And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus (Hardcover)

A History of the World at the Time of Jesus

By Selina O'Grady

St. Martin's Press, 9781250016812, 393pp.

Publication Date: March 26, 2013



At the time of Jesus' birth, the world was full of gods. Thousands of them jostled, competed and merged with one another. In Syria ecstatic devotees castrated themselves in the streets to become priests of Atargatis In Galilee, holy men turned oil into wine, healed the sick, drove out devils, and claimed to be the Messiah. Every day thousands of people were leaving their family and tribes behind them and flocking into brand new multi-ethnic cities. The ancient world was in ferment as it underwent the first phase of globalisation, and in this ferment rulers and ruled turned to religion as a source of order and stability. Augustus, the first emperor of Rome (though he never dared officially to call himself so) was maneuvering his way to becoming worshipped as a god it was one of the most brilliant makeovers ever undertaken by a ruler and his spin doctors. In North Africa, Amanirenas the warrior queen exploited her god-like status to inspire her armies to face and defeat Rome. In China the usurper Wang Mang won and lost his throne because of his obsession with Confucianism.

To explore the power that religious belief has had over societies through the ages, Selina O'Grady takes the reader on a dazzling journey across the empires of the ancient world and introduces us to rulers, merchants, messiahs, priests and holy men. Throughout, she seeks to answer why, amongst the countless religious options available, the empires at the time of Jesus chose' the religions they did? Why did China's rulers hitch their fate to Confucianism, a philosophy more than a religion? And why was a tiny Jewish cult led by Jesus eventually adopted by Rome's emperors rather than the cult of Isis which was far more popular and widespread? The Jesus cult, followed by no more than 100 people at the time of his death, should, by rights, have disappeared in a few generations. Instead it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Why did Christianity grow so quickly to become the predominant world religion? What was it about its teachings that so appealed to people? "And Man Created God" looks at why and how religions have had such an immense impact on human history and in doing so uncovers the ineradicable connection between politics and religion - a connection which still defines us in our own age. This is an important, thrilling and necessary new work of history.

About the Author

Selina O'Grady was a television producer for BBC1's moral documentary series Heart of the Matter, Channel 4's live open-ended chat show After Dark and was also a producer on Radio 4's history series Leviathan. She was a regular reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Literary Review and Tablet and the co-editor of two books: Great Spirits: The Fifty-Two Christians who Most Influenced their Millennium and A Deep But Dazzling Darkness, an anthology from Anglo-Saxon to modern times of the experience of belief and disbelief.

Praise For And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus

"A wonderfully illuminating, prodigious tour de force of ecclesiastical anthropology." Kirkus (starred review)


“Selina O’Grady has written a powerful book on an immense subject. She writes with clarity and distinction and is a pleasure to read.”—Paul Johnson, author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity and A History of the American People

“Selina O’ Grady’s remarkable book brilliantly explains the origins of today’s world by explaining the forces that set it in motion 2000 years ago…In a pellucidly clear and absorbing narrative O’Grady not only describes how religions were used by empires to bind new populations to them, but most fascinatingly of all  explains how what she calls the ‘tiny Jesus cult’ managed to survive its inauspicious beginnings to become a world religion.”— Rebecca Fraser, author of A People's History of Britain and Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life

“This vividly compelling account of how Christianity rose triumphant from the religious and civil tumults of its earliest days is a must read. With cinematographic force it brings that epoch so astonishingly and educatively to life that no-one should be allowed to lay claim to Christian or indeed any religious faith who has not read this book first, and meditated on its import. It lays the facts bare, unsparingly and with a sharp eye; and the facts speak very loudly for themselves.”—A.C. Grayling, author of Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age and The Good Book: A Humanist Bible

“In this remarkably interesting and vividly written book Selina O’Grady shows how four great empires of the Axial age - the Roman, Parthian, Kushan and Chinese - used  religion, with its universal claims on human aspiration and destiny - to extend their power and legitimate their rule by creating compliant or “good” subjects under the expanding economic and social conditions…This is an important book - written from outside the perspective of belief - that helps to explain the enduring appeal of religion  in our supposedly secular age.”—Malise Ruthven, author of Islam in the World  and The Divine Supermarket: Shopping for God in America