliament simply for being senior atheists? How many atheist organisations double as nation states, and get treated with respect despite also doubling as paedophile rings? So don't try suggesting that 'blame the Christians' is the old model. The old model was letting them run the world. It went on far too long, and lingers far too much. If anything, the book has far too many #notallchristians interjections. It would have sufficed to note, once, that under even the vilest system some people will do good things, because some people are really nice. But I'm sure that were Nixey writing a book about North Korea, she wouldn't suggest that any of the hundred small kindnesses which must occur there every day reflect any credit on Juche. So I don't know why she feels the need to apply a different standard here. More generally, there are a number of places where O'Neill raises objections to Nixey's argument which simply don't reflect the version I read. Charitably, let's assume this was because I'm seeing a later revision of the text than he had. The suggestion that Nixey omits mention of the Druids and Bacchic cults as victims of Roman suppression is incorrect. That some pagan statuary considered to have particular artistic merit was preserved by some christians is at the very least implicit in the passage where she mentions fake attributions being added to pieces which were not by the masters claimed, but could be saved by that pretence. Likewise, she freely admits that not every intolerant imperial decree against the pagans can have been entirely enforced, and notes that sometimes this very repetition - however blood-curdling the terms used - can in itself suggest they were not. This is not to suggest that none of his objections stick. Yes, she does slant the destruction of the Serapeum - but then O'Neill's version suggests the Neoplatonists just spontaneously started being murderous dicks, which seems at least as dubious as Nixey's random outbreak of christian violence. Not least because I can see centuries of other evidence for christians kicking off whenever they feel the least bit slighted, whereas Neoplatonist atrocities...well, those are somewhat thinner on the ground, so long as you count somewhat wishy-washy and impenetrable poetry less atrocious than vandalism and murder, which - not being a zealot - I kinda do. On the death of Hypatia, he has a point that yes, Nixey does slightly oversell her significance (though Agora should still be shown in every school RE class - especially the faith schools. Whose existence, again - remind me how many dedicated atheist schools the government funds?). However, he's extremely disingenuous in suggesting that Nixey doesn't acknowledge there were christians on both sides - a point on which she's very clear. But when Bishop Cyril and his goons are denouncing the more moderate governor Orestes as a backslider for defending Hypatia, it seems a bit of a stretch to call that a political-factional rather than a religious quarrel. To return to Da'esh - most of their victims are their nominal co-religionists, too. It seems a regrettable historical norm that while a faith with many deities can generally rattle along fairly decently, you can't leave monotheists ten minutes before they've turned on each other over some abstruse point of doctrine - how much blood and gold was squandered over the word 'filioque'? He's quite right that Nixey does lean towards emphasising the urbanity of the pagan world, the ways in which they resemble modern liberal cosmopolitan elites. When she talks about early christians as moving in "a William Blake-ish world where the doors of religious perception lay wide open", emphasising their belief in demons, angels and miracles, this is undoubtedly short-changing the degree to which many pagans moved in a similarly haunted and numinous world (is it telling that she nowhere uses the word 'numinous'?). And yes, while there was undoubtedly a degree of intellectual dishonesty in the christian desire to claim Plato as their unwitting forebear, which Nixey does mention, you'd never know from her account quite how illiberal, absolutist, mendacious and censorious his beastly Republic was, so in that sense yeah, they monotheists are welcome to him. But the important point is surely that for all Plato's diatribes prefigure those of the tyrant-bishops, or Diogenes' performance art rudeness was - as O'Neill suggests - not dissimilar to the gruesome self-abasements of the monks and saints, the old philosophers didn't have armed cadres backing them up. They were examples one could find instructive or ridiculous, according to taste, while getting on with living one's own life. And I don't think it's wrong in the slightest for Nixey to emphasise that change, that reduction of the generally acceptable ways of living - a space which she freely admits had never been all-encompassing, but which I don't think you can argue was reduced by the rise of christianity. It's noticeable that O'Neill, apparently as skittish as any Victorian curator, seems entirely to avoid mention of Nixey's chapter about christianity's war on fun, in which she quotes chapter and verse on the new dispensation's reduction of sexual and gastronomic possibilities. A shame, as it's a particularly good bit, not least because it inclines one to take a childish pleasure in doing anything to which these joyless scum objected. And that adds quite a bit of pleasure to one's day, because they disapproved of pretty much everything. Plucking rogue hairs, condiments, spices, going to the theatre - all sinful, and that's before you even get into the proper stuff like sex and booze! John Chrysostom, especially awful even compared to his priggish peers, talked of ending "the tyranny of joy" - and really, how can anyone hear that phrase and not recognise the man who came up with it as the very embodiment of the enemy, the Anti-Life Equation with a bad moustache? (Seriously, Google him, and one of the lead images looks like Sinestro and Hector Hammond had an ugly baby. It's like he was unwittingly trying to be a megamix of DC villains - if it hadn't been for the early church's abhorrence of purple, I'd even suspect he had a purple and green outfit on under his robes) O'Neill also cavils at Nixey's description of the erasure of classical texts as "deliberate", but as she says herself - if this wasn't spite, then at best it was utterly incompetent preservation, and this during a time when the scriptoria were producing Augustine after Gospel after Augustine at the same time they were losing so much. And often that 'losing' did consist precisely in erasing a copy of some rare classical text precisely so that the palimpsest could be used for yet another copy of some pious drivel. As for his argument that the destroyers were only one faction within early christianity, and not the ones whose vision prevailed in the long term - well, if so, how come mediaeval abbots were still purging unseemly texts which had survived that far? If the christians in favour of preserving classical knowledge won the argument, why was so much of it lost - and don't tell me a big barbarian boy done it and ran away, because while that certainly didn't help, we have individual manuscripts proving a fair amount of clerical culpability too. He asks "how is it that she can read Ovid, Aristotle, Plato or the smutty poems of Catullus at all?" Well...no tyranny is perfect, is it? There'll always be the brave and irreverent who manage to save some of it from the flames and pumice stones. Just look at Mali. And if, as O'Neill and the orthodox view suggest, the christians did such a sterling job of saving things, then how come Sappho is a pillar of smoke? Indeed, Nixey doesn't go into this as much as she might, but the list of the lost certainly seems to support the idea of the monastic libraries as a great filter, preserving that which seemed closer to the grim christian outlook. Men's work lasted better than women's, tragedies better than satyr plays. That we have Aristotle on tragedy but not comedy is famous thanks to Umberto Eco; more seldom mentioned is that while we have Homer's two epics of misery and war, we don't have his comedy Margites, whose protagonist sounds like the ancient counterpart of Viz's Terry Fuckwit. Sometimes, O'Neill even seems to be arguing from an absence. He suggests that Nixey overplays the similarity of Democritus' atomism to modern physics, and the degree to which it was a live philosophy by the time christianity lowered into view. And for what it's worth, I incline to agree. But it's hard to be sure given how little we have of the atomist's work, and that generally quotations in works refuting them - the originals have all long since been destroyed. Sorry, 'inexplicably not been preserved by those great custodians of classical culture'. There are plenty of other marks against christianity here, though. There's one brilliant section which if anything Nixey massively underplays. Given how often I've seen it suggested that christianity deserves credit for the end of slavery - an intriguing notion given the existence of things like serfdom and the American South - I was fascinated to hear the counter-story here. At least one cleric who preached emancipation was excommunicated, and there was even a saint, Theodore, who'd help you find your insubordinate human property! So you can't even argue that the church increased freedom for the most lowly as it massively reduced it for the rest. And oh, the paranoid mutual policing of the early churches, everyone scrutinising their neighbour for signs of backsliding! This sort of behaviour is seldom a good sign, as it leads inevitably to vicious circles of escalating purity and intolerance, whether Maoist, Brexiteer, or even the sillier fringes of the modern left. Yeah, the book slants things - but given how long-lasting the other side's version of events was, I can mostly forgive that. It is valuable nonetheless as a reminder of the wholly negative influence christianity has had on the world, and of how much better things would be if we could remove the remnants of its corpse-grip on us, which despite the considerable progress made these past couple of centuries, are not nearly so few as its wheedling adherents and their enablers tend to claim. So for all that I wish Nixey had been a little more thorough, if only to build a more cast-iron case against christianity, I can forgive her getting carried away by the force and justice of her still little-appreciated central claim - however many people were glad to see christianity, even by the christians' own account there were plenty who were not, and it's past time their suffering took its place in the historical record. And let's face it, even if she had shored up her account of the Serapeum and classical superstition, it's not as if she was ever likely to get a glowing must-read review from the bloody Tablet. (Netgalley ARC)

  26. 4 out of 5

    J.S.

    At the end of the Introduction, Catherine Nixey says the following: One final note: many, many good people are impelled by their Christian faith to do many, many good things. I know because I am an almost daily beneficiary of such goodness myself. This book is not intended as an attack on these people and I hope they will not see it as such. But it is undeniable that there have been — that there still are — those who use monotheism and its weapons to terrible ends. Christianity is a greater and a At the end of the Introduction, Catherine Nixey says the following: One final note: many, many good people are impelled by their Christian faith to do many, many good things. I know because I am an almost daily beneficiary of such goodness myself. This book is not intended as an attack on these people and I hope they will not see it as such. But it is undeniable that there have been — that there still are — those who use monotheism and its weapons to terrible ends. Christianity is a greater and a stronger religion when it admits this — and challenges it. After finishing this book (and waiting a couple of weeks to write my review) I think that statement must have been forced upon her by her agent or the publisher. It’s hard to see this book as anything but an attack on Christianity. Not that she doesn’t have a point: the persecutions of non-Christians after Christianity was adopted by Rome was shameful, and I agree that it lead to what we refer to as “the Dark Ages.” However, the author’s attempts to appear balanced fall flat. Nixey is a journalist rather than a historian, but she covers the period of roughly 300AD to 500AD quite well and in a readable manner. The narrative leans toward sensationalism and is frequently repetitive, but for the most part it works. Also, it doesn’t follow a chronological timetable, but the chapters focus on various aspects of Christianity, such as martyrs, monks, destruction of pagan temples or texts, or unique beliefs. And in spite of a rather salacious description about murders of pagans, there’s actually very little of that in the text. Instead, Nixey seems to take personal offense at the destruction of statues and art, which were seen as idols by early Christians. However, she says the worst persecution was the neglect of pagan writings, which in a time when texts were often erased to reuse the paper for something else was actually an understandable action. (Nonetheless, Nixey is right that much was lost, and Western Civilization was set back because of it.) I appreciated that Nixey includes much information about the Greeks and Romans that I hadn't seen elsewhere. And while that information is frequently very unflattering, it’s also presented in an entirely benign manner. And yet her portrayals of similarly unflattering aspects of Christianity are shown in the worst light. One section that particularly bothered me was about the writings of Celsus, a Greek intellectual around 170AD. Apparently, the only record we have of his writings is through a rebuttal written by a Christian writer about 80 years later, yet Nixey spends over a dozen pages telling us of Celsus’ witty criticisms of Christianity, many of which show a rather poor knowledge of the subject on his part. She says “It is clear that... Celsus knows a lot about [Christianity]. He has read Christian scripture - and not just read it: studied it in great detail. He knows about everything... It is equally clear that he loathes it all...” And yet Celsus claims the Resurrection was only seen by “a hysterical female” and one other in contradiction to what the New Testament actually says, to give just one example. At any rate, the book was rather interesting but not balanced in the least. Nixey takes great joy in putting down the Christian church and mocking its beliefs and customs. She is correct in saying that Christians should be stronger for facing the actual history, but her attacks go far beyond that. And I’m not sure how monotheism is any more to blame for historically unjust actions than polytheism, or in more recent history, atheism. An alternate book I would recommend is Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. (A personal note: in all fairness I want to acknowledge that I consider myself a follower of Jesus Christ although I'm not a Catholic. My church believes there was an “apostasy” or falling away from the truth [2 Thessalonians 2:3 among other references] and that the Christian Church had ceased to resemble anything Christ had established within a hundred years of Christ’s death and needed to be "restored." Nonetheless, I felt awful for my Catholic friends as I read this attack on the early days of their church.)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ionia

    I enjoyed this book because it was different from others that I have read on this subject. I do think the author had decided before writing this that she was in favour of the Pagans, and that reflected throughout the writing, but keeping that in mind, so I would not become tempted to fall into the "all Christians are evil," trap that can happen when you read a book like this, I tried to remain objective and look at her arguments realistically, and found that I really enjoyed this book. Whilst I I enjoyed this book because it was different from others that I have read on this subject. I do think the author had decided before writing this that she was in favour of the Pagans, and that reflected throughout the writing, but keeping that in mind, so I would not become tempted to fall into the "all Christians are evil," trap that can happen when you read a book like this, I tried to remain objective and look at her arguments realistically, and found that I really enjoyed this book. Whilst I do not agree with every viewpoint the author gave, I thought she did a good job of providing an historical foundation for her opinions and believe it is the responsibility of the reader to decide whether they agree with her or not and look into the counter-arguments that could be given against the author's ideas and the opinions of those whom she quotes in her book. Regardless of personal bias from the author, I liked learning about the destruction done in the name of religion, as I think this type of history is fascinating. The number of lost books and manuscripts, artworks and buildings that have vanished from history is awful to think about, but perhaps in a sobering kind of way, makes us grateful for the historical artifacts we do still have. Overall, I thought this was an interesting book, with a lot to recommend it. This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

  28. 4 out of 5

    AnnaG

    This book sets out its mission to be an objective look at the Christian "triumph" over paganism focusing on the destruction involved, the author admits that this wasn't her original goal - and that really shows. The book waffles around without a clear structure, jumping from anecdote to anecdote. Barely half the chapters seemed to cover the period she was supposed to be writing about - we frequently digress to Victorian visitors to Pompeii or the writings of Celsus (second century AD Athens' ans This book sets out its mission to be an objective look at the Christian "triumph" over paganism focusing on the destruction involved, the author admits that this wasn't her original goal - and that really shows. The book waffles around without a clear structure, jumping from anecdote to anecdote. Barely half the chapters seemed to cover the period she was supposed to be writing about - we frequently digress to Victorian visitors to Pompeii or the writings of Celsus (second century AD Athens' answer to Jeremy Clarkson). The author also seems to have a bizarre sets of hang-ups. For some reason, she has decided that monks choosing to live an ascetic life should be mocked, ridiculed and held up as some sort of evil oppressors of the world around them (38 mentions according to the index). Erotica also seems to be a fixation with 13 mentions in the index. One of the most irritating things is that the author says that she intends to be even-handed and isn't just being anti-Christian. This is completely not the case. Persecution of Christians is belittled as having only lasted for a few decades, merely resulted in hundreds of deaths and having been brought on by themselves. On the other hand, the defacing of some statues and refusing to copy the raunchy parts of Ovid is denounced as the worst form of oppression!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Peter Greenwell

    I have little else to add that wasn't already summed up perfectly in this review, except that I was entertained by the author's hellbent and vitriolic condemnation of Christianity. But I'm under no misapprehension that this is a work of history. There are far more nuanced books on this subject out there. I have little else to add that wasn't already summed up perfectly in this review, except that I was entertained by the author's hellbent and vitriolic condemnation of Christianity. But I'm under no misapprehension that this is a work of history. There are far more nuanced books on this subject out there.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cassidy (Reminders of the Changing Time)

    Review available at http://bit.ly/2NgLBSa Review available at http://bit.ly/2NgLBSa

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.