Sociologist, Rodney Stark has a new book coming out on how the Christian movement conquered the Roman Empire. Here's what one reviewer say about it:
Contemplating the rapid spread of early Christianity, Lucian the Martyr marveled in the fourth century that “almost the greater part of the world is now committed to this truth, even whole cities.”
To explain Christianity's remarkable success in capturing the cities of the Roman Empire, Stark deploys an empirical social science that exposes the flaws in previous historical theorizing. By parsing records of church construction, inscriptions on tombs, and names on imperial contract permits, Stark converts plausible conjectures into testable hypotheses about the growth of Christianity in the 31 largest Roman cities. And while some of the statistically validated hypotheses fit within conventional wisdom, others compel fresh thinking.
The traditional belief that Christianity spread through mass conversion, for instance, gives way to a numerically substantiated dynamics of person-to-person conversion. And despite recent acclaim for the Gnostics as the true early Christians, the evidence links the Gnostic impulse to dying pockets of stubborn paganism, not the rising new faith. Like Stark's “Victory of Reason, this book will spark controversy--the kind that attracts curious readers.
Stark's work challenges some assumptions of conventional history:
- Contrary to fictions such as The Da Vinci Code and the claims of some prominent scholars, Gnosticism was not a more sophisticated, more authentic form of Christianity, but really an unsuccessful effort to paganize Christianity.
- Paul was called the apostle to the Gentiles, but mostly he converted Jews.
- Paganism was not rapidly stamped out by state repression following the vision and conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD, but gradually disappeared as people abandoned the temples in response to the superior appeal of Christianity.
- The ”oriental“ faiths—such as those devoted to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of love and magic, and to Cybele, the fertility goddess of Asia Minor—actually prepared the way for the rapid spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire.
- Contrary to generations of historians, the Roman mystery cult of Mithraism posed no challenge to Christianity to become the new faith of the empire— it allowed no female members and attracted only soldiers.
- By analyzing concrete data, Stark is able to challenge the conventional wisdom about early Christianity offering the clearest picture ever of how this religion grew from its humble beginnings into the faith of more than one-third of the earth's population.
I've ordered my copy.