I am reading Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCullouch, and I’m struggling to get through it. It’s just so darned….lengthy.
Longer than the Bible long. (An exaggeration, but just barely.)
Longer than the New Testament long.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a “triumphantly executed achievement” — to quote Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. “Electrifying scholarship” — to quote MacCullouch’s publisher. Well written.
But at times, it reminds me of one of those Bible genealogies: “And so and so begat so and so, who begat so-and-so, who dug a well near the hills of such and such that stands to this day.”
(As my wife correctly noted, a genealogy is generally only interesting if it’s your own genealogy. Or if, at a minimum, you recognize most of the names.)
Here’s the book’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. It tries to summarize the history and beliefs of all Christians. Everywhere. At all times. In 1,000 pages.
Want to know about the evolution of the church in Ethiopia? It’s in there. Kiev? Yes. Bagdhad? Youbetcha. Hundreds of Popes, Patriarchs and Emperors. (Seemingly) thousands of crusades, jihads, Holy Wars and inquisitions. Multitudes of doctrinal disputes both big and small. I’m learning a lot, but it’s all a blur.
I loved Diarmaid MacCulloch’s much-heralded book on the Reformation. But the book devoted 800 or so pages to roughly 500 years of history. Enough space to bring Luther and Calvin and Wesley to life. But it’s a lot harder to cover 3,000 years of history in 1,000 pages.
I’ve seen restaurants that sell a 4 pound hamburger for some outlandish price — $25 or $30. If you eat it all in 30 minutes, they give it to you for free — plus you get a certificate suitable for framing and your picture goes on their wall. A few people attempt the feat and succeed. Others try and fail. Some enjoy the challenge. But it’s hard for me to imagine a rational, sane, well-balanced person actually enjoying the burger. Even if it’s the highest caliber beef on the planet.
That’s kind of where I am with this book. It’s a good book. It’s a great book. But it’s just too long, too big, a blur of names, dates and locations. The serving size is gynormous. I’ve consumed just over half of it. My brain is full, but I’ll keep plodding along until I get it done.