God Against the Gods:

The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism

By Jonathan Kirsch

Viking, 2004


            God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism (Viking, 2004), by best-selling author Jonathan Kirsch, explores the final struggle between monotheism and polytheism in the ancient world and the roots of religious violence in the modern world.

            Kirsch's controversial and illuminating new book demonstrates that, contrary to the conventional wisdom of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, religious liberty and diversity were core values of classical paganism -- and it was monotheism that introduced the terrors of true belief, including holy war, martyrdom, inquisitions, and crusades.

            God Against the Gods focuses on the first stirrings of monotheism in ancient Egypt, traces the losing battle that early Judaism and Christianity fought against polytheism, and focuses on the climax of "the war between God and the gods" during the reigns of two charismatic and visionary Roman emperors -- Constantine, who started the Christian revolution that made the modern world, and Julian, who tried to restore paganism, all in the tumultuous period of the fourth century in the Roman Empire. They are a rare example of how two human beings, acting out of their own personal passions, literally changed the history of the world.

            The last stand of paganism against monotheism is one of the great "what-if's" in history: how would the modern world look today if the worship of many gods had been tolerated instead of persecuted? Breaking a long-lived taboo, God Against the Gods reveals the dark side of monotheism and the bright side of polytheism, and shows how the world we live in today -- including the horrors of 9/11 and the war against terrorism -- are rooted in the oldest traditions of monotheism. And it tells the tale by focusing on the real lives of men and women, and by illuminating the ancient roots of today's most bloody conflicts as well as the cherished idea of religious liberty.


Author bio

Jonathan Kirsch is the author of ten books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible; King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel; Moses: A Life, and The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of the Jewish People. Kirsch is also a book columnist for The Los Angeles Times, an attorney specializing in intellectual property and publishing law, and a guest host and commentator on NPR affiliates KPCC-FM and KCRW-FM. A member of the National Book Critics Circle and a three-time past president of PEN Center USA West, Kirsch lives in Los Angeles, California.



"Kirsch's very readable account…puts The Passion of the Christ in a larger historical context. This even-handed look at religious persecution by the pagans and the Christians of ancient Rome is a timely tale about the importance of religious tolerance in today's world. Kirsch, the author of four other fine works of biblical intrigue, by no means portrays his pagans as perfect. But at least he tells the rest of the story."

--Don Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle (Front Page Review)


"A breathtaking and history-making achievement. No book in recent memory tells us as much about both the limits and the necessity of supernatural beliefs. With an astonishing singularity of purpose and clear-headed exposition, Jonathan Kirsch extracts the civilizing elements of our religion from the bloody history of its origins and marriages of convenience."

--David Rosenberg, translator of The Book of J and author of A Poet's Bible


"Jonathan Kirsch has written another blockbuster in his collection of books about the Bible and its world -- before, during, and after, down to our own day. Almost everything about the book is controversial, and it will evoke strong, even passionate, responses from different sides of the perennial argument about 'God against the Gods.'"

-- David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief of the Anchor Bible Project


"An accessible and engaging study that will challenge some facile religious assumptions, but does so creatively and constructively. Kirsch shows what is at stake in the belief in a single focus of divinity, and his book tells us a great deal about the religious imagination and its ongoing struggle for meaning and value."

-- Karen Armstrong, author of The History of God and The Battle For God


"In God Against the Gods, Jonathan Kirsch tackles the central issue bedeviling the world today -- religious intolerance. Filled with fascinating anecdotes, Kirsch traces the historical origins of this relatively recent malevolent human tendency focusing on the tipping points in history when people began to kill other people solely because they held different religious beliefs. A timely book, well-written and researched."

-- Leonard Shlain, author of The Alphabet and the Goddess and Sex, Time and Power




"Jonathan Kirsch is a fine storyteller with a flair for rendering ancient tales relevant and appealing to modern audiences. GodAgainst the Gods finds him in good form, retelling lively stories about the struggle of monotheists against polytheists (and vice versa). Admirers of the author's earlier books will find much to admire here."


-- Washington Post