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  • E Contrario
  • Rodney Stark* (bio)

Professor Clark was kind enough to inform me in November that this “honor” was soon to be upon me and to offer me an opportunity to respond. Consequently, I set aside three days at Christmas. Of course, the manuscripts did not arrive. So what follows is what I could do in a day, having no more time to devote because of several very pressing deadlines. In fact, I gave some thought to not responding—I think it is an error to devote time to defending one’s past work at the cost of doing new things. But, given the character of these essays, my silence might have been misinterpreted as acquiescence.

Let me preface my response by noting my unfounded, pre-publication expectations about how historians would review the book. Frankly, as a sociological interloper utterly without the usual credentials, I expected rather a lot of condescension and even a substantial portion of outright hostility. But I was wrong. A gallery of famous historians—from Henry Chadwick in the Times Literary Supplement to Robert M. Grant in Christian Century—wrote reviews that even I am too modest to quote. Social scientists have been equally kind. Indeed, since among us it is, unfortunately, far safer to damn than to praise, I am unaccustomed to being told that my work is “a masterpiece of historical sociology,” especially not in Contemporary Sociology, our most influential journal of reviews. My luck held as reviews began to appear in the specialized journals. Indeed, Blake Leyerle wrote a most gracious review for the Summer 1997 issue of this very journal.

But, nothing lasts forever and criticisms more like those I had anticipated from the start now have arrived. Actually, Professor Hopkin’s essay has very little to say about my book—rather less than it should have said. Professor Klutz’s remarks are not nearly so negative as is the pose he chose to strike. And then there is Professor Castelli. Let me take them in that order.

I am pleased that so distinguished a pioneer in demographic studies of the Greco-Roman world as Keith Hopkins found it unnecessary to make [End Page 259] even the slightest change in my projections of the Christian population over the first three centuries, accepting my rate of 3.4 percent per year and the curve it produces. I am puzzled that, having done so, he relegates me to the occasional footnote while referring throughout the text to these numbers as his own projections. Compare these two quotations concerning the selection of a starting point for the growth curve:

Hopkins: “We have an end point. Now we need a beginning. It is obvious that Christianity began small. And Origen says so (Cels. 3:10)! Let us make an arbitrary estimate that in 40 about 1000 people were Christians.”

Stark: “For a starting number . . . Origen remarked, “Let it be granted that Christians were few in the beginning” (Against Celsus 3.10), but how many would that have been? I seems wise to be conservative here, and thus I shall assume that there were 1,000 Christians in the year 40.”

(Rise of Christianity, 5)

Granted that in a footnote Hopkins notes “Following Stark, Rise of Christianity, 5.” I undoubtedly would have settled for that were it not that his entire discussion of the projected growth of Christianity is written in the first person: “My first task is to calculate . . .”; “But before I do that . . .”; “I have plotted the growth . . .”; “I start with . . .”; when it should have read, “Stark’s first task” and “Stark plotted the growth . . .” etc.

I regret this, because in the remainder of his essay Hopkins offers some very interesting ideas, and I hope it will not condemn them to post-modernist purgatory if I express strong agreement and offer several comments.

I am particularly taken with two conclusions Hopkins draws from the projections on the size of the Christian population at various points. One is the rather small number and small size of the Christian “house cult-groups.” I wish I had pointed this out and had followed it up with parallels to modern “parlor” movements. Hopkins’ second very creative step was...

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pp. 259-267
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