Through the Eye of a Needle

  • by Peter Brown
  • Narrated by Fleet Cooper
  • 31 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Jesus taught his followers that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet by the fall of Rome, the church was becoming rich beyond measure. Through the Eye of a Needle is a sweeping intellectual and social history of the vexing problem of wealth in Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire, written by the world's foremost scholar of late antiquity.
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.
Through the Eye of a Needle challenges the widely held notion that Christianity's growing wealth sapped Rome of its ability to resist the barbarian invasions, and offers a fresh perspective on the social history of the church in late antiquity.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A learned, well-balanced postmodern history

I was pleasantly surprised to come across this Audible Inc. production of Prof. Peter Brown's newest book "Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Brown, the author of the best biography of Augustine of Hippo, is a careful meticulous and and well-respected historian of the late Roman Empire. He writes with authority.

In "Through the Eye of the Needle" Brown uses different sources (artefacts, catacombs, archaeological insights, written texts etc.) to reconstruct what has traditionally been seen as the time of the Roman Empire's decline. Already in the awkward dates that he uses in the sub-title of his book 350-550 AD and not for instance 324 (when Constantine was became emperor over the whole Roman Empire), Brown distances himself from traditional top-down historiography that focus important persons and places. While using important figures, like Maxentius, Augustine and others, he aims to document and interpret the way the not-so-important people of the late Western Roman Empire understood wealth.

He uses wealth at the key to sketch a different but more believable picture of late Roman Empire and its different churches' rise to prominence in its society. I found his take on the Pelagian controversy very interesting and enlightening.

Fleet Cooper did a fair job in reading the book. I am not sure if it is Brown's writing style or Cooper's way of reading, but it felt that some sentences were often to long and Cooper would break for breath making it difficult to comprehend a whole idea as a thought unit. That said, Cooper's pronunciation of foreign languages and the general ease of his reading made it pleasant to listen to.

Not everybody would like this book. At times it is very technical and might even be too thorough to some people's taste. It is an academic work and probably a trendsetter that cannot be ignored by historians reflecting on this part of history in future. Yet it might not be to the taste of someone who wants a light read.

It comes highly recommended. I hope Audible will see their way open to publish more of Prof. Brown's books in audio format.
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- Jacobus "When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else."

A Remarkable Journey with an Amazing Guide

Where does Through the Eye of a Needle rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is a book of outstanding scholarship written with great clarity by one of the most knowledgable and trustworthy historians of the period of the late Roman empire. Brown uses the issue of wealth as a key to enter a complex social and religious world that saw the emergence of Christianity into the ancient hierarchies of power, prestige, and vast wealth that had powered the Roman empire for many centuries.
Brown's narrative is fascinating and relatively easy to follow and brings to life the variety of characters and interests of the period in a wonderfully vivid way. He leads the listener to understand the nuances of primary texts while evaluating many current debates among historians with a sure touch.
Brown writes as a person who has lived in the world he describes for many years and understands its nooks and crannies like a native. I emerged from the long journey with a tremendous sense of gratitude for Brown's guidance through an important historical period in which modern prejudices could easily distort my perceptions.

Which character – as performed by Fleet Cooper – was your favorite?

Cooper reads the book with great clarity and articulation. My only problem with the narration was that quite a number of the names of ancient people or texts or technical terms seemed mispronounced. It did not seem in keeping with the high scholarly quality of the book otherwise.

Any additional comments?

I highly recommend this work. It is very substantive and assumes that the listener has a basic knowledge of the period covered. But it certainly rewards careful listening.

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- Thomas

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-19-2012
  • Publisher: Audible Studios