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Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD | [Peter Brown]

Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD

Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world's foremost scholar of late antiquity.
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Publisher's Summary

Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world's foremost scholar of late antiquity.

Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.

Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity's growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.

©2012 Princeton University Press (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

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  •  
    PHIL San Diego, CA, United States 06-23-15
    PHIL San Diego, CA, United States 06-23-15 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Splendid match of author and subject"

    Almost all my interests are here, told with a sprightly and inspired grace and virtuosity I have NEVER (in hundreds of books) heard before. Here is top-notch history of things previously unseen; lucid art history; theology told as I've never heard it; economics and finance; vividly etched characters (geniuses, poets, rogues aplenty, the great and poor), an implicit grand sort of game theory (how did the players at all levels make their moves as Rome tottered and changed beyond recognition in every way, physically and culturally?), (on and on) .... This author is ever-scholarly yet can describe events, people and thoughts with such felicity, such vividness, I feel I am living through countless events, rich in nuances and levels, effortlessly from small details to grand sweeps of thought and event, transparently. Meaning, the immersion works so well, I forget I am listening to a book. Now I have some deep and nuanced comprehension of how Pagan Rome became Christian Rome, and how the material and spiritual interfaced in the minds of key actors along the way. The author will pause on a word, such as an earlier Latin version of today's "commerce" -- and show a former usage, as something that could flow in exchange between the people and things of earth and the divine. I am immensely enriched by this book.
    I think also, rarely, this can be interesting and enlightening without rancor to both the pure classical scholar, the pure aesthete, the economist, and the religious believer. Most books by believers I have to filter some as the authors wriggle and wrestle more or less gracefully to retro-fit the historic record to pre-set religious doctrines. This author encounters no such problem in giving us a tour of the thinking of these characters, grounded in various writings, artworks, legal records, and public works. We can feel the earthly exultations of a rich 4th-century Roman of an earlier world-view, watching it evolve into more ethereal (yet very vivdly lived) Christian orientations, and often bit by bit. These people are assailed by doubts, contradicted by friends, fought by ecclesiastical competitors: this is the full drama of messy history. There were blends and hybrids of old and new thinking all along that are fascinating (and not unfamiliar in new-agey spiritual fellowships I've seen here in contemporary California). Yes, there are few really new things under the sun. But I have been given a new and much deeper view of things right in front of me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adam Shields 05-08-13 Member Since 2014

    Book blogger at Bookwi.se

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    "Worth reading, but a bit long"

    For those that are interested in Christian history and/or Christian understanding of wealth and economics this new book by Peter Brown is well worth paying attention to. It is long, but detailed look at the late Roman Empire. There are several places where Brown is going against the common understanding of that time period, but I think he well documents them.

    The narration is fine, although there are so many foreign words (ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, etc) and some of them are not pronounced the way I think is right. I may be wrong, but it was a bit irritating. But the reading was good and the book was worth reading.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew Romsey, Australia 03-21-13
    Andrew Romsey, Australia 03-21-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Review"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Through the Eye of a Needle to be better than the print version?

    This is an academic work. It requires a careful reading to fully grasp the import of the author's argument and to achieve a nuanced understanding. The audio version is a very poor cousin. However, for my present purpose, listening to it in the car has been a fruitful experience, and I will be purchasing the book for a more complete study.


    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    The performance was generally good, although the reader's pronunciation of certain words raised my eyebrows from time to time. Often, I wasn't sure whether the reader was using an Americanism, or just incorrect.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janice 03-04-13
    Janice 03-04-13
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    "Striking reinterpretation of the fall of Rome"

    Peter Brown is one of the best historians of Christianity today. In this book, he reexamines the role of Christianity in the collapse of the western Roman empire. Strikingly, he finds that christianity was part of the late Roman world not an attacking outsider. I really enjoyed it but I am a historian so I do like more academic approaches to history.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anneke Balwyn North, Australia 02-13-13
    Anneke Balwyn North, Australia 02-13-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Great book"
    What made the experience of listening to Through the Eye of a Needle the most enjoyable?

    I really enjoyed listening to the Eye of the Needle because it's very vivid description of the time and the issues. It brings together a wealth of information.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    It's grasp of the complexities of the time and its ability to present them in a way that made them transparent.


    Have you listened to any of Fleet Cooper’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No, but I really like the way he reads. Engaging.


    What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

    Money is at the bottom of most things, even in Early Christianity. Many of my preconceptions about some of the Church Fathers have been modified.


    Any additional comments?

    It's a great book and worth the listen.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bodacious Wonderment San Diego, CA USA 02-12-13
    Bodacious Wonderment San Diego, CA USA 02-12-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Meh"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    Probably not. Pretty dry and LOTS of conjectures.


    Has Through the Eye of a Needle turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No.


    Which character – as performed by Fleet Cooper – was your favorite?

    N/A


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    Probably.


    Any additional comments?

    It was OK. But a bit unfocused and there were a LOT of conjectures and not a lot of internal consistency. EG, he makes a point of saying that, contrary to what we used to believe, a lot of villa's were built up not just to point out that the rich were different/better than the poor, but because the rich actually LIKED their homes (not much of a inference in any event), then moments later says that the villas were like machines whose function was to separate the rich from the poor.

    On one hand, this book did give a good feeling for the complexities of trying to capture a long gone culture, on the other hand, fell to the temptation to rather dogmatically make broad generalizations based on scanty evidence.

    Still....pretty interesting...

    1 of 4 people found this review helpful

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