Reviewed by Karl Wenclas
–we need to make a special effort not to think that somehow monotheistic faiths are inherently “superior” and that the movement away from paganism is somehow “progress.” It is not progress. It is not regress either. I am not making any evaluative judgment or asking whether one religious system is better than another and closer to some ultimate truth.
No judgments? Why would someone then pay twenty-eight dollars list price for the book? The subtitle says, “How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World.” Does the book answer the “how”?
THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIANITY concludes that, yes, the religion did triumph– but is unwilling to say much beyond that. According to his thorough research (Bart Ehrman is a much-lauded historian; he’s published many books), the obscure sect– begun in his words by “twenty or so illiterate day laborers”– triumphed over hundreds of other cults and sects, and the mighty Roman Empire itself, by using a strategy similar to that of Avon and Amway. Yep folks, that’s it. Have a few friends over while you work your job. Tell them about this neat idea you found out about. And they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell. . . .
Well, maybe. Or not.
The chief question the book raised for me is why Bart D. Ehrman hedges his bets. A severe avoidance of risk. A Simon & Schuster marketing person must have come up with the hyperbolic subtitle. My question is how intently a Simon & Schuster editor was looking over Ehrman’s shoulder tamping the emotion down. “Can’t offend anybody, you know. Not even pagans. They might be a vocal interest group– they have a good turnout on Halloween, anyway. All those werewolf movies! Nope. Too risky. Be careful.”
I was hoping for more. Ehrman scarcely mentions the Resurrection. Might that have been important? Transformative?
The Gospels? Did their words, depictions, narrative, drama, light a fire under people? Hardly touched on.
(“Resurrection of Lazarus” by Leon Bonnat.)
Missing for the most part is the element of fanatical belief.
As for himself, Bart Ehrman indicates he kinda once believed, but now he kinda really doesn’t. But he can’t be sure.
Why does this matter to me?
I have an interest in cultural movements. (My focus has been on arts movements.) I’ve studied them assiduously, looking for clues. I can testify from experience they’re not sustained by the timid, the weak willed. By hobbyists or dabblers. They can be put through only by fearless 100% committed balls-to-the-wall individuals willing to face anything in pursuit of their cause. Anything— from prison to lions to upside-down crucifixion. Such movements require irrational passion– passion nowhere to be found in the careful pages of this book.
(“The Crucifixion of Peter” by Lorenzo Veneziano.)
Like most other things in today’s culture, Bart D. Ehrman’s Triumph of Christianity is thin gruel.
(“Resurrection” by Sebastiano Ricci.)