God Against the Gods:The History of War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch
God Against the Gods begins at the very beginning of monotheism, not with Judaism but with the Sun God Aton. Not a lot of people know that monotheism began with an Egyptian Pharaoh, called Akhenaton, who decided that everyone should just worship one god which was Aton, the Sun god. Kirsch then moves on to Judaism and Christianity and along the way we learn many new and perhaps to some surprising things like the fact that martyrdom began with the Jews, and that the monotheistic condemnation of polytheism doesn’t come from the practices and rituals of these groups but from the fact that they worship more than one god and not the ONE TRUE GOD. Stripped to the basics what rituals pagans did/do is not so different from what the monotheists do.
The book is divided into two sections.
Book one is all about the God that failed and it has four chapters. Chapter one discusses Akhenaton and his monotheistic experiment and why it failed, chapter two discusses what pagans do and how that is similar to what monotheists do. It also takes about why the monotheists condemn the polytheists. Chapter three talks about the Jews and how they invented and reinvented themselves and how they dealt with other Jews whom they felt were not pious enough, as well as how the Roman empire dealt with them. Chapter four discusses how Christianity came to be and the things it went through with Rome before the time of Constantine.
Book two is all about the war of the God against the Gods and it has seven chapters. Chapter five discusses how Constantine was born and how his rise to power came about and how his name became linked to Christianity, causing it to rise to power with him. Chapter six talks about how after Constantine’s victory over his father – in – law, he and the emperor of the east repealed the Great Persecution law against the Christians. This however, didn’t make the Christians go out and spread the word, instead they now were persecuting each other. The chapter ended with the Christians bringing their case to Constantine. Chapter seven recounts the life of Constantine after he became emperor and what he did and didn’t do for Christianity and ends with his death. At the end of the chapter the author tells us that Constantine died with paganism still the religion of Rome but that he set in motion a Christian revolution that his sons late took up. Chapters eight and nine go on to describe what happened after Constantine’s death with his sons taking over and how Julian (the last pagan emperor) come to the throne. Chapter ten talks about the eighteen months of Julian’s reign and how he tried to turn back the clock in favor of paganism. In the Epilogue the author brings us to the present day.
The book also has at the end a time line of the events discussed in the book and a list of the historical figures discussed in it.
The book was a short order look at the interaction between polytheism and monotheism and mostly that of Judaism and Christianity. It showed just how each began and how much they took from polytheism, and why they fought it once you take away the propaganda. At times it was a little boring but it was overall a good read.