Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries


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Ramsay MacMullen

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The slaughter of animals for religious feasts, the tinkling of bells to ward off evil during holy rites, the custom of dancing in religious services—these and many other pagan practices persisted in the Christian church for hundreds of years after Constantine proclaimed Christianity the one official religion of Rome. In this book, Ramsay MacMullen investigates the transition from paganism to Christianity between the fourth and eighth centuries. He reassesses the triumph of Christianity, contending that it was neither tidy nor quick, and he shows that the two religious systems were both vital during an interactive period that lasted far longer than historians have previously believed.

MacMullen explores the influences of paganism and Christianity upon each other. In a rich discussion of the different strengths of the two systems, he demonstrates that pagan beliefs were not eclipsed or displaced by Christianity but persisted or were transformed. The victory of the Christian church, he explains, was one not of obliteration but of widening embrace and assimilation. This fascinating book also includes new material on the Christian persecution of pagans over the centuries through methods that ranged from fines to crucifixion; the mixture of motives in conversion; the stubbornness of pagan resistance; the difficulty of satisfying the demands and expectations of new converts; and the degree of assimilation of Christianity to paganism.

Ramsay MacMullen is Dunham Professor Emeritus of History and Classics at Yale University. He is the author of Corruption and the Decline of Rome, Christianizing the Roman Empire: A.D. 100-400, Paganism in the Roman Empire, and Roman Social Relations, 50 B.C. to A.D. 284, all published by Yale University Press.

A selection of the History Book Club

"MacMullen's book is an important work of scholarship and historical imagination. He asserts his revisionist views clearly and with intensity, punctuating with trenchant observations and fresh insights."—Richard Brilliant

"This is a most interesting work—a work rich in understanding and analysis. MacMullen's view of religious change as a dynamic process departs from the narrow paths of more traditional historians."—Speros Vryonis, Jr.

"MacMullen’s book brings much to the surface: a careful reading will repay any reader interested in the subject."—William E. Klingshirn, Catholic Historical Review

"Stellar book. . . . This is an interesting, well-written book."—Covenant Companion

"With this remarkable book, Ramsay MacMullen again challenges the reader to rethink the development of late-antique Christianity. . . . Through MacMullen's wide-ranging erudition in both the literary sources and in epigraphical and archaeological finds, this book provides students of Christianity with the basic data to catch a glimpse of how ordinary Christians worshipped and interacted with the divine. . . . He has provided a wealth of data, and his book should form a necessary part of the study of late-antique Christianity."—Robert Doran, Journal of Religion

"One of the most outstanding historians of the ancient world."—Anthony A. Barrett, The Historian

"A mine of scholarly information. . . . This is an important contribution towards understanding the nature of the conversion of the pagan world to Christianity. . . . A substantial historical work, emphasizing truths regarding Late Antiquity not always recognized, and is a further witness to the scholarship and convictions of the author."—W. H. C. Freud, Theology

Ramsay MacMullen is the recipient of a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association (awarded Jan. 5, 2001). The citation begins, “Ramsay MacMullen is the greatest historian of the Roman Empire alive today.”
ISBN: 9780300080773
Publication Date: October 11, 1999
288 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4