By Stephen Wishnevsky
CHRISTIANITY: THE FIRST THREE THOUSAND YEARS. By Diarmaid MacCulloch. Viking Press. 2010. 1016 pages. $45.
As much as I hate to review a book that I have not completed, I must admit defeat. I have gotten through 518 pages out of 1,016 pages of actual text, not counting Notes, Index and Further Reading. I have gotten to “The Third Rome,” Moscow, and the Mongols are coming over the hill. Enough.
This is a wonderful book, very well written in accessible prose, with a modicum of footnotes – a narrative history that is indeed a narrative. It is a marvelous work. MacCulloch keeps a dispassionate view, even when the subjects of his writing are writhing in extreme agonies.
I especially respect the fact that he introduces each character carefully, giving enough back story to ground the reader in the time and place. Classical histories are fond of referring to “The Bishop of Antioch,” assuming that any reader would already know the story and was reading merely to become awed by the prose style. MacCulloch assumes nothing. He tells you who Augustine was, has a few words for his mother, his compatriots, his setting and the struggles of his time.
A most worthwhile book. I cannot think of another history so engrossing and informative. In a subject field so fraught with lies, distortion, misapprehension, outright fraud and blood-soaked accusations of heresy, this book deserves to be the benchmark for anybody who needs to know what happened to Joshua ben Joseph, and what happened to his ever-so-simple words. It is easy to see that his message was lost before the body cooled, no matter what the mythmakers affirm.
I do plan to finish this book; only 700 years to go.