When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across this Audible Inc. production of Prof. Peter Brown's newest book "Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, the author of the best biography of Augustine of Hippo, is a careful meticulous and and well-respected historian of the late Roman Empire. He writes with authority.
In "Through the Eye of the Needle" Brown uses different sources (artefacts, catacombs, archaeological insights, written texts etc.) to reconstruct what has traditionally been seen as the time of the Roman Empire's decline. Already in the awkward dates that he uses in the sub-title of his book 350-550 AD and not for instance 324 (when Constantine was became emperor over the whole Roman Empire), Brown distances himself from traditional top-down historiography that focus important persons and places. While using important figures, like Maxentius, Augustine and others, he aims to document and interpret the way the not-so-important people of the late Western Roman Empire understood wealth.
He uses wealth at the key to sketch a different but more believable picture of late Roman Empire and its different churches' rise to prominence in its society. I found his take on the Pelagian controversy very interesting and enlightening.
Fleet Cooper did a fair job in reading the book. I am not sure if it is Brown's writing style or Cooper's way of reading, but it felt that some sentences were often to long and Cooper would break for breath making it difficult to comprehend a whole idea as a thought unit. That said, Cooper's pronunciation of foreign languages and the general ease of his reading made it pleasant to listen to.
Not everybody would like this book. At times it is very technical and might even be too thorough to some people's taste. It is an academic work and probably a trendsetter that cannot be ignored by historians reflecting on this part of history in future. Yet it might not be to the taste of someone who wants a light read.
It comes highly recommended. I hope Audible will see their way open to publish more of Prof. Brown's books in audio format.
By now Bart D. Ehrman, lapsed Evangelical Christian turned Agnostic with Atheist undercurrents, is well-known and well established as a populariser of 19th and 20th century critical Bible scholarship. In "Did Jesus exist?" Ehrman again brings the insights of critical scholarship to the table to engage (not with Evangelical Christians) but with Mythicists (atheists holding the believe that Jesus didn't exist) on the question of how historical Jesus Christ really was. Did he really exist or was he made up?
In my opinion Ehrman does a good job of confirming that Jesus was a real man of flesh and blood that lived in the first century C.E. He argues from a modernist historical perspective and makes a convincing argument that there are enough "reliable" sources to attest to a historical Jesus.
After he looked at some of the evidence for Jesus' existence he analyses some of the commonest arguments of leading mythicists. He convincingly shows that this group of people has an agenda that clouds good scholarship. He offers a convincing rebuttal for all their major arguments against Jesus.
He then offers a scholarly reconstruction of Jesus and offers a comfort prize to the Mythicists, the Jesus of the Christian Church doesn't completely correspond with the real Jesus. He illustrates by bringing together the different earliest sources that has been identified from the gospels that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet of his time.
Some of this may sound familiar, if you have read or listened to Ehrman previously. There are quite a lot of data and information that has been presented in different packages in his previous books.
One thing that bothered me a bit about Ehrman's reconstruction of the historical Jesus, was his insistence that Jesus didn't refer to himself when he spoke of the "son of Man." There is definitely not scholarly agreement on this theory and it is still hotly debated. Ehrman presents it as a well-known scholarly fact.
While this book repeats various of his arguments from previous books, it is still a worthwhile book. Ehrman is known for following his arguments through. This book is a must for anyone that is not convinced that there lived a historical Jesus.
Walter Dixon narrated the book superbly. He might become synonymous with Ehrman's future audio books.
One thing about the production that was bothering is that to the end one or two chapters of the book is repeated. This is probably the case due to a bad cut and past job.
This is vintage Ehrman, excellent but with a much needed acquired taste!
If you think this is a sit-back-and-relax kind of book, you will be disappointed in it. It is not a book that you can listen in one go... but all that said, Diarmaid MacCulloch history of Christianity is probably one of the best works on its history.
Previous histories would focus on Western Christianity, MacCulloch includes the various forms of Eastern Christianity, orthodox and not so orthodox. This makes it probably one of the most complete histories in the last few decades.
One thing that does hinder when listening to the book is the conceptualising of the dates and eras. I think Audible can give some or other download that might help with it. MacCulloch also seem to make a few irritating sidelong remarks, about historical figures en situations, that made me wonder what the basis for these remarks are.
The person reading the book does a decent job of the whole. It is however important to remember that he is reading an academical work.
This book is meant for academics and people with a big interest in the history of Christianity and the Christiandom throughout the ages.