Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #6 The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
Of all the books on this list, certainly the one that most qualifies as a "sleeper" in terms of notoriety is Robert L. Wilken's The Christians and the Romans Saw Them. Everyone I've mentioned the book to has never heard of it. It could be because Wilken isn't an apologist; he's a secular historian and the book is published by Yale University Press (which definitely cannot be considered a Christian publisher!) I hadn't heard about the book when I first bought it either. It was one of those extremely fortunate thrift store finds; I risked two dollars based on the title and was pleasantly surprised at the content.
As Wilken explains in his introduction, the story of early Christianity has been told almost exclusively through Christian sources. Because of this, we can miss how the new belief system was being perceived by the more mainstream circles of Romans and pagans in that day. Wilken then goes on to draw on Pliny, Galen, Celsus, Porphyry, and Justin the Apostate—along with smaller mentions in other works—to paint a picture of Roman life, Roman belief, and just how this strange new sect was received.
Many struggles of the early Christians shocking, such as the accusations that they were a cannibalistic cult. Others are very familiar to modern day evangelicals. In all, the book is an absolute eye-opener, not only from an historical standpoint, but in seeing how a small contingent in an empire that numbered sixty million souls grew to the dominant belief system in a few centuries. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them can even help your apologetic. Understanding the persuasive nature of early Christians in a culture where they were deeply misunderstood will give you better insight into your own interactions with others. The book is definitely a worthwhile read. You ca see the other book entries from this list here.
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