The faith : a history of Christianity /
Brian Moynahan.
1st ed.
New York : Doubleday, 2002.
viii, 806 p. : ill.
038549114X (alk. paper)
More Details
New York : Doubleday, 2002.
038549114X (alk. paper)
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Chapter I

The Cross

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" cried the dying man. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). This forlorn reproach was delivered from a hillside on the periphery of the Roman Empire, in a strange tongue unknown to the vast majority of its subjects, by a condemned man of profound obscurity who had an alien belief in a single God. A darkening sky; a claim that the veil in the Temple of Solomon, far down the slope from the execution ground, was "rent in twain" at the moment of death; a strange earthquake, mentioned only in Matthew's gospel, that split open rocks and opened tombs but did no damage to buildings--the Father's response to the crucifixion of the Son was modest even in the Gospels that proclaimed it.

Human reaction was as muted. The Roman governor who had authorized the
execution--with such extreme reluctance that some Christians later honored
his memory with a feast day--marveled only that Jesus had died so swiftly,
in little more than three hours. To the soldiers who carried it out, the
crucifixion was mere routine, a standard punishment for slaves and
non-Romans, that ended in the traditional perk of sharing out the victim's
clothes. The priests who had demanded the death noted with sarcastic
satisfaction: "he saved others, himself he cannot save" (Matt. 27:42). No
disciple or relative was bold enough to claim the body for burial. He had
been almost recklessly brave at his trial; they had expected miracles at
his death, and none had occurred. They hid their ebbing belief behind
barred doors in the steep streets of Jerusalem.

The painters and sculptors who were to fill the world with his image worked
from imagination alone. No physical description of Jesus was left by any
who knew him; no hint existed of the color of the eyes, the timbre of the
voice, the carriage of the head. His age, and the year of his birth and
death, is not accurately recorded. The abbot Dionysius Exiguus, who created
our system of dating years from the conception of Christ, as anno Domini,
the year of the Lord, made his calculations five hundred years later. The
abbot estimated that Jesus was born in the year 753 a.u.c. of the Roman
system of dating ab urbe condita, "from the founding of the city" of Rome.
He set this as a.d. 1, with previous years in receding order as "before
Christ," b.c. or a.c. for ante Christum in Latin. But Matthew's gospel says
that Jesus was "born in Bethlehem . . . in the days of Herod the King."
Herod is known to have died in 4 b.c., and most modern scholars date Jesus'
birth to 6 or 5 b.c.* The dates of his brief ministry--John's gospel
supports a ministry of two or three years, the others of a single year--and
his final journey to Jerusalem are also uncertain. The crucifixion may have
been as early as a.d. 27, instead of the traditional date of a.d. 33; it is
certain only that he died on a Friday in the Jewish lunar month of Nisan,
which straddles March and April.

A single incident is known of his childhood; as a twelve-year-old, he went
missing on a visit from his native town of Nazareth to Jerusalem until his
parents found him in the temple, "sitting in the midst of the doctors both
hearing them and asking questions" (Luke 2:46). He may--or may not--have
worked as a carpenter in his youth. His public ministry probably lasted
little more than two years at most and seemed fragile and incomplete. His
teaching was informal, often in the open air; his message was literally
hearsay, for no contemporary notes were written down. It demanded an
absolute morality and selflessness never expressed before; it lacked the
familiar comfort of an established rite, and he had taught only a single
prayer, the brief formula beginning "Our Father, which art in heaven . . ."

He never formally stated that he was the "Son of God," an imperial title
claimed in Latin as divi filius by the Roman emperor. He described himself
as "the Son" indirectly and in John's gospel alone: "Say ye of him, whom
the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I
said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:36). The Hebrew title of Messiah, or
Christos in Greek, was equally regal; it meant "anointed" and was used of
kings whose investiture was marked by anointing with oil. Jesus refused to
directly claim divinity as Christ when he was asked during his trial: "Tell
us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God." "Thou hast said," he
replied (Matt. 26:63-64). His miraculous birth--the impregnation of his
virgin mother by God's Holy Spirit--is mentioned in only two Gospels. He
himself made no specific reference to it.

At the moment of its extinction, it was inconceivable that his brief
life--and terrible but commonplace death--would inspire a faith of immense
power and complexity; that his simple prayer would be repeated in the very
crannies of the earth; that his name and the cross itself, the ancient
instrument of his suffering, would become universal symbols, of love and
redemption and, at times, of bigotry and terror.

The faith did not begin to flow until the third day after death, until the

Bjesus had set out from Galilee on his final journey in the late winter,
meandering southwards toward Jerusalem. His reputation as a miracle
worker--healing the sick, paralytics, and the blind, raising the dead,
exorcising demons, turning water into wine, transforming a few loaves and
fishes into food for a multitude--was growing but still largely confined to
the towns and fishing villages round the Sea of Galilee. His life was
centered in this backward area, the northernmost region of ancient Israel,
its lake set deep beneath mountains in a great rift running to Africa,
seven hundred feet below sea level. It was a turbulent place, known for its
extremists and their apocalyptic visions. "Can any good thing come out of
Nazareth?" a potential follower said doubtfully when he was told where
Jesus had grown up (John 1:46). He had few convinced followers, with a core
of only a dozen apostles; they were men of little apparent distinction, and
he himself was the son of a carpenter.

The message of gentleness and humility he brought--"love thine enemies and
pray for them that persecute thee"--was at odds with the cruel and imperial
spirit of the age. Herod the Great, king of Judea, had ordered the massacre
of all male infants in Bethlehem shortly after Jesus was born in the city.
Whether this claim in Matthew's gospel was true or not, it was said with
reason to be "better to be Herod's pig than Herod's son"; from his
deathbed, having already murdered two of his sons, the king had commanded a
third to be put to death. Herod ruled by the grace and favor of Roman
masters, at the height of their power and majesty. Their empire embraced
the Mediterranean world; its frontiers ran for ten thousand miles,
enclosing eighty million people. To the north and west, it traversed Europe
to the coasts of the Atlantic and the North Sea. In the east, it lapped as
far as the Syrian and Arabian deserts; a century before, the great soldier
Pompey had entered Rome in triumph after his conquest of Jerusalem and the

To the south, in Egypt, a quarter of a millennium of rule by the
Hellenistic Ptolemies had ended within living memory with the suicide of
Cleopatra. The rich granaries of the Nile and the great city of Alexandria
had fallen to Rome; the empire continued westward along the African coastal
strip past Carthage until, after a gap for the Mauritanian desert, it again
reached the Atlantic at the edge of the known world. The first Roman
emperor, Augustus, had been deified on his death and the eighth month was
named for him. His spirit was seen to ascend to heaven from the flames of
his funeral pyre, or so it was said; the Roman Senate had declared him
immortal and appointed priests to conduct the sacred rites of his cult.
Jesus had been born in the reign of Augustus; he was now the subject of
Tiberius, the second emperor, the son of a god.

This insignificant young Jew was nevertheless proclaimed by his followers
as the Masiah, Hebrew for the "Lord's anointed." As Messiah, he was seen in
the light of generations of Jewish expectation and prophecy, which applied
to the nature of his imminent death as well as to his life. The Jews dated
their special relationship with God from the days of Abraham, some two
thousand years before, when the Lord had told the patriarch that he would
"multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven and . . . in thy seed shall all
the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou has obeyed my voice"
(Gen. 22:17-18). Prophecies of the coming of a Messiah went back for more
than a millennium, when God had promised King David that he would
"establish the throne of his kingdom for ever" (2 Sam. 7:13) under his
descendants. Messianic writings were a constant theme in the Psalms and the
Prophets; the "Coming One" was expected to be "of the line of David" and
would be granted "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom that all the peoples,
nations and languages should serve him" (Dan. 7:14). The vision was often
martial, of a leader who would defeat the enemies of Israel; hopes of such
divine intervention, to expel the Romans, ran high as Jesus neared

He was not the figure of the unwritten New Testament; he was seen by the
eager crowds as the culmination of the Old, a living Messiah fulfilling
ancient expectations. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem," he told his
disciples, "and all the things that are written by the prophets shall be
accomplished unto the Son of Man" (Luke 18:31). Those things were far from
glorious or martial; he predicted that he would die violently in the city,
having first been publicly whipped and mocked. A purely spiritual Messiah
who mirrored this death had been prophesied by Isaiah in about 735 b.c.
This redeemer was to be a suffering servant of humanity, atoning for their
sins. His birth would be miraculous, for "a virgin shall conceive, and bear
a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).* His life would be
short and his end violent. "He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of
sorrows," the book of Isaiah says of him. "He was wounded for our
transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: . . . and with his
stripes we are healed. . . . He was oppressed, yet he humbled himself and
opened not his mouth, as a lamb that is led to the slaughter. . . . By
oppression and judgement he was taken away . . . and they made his grave
with the wicked although he had done no violence, neither was there any
deceit in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:3-9). As he died, he bore "the sins of
many, and made intercession for the transgressors. . . ."

Bwarnings of such a fate were clear throughout the final journey. A group
of Pharisees, strict Orthodox Jews, approached Jesus and told him that
Herod Antipas "would fain kill thee" (Luke 13:31). It was a real threat;
Herod Antipas, a surviving son of Herod the Great, was a known killer of
prophets. He had recently disposed of John the Baptist, a troublesome man
in a homemade shift of camel hair strapped by a leather belt, who had
preached the coming of the Messiah and had described the political
establishment of Pharisees and Sadducee priests and aristocrats as a "brood
of vipers." He lived on locusts and wild honey, the food of the deprived;
he described himself as "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," but
the poor had listened to his unsettling message. John had baptized Jesus in
the river Jordan; as he did so, he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in
the form of a dove, and declared Jesus to be "the Lamb of God, which taketh
away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). He had also denounced Herod's
marriage to his niece Herodias, for which Herod had him decapitated in the
fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea, and presented his head on a salver
to Salome, the daughter of his new wife.

Jesus asked the Pharisees to tell "that fox," Herod, that the threat of
death would not deflect him. He also revealed the place where he would die.
"I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following," he said.
"For it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, which killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto
her!" (Luke 13:33-34). He cured a man of dropsy on the Sabbath, a
provocation to orthodox Pharisees for whom it was strictly a day of rest.
He preached to all--"he who hath ears to hear, let him hear"--and the
Pharisees murmured angrily that the crowds who pressed close to hear him
were full of "all the publicans and sinners"; marginals, the discontented,
the "publicans," tax collectors who sat in roadside stalls to levy tolls
from travelers for Herod and the Romans.

His message was inflammatory and disturbing for those in power: the exalted
were humbled, the humble exalted; the mark of the blessed was to share with
the "poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind"; the beggar Lazarus lay in life
at the gate of the rich man, fed with crumbs, dogs licking his sores, but
in heaven he nestled in the bosom of Abraham while the rich man pleaded
with him from hell to "dip the tip of his fingers in water, and cool my
tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame" (Luke 16:19-24). In Jericho,
Jesus lodged in the house of a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, a man so
despised in the town that he was obliged to quieten a grumbling mob by
promising to repay fourfold any he had defrauded. By now the travelers were
accompanied by "great multitudes," so thick that Zacchaeus had been obliged
to climb a tree to watch them arrive; the miraculous cure of a blind man
added to the fervor of the onlookers. Jesus, however, predicted no triumph
when they reached Jerusalem; instead he had hinted at how he would die.
"Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me," he preached,
"cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).

Excerpted from The Faith: A History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2002-10-01:
Any one-volume work on Christianity's 2000-year history is a literary achievement in itself. Moynahan's beautifully produced book is a stylistic tour de force, impeccably phrased and intelligently proportioned. Without being superficial, however, it does have a surface-skimming quality, perhaps because it takes a gossip column approach to the protagonists of the story. Although inquisitors and corrupt clerics abound, and despite whole chapters on the wars of religion and witch hunts, there is barely a mention of Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent, for example, and the list of saints is brief. The general historical background of the various periods is well presented and helpful. However, anyone looking for an overarching insight into the core heartbeat of Christianity, its theological and religious soul, the "faith" of the book's title, will have to look elsewhere. In brief, a good read of one aspect of an important story. Recommended for general readers, upper-division undergraduates, and above. R. W. Rousseau University of Scranton
Appeared in Library Journal on 2002-02-01:
A generation ago, trained church historians wrote the bulk of histories of Christianity dry works that focused on theology, doctrinal debate, preaching, and the like. Journalists, however, have come to dominate the field with their unprecedented honesty, color, and verve. Moynahan, a writer for a variety of British newspapers and the author of the well-respected biography of Rasputin, The Saint Who Sinned, understands that the history of Christianity is not all about piety. With more than 100 startling photographs, illustrations, and drawings, he presents an unconventional and sensational chronology that reveals how Christianity has often been its own worst enemy. The story begins, dramatically enough, with Jesus on the cross, lamenting God's absence, and ends after 766 pages with a cutting statement: "Christianity's self-inflicted wounds still fester." In between, readers are exposed to every ugly event of Christianity imaginable: Roman persecution, Constantine's conquest of the church, heresy, Islamic invasions, slavery, crusades, inquisitions, the Bible as a lethal weapon, persecution by the Reformers, witch trials, conquistadors, persecution of missionaries, revolutions, fights between religions, and the African slave trade. Moynahan's latest is bloody, exciting, masterfully written, and recommended for all libraries. James A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L., GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2002-02-11:
This mammoth book offers a proficient survey of the checkered history of Christianity from its origins to the 21st century. In an engaging voice, journalist Moynahan (The Saint Who Sinned) narrates the story of this upstart Mediterranean religious sect as it developed from a band of ragged disciples with no place to call home to a sophisticated organization with a well-defined priestly hierarchy and often magnificent buildings. He discusses the usual cast of characters from Jesus and Paul to Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and Pope John Paul II. He argues that the impulse to convert those outside of Christianity is central to the development of the faith, but uses the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition to demonstrate how this impulse sometimes got out of hand. Moynahan discusses in helpful detail the origins of Islam in the context of the Islamic invasions of Christian Constantinople in the seventh century. However, the book suffers from a lack of balance. Moynahan lavishes attention on Christianity from its beginnings up through the Reformation for the first two-thirds of the book, but then hurries through the establishment of Christianity in America and the development of modern Christianity. Even more perplexing is the complete absence of any examination of Eastern Christianity from its beginnings to the iconoclast crises in the eighth and ninth centuries. In the end, these are minor quibbles with a book that tells crisply, with more than 100 b&w illustrations, a moving tale of the internal and external struggles of Christianity to establish and sustain its religious identity. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, January 2002
Library Journal, February 2002
Publishers Weekly, February 2002
Reference & Research Book News, August 2002
Choice, October 2002
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Table of Contents
The Crossp. 1
The Master Builder: Paulp. 22
The Third Race: Early Writing and Worshipp. 44
The Blood of Martyrsp. 69
"Conquer by this": Constantinep. 89
Hereticsp. 110
"Through them the world is kept in being": Monksp. 129
The Transpierced Heart: Augustinep. 144
Lost Atlantis: The Islamic Invasionsp. 156
"A slave in Christ for foreign people": The Pagan Conversionsp. 191
"A carnage of pagans": Crusadesp. 222
"Act with a kindly harshness": The Laws of Warp. 240
"O fire of love": Manifestations of the Spiritp. 265
"If golde ruste, what should iren do?": Early Reformersp. 295
"Something that appeals to the eye": Papal Attitudesp. 324
"By faith alone": Printing and Protestantsp. 340
The Word of God: The Bible as Lethal Weaponp. 354
"Keep watch over the lives of everyone ... ": Calvin and the Puritansp. 370
"The prince's wrath means death": English Speakersp. 398
Roman Soldiers: Counter-Reformationp. 415
"Art thou become quite other than thyself, so cruel?": The Spanish Inquisitionp. 432
"Rather a country ruined than a country damned ... ": The Wars of Religionp. 455
God's Charnel House: The Witch-Findersp. 479
"I the voice of Christ in the desert of this island": The Americasp. 504
"A desert-dweller in pursuit of wild beasts": The Jesuits in Paraguayp. 525
"The attractive African meteor": The Slave Tradep. 537
"Rock, rock, oh when will thou open, rock?": Eastern Missionsp. 553
"The Lord make it like New England": Protestant Americap. 569
"The melancholy wastes of woe": Revolutionsp. 593
"American Zion": Mormonsp. 610
"Drawing the eye-tooth of the tiger": Missionsp. 629
The Descent of Man: Darwinp. 651
"The godless rulers of darkness": Totalitariansp. 663
"I have a dream": Liberation Theologyp. 694
Charismap. 712
Notesp. 731
Select Bibliographyp. 761
Picture Creditsp. 768
Indexp. 769
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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