Edward Norman

Crosses to Bear

A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 1161pp £35 order from our bookshop

The apparent paradox in the subtitle of this history of Christianity – ‘The First Three Thousand Years’ – is explained on page 56: the Christian religion has a background in Hebrew and Greek thought and practice, and so the added thousand years may be seen as ‘effectively the first millennium of Christian history’. This new study, the author tells us, is ‘not a work of primary-source research’ but a synthesis of books conveying ‘the current state of historical scholarship across the world’. The range of this reading is not quite as wide as it looks, however, and scarcely sustains the claim that this book is different from ‘any of its predecessors’ precisely because it looks into Christian origins. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s presentation is nevertheless extremely impressive – the fruit, as he explains at the start, of ‘an extended period of unpaid leave’ and the accompanying allure of a forthcoming television series. This last signifies that the ideas he promotes will have a hugely greater currency than is normal with works of religious history, and are likely to become, at least for a time, a kind of orthodoxy.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,