Review and thoughts on this book by Tom Holland
I have been reading through this book for a little while, it seemed to take longer than most books, probably because it challenged me in places and I needed to think about it. As a New born again Christian parts of this book required me to think through my response.
So first a review, I enjoyed this book even if it did challenge me, it is well written and the history seems sound. The book covers the end of the conflict between the Roman empire in the East [the West has already fallen] and the Sassanian Persian empire, in the late 6th and early 7th centuries, the the rise of the Arabs into the first Muslim empire.
The book is divided into different parts looking at Iranshahr [Persia] New Rome [based at Constantinople] how faith had changed and molded them and then the rise of Islam under the Arabs and there conquest of the region.
The base theory is that each empire manipulated a base faith within it to control the empire better and so control its population. The Roman’s took Christianity and integrated it into the whole state, making it one with the emperor. The Persians took Zoroastrianism and did the same making the ruler a representative of God on earth. The Arab tribes which fought for both sides or none over the years assimilated this idea and when after the two main powers had destroyed themselves in war and the effects of a plague grabbed for power in the power vacuum left.
The challenge – How did Christian faith become so militant when it started off as a peaceful, loving faith. Foe me I think it was when Constantine [emperor 306-37AD] became Christian and used the Cross to rally his troops in his wars. Before then Christianity had been spreading but spreading by faith not force, people chose to become a Christian, afterwards you were a Christian because the state was. Once the state supported the church then church leaders had power in the secular world rather than just being a wise faithful person. The state now wanted its rulers to have control over the church so they could control it and use it for the benefit of the state.
This is how in our day and age starting to be weakened and people either have true Christian faith, various other spirituality or none at all, this is much like it was before Constantine. The state regulated its affairs and left people to there faith as long as they did not preach against the state although Christians did as they worked to outlaw slavery and such.
So I was challenged by the way the church of Jesus was taken over by people wanting to use it for there own gains, in fact just like Jesus had said the Jewish leaders had become, manipulating belief to hold on to power.
In the end reading this book has improved my faith and my belief that God wants true followers not just people who use Him to gain power. Jesus said the First will be last and the Last first, that He had come to serve not be served. In the end I believe that is what my Christian faith is about not power, wealth or control but serving others. This only happens when people really find Jesus for themselves.
Islam – this book reenforced my belief that Islam is a mixture of Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and pagan beliefs used to integrate people to the state and to act as a counter to Rome & its Christianity. Islam was born in conflict spreading by force of arms. Christianity at least until Constantine was spread by word and action and free choice.