A World Full of Gods: The Triumph of Christianity

Keith Hopkins, Author
Keith Hopkins, Author Free Press $26 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7432-0010-3
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 402 pages - 978-0-452-28261-2
Hardcover - 402 pages - 978-0-297-81982-0
Hardcover - 408 pages - 978-0-7538-1065-1
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Judging by sober historical criteria, Hopkins fails to provide a convincing explanation of why Christianity defeated its rivals among the mystery cults, Gnostics and Hellenized Jews in Roman antiquity. Yet this is nevertheless a magnificent, rollicking failure, one that has readers laughing out loud in one paragraph and feeling dizzy in the next, struck by an insight so powerful that it demands reconsideration of what seemed secure knowledge just moments before. Hopkins is a Cambridge classicist and historian, but here he breaks every rule of historiography (except the need for copious endnotes). He opens with a pair of time travelers poking around ancient Pompeii, remarking on everything from the all-too-public toilets to the astonishingly libidinous artwork. Later, Hopkins has a television crew interviewing a survivor of the Qumran sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Throughout, he includes invented letters from academics offering criticism of the work as it unfolds. In the end, however, the book is less than the sum of its parts. Readers learn much about Roman religiosity and the fluid conceptions of Jesus in the first three Christian centuries, but will arrive at the book's end still lacking an answer to the question with which Hopkins began: Why did this sect prevail? The view from the top is disappointing, but it remains an exhilarating climb. (Aug.)
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