A New History of Early Christianity Charles Freeman

Publication date:
15 Mar 2011
Yale University Press
400 pages: 197 x 127 x 29mm
16 pp. b-w illus.
Sales territories:

This stimulating history of early Christianity revisits the extraordinary birth of a world religion and gives a new slant on a familiar story

The relevance of Christianity is as hotly contested today as it has ever been. A New History of Early Christianity shows how our current debates are rooted in the many controversies surrounding the birth of the religion and the earliest attempts to resolve them. Charles Freeman’s meticulous historical account of Christianity from its birth in Judaea in the first century A.D. to the emergence of Western and Eastern churches by A.D. 600 reveals that it was a distinctive, vibrant, and incredibly diverse movement brought into order at the cost of intellectual and spiritual vitality. Against the conventional narrative of the inevitable “triumph” of a single distinct Christianity, Freeman shows that there was a host of competing Christianities, many of which had as much claim to authenticity as those that eventually dominated. Looking with fresh eyes at the historical record, Freeman explores the ambiguities and contradictions that underlay Christian theology and the unavoidable compromises enforced in the name of doctrine.

Tracing the astonishing transformation that the early Christian church underwent—from sporadic niches of Christian communities surviving in the wake of a horrific crucifixion to sanctioned alliance with the state—Charles Freeman shows how freedom of thought was curtailed by the development of the concept of faith. The imposition of "correct belief," religious uniformity, and an institutional framework that enforced orthodoxy were both consolidating and stifling. Uncovering the difficulties in establishing the Christian church, he examines its relationship with Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman society, and he offers dramatic new accounts of Paul, the resurrection, and the church fathers and emperors.

Charles Freeman is a specialist on the ancient world and its legacy. He has worked on archaeological digs on the continents surrounding the Mediterranean and develops study tour programs in Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Freeman is Historical Consultant to the prestigious Blue Guides series and the author of numerous books, including the bestseller The Closing of the Western Mind and, most recently, Holy Bones, Holy Dust. He lives in the UK.

 ‘Freeman writes well and his narrative is clear and swift with fine flashes of insight.’—Eric Ormsby, Standpoint

‘This [book] brilliantly evokes the intellectual excitement and spiritual ferment when a sect of enthusiasts was turning itself into a church.’—Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

‘This book will help us to new understandings and insights…It makes the events of this early period clear and accessible, and succeeds in showing how the Church developed its character and identity.’—John Binns, Church Times

‘[Freeman] has found a fresh approach to the subject, from the birth of Christ to the death of the Roman Empire…Freeman gives one of the best explanations of the Arian controversy…that I have come across. And it is the way Freeman explores such issues that gives this book its modern relevance.’—Nigel Nelson, Tribune

‘Freeman writes very well and he always takes the trouble to read deeply in the scholarly literature. This book is a rattling good read and you’ll encounter all sorts of fascinating facts and stories.’—Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald

'[Freeman] surveys a surprisingly diverse range of early Christian communities, differing from one another in doctrine, devotional observances, and attitudes toward pagan philosophy. But in the narrative that he presses most insistently, Freeman recounts how small and politically marginal bands of Christians—subject to savage persecution—transformed into an imperially powerful church serving Roman emperors (notably, Constantine and Theodosius) and persecuting heretics unwilling to embrace the creeds those emperors helped to hammer out.' —Bryce Christensen, Booklist

'A New History of Early Christianity" is a masterful book, and a pleasure to read. Freeman narrates the development, diversity, and spread of Christianity with originality and verve. It is a story that brims over with fascinating accounts, intriguing quotations from figures in the ancient Mediterranean, and illuminating historical analysis. It is also a crucial resource for our understanding of ongoing cultural negotiations of religious and political spheres, all those theologico-political paradoxes that face us now more than ever. I do not think there exists a more engaging and illuminating history of early Christianity than this one.' - Ward Blanton, University of Glasgow

'Even those who are adherents to Christianity may be puzzled by the tensions which exist in its primary sources, and this meticulous attempt to probe its origins and development is to be welcomed. Charles Freeman embraces the different kinds of approaches and positions which are found in the ancient texts, Christian and otherwise, painting a vivid picture of the nature of Christianity in all its diversity in the earliest centuries of its existence.' - Christopher Rowland, author of Christian Origins

'This is a bold and imaginative historical synthesis which fills an important need. For the first time, Freeman makes the complex story of Christianity's birth and early development available in concise, lively, eminently readable form. A tragic story in many ways, but a great pleasure to read.' - Richard Rubenstein, author of When Jesus Became God