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Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 29. April 2014

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Winner of the 2012 Gold Medal Book of the Year Award, History category, ForeWord Reviews Winner of the 2012 Award for Excellence in Humanities, Association of American Publishers Winner of the 2012 R. R. Hawkins Award, PROSE Awards, Association of American Publishers Winner of the 2013 Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, American Philosophical Society Winner of the 2013 Philip Schaff Prize, American Society of Church History Winner of the 2012 PROSE Award in Classics & Ancient History, Association of American Publishers One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013 Honorable Mention for the 2013 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature, McGill University "To compare it with earlier surveys of this period is to move from the X-ray to the cinema... Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one's way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature."--Garry Wills, New York Review of Books "[O]utstanding... Brown lays before us a vast panorama of the entire culture and society of the late Roman west."--Peter Thornemann, Times Literary Supplement "[M]agisterial... The formidably learned historian challenges commonly accepted notions about the role of wealth in the decline of the Roman empire and examines the roots of charity, two subjects relevant to contemporary economics."--Marcia Z. Nelson, Publishers Weekly "It is exciting to watch a historian who has already written so extensively on Late Antiquity absorb so much new scholarship, revise his old reviews, and re-imagine the world we thought we knew from him... Through the Eye of a Needle is a tremendous achievement, even for a scholar who has already achieved so much. Its range is as vast as its originality, and readers will find everywhere the kinds of memorable apercus and turns of phrase for which its author is deservedly famous... There can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a historian and teacher of genius."--G. W. Bowersock, New Republic "As Brown (Augustine of Hippo), the great dean of early church history, compellingly reminds us in his magisterial, lucid, and gracefully written study, the understanding of the role of wealth in the developing Christian communities of the late Roman Empire was much more complex. Combining brilliant close readings of the writings of Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Paulinus of Nola with detailed examinations of the lives of average wealthy Christians and their responses to questions regarding wealth, he demonstrates that many bishops offered such Christians the compromises of almsgiving, church building, and testamentary bequests as alternatives to the renunciation of wealth... Brown's immense, thorough, and powerful study offers rich rewards for readers."--Publishers Weekly "Brown's goal in this book is patiently to reconstruct the debates on wealth among late Roman Christians: in other words, to set out the context for the tendentious claims of ascetic minorities, which have misled so many later interpreters."--Conrad Leyser, Times Literary Supplement "His sparkling prose, laced with humour and humanity, brings his subjects to life with an uncommon sympathy and feeling for their situation."--Tim Whitmarsh, Guardian "This book should be daunting but it is not; for while the book is heavy to lift, it is even harder to put down. It makes utterly compelling reading."--Eric Ormsby, Standpoint "Brown may be an emeritus professor of history at Princeton, but his research is resolutely up-to-date... A hefty yet lucid contribution to the history of early Christianity."--Kirkus Reviews "[A]n unprecedented resource... Brown creates broad, deep landscapes in which the reader can watch the ancients moving. You can, in places, just crawl in and have a true dream about the ancient world. Moreover, the topic holds fascinating implications about the formation of modern Western culture... It's a significant and suggestive story."--Sarah Ruden, American Scholar "The sheer scope of this history is daunting, but scholars, theologians, and anyone interested in late Roman history or early Christianity will find this a fascinating view not only of the Church's development, but also of the changing concepts of wealth and poverty in the last centuries of the Roman empire."--Kathleen McCallister, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia, Library Journal "This is a masterpiece that more than justifies its length. Peter Brown is the greatest living historian of late antiquity, a periodization which he virtually invented, and Through the Eye of a Needle an achievement which stands to his earlier career as a great cathedral does to a pilgrimage route."--Tom Holland, History Today "[N]o other scholar could have produced Brown's characteristically intricate, spectacular and joyous synthesis... One of the captivating qualities of Brown's new book is the sheer energy and intellectual excitement that sparkle through it. He might, in recent years, have rested of his laurels--perhaps, like his beloved Augustine, written his memoirs. Instead, he celebrates the continuing expansion of the field and demonstrates his continued mastery of it in a groundbreaking study of wealth in the late antique Church... Towards the end of the book, Brown describes how a basilica might have looked around the year 600: glowing with candles, glittering with mosaics, gleaming with gold and silver vessels. 'The church itself', he says, 'had become a little heaven, filled with treasures.' It is a description irresistibly applicable to Peter Brown's own book: as rich a monument to the life of the mind as was any late Roman basilica to the life everlasting."--Teresa Morgan, Tablet "[A] predictably brilliant re-appraisal of the Roman world during the fourth to sixth centuries... Through the Eye of a Needle is a vast book, but is remarkably readable. Brown's intimate knowledge of Augustine and his times is presented with human empathy and a sense of the relevance of these long-ago events... [T]he latter chapters of Through the Eye of a Needle contain much essential information about the establishment of Christian influence throughout Europe following Rome's fall... [A] wonderful book."--Ed Voves, California Literary Review "Peter Brown, professor emeritus at Princeton University and the leading historian of late antiquity, has written a masterful study... His book is characterized by lively prose, mastery of the primary sources and original languages, comprehensive use of changes in the study of antiquities (especially the 'material culture' of archaeology), gorgeous plates, nearly 300 pages of bibliographic end material, and a number of important revisions to the standard historiography."--Dan Clendenin, "Through the Eye of a Needle (Princeton University Press) is the crowning masterpiece of Peter Brown, the great historian who virtually invented late antiquity as a periodisation. The book's theme might seem specialised: the evolution of attitudes towards wealth in the last century and a half of the Roman empire in the west, and the century that followed its collapse. In reality, like so many of Brown's books, it gives us a world vivid with colour and alive with a symphony of voices. It is not only the most compassionate study of late antiquity in the west ever written, but also a profoundly subtle meditation on our own tempestuous relationship with money."--Tom Holland, History Magazine "Brown, in this masterful history, makes the writings of Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome more accessible to the average reader, and scholars will welcome the voluminous notes and index."--Ray Saadi, Gumbo "[D]eliriously complicated... As usual, Brown leaves no stone unturned in his search for insight and evidence... He paints a colorful social setting for early church debates about theology and ethics without becoming reductively sociological, and often overturns accepted mytho-history in the process. He quietly draws on contemporary theory but typically lets ancients speak for themselves because his aim is to introduce us to an exotic world. Through it all, he focuses on the masses of details by treating attitudes, beliefs, and practices about wealth as a 'stethoscope' to hear the heartbeat of late Roman and early Christian civilization... Brown has captured the rough texture of real history. It is testimony to the success of Brown's subtle, provocative, and beautifully written book."--Peter Leithart, Christianity Today "A fascinating book by the great historian of late antiquity, Peter Brown, on the development of Christianity in Rome... Through the Eye of a Needle is a serious work of scholarship and an important study about how Rome became Christian."--John Roskam, Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs "Thoroughly researched, making use of the new materials that have emerged in the recent years, The Eye of the Needle is a scholarly work not just on early Christianity but relates its growth to the later developments and offers a new reading of the old sayings. It definitely is a source book for readers on religion and society."--R. Balashankar, Organiser "Its achievement is plain. It explores, with Brown's characteristically profound empathy, the great paradox of how a church with a world- and wealth-denying ideology came to acquire temporal riches and respectability... [H]is approach is to offer the reader extraordinarily vivid portraits of individual Christian thinkers faced with the moral contradictions of worldly riches... This much anticipated book, described by Brown as 'the most difficult book to write that I have ever undertaken,' fulfils expectations. Its success is grounded in its unerring moral balance. Perhaps for the first time, the problem of wealth in early Christianity is treated in full, with no righteous fury at blatant hypocrisy nor any apology for a church that rationalized its enrichment by feeding the poor... It is the virtue of Through the Eye of a Needle that it prompts and enables one to think about the largest questions. It is a gift to have such a beautiful, authoritative, and humane study that cuts to the heart of all that is most challenging in the ...

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His many books include The World of Late Antiquity, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Augustine of Hippo.

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Early Christian History Comes Alive 27. Oktober 2012
Von Anne Lisca - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE reads like a novel but is written by an author who really knows his stuff. It is obvious that Dr. Brown has a full command of Latin and nuances of the language. He is at home in both the social and political history of the period. He has incorporated archaeological and economic discoveries of recent years. I wanted to know more about the transition from the "late classical" period to the "early medieval" period, and found an 'aha' moment on almost every page. The writing, though loaded with facts, is crystal clear and often slyly humorous. It will be a standard reference for many years.
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A magisterial resource 13. November 2012
Von Ethan R. Longhenry - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Kindle Edition
An excellent, magisterial investigation into the history of Latin Western Christianity from 350-550 through a focus on material wealth, its handling, and its influence.

The author demonstrates well how this time period is crucial to explain the shifts that take place between "ancient" and "medieval" Christianity. He uses modern research, recently discovered texts, and archaeological evidence to question the prevailing narratives about the rise of prominence of Christianity in the Latin West and presents a more complex, nuanced, and ultimately more contextual and feasible explanation of that rise.

The author analyzes both pagan and Christian views of wealth in late Roman antiquity, describes the major historical events immediately before the mid-fourth century, and then begins his analysis of the role of wealth as it impacted many of the disputations and personalities of Western Christendom from 350-550, including Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Pelagius, Paulinus of Nola, Salvian, and Gregory of Tours.

The author convincingly demonstrates the process by which wealth eventually moved toward the church as the Roman empire disintegrated and how changes in the place of wealth and conceptions of giving in terms of penance and to the poor were major forces in the shift from "ancient" to "medieval" Christianity.

The character studies of Ambrose and Augustine (as well as the rest of the major characters) are of excellent quality and quite instructive, firmly contextualizing the men not only as theologians but as full-fledged members of the late Roman world. This work is useful since it shows the social, political, and cultural dimensions of the major theological disputes regarding Augustinianism vs. Pelagianism, Catholics vs. Donatists, and even the late phase of the Arians vs. Trinitarians.

This is an excellent work of history and very worthwhile for anyone with an interest in the history of late antiquity and/or the development of Christianity and Christian doctrine.

**--galley received as early review edition
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The Problem of Wealth 5. Januar 2013
Von Amrit - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
This is a searching and authoritative study of how early Christianity dealt with the problem of wealth. The scriptural position taken literally was uncompromising. It was harder for a rich person to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle (Matthew 19:24). The rich were enjoined to given their wealth away and live a life of poverty. Brown in his work explores how Christian thinkers dealt with these teachings in a situation when many rich people began joining the Church, especially towards the end of the fourth century ACE when the religion had established itself as the dominant faith supported by the Imperial State.

The narrative begins with the socio-economic context of the Fourth Century ACE. The century rather than being a period of decline was one of innovation and renewal when the Roman economy was newly monetised. The gold solidus introduced under Constantine proved to be a remarkably stable and long lasting currency which facilitated robust economic activity and the accumulation in specie of large fortunes. Although the basis of wealth remained land, the rich were able to convert agricultural wealth into gold. The top decile of Roman society comprising a small number of super rich and larger numbers of moderately wealthy were the beneficiaries of these favourable conditions and formed the imperial elite comprising both Italians and wealthy provincials, many of whom were "new men" who depended on and rose to social prominence and wealth as a result of imperial service and honours. Power for them was readily converted into wealth.

It was in this context that the Christian Church of the Fourth century found itself. At the time of the conversion of Constantine, the Church's social base lay amongst town folk from the middle levels of society. They were not the poorest but reasonably well off middling people, often skilled craftsmen, teachers and other urban service providers of modest to comfortable means. By contrast, the aristocracy in general remained pagan. It was after about the 370s once the religion had established itself as the religion favoured by the State that the rich began joining the Church and the religion began to assume the character of a majority religion. These changes were encouraged also by the "gentle violence" of the Christian Imperial Court, although it officially maintained a policy of neutrality in matters of religion until the end of the Fourth Century. Against this background, rich men without any prior training or Christian background began to obtain the role of bishop, including Ambrose of Milan. These developments also accompanied a new vigour amongst the leaders of the Church directed against whom they saw as their enemies, both pagans and non-Nicene Christians, bringing to an end the era of toleration of the reigns of Constantine and his sons.

The uses and abuses of wealth engaged the attention and interest of both pagan and Christian elites. Concepts of charitable giving found expression in both traditions as obligations on the part of the wealthy to share their wealth with others. Both traditions also took a hostile position towards or at least discomfort with the idle rich. For the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus, the sad contrast was between the supposed frugality and virtue of the past exemplified by the Republic and the excesses of his own time, attributable especially to the new money associated with the Constantine era when imperial officials were able to make huge fortunes. One form of pagan giving was the endowment of public buildings and putting on of games for the civic population. This was wealth that the Church however taught would be better directed at donations to the Church and poor relief and became an early target for Christian leaders.

For Christians, their moral compass on matters of wealth and its uses came from the passages of the Old and New Testaments requiring the rich and powerful to do justice to the poor (eg in the book of Isaiah) and specific injunctions of Jesus for the rich to give what they had to the poor in return for a reward in the afterlife. This view of giving took the form of a commercial transaction which may appear odd and distasteful to a modern sensibility. The Christian view of the proper uses of wealth in the end prevailed in favour of pagan concepts of public endowment and largesse, with the Church itself receiving gifts from rich donors which it in turn was supposed to apply for the benefit of the poor.

The narrative at this point turns to the lives of five prominent men of the era. The first is Symmachus, the pagan magnate who witnesses the decline of the old religion and an increasing numbers of aristocrats becoming Christians. Their wealth "slipped into the hand of the church".

Ambrose of Milan who is the second subject represents the new phenomenon of a Christian Bishop for the first time entering the circles of power to influence the policies of the Imperial Court. He also represents a new confident type of Churchman who ushers in the ascendancy of Nicene Christianity over its rivals, both Christian and Non-Christian. This new power is underpinned in part by the ability to bring the crowd onto the street to get one's way and even to take on the power of the Emperor (perhaps foreshadowing the conflicts between Church and State during the Middle Ages).

Ambrose importantly, argued for a sense of human solidarity, bringing the poor within the one human community rather than as outsiders receiving charity from those who saw fit to give. He said that it "is not anything of yours that you are bestowing on the poor; rather, you are giving back something of theirs. For you alone are usurping what was given in common for the use of all. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich". The view put forward by Ambrose stood in contrast to the Classical view that distinguished between citizens (who alone were entitled to the Annona or corn dole and giving by the rich) to the exclusion of non-citizens, often rural refugees surviving on the margins. This change bringing all within the community of "God's people" represents a key transformation in Late Antiquity.

The narrative then moves to consider the life of St Augustine. Augustine did not come from a wealthy background so that for him, poverty may have been something close to the bone. He did not speak forcefully like Ambrose in favour of redistributing wealth but looked to some kind of spiritual communism in which all souls were brought together based on his reading of Plotinus - in some kind of metaphysical communion. He however did give much thought to the uses of wealth and took a high minded but "middle of the road" position that in the end prevailed.

The next subject of the discussion is the late Roman nobleman Ausonius who exemplifies the life of a wealthy aristocrat through his life of consumption and otium (leisure and study) in Aquitania, a life though luxurious was based on the flimsy foundations of the Late Antiquity which would disappear in a generation when the Roman Imperial state in the West begins unravelling. Ausonius represents a Christianity that is comfortable in and with the world and with wealth, in contrast to the more high minded and austere Christianity of Augustine that followed in the next generation.

The final figure Brown looks at is Paulinus of Nola. Like Ausonius, Paulinus was a Christian from the wealthiest segment of Roman society. But unlike the case of Ausonius, for Paulinus and others of the generation that followed, wealth was a "slime" to be discarded in order to access spiritual riches. Paulinus was the first Roman aristocrat known to have abandoned his estates and wealth in order to be ordained a priest and live a religious life, to the disquiet and even shock of other members of his class. He reflects the new austere spirit of Christianity and its rejection of wealth and the good life and enjoyed by the upper classes. For the aristocracy, the abandoning of wealth was shocking because it meant turning one's back on the duty that came with wealth including obligations of public service - and to be condemned as such.

At the end of the period, the "poor" had come to assume the place of the old Roman plebs as the object of the munificence of the rich, and giving to the poor by the rich (usually done in a public and ostentatious manner) was seen as a way of getting through the "eye of the needle". Against this background, teachings developed arguing that the rich held their wealth on trust for the poor and by giving, achieved spiritual riches - "salvation economics". Pagans on the other hand would argue that wealth belonged to the human creator of the wealth and not held on trust for God or the poor.

The entry of greater numbers of wealthy people into the Church in the later fourth century also produces greater stratification within the Christian community. Damasus and Jerome both deal with the issue in different ways. Pope Damasus encourages the rich to enter the Church to provide it with greater respectability and Jerome inspired by Syrian models encourages rich Romans to take up ascetic and chaste lives, scandalising aristocratic families when women from these families do what Jerome asks. Jerome and Churchmen of his day though wedded to a notion of personal poverty, lived in the shadow of enormously expensive libraries on which their intellectual endeavours depended presumably funded by wealthy patrons and donors, recalling perhaps Gandhi's quip that keeping him in poverty, cost his friends a fortune.

The increasing flow of wealth to the Church triggered conflicts over who should get the new wealth. Pope Damasus in Rome for example objected to funds from Christians in Rome going to endowments in Palestine, believing that all donations to the Church from Roman Christians should be under his control.

Two sharply different views of the use and deployment wealth emerge out of the debates of the era. Augustine urged giving by the rich to the Church, which would then use for its own benefit, for the "Holy Poor", namely the clergy - and give to the rest of the poor as it saw fit. He also preferred steady giving over time so that the Church enjoyed an assured flow of income rather than spectacular acts of giving everything away as a one off event. A more radical giving and self-impoverishment was urged by others. These differences also reflected how the rich came to be viewed. For Pelagians, the position was "tolle divitem et pauperem non inveniens" (Get rid of the rich and you will find no poor). Augustine however responded "tolle superbiam, divitiae non nocebunt" (Get rid of pride and riches will not harm).

However, it was the view of Augustine which prevailed. Following the trauma of the Gothic invasions of the early Fifth century and the dislocation and insecurity of life in the period, those "whose wealth had survived the shocks of this new crisis were unlikely to feel guilty about what little was left to them". With the collapse of the Roman state in the West during the fifth century, it is the Church, supported by the increasing wealth in its hands, that steps in and assumes many of the functions of State at the regional level, anticipating the Medieval Church. Also settled by this time were concepts of charitable giving to and through the Church (as opposed to more uncompromising Pelagian concepts of abandoning wealth and pagan concepts of civic endowment) that survive into and beyond the Middle Ages.

Brown's study of how Roman elites and intellectuals after the coming of Christianity addressed the question of wealth and gave effect to the teachings of the scriptures on the ownership and uses of wealth, does not however deal with how the rest of the population dealt with these questions. This indeed may be what Brown calls one of the vast areas of silence that the surviving texts do not speak to - and can only be guessed at. There is evidence of social banditry during the era - and indeed in pretty much every pre-modern society - including the Robin Hood like Christian bandits of Augustine's own time, the Circumcellions. How these groups thought about these issues can only be speculated on. Did they reject the elite concept of limited redistribution of wealth through individual donations by rich givers in favour of involuntary redistribution through banditry of what Ambrose said belonged to everyone? Did they not think about the theology very much at all and simply did what they thought they had to do to survive? In this regard, the better documented medieval period shows some insight into the groups such as the Dolcinites who did provide a theology to support their forced expropriation of the rich - and appealed directly to scripture to support their actions.

However, it appears that neither the rich voluntary givers of Late Antiquity studied by Brown (and those of the Middle Ages) nor the poor who forcibly took wealth from the rich operated beyond the level of individual action or action by small groups in their local areas. The theology of Ambrose in other words did not operate as a generalised political programme driven by the State for the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the rest of the population (even if the non-conformist Pelagius and his followers may have implied such a proposition). Political programmes of this kind were generally not found in any pre-modern society (with some arguable exceptions of "State Socialism" such as the "Equal Field System" (juntian zhidu) of the Tang Dynasty in China). However, by Early Modern times in Europe, the relevant passages of scripture could and did inspire such political action pushed through by powerful states. Cromwell in dispossessing cavaliers could raise his voice in prayer to ask "Strengthen us, O God .... that many be made not poor to make a few rich" (although sadly, he did not see fit to apply the prayer in Ireland). It is hard to see that Ambrose could have conceived the passages of scripture he relied on to support his teachings on wealth working in this way to dispossess violently the rich. The rise of mass political programmes in the nineteenth century calling for the redistribution of wealth took these issues to a more intense level - with theological support for socialist programmes based on the same basal arguments known to Ambrose and his contemporaries. Karl Marx was concerned enough with these trends in theology that he specifically attacked what he called "clerical socialism" in the Communist Manifesto, anxious to stamp socialism with a resolutely secular character.

The scriptural debates concerning wealth studied by Brown resonate to this day, as countries such as the United States and France debate how the upward sliding scale of taxation should or should not be used to redistribute wealth from the "1%" to the "99%". Were they to hear the theology of Sister Simone Campbell and the "Nuns on the Bus" on the justice of redistributing wealth, Ambrose and Augustine may well recognise the arguments and the difficulties in giving effect to the same uncompromising passages of scripture - even if they might find it surprising that the State had the power and the means to do so on a scale that would have been unimaginable in his day when the best they could hope for it their day would have been the voluntary practice of "salvation economics" by a few rich people. Brown's work is a valuable and thought provoking study of how an ancient society dealt with an issue that still confront societies of the 21st century, with theologians attempting to give life and meaning to the same scriptural passages in a very different setting.
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A superb book 4. Oktober 2012
Von Philip Freeman - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I've been reading and studying Peter Brown's books since I was an undergraduate. I've also used them in my own college classes on late antiquity. This book is one of his best. It focuses on the role of wealth in the later Empire, but really it's a comprehensive social history of the whole period. It's scholarly and authoritative, but very readable.
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The work of a lifetime by one of the world's greatest living historians 24. Dezember 2012
Von Wes Howard-Brook - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Peter Brown is not only one of the foremost living scholars on the world of Late Antiquity; he is an excellent and joyous writer and travel companion. His career spans half a century, yet this book is repeatedly punctuated by his enthusiasm for the work of younger scholars whose writing has undermined Brown's own work and assumptions in many places. How many people near the end of a long and fruitful life are excited to find that they were often wrong?

His writing always carries a balance of erudition and accessibility, serving both other scholars and lay people new to a field. I've been reading his work for years and have never come away disappointed. He has the ability to humanize figures and contexts from the ancient world like no one else.

This book is in many ways a companion to his earlier brilliant survey, The Body and Society. The earlier work examined how Christianity's perspective on sexuality and bodily ascetism was shaped by Greco-Roman attitudes and practices in the 2nd-4th centuries. This volume, covering a later period of history, uses a similar method to examine the questions of wealth and poverty. As others have written here, each page holds its own "ah ha" moments. I have been researching this field for several years as part of my own scholarly work, yet Brown's book opened up new vistas on countless situations that I had previously thought I had already understood clearly. My reading list is also at least twenty volumes longer because of his excellent, engaging footnotes highlighting recent scholarship in five languages.

One of the overarching insights of the book is that "Christianity" never existed as a "thing," but was manifest, then as now, in unique ways in local contexts that varied over time. This has become a commonly held scholarly perspective in recent decades, and is thus not unique to Brown. But Brown takes that insight and allows it to shed light on a fascinating array of such contexts from throughout the Western Empire. The specific theme of wealth and poverty is one with which Christians have always and continue to grapple. This book's examination of the ancient world sheds much light on our own economic questions today, although Brown does not weigh down the historical analysis with comparisons with our world. Astute readers can easily find such parallels for themselves.

Whether you are a scholar or simply have a casual interest in this time period, "Needle" is worth its weight in Roman solidii!
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