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.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
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.
Professional librarian type, amateur historian.
There was a chance I was not going to finish this book because it was a little dry and there was so much necessary information the author was putting forth. But after listening I believe I am a better and informed Christian and would recommend the book with the caveat that it is a little difficult to really get into the book, in the beginning.
One of the things Peter Brown does well is provide a sense of the culture and environment people lived in for the modern reader. He made me realize my concepts of what was wealth and poverty did not match up to late Roman views of wealth, and the importance of citizenship, and poverty. He translates the past for the modern reader. Unfortunately it take a while to translate and can be a tad uninteresting.
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.
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.
Probably not. Pretty dry and LOTS of conjectures.
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.
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.
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