By Sandra Boone
Professor Ehrman writes with the depth of one who has the luxury of a full semester to examine his subject (this book is almost 300 pages long) but with the wit, language and modern references that would win a professor an undergraduate teaching award. He is a former fundamentalist Christian, and lifelong Biblical scholar with over 30 books, 6 of which were New York Times Best Sellers. These include the controversial Misquoting Jesus. He is now considers himself an agnostic humanist.
It should be noted that the subtitle of The Triumph of Christianity, How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World, is overbroad. The book addresses in detail Christianity’s dominance in the Roman Empire, not all of Modern Christendom.
Ehrman exclaims in the introduction that the dominance of the Christian religion in the Roman Empire “affected the history of the West in ways that simply cannot be calculated….But there is no reason this cultural shift had to happen, no historical necessity.” He sets the expectation that he writes as a historian, not a theologian, and then leads readers through the lives of inhabitants of the Roman Empire during the first four centuries following the life of Jesus.
His thorough examination includes archeological evidence, written records of the empire, early Christian histories, church records, and statistical demographic analysis. While he states that he makes no judgement as to whether the triumph of the Christian faith is a good thing, his fascination with the subject is clear and contagious. What did evangelism look like at the time? Who were the Christ followers? What do we know about early church hierarchy? How did groups of followers communicate? Which Roman authorities took an interest in this group? Why?
Al this evidence is marshaled to consider how a small handful of followers of Christ grew into a religion of roughly 30 million in under four centuries.Besides formulating his own theory, he examines those put forth by other scholars, and Ehrman is as quick to say that a particular theory is not supported by evidence as he is to confess there is no historical evidence to consider a particular point. Readers are enlightened and also left with questions to consider. All in all a pretty good course of study.