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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Friday, March 02, 2012

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.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Lenny. Definitely need to read this!

  2. Thanks Amanda! Glad to bring it to light.

  3. Anonymous11:54 AM

    This book sounds like the Rodney Stark book:

    And there's a newer one:

  4. Thanks for the links, Wintry. I haven't had the chance to read Stark yet. The interesting thing in this book is it tell of Christianity completely from the Roman/pagan perspective. It tries to really get into the Roman mind who saw Christians as these strange, marginal outsiders. So, it doesn't focus on the growth of Christianity as much as the perception in the popular culture of the day. I don't know how much Stark goes into that aspect of it, but I would like to read his books!

  5. We agree about this being a good book. I also have this book. Haven't read it all, but really like and did learn some things. It taught me about the age-old war between philosophy and religion. Philosophy is built upon reason and religion is built upon divine revelation (which can't be verified). It is a powerful idea with consequences.

  6. I discovered this book when preparing a presentation for my Early Church class. It was a fascinating read!


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