Synopses & Reviews
At the time of Jesus birth, the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. In Syria ecstatic devotees castrated themselves in the streets to become priests of Atargatis. In Galilee, holy men turned oil into wine, healed the sick, drove out devils, and claimed to be the Messiah. Every day thousands of people were leaving their family and tribes behind them and flocking into brand new multi-ethnic cities. The ancient world was in ferment as it underwent the first phase of globalization, and in this ferment rulers and ruled turned to religion as a source of order and stability. Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (though he never dared officially to call himself so) was maneuvering his way to becoming worshipped as a god — it was one of the most brilliant makeovers ever undertaken by a ruler and his spin doctors. In North Africa, Amanirenas the warrior queen exploited her god-like status to inspire her armies to face and defeat Rome. In China the usurper Wang Mang won and lost his throne because of his obsession with Confucianism.
To explore the power that religious belief has had over societies through the ages, Selina O'Grady takes the reader on a dazzling journey across the empires of the ancient world and introduces us to rulers, merchants, messiahs, priests and holy men. Throughout, she seeks to answer why, amongst the countless religious options available, the empires at the time of Jesus "chose" the religions they did? Why did China's rulers hitch their fate to Confucianism, a philosophy more than a religion? And why was a tiny Jewish cult led by Jesus eventually adopted by Rome's emperors rather than the cult of Isis which was far more popular and widespread? The Jesus cult, followed by no more than 100 people at the time of his death, should, by rights, have disappeared in a few generations. Instead it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Why did Christianity grow so quickly to become the predominant world religion? What was it about its teachings that so appealed to people?
And Man Created God looks at why and how religions have had such an immense impact on human history and in doing so uncovers the ineradicable connection between politics and religion — a connection which still defines us in our own age. This is an important, thrilling and necessary new work of history.
"A wonderfully illuminating, prodigious tour de force of ecclesiastical anthropology." Kirkus (starred review)
“Selina O'Grady has written a powerful book on an immense subject. She writes with clarity and distinction and is a pleasure to read.” Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity and A History of the American People
“Selina O'Grady's remarkable book brilliantly explains the origins of today's world by explaining the forces that set it in motion 2000 years ago....In a pellucidly clear and absorbing narrative O'Grady not only describes how religions were used by empires to bind new populations to them, but most fascinatingly of all explains how what she calls the 'tiny Jesus cult' managed to survive its inauspicious beginnings to become a world religion.” Rebecca Fraser, author of A People's History of Britain and Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life
“This vividly compelling account of how Christianity rose triumphant from the religious and civil tumults of its earliest days is a must read. With cinematographic force it brings that epoch so astonishingly and educatively to life that no-one should be allowed to lay claim to Christian or indeed any religious faith who has not read this book first, and meditated on its import. It lays the facts bare, unsparingly and with a sharp eye; and the facts speak very loudly for themselves.” A.C. Grayling, author of Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age and The Good Book: A Humanist Bible
“In this remarkably interesting and vividly written book Selina O'Grady shows how four great empires of the Axial age — the Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Chinese — used religion, with its universal claims on human aspiration and destiny — to extend their power and legitimate their rule by creating compliant or 'good' subjects under the expanding economic and social conditions….This is an important book — written from outside the perspective of belief — that helps to explain the enduring appeal of religion in our supposedly secular age.” Malise Ruthven, author of Islam in the World and The Divine Supermarket: Shopping for God in America
A groundbreaking history of the age when empires used religions to become powerful and religions used empires to spread their message.
At the end of the first century BC, the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. In Syria ecstatic devotees castrated themselves in the streets so as to become priests of Atargatis. In Galilee, holy men turned oil into wine and claimed to be the Messiah. Kings, queens, and emperors were riding on the backs of these religions to increase their power.
And Man Created God considers how and why religious belief has had such an immense impact on human history by identifying the roots of belief within societies. O'Grady looks at the whole world during one short period and asks a specific question: Why did Christianity grow so quickly and become the predominant world religion? The beliefs held by a tiny Jewish sect in an obscure corner of the then mighty Roman Empire would have seemed doomed to disappear within a few generations. Instead, they became the official religion of the Empire. What was it about Christian ideas that appealed to people in so many different cultures at that time? Beginning in Rome, expanding her review out to Gaul, Germania, North Africa, the Near East, Persia, and beyond to China, the author sifts through the economic, political and sociocultural facts to understand why some ideas die and others thrive in a thrilling new work of history.
About the Author
Selina OGrady was a television producer for BBC1s moral documentary series Heart of the Matter, Channel 4s live open-ended chat show After Dark and was also a producer on Radio 4s history series Leviathan. She was a regular reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Review and Tablet and the co-editor of two books: Great Spirits: The Fifty-Two Christians who Most Influenced their Millennium and A Deep But Dazzling Darkness, an anthology from Anglo-Saxon to modern times of the experience of belief and disbelief.