Ehrman is among the world’s leading authorities on Early Christianity, and without a doubt, the most popular, serious, author on the topic. If Early Christian history and theology has a rock star, its Ehrman. The dude has written over thirty books, many of the them bestsellers, but this is the first by him I’ve read.
It’s well worth the price of admission.
In clear, accessible, language Ehrman answers the question of why (and how) did a religion based on the teachings of a Jew from the middle of nowhere come to dominate the Roman empire in the span of a few hundred years. The answer is both simple and endlessly complicated.
First is the nature of monotheism itself, and the numbers associated with it. Ehrman lays this out clearly in the book, but put simply, if you convert one person away from polytheism to monotheism, and they convert two, who then convert four, you quickly start gaining very large numbers.
Second is who was converted – Christianity at least in its early days, was willing to take in, and give positions of power, to Jews, women, and the working class, all people excluded from positions of power in the standard Roman mystery cults and religious societies.
Third was the simple, relatable, narrative of the Gospels themselves. Much of the Jewish world was waiting for a messiah, for sure, but much of the rest of the western world was also hungry for a more relatable god like figure, one not born in Olympus, and one who’s religious message resonated with their everyday lives.
There’s more, of course, (we’re talking about one of the largest most important revolutions in history after all) but this is the basics. I’m sure experts will quibble with this book. Frankly someday I hope to know enough to quibble myself. But for someone like me, dipping my toes into this world, or even for the interested lay person, this is a great introduction to one of the most important events in western society.