For the past few weeks I’ve started feeling like I’m actually in charge of my life. From January through mid-October I thought my job was running things. For the past month I’ve been knocking off books like crazy, have had more time to post, and have really made progress on my “to-read” stack. I’ve pretty much finished my non-religious Late Antiquity books. I have two left; Steven Mitchell’s A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284-641 and James J. O’Donnell’s The Ruin of the Roman Empire. Mitchell’s book comes highly recommended, including by Jonathan Jarrett, whose opinion I respect very much. I’m less certain about O’Donnell. I picked up the hardcover for under $10 at a book store (the sticker says for $9.98) which makes me question its quality. But I’ll read it and see.
Following Kalamazoo I took stock of what was sitting on my shelves to be read. At the time I knew I was going to read LA but was uncertain if I’d follow up by reading the 20 or so books I have on the Carolingians or move to earlier religious history. I’ve decided it will be religion. I’m going to start with Alan Cameron’s The Last Pagans of Rome. There are several reasons for this. It’s the largest book on my to-read shelf (except possibly for Tyerman’s God’s War) and I had to work pretty hard at Kalamazoo to get it. Also, it promises to be both an overview and something of a revision. Nice way to jump in feet first, with something that, if it lives up to its billing, will either surprise me or that I’ll disagree with. From there I’ll move backwards, finishing with a review of the New Testament, particularly Paul. I’m not sure how much I’ll dive into doctrinal evolution as opposed to social impacts, Christian-Pagan conflicts, martyrology, monasticism, etc. Some doctrine is inevitable. To date I’ve not wanted to deeply explore this (reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s series about fried my brain 10 years or so ago) but I might feel different about it now.
I’ve always found it interesting how I read history. It’s probably not the recommended learning method but it works for me. I start with a time period I’m familiar with and then work backwards, trying to figure out how things evolved and developed to that point. When I go Carolingian (I have 37 on my LA/religion shelves and still haven’t received my recent Oxbow order so this may be a while) I’ll be doing the opposite; working from early to later. This will be interesting once I get there.
You may think that with 37 books I won’t be buying more until I finish what I have. Not so – if I run across a reference to something I think I need and it’s within my price range, I know I’ll buy more, and they won’t all be focusing on religion. I already know I need Libanius, Symmachus and the translation of the Panegyric Latini, among others. And I’m keeping an eye out for the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series. I have a promising lead on a set but likely won’t make that purchase until after the first of the year. And before anyone tells me, yes, I know these aren’t always the best translations available but they are in my price range and some aren’t available anywhere else.
So for the next few months expect more posts focusing on the evolution of religion; particularly Christianity, but I also have some books on early Islam. I’d guess it’ll be about a 50-50 split between the Roman West and East. Should be fun.