The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity

Last month saw the publication of Pagans: The End of Traditional Religion and the Rise of Christianity by historian James J. O’Donnell. Me, I’m happy to see someone use the term “Traditional Religion” as an alternative to “pagan” which is Latin for “peasant” and was meant as a derisive term.

Publishers’ Weekly describes it thusly: “The early Christian movement began amid numerous other religions in the Hellenistic world, but the now-familiar story of the rise of Christianity very often leaves out the complex relationships between early Christians and these other religions. O’Donnell (Augustine) shines a light on that omission, in meticulous detail and through lively storytelling, animating the world of ancient religions, early Christianity’s place in that milieu, and the ways that the first Christians created a category of paganism to describe other religions. In the first and second centuries, Christians were the odd ones out: “if there are many gods, people who claim to believe in exactly one god, a god few had heard of… are, functionally speaking, atheists,” he writes. O’Donnell brilliantly chronicles the growing toleration of Christianity by the Roman Empire up through the fourth century, when it became the accepted religion of the empire. He convincingly demonstrates what many have known all along: paganism is a category that modern Christians invented to define themselves against other religions and to use, often, to justify persecution of those different from Christians. This is a must-read book.”

Commentators at GoodReads seem to like it too:

But the NY Times had a slightly mixed reaction:

Here’s one place to buy it:


Frater Lux Ad Mundi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *