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.
Fascinating insight into the meaning and history of money in the Church.
Learned how the words he didn't know should be pronounced! It sounded a bit like he didn't know what he was talking about; this didn't really fit with the text which seemed so well researched and scholarly. But he did have a nice voice!
It sounded like the narrator had not pre-read the text. I had trouble concentrating because I had to mentally correct the narration to make sense of it and it became laborious,.
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.
The reader has no clue about any of the subject. He mispronounces nearly EVERY main name: Cyprian (says "SIGH-pree-un"), Paulinus, Augustine (Ah-Gus-TEEN), bishopric (buh-SHOP-rick), apposite, etc., etc. Latin is mangled as much as the French, not to mention the Hebrew. A reader need not be a scholar, but if he had asked a first-year student how to pronounce the vocab he could have improved it immensely. SO frustrating! Also reads like he's not always quite sure where the sentence is going. Badly done.
The book is a tour de force, and standard high scholarship as one would expect from Peter Brown. It is rich, interesting, and immensely provocative.
If he took a first year course in Roman history or theology....
Frustration that he could so systematically mispronounce names and terms. It stands in such utter contrast to the scholarship of the book itself that I couldn't stomach it.
This is a book of outstanding scholarship written with great clarity by one of the most knowledgable and trustworthy historians of the period of the late Roman empire. Brown uses the issue of wealth as a key to enter a complex social and religious world that saw the emergence of Christianity into the ancient hierarchies of power, prestige, and vast wealth that had powered the Roman empire for many centuries.
Brown's narrative is fascinating and relatively easy to follow and brings to life the variety of characters and interests of the period in a wonderfully vivid way. He leads the listener to understand the nuances of primary texts while evaluating many current debates among historians with a sure touch.
Brown writes as a person who has lived in the world he describes for many years and understands its nooks and crannies like a native. I emerged from the long journey with a tremendous sense of gratitude for Brown's guidance through an important historical period in which modern prejudices could easily distort my perceptions.
Cooper reads the book with great clarity and articulation. My only problem with the narration was that quite a number of the names of ancient people or texts or technical terms seemed mispronounced. It did not seem in keeping with the high scholarly quality of the book otherwise.
I highly recommend this work. It is very substantive and assumes that the listener has a basic knowledge of the period covered. But it certainly rewards careful listening.
Again and again, Brown considers traditional interpretations major events and personalities in this period, and then offers a new interpretation, sometimes his own, but more often a condensation of an emerging consensus among Late Roman scholars. He is very much a cheerleader for recent developments in the study of this period, often citing and complementing, the work of others. This book is not simply a narrative study, although it does generally progress chronologically. It is also an exploration of how historians work, and a lesson in interpreting sources. Brown is a confident but unpretentious guide through a territory about which I knew nothing aside from a few offhand generalizations. As I near the end, I not only feel that I have a vivid and insightful understanding of some of the major figures (Augustine, Jerome, Paulinus of Nola), but also a real sense of how people's ideas and feelings about wealth evolved, and how these developments interacted with the wider context of a disintegrating empire and an emerging new order.
Brown studiously avoids both political history and discussion of doctrinal differences, both of which are fascinating, but available elsewhere. So you won't learn anything consequential about who the emperors were, or theological beliefs of the Manicheans or Arians or Donatists. It is a bit jarring at times to skip over what seems like essential information, but I have to grudgingly admit that Brown's precise, unwavering focus pays off. In the end, the vision of evolving attitudes towards wealth is unclouded by any distractions.
The book is long, and the topic obscure, but if that doesn't scare you off, this is a rewarding experience
The author is perhaps the greatest living historian of this period. His literary style is poetically vivid and his use of metaphor makes voices long since silenced by death seem momentarily to tremble with life. He shifts between the grand vistas in which an entire horizon is laid before one, and darts down to show the smallest of details. It is truly an astonishing achievement.
Surely not. It's a lengthy audiobook but is so delicious that I could have wished it longer.
The narrator has a lovely voice and I enjoyed listening to his reading. He often mangles pronunciation of words that are not English and it seems from other reviews that many find this grating. I noticed it but it found it a minor part of the experience of listening to the audiobook.
There is no better writer on Christianity and Late Antiquity than Peter Brown. Everything he writes is good. The shame is that this outstanding book had such a poor reader.
In this volume, the characterizations of Jerome and Augustine were especially enlightening. Brown's "thick description" of the social history of benefaction in pagan and later in Christian society makes the light come on with regard to why people said and did what they are recorded as saying and doing from 350-550 CE. The final summary is masterful.
Fleet Cooper's performance was barely competent. First, he displayed absolutely no knowledge of the subject. When you are reading fiction, that's not so important, but a scholarly non-fiction study requires someone who is not just calling words, but actually performing the text. I finally lost track of his numerous mispronunciations. One that stands out is bi-shop'-rick for bishopric. I'll give him "bass relief" for bas relief, since some dictionaries include it but it is jarring. Most of his Latin pronunciation was equally jarring, but again, Latin pronunciation is disputed.
The phrasing and pauses were all wrong. Every time he came to a word of more than two syllables he stopped to take a breath as though he had to think before pronouncing the word. What ever happened to rehearsal?
If the content had not been so captivating I would have quit listening by the second chapter.
That's a question for a fiction book, not a history of ideas.
I like history but this is way too particular for me to enjoy and keep interest for such a long listen. Someone with a major in Church history for that period might appreciate though.
something more general (in history still)
The narrator is excellent and probably the reason why I could hold on until mid point in the book.
I would use the abridged edition
The potential subject matter was very good, but I lacked knowledge of places and names to enjoy it.
I would change the narrator: I have never heard one this bad. His horrific mispronunciation of words made me cringe. For example, he pronounced the word polemic as "pah-lemic" with the emphasis on the first syllable--it was so bad that I was baffled and didn't at first understand what he meant. This is but one of numerous examples of mispronunciations of common English words. His pronunciation of French terms on occasion caused me almost to drive off the road (I listen in my car)--made Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau seem like an expert linguist. I am shocked that there was no one overseeing this and no one to catch these really horrible mispronunciations--again of common English words.
Unfortunately, the most memorable moments were the reader's awful mistakes of pronunciation--extremely jarring and unpleasant.
See above--get rid of this reader and have someone else read the book. It is a magnificent work and deserves someone who knows how to pronounce common English words properly.
No-other than the other recent publications on the same era.
A magnificent, magisterial work horribly marred by an incompetent reader.
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