Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity

This week the classical world lost a profound scholar with the death of Professor Keith Hopkins. Although his most recognized scholarly works were Conquerors and Slaves (1978) and Death and Renewal (1983), his most controverial and possibly most perceptive work was a sociological analysis of the development of Christianity. "A World Full of Gods: The Strange Triumph of Christianity by Keith Hopkins is a rollicking work of revisionist history about Christianity's ascent as the dominant religion of the West. In its tour of Roman paganism, Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism, A World Full of Gods employs a range of techniques of description, analysis, and historical reportage. The first chapter is a report from two time-travelers visiting Pompeii just before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius; soon after comes a description of the ascetic Jewish sect at Qumran that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls--in the form of a TV drama. Hopkins, a professor of ancient history at King's College, Cambridge, justifies his experimental style by asserting that 'to reexperience the thoughts, feelings, practices, and images of religious life in the Roman empire, in which orthodox Christianity emerged in all its vibrant variety, we have to combine ancient perceptions, however partial, with modern understandings, however misleading.' "

Professor Hopkins will be missed.
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