The First Thousand Years
A Global History of Christianity
Robert Louis Wilken
Yale University Press, $35, 416 pp.

Each academic discipline has a handful of members whose every new publication is eagerly anticipated and enthusiastically received by their peers. In the field of Early Christianity, Robert Wilken is among this select number of scholars—and with good reason: for over thirty years, his work on ancient Christian thought, culture, and approaches to Scripture has shaped the field in a decisive fashion.

In his new book, Wilken offers an account of the Christian tradition’s first millennium. The book’s title, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity, points to two of its most distinctive features. “The First Thousand Years” may strike readers as a peculiar slice of the historical pie, a period transcending the boundaries of the patristic era without encompassing the entirety of the Middle Ages. Yet Wilken’s work participates in a recent scholarly trend that sets aside traditional periodization and instead chooses time frames that  focus attention on otherwise neglected aspects of the historical record. Such a change in temporal scope frequently results in a change in narrative. Rather than telling the story of Christian origins as one of progressive expansion and triumph, Wilken has chosen a time frame that allows him to note the new religion’s setbacks and defeats—particularly those associated with the rise of Islam—alongside its successes.

The book’s...

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About the Author

Maria E. Doerfler is assistant professor of the history of Christianity in late antiquity at Duke Divinity School.