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.
Peter Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His many books include The World of Late Antiquity, The Rise of Western Christendom, and Augustine of Hippo.
"Puts a stethoscope to the fourth through sixth centuries C.E."--Garry Wills, New York Times Book Review
"Brown's goal in this book is patiently to reconstruct the debates on wealth among late Roman Christians: in other words, to set out the context for the tendentious claims of ascetic minorities, which have misled so many later interpreters."--Conrad Leyser, Times Literary Supplement
"To compare it with earlier surveys of this period is to move from the X-ray to the cinema. . . . Every page is full of information and argument, and savoring one's way through the book is an education. It is a privilege to live in an age that could produce such a masterpiece of the historical literature."--Garry Wills, New York Review of Books
"[O]utstanding. . . . Brown lays before us a vast panorama of the entire culture and society of the late Roman west."--Peter Thornemann, Times Literary Supplement
"[M]agisterial. . . . The formidably learned historian challenges commonly accepted notions about the role of wealth in the decline of the Roman empire and examines the roots of charity, two subjects relevant to contemporary economics."--Marcia Z. Nelson, Publishers Weekly
"It is exciting to watch a historian who has already written so extensively on Late Antiquity absorb so much new scholarship, revise his old reviews, and re-imagine the world we thought we knew from him. . . . Through the Eye of a Needle is a tremendous achievement, even for a scholar who has already achieved so much. Its range is as vast as its originality, and readers will find everywhere the kinds of memorable aperçus and turns of phrase for which its author is deservedly famous. . . . There can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a historian and teacher of genius."--G. W. Bowersock, New Republic
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