Cover image for A world full of gods : the strange triumph of Christianity
A world full of gods : the strange triumph of Christianity
Hopkins, Keith, 1934-
Personal Author:
First Free Press edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 402 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
BR129 .H67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Interweaving traditional narratives with memoirs of time travelers and invented debates and correspondence, a brilliant popularizer of history takes a bold new look at the origins of Christianity and the fierce battles surrounding Jesus and his followers. of illustrations.

Author Notes

Keith Hopkins is a professor of ancient history at King's College, Cambridge, & a fellow of the British Academy. He lives in Cambridge, England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In his account of early Christianity, Hopkins creates fictional characters who "report" narrative history, a ploy to capture an audience accustomed to TV news that blurs the boundaries between fiction and narrative history and oddly assumes that watchers are ever moved to read TV news transcripts. Despite that odd shortcoming, the book contains substantial information about the pagan context within which Christianity emerged, and Roman attitudes toward the new faith's practitioners. Juxtaposing the campaign against the Manichaeanism associated with Zoroastrianism in Persia, and similar campaigns associated with Christianity in Rome, helps spur readers new to the subject, in particular, to critical reflection on the interrelations of politics and religion, especially those involved in the strange triumph of Hopkins' title--the establishment of Christianity. Although Hopkins' presentational choice makes for an uneven text that will put off some and baffle others, the book still may draw readers into the lively conversation about Christian origins and the historical Jesus, a figure Hopkins provocatively calls an illusion. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

Judging by sober historical criteria, Hopkins fails to provide a convincing explanation of why Christianity defeated its rivals among the mystery cults, Gnostics and Hellenized Jews in Roman antiquity. Yet this is nevertheless a magnificent, rollicking failure, one that has readers laughing out loud in one paragraph and feeling dizzy in the next, struck by an insight so powerful that it demands reconsideration of what seemed secure knowledge just moments before. Hopkins is a Cambridge classicist and historian, but here he breaks every rule of historiography (except the need for copious endnotes). He opens with a pair of time travelers poking around ancient Pompeii, remarking on everything from the all-too-public toilets to the astonishingly libidinous artwork. Later, Hopkins has a television crew interviewing a survivor of the Qumran sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Throughout, he includes invented letters from academics offering criticism of the work as it unfolds. In the end, however, the book is less than the sum of its parts. Readers learn much about Roman religiosity and the fluid conceptions of Jesus in the first three Christian centuries, but will arrive at the book's end still lacking an answer to the question with which Hopkins began: Why did this sect prevail? The view from the top is disappointing, but it remains an exhilarating climb. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this somewhat daring experiment, Hopkins (ancient history, Cambridge Univ.; Conquerors and Slaves) attempts a new way of presenting the history of early Christianity. Believing that history must always be a subtle mixture of imagination and critical analysis, he juxtaposes fiction, scholarly analysis, informal "friendly letter" responses by other scholars, and carefully footnoted corrections of mistakes committed by his fictional characters. This makes for an unusual narrative; more is required of readers than in "normal" scholarly works or fiction if they are to follow his combination of "empathetic wonder, knowledge, pseudo-objective analysis, ignorance, competing assumptions, and disagreements." Many will consider this amalgam quite effective, but others will find it simply disconcerting. Hopkins makes a real effort to explicate the inevitable ambiguities and biases of historical researchDincluding his own. At the same time, he elucidates Christianity's Jewish and pagan roots. This is a fascinating experiment, to be read carefully, critically, and thoughtfully. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DEugene O. Bowser, Univ. of Northern Colorado, Greeley (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1 A World Full of Gods (Time travel in pagan Pompeii; the Roman context of Christianity)p. 7
2 Jews and Christians, or, How the Dead Sea Scrolls Were Found and Lost (Narrative and drama in three scenes about Jews, Christians, history, and us)p. 46
3 The Christian Revolution (Christian character and evolution: persecutors, martyrs, and bishops)p. 76
4 Jesus and His Twin Brother (Varieties of early Christianity; the apocryphal New Testament)p. 136
5 Magic, Temple Tales, and Oppressive Power (The time travelers continue: Egypt, Syria, and Ephesus)p. 177
6 Pagans vs. Christians vs. Jews (Competing stories in a semi-intellectual discussion of differences)p. 206
7 Recreating the Cosmos (Creation in Jewish, Gnostic, and Manichean thought)p. 242
8 Jesus and the New Testament, or, The Construction of a Sacred Hero (Jesus in the gospels and after)p. 287
Notesp. 333
Select Bibliographyp. 381
Creditsp. 390
Subject Indexp. 391
Selective Index of Proper Namesp. 399