Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
Peter Brown examines the rise of the church through the lens of money and the challenges it posed to an institution that espoused the virtue of poverty and called avarice the root of all evil. Drawing on the writings of major Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Brown examines the controversies and changing attitudes toward money caused by the influx of new wealth into church coffers, and describes the spectacular acts of divestment by rich donors and their growing influence in an empire beset with crisis. He shows how the use of wealth for the care of the poor competed with older forms of philanthropy deeply rooted in the Roman world, and sheds light on the ordinary people who gave away their money in hopes of treasure in heaven.
“To compare it with earlier surveys of this period is to move from the X-ray to the cinema. . . . Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one’s way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature.”–Gary Wills, New York Review of Books
Erich S. Gruen
Gruen shows how the ancients incorporated the traditions of foreign nations, and imagined blood ties and associations with distant cultures through myth, legend, and fictive histories. He looks at a host of creative tales, including those describing the founding of Thebes by the Phoenician Cadmus, Rome’s embrace of Trojan and Arcadian origins, and Abraham as ancestor to the Spartans. Gruen gives in-depth readings of major texts by Aeschylus, Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch, Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and others, in addition to portions of the Hebrew Bible, revealing how they offer richly nuanced portraits of the alien that go well beyond stereotypes and caricature.
Providing extraordinary insight into the ancient world, this controversial book explores how ancient attitudes toward the Other often expressed mutuality and connection, and not simply contrast and alienation.
“[T]he range of research, and the depth of thought, are extraordinary. Gruen has taken on a massively important subject, and he has brought a genuinely new perspective to the scholarly conversation.”–Emily Wilson, New Republic