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Posts tagged "Tom Holland"


The Top Theology Books of 2019

Farewell 2019! Lots to love about the books that came out this past year. Several of these are instant classics I’ll be paging through for years to come! As always, feel free to let me know in the comments if I’ve missed a deserving book! I’m always on the hunt for a good read… In […]

When the World Turned Upside Down in Galatia

One of many fantastic portions of the “Galatia” section in Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, which finally arrived on US shores two weeks ago. Holland has essentially crafted a 600-page sequel to Francis Spufford’s “Yeshua” chapter in Unapologetic: This conviction, that a crucified criminal might somehow be a part of […]

The Utter Strangeness of Christ’s Divinity

Making my way through Tom Holland’s new book Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (or as it will be known in the US when it comes out later this month, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World), and it is chock-full of tasty anecdotes and asides, all written in prose far more sparkling than one expects to find in work of history, popular or no. We’ll no doubt be posting from it quite a bit in the coming months. Here’s a portion of the preface:

The utter strangeness of [Jesus’ resurrection and ascension], for the vast majority of people in the Roman world, did not lie in the notion that a mortal might become divine. The border between the heavenly and the earthly was widely held to be permeable. In Egypt, the oldest of monarchies, kings had been objects of worship for unfathomable aeons. In Greece, stories were told of a ‘hero god’ by the name of Heracles, a muscle-bound monster-slayer who, after a lifetime of spectacular feats, had been swept up from the flames of his own pyre to join the immortals. Among the Romans, a similar tale was told of Romulus, the founder of their city.

In the decades before the crucifixion of Jesus, the pace of such promotions into the ranks of the gods had begun to quicken. So vast had the scope of Roman power become that any man who succeeded in making himself its master was liable to seem less human than divine. The ascent into heaven of one of those, a warlord by the name of Julius Caesar, had been heralded by the blaze across the skies of a fiery-tailed star; that of a second, Caesar’s adopted son, who had won for himself the name of Augustus, by a spirit seen rising—just as Heracles had done—from a funeral pyre. Even sceptics who scorned the possibility that a fellow mortal might truly become a god were happy to concede its civic value. ‘For the human spirit that believes itself to be of divine origin will thereby be emboldened in the undertaking of mighty deeds, more energetic in accomplishing them, and by its freedom from care rendered more successful in carrying them out.’

Divinity, then, was for the very greatest of the great: for victors, and heroes, and kings. Its measure was the power to torture one’s enemies, not to suffer it oneself: to nail them to the rocks of a mountain, or to turn them into spiders, or to blind and crucify them after conquering the world. That a man who had himself been crucified might be hailed as a god could not help but be seen by people everywhere across the Roman world as scandalous, obscene, grotesque. The ultimate offensiveness, though, was to one particular people: Jesus’ own. The Jews, unlike their rulers, did not believe that a man might become a god; they believed that there was only the one almighty, eternal deity. Creator of the heavens and the earth, he was worshiped by them as the Most High God, the Lord of Hosts, the Master of all the Earth. Empires were his to order; mountains to melt like wax. That such a god, of all gods, might have had a son, and that this son, suffering the fate of a slave, might have been tortured to death on a cross, were claims as stupefying as they were, to most Jews, repellent. No more shocking a reversal of their most devoutly held assumptions could possibly have been imagined. Not merely blasphemy, it was madness.

Those looking for a bit more to whet their appetite should check out the interview Holland gave to The Church Times in the UK.

Another Week Ends: John Gray on Tom Holland, Leslie Jamison on Susan Sontag, Tavi on Tavi, Malcolm Gladwell on Friends, Sad Phoneless Pictures, and the Love of Ferns

1. Lots to chew on this weekend, including this genuinely positive (and daring!) review of a book we mentioned last week—Tom Holland’s Dominion—by one Mockingbird’s favorite atheists, John Gray, in the New Statesman. As DZ mentioned in his earlier post, Holland’s new book discusses how, despite the decline of Christendom in the West, Christianity is […]

Why Tom Holland Was Wrong About Christianity

Last week saw the UK release of the much-anticipated new volume by hotshot British historian and author Tom Holland (not that Tom Holland), Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind. It arrives officially on our shores in late October with a different subtitle, How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. While we wait for our copy to arrive at Mbird HQ, one doubts we’ll get a better opportunity to revisit the remarkable column Holland penned for The New Statesman a couple years ago, “Why I Was Wrong About Christianity”. By way of context, at the time Holland was finishing publicity for his 2015 blockbuster, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar. Get a load of this:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable…

“We preach Christ crucified,” St Paul declared, “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” He was right. Nothing could have run more counter to the most profoundly held assumptions of Paul’s contemporaries – Jews, or Greeks, or Romans. The notion that a god might have suffered torture and death on a cross was so shocking as to appear repulsive. Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment – not to suffer it themselves.

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Is Fun but Sacrifices Character to Plot Twists and Gags

This review (with spoilers) comes from Jeremiah Lawson: Spider-Man: Far From Home is an enjoyable addition to the Marvel franchise. Tom Holland is winsome as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and Jake Gyllenhaal is inspired casting for Quentin Beck. By now there’s hardly a need to avoid spoilers for this film, which has been out for […]