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Gamaliel's advice was to "Leave these men alone. If this undertaking is of men it will fail," he said. "But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them."
-James D. Snyder, The Faith and the Power (Gamaliel to fellow members of the Sanhedrin when Peter and John were brought before them in A.D. 30)

Considered solely as history or literature, the story of Christianity has an odd form to it. It's shaped something like an anaconda that ate a calf a few weeks ago. There's several thousand years of Jewish pre-history, then the brief span of Christ's birth, mission, crucifixion, and resurrection, then a couple thousand years of epilogue. After all, what--before or after--can compare with the story of the Savior?

But if we take the longer view we begin to see just how remarkable the rest of the story is. Consider that at the time of the Crucifixion Christ was denied by even his own followers, a sect within an oppressed minority religion in a discrete portion of the mighty Roman Empire. Yet, from these rather inauspicious beginnings grew a religion of near 2 billion people, or one in three people in the world. For the believer this may have an air of inevitability--after all, how surprised can we be that the Word prevailed? However, even we must marvel that it spread so far, so fast. Here, surely, is a story worth telling.

Well, James D. Snyder details the years from A.D. 30-71 in a masterful narrative that follows the post-Christ missions of the Apostles against the backdrop (though it's often in the foreground) of a hostile Rome and equally hostile Judea, which were meanwhile in conflict one with the other. He weaves the three strands--Roman, Jewish, Christian--into one compelling tale that sweeps the reader through a pivotal, but easily overlooked, period in history. If the madness of Rome makes for disturbing but fascinating reading and the heroic struggle of the Jews proves ultimately futile, the successive martyrdoms of the Apostles pack an emotional punch. the climax, though not quite the end, of the book comes when Peter tries to escape from his captors in Rome but meets Christ on the road and asks: Domine, quo vadis? ("Lord, where are you going?):
Jesus replied: "I am going to be crucified once again."

Then Peter repeated himself: "Lord, you will be crucified again?

And Christ replied: "Yes, I will be crucified again."

"Then, Lord," answered Peter, "I am returning to follow you."

No sooner had Peter turned around than Jesus vanished. After weeping and collecting his thoughts, Peter understood that the words were meant for his own martyrdom, that the Lord would suffer with him as he would all who lived and died in his name. And so, Peter, bursting with new strength, returned to the prison glorifying God and singing praises to the risen Christ. [...]

It is said that Peter asked only one thing of his executioners: "I beg you crucify me in this way--head down--and no other way." And he explained that he was not worthy to be executed as had his lord and master.
That's strong stuff and goes some way to explaining the survival and triumph of the Gospel.

We got no small number of self-published books through here and titles from smaller publishers. For the most part, even when they're worth reading you can see why a bigger house didn't pick them up. Not so with Mr. Snyder's fine book. I'm not familiar enough with Pharos Books to know what kind of distribution and publicity they could generate. But this is a text that belongs on your shelf along with the much more widely-known Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox and The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity by Richard Fletcher. Taken together they carry the story of Christianity's rise from the First Century to the Fourteenth in immensely readable and enjoyable fashion.


Grade: (A)