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Coming Out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar’s Empire

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The supposed collapse of Roman civilization is still lamented more than 1,500 years later--and intertwined with this idea is the notion that a fledgling religion, Christianity, went from a persecuted fringe movement to an irresistible force that toppled the empire. The "intolerant zeal" of Christians, wrote Edward Gibbon, swept Rome's old gods away, and with them the struc The supposed collapse of Roman civilization is still lamented more than 1,500 years later--and intertwined with this idea is the notion that a fledgling religion, Christianity, went from a persecuted fringe movement to an irresistible force that toppled the empire. The "intolerant zeal" of Christians, wrote Edward Gibbon, swept Rome's old gods away, and with them the structures that sustained Roman society. Not so, argues Douglas Boin. Such tales are simply untrue to history, and ignore the most important fact of all: life in Rome never came to a dramatic stop. Instead, as Boin shows, a small minority movement rose to transform society--politically, religiously, and culturally--but it was a gradual process, one that happened in fits and starts over centuries. Drawing upon a decade of recent studies in history and archaeology, and on his own research, Boin opens up a wholly new window onto a period we thought we knew. His work is the first to describe how Christians navigated the complex world of social identity in terms of "passing" and "coming out." Many Christians lived in a dynamic middle ground. Their quiet success, as much as the clamor of martyrdom, was a powerful agent for change. With this insightful approach to the story of Christians in the Roman world, Douglas Boin rewrites, and rediscovers, the fascinating early history of a world faith.


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The supposed collapse of Roman civilization is still lamented more than 1,500 years later--and intertwined with this idea is the notion that a fledgling religion, Christianity, went from a persecuted fringe movement to an irresistible force that toppled the empire. The "intolerant zeal" of Christians, wrote Edward Gibbon, swept Rome's old gods away, and with them the struc The supposed collapse of Roman civilization is still lamented more than 1,500 years later--and intertwined with this idea is the notion that a fledgling religion, Christianity, went from a persecuted fringe movement to an irresistible force that toppled the empire. The "intolerant zeal" of Christians, wrote Edward Gibbon, swept Rome's old gods away, and with them the structures that sustained Roman society. Not so, argues Douglas Boin. Such tales are simply untrue to history, and ignore the most important fact of all: life in Rome never came to a dramatic stop. Instead, as Boin shows, a small minority movement rose to transform society--politically, religiously, and culturally--but it was a gradual process, one that happened in fits and starts over centuries. Drawing upon a decade of recent studies in history and archaeology, and on his own research, Boin opens up a wholly new window onto a period we thought we knew. His work is the first to describe how Christians navigated the complex world of social identity in terms of "passing" and "coming out." Many Christians lived in a dynamic middle ground. Their quiet success, as much as the clamor of martyrdom, was a powerful agent for change. With this insightful approach to the story of Christians in the Roman world, Douglas Boin rewrites, and rediscovers, the fascinating early history of a world faith.

30 review for Coming Out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar’s Empire

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ben McFarland

    This is one of those rare books that convinced me of the opposite of the author's thesis. There's some interesting historical examples but they don't connect, possibly because the author explicitly rejects the idea of explaining history through a narrative. If you don't think history forms any kind of narrative, then the narrative you present in your book will probably not be very engaging or cohesive. One chapter takes Constantine to task for being confused in one of his pivotal speeches, but I This is one of those rare books that convinced me of the opposite of the author's thesis. There's some interesting historical examples but they don't connect, possibly because the author explicitly rejects the idea of explaining history through a narrative. If you don't think history forms any kind of narrative, then the narrative you present in your book will probably not be very engaging or cohesive. One chapter takes Constantine to task for being confused in one of his pivotal speeches, but I don't think it's Constantine who's confused here. I also don't feel like there's much of a window on the ancient psyche here -- the author protests against Manichean dichotomies, then turns around and sets a dichotomy between the firebrands preaching Christian separation from the world and the average Christian trying to figure out a balance. This is an issue Christians have always dealt with but I don't see additional insight beyond a list of the various historical pressures. How are those put together in the process of "Coming Out Christian" as in the book's title? I still don't know. I very much wanted to learn from this book, but it just has too many problems.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

    I read this book as beginning research for something I am writing about a family of saints who lived in the fourth century A.D., and I enjoyed it so much. The writing is extremely engaging, and even though there were times I argued aloud with the author, I learned a lot. This book has led to some good conversations, and I appreciate the leads I have gotten from its bibliography. I recommend it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lionel Taylor

    This book looks at Christianity in its early years of growth in the Roman Empire. It uses several contemporary sources and accounts to make its argument that many of the assumptions that we have about the early history of the church are not what they would seem and that the writings of the early church fathers need to be put in the contest of the time they were written. The author deals with the persecutions and who was seen as a legitimate part of the church and who was not as time pasted. The This book looks at Christianity in its early years of growth in the Roman Empire. It uses several contemporary sources and accounts to make its argument that many of the assumptions that we have about the early history of the church are not what they would seem and that the writings of the early church fathers need to be put in the contest of the time they were written. The author deals with the persecutions and who was seen as a legitimate part of the church and who was not as time pasted. The stories of the persecution of the early Christians served to promote the church but were probably not as widespread as was originally assumed rather the cases where it did happen were played up by the early church fathers. This is also the case with the idea that by the 4th century most of the Roman Empire had converted to Christianity and all pagan ways had been abandoned. The reality was much more complicated and there is ample evidence of pagan and Christian being practiced side by side sometimes in the same household. The transition to Christianity was a slow process that involved a reinterpretation of what it meant to be Roman, pagan, Jewish and Christian. It was not a smooth process and it was also not a predetermined process as is so often assumed with historical events. This book does a good job of explaining this and uses specific examples to get its point across. Anyone interested in the history of Ancient Rome or the early church will want to read this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    This is a book that lives up to its provocative title. Boin brings us into the evolving world of public Christianity in the Roman empire through a close look at surviving texts, architecture, and archaeological discoveries. This world gives us a complicated Christianity, bumping shoulders with Roman gods, Isis worshipers, and Jews in the Roman kingdom -- a world of martyrs and firebrands, but that also has a place for a quieter, more flexible Christianity that is part of the Roman world instead This is a book that lives up to its provocative title. Boin brings us into the evolving world of public Christianity in the Roman empire through a close look at surviving texts, architecture, and archaeological discoveries. This world gives us a complicated Christianity, bumping shoulders with Roman gods, Isis worshipers, and Jews in the Roman kingdom -- a world of martyrs and firebrands, but that also has a place for a quieter, more flexible Christianity that is part of the Roman world instead of violently pushing against it. Boin is a wonderfully clear writer with a strong argument that pulls the reader through this approachable, but very well researched volume (such great footnotes!). Doug is a friend, and I can say that this book is really written in *his* voice, and reading it was just as fun as having a long conversation with the author.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mikkaela Bailey

    Boin has a good question at the center of his argument, but he fails to deliver a satisfactory explanation of the concepts he is trying to demonstrate. He defines Christians as people who were affiliated with the religion and with the church, but many of those that he uses as an example are not seen by the church as being upstanding believers. But, while Christianity was trying to navigate the murky waters of disorganization and lack of a central governing authority, there is much debate about w Boin has a good question at the center of his argument, but he fails to deliver a satisfactory explanation of the concepts he is trying to demonstrate. He defines Christians as people who were affiliated with the religion and with the church, but many of those that he uses as an example are not seen by the church as being upstanding believers. But, while Christianity was trying to navigate the murky waters of disorganization and lack of a central governing authority, there is much debate about what it meant to be a Christian. I think Boin misses the mark in this book because he fails to define "Christian" and he glosses over some beliefs that most would consider key to participating in the faith, but in general it is a good attempt at telling the "untold" and "unknown" story of those who were living hyphenated lives in Rome, whether other Christians were accepting of this idea or not.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Ernst

    I guess the author wants us to accept that early Christians, when they were not being slaughtered by the Romans, managed to fit into Roman society very well. He dusts off a few letters, weaves them into his confusing narrative about how Jews, members of Isis, Christian, and regular Romans lived and worshiped together. After finishing the book, the first thing that came to mind was , "what was that book about". Catchy title but nothing inside

  7. 5 out of 5

    J.F. Ridgley

    Intriguing read. A much needed evakuation Very intriguing. One that needs to be read again...because it covers those formative years of Christanity that is rarely addressed. An exceptional read....done in one setting

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Green

    Great insight into what being a christian was like in a pagan Roman Empire.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    A bit dry but it has a few interesting insights.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    I'm frustrated by this book, but fascinated. Its focus on everyday Roman Christians trying to live in tumultuous times is fresh and very welcome in the study of ancient times, and it's nice to get a point of view that isn't from the mouths and pens of the most famous (or even infamous) early Christian theologians. But that point of view, by its very nature, is always speculative; the lack of first hand records and documentation conspire to make this book a very concise & very eloquent educated g I'm frustrated by this book, but fascinated. Its focus on everyday Roman Christians trying to live in tumultuous times is fresh and very welcome in the study of ancient times, and it's nice to get a point of view that isn't from the mouths and pens of the most famous (or even infamous) early Christian theologians. But that point of view, by its very nature, is always speculative; the lack of first hand records and documentation conspire to make this book a very concise & very eloquent educated guess. This lack of documentation forces the author to take long digressions into Judaism & Isis worship as contemporary parallels; the sections are well written, but it does feel like water is being tread for a lack of hard evidence for the everyday Christian point of view. In the end, this can only be a taste of what might yet come to pass -- a detailed introduction until archeology & research can provide more concrete evidence. The very nature of the subject leaves the reader salivating for something yet to be revealed. That's certainly no fault of the author, but I do look forward to what a revised volume could add in the future.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Monica Willyard Moen

    This author may have extensive understanding of ancient Rome and it society, however, he has very little understanding of what Christianity required either now or back then. His celebration of Christian soldiers who also worshiped the Emperor is an example of such misunderstanding. In the Bible, in books like Romans and Hebrews, Christians are clearly told to worship Christ and Christ alone. Worshiping the emperor would have been a betrayal of their belief system end of the trail of Christ. I do This author may have extensive understanding of ancient Rome and it society, however, he has very little understanding of what Christianity required either now or back then. His celebration of Christian soldiers who also worshiped the Emperor is an example of such misunderstanding. In the Bible, in books like Romans and Hebrews, Christians are clearly told to worship Christ and Christ alone. Worshiping the emperor would have been a betrayal of their belief system end of the trail of Christ. I don't doubt that he found such people. My doubt is that they would be recognized as Christians. Rather, the people he describes would have been called apostates. The author indicates that there would have been little difficulty with Christians retaining the practices and ideals of ancient Rome along with retaining the ideas of Christianity. This doesn't make sense when I read the first chapter of Romans, several chapters in Hebrews, and all of the book of James. What he describes here is compromise and double mindedness, something Paul warned us to avoid. For that reason, I'm deeply disappointed in both the quality of research and the tone of this book. I will not recommend it to others.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Pedersen

    for the topic of the early Christian church history, this is quite readable prose. I read it in only about 2.5 hours over two sittings. It also thrusts an argument commonly heard in scholarly circles about challenging the early church's persecution --it offers that the relationship between Rome and church was more more shades of grey based on some archaeological findings and taking a contrarian approach to reading the early Church Fathers. While interesting, I'm not sure---like many books on this for the topic of the early Christian church history, this is quite readable prose. I read it in only about 2.5 hours over two sittings. It also thrusts an argument commonly heard in scholarly circles about challenging the early church's persecution --it offers that the relationship between Rome and church was more more shades of grey based on some archaeological findings and taking a contrarian approach to reading the early Church Fathers. While interesting, I'm not sure---like many books on this topic--that this book has a conclusive and comprehensive way to look at this developmental period of the Christianity. Therefore it's a good book but its conclusions should be read with other early church historians.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This is a very helpful correction to narratives of Christian victory, with some excellent examples to illustrate the changes the Roman religious world went through with the birth of Christianity. Written for a popular audience, this book is very readable. I would go so far as to say it was well written and a pleasure to read. I'm sure that scholars could debate and discuss much of what was presented, the way it was interpreted, and what was left out, BUT, this book is up with Goodman's "Rome and J This is a very helpful correction to narratives of Christian victory, with some excellent examples to illustrate the changes the Roman religious world went through with the birth of Christianity. Written for a popular audience, this book is very readable. I would go so far as to say it was well written and a pleasure to read. I'm sure that scholars could debate and discuss much of what was presented, the way it was interpreted, and what was left out, BUT, this book is up with Goodman's "Rome and Jerusalem" for popular scholarship [i.e. accessible to non-specialists] on the religious world of the Roman Empire that might change the way non-scholars think the ancient religious world, and its effect of the modern world.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Roy White

    I wanted to like this book. The thesis, that ancient Christians faced choices somewhat analogous to those faced by modern gay people in a culture that marginalizes and sometimes persecutes them, is quite interesting. Sadly, the author spends a lot of time talking down to the reader and attacking straw men...I kept waiting for some serious information that would let me imagine how things were for Christians at various times and places, and when the author just kept up his repetitive nattering, I I wanted to like this book. The thesis, that ancient Christians faced choices somewhat analogous to those faced by modern gay people in a culture that marginalizes and sometimes persecutes them, is quite interesting. Sadly, the author spends a lot of time talking down to the reader and attacking straw men...I kept waiting for some serious information that would let me imagine how things were for Christians at various times and places, and when the author just kept up his repetitive nattering, I gave up.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Petersen

    Smart aleck - that's what I thought during the first pages, that Boin was just being contrary and argumentative with the "received history." Fortunately I continued reading and found a thoroughly interesting and not always agreeable volume on a topic to which I'd given little thought.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    The truth was all complicated and messy, as it usually is.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kurt

  18. 5 out of 5

    Llyne Foy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tami Parks

  20. 5 out of 5

    Julia Simpson-Urrutia

  21. 4 out of 5

    Devon Smith

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chris Leach

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  25. 4 out of 5

    Larry Banks

  26. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Boin

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alison

  29. 4 out of 5

    James (JD) Dittes

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jason

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