Against the Christians. the Rise of Early Anti-Christian Polemic

By Benko, Stephen | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Against the Christians. the Rise of Early Anti-Christian Polemic


Benko, Stephen, The Catholic Historical Review


Against the Christians. The Rise of Early Anti-Christian Polemic. By Jeffrey W. Hargis. (New York: Peter Lang. 1999. Pp. ix, 172. $44.95.)

This book bears all the earmarks of a Ph.D. thesis. Many theses are never pubfished because of their lack of originality and a school-boyish approach to the subject. However, a good dissertation requires much independent study and time spent in libraries, and this one was worth publishing because it takes a new view of an already familiar theme, i.e., the criticism of Christians by pagan intellectuals, especially Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. In three sections the author reviews the anti-Christian polemic of each critic and shows how Christian exclusivism prompted them to try to marginalize Christians. But as time went on, Christianity more and more assimilated Greco-Roman practices and eventually the adoption of the culture and philosophy of the "pagans" by "Christians" made such a marginalization impossible. The pagan strategy had to shift to assimilation.

The author does not deal with popular charges against Christians (such as cannibalism, promiscuity, etc.) but starts directly with the philosophical and theological arguments of Celsus, who portrays Christians as "in complete opposition to pagan values" (p. 13). Porphyry wrote nearly a century later than Celsus, and his polemic reflects the changed situation between paganism and Christianity. Not only had the number of Christians increased, but Christianity had begun to absorb the culture of Greco-Roman antiquity. Thus, one of Porphyry's strategies was to separate Christ from his worshipers, a strategy which, according to the author, Julian also adopted. Their aim was now to find a place in the pagan universe for the God of the Christians and thus to undermine Christian uniqueness. Much of the author's discussion of Julian revolves around this important and interesting point. …

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