A couple of years ago I came across a strange volume, designed to smear the ancient Christians. It was authored by a recent arts graduate named Catherine Nixey, and titled “The Darkening Age”. Her publisher had arranged some fawning reviews in the mainstream press, which was unfortunate as her facts were often in error. One of the reviewers, I recall, clearly knew that it was nonsense, but equally clearly had been told to give it a good review! It was really striking how heavily it was promoted.
Ignorant of all this, I found the author tweeting smugly on twitter, and giving a supposed “quote” from Chrysostom. The unfortunate results – for her – appeared on my blog in this article, Hunting the wild misquotation again. The book never seemed to get much traction online, and I confess that I filed it away and forgot about it.
Today I came across a thread in Dutch on twitter which revealed that her publisher has arranged for the book to be translated into five languages (!) The thread also contained evidence of good reviews over there too!
The only reason that all these favourable reviews can appear, that I can think of, is money. I assume that the publishers of the newspapers are taking money from the publisher in order to commission these reviews. The book itself is just malicious tat, and anybody with a bit of education will know it. It isn’t worth reviewing. Such books are ten-a-penny. But … it gets reviewed, and widely, and favourably. Why?
It would be most interesting to know the sales figures. Is this book really making money? There’s something very dubious about all this, to my eye. I have heard of publishe
The thread contains a review by Dr Roland Kany from the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung:
Title: “So just read how evil they are!”
I ran the review through OCR, and created a Word .docx file, which I’ll put here in case you’d like to use Google Translate.
There are gems in the review.
Apparently Miss Nixey thinks that damage to the frescos in the Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome is clear evidence of the use of an axe by the early Christians. Dr K. blandly suggests that perhaps she missed the work of Bryan Ward-Perkins in 2004, showing that the damage was caused by a failed conservation attempt in 1953.
Likewise Miss N. believes that no work of Porphyry has reached us: something that is news to those of us who have read his life of Plotinus, his four books on vegetarianism, and his introduction to Aristotle, a standard textbook in the middle ages.
And so it goes on. After four columns, Dr. K. finishes:
Und so weiter . Man muss in Nixeys Buch mühsam nach Abschnitten suchen, die einer Überprüfung ohne Einschränkung standhalten. Wer sich zu Nixeys Themen seriös informieren will, sollte zu anderen Büchern greifen: Johannes Hahn über Gewalt von Christen und Heiden in der Spätantike, Wolfgang Speyer über Büchervernichtung und Zensur, Egert Pöhlmann zur Überlieferung von Texten und Peter Gemeinhardt über antikes Christentum und Bildung. Sie bieten, was Nixeys mittlerweile in fünf Sprachen übersetztem und von vielen Journalisten gefeiertem Buch abgeht: Fachkompetenz, Augenmaß, Bemühen um sachgerechte Darstellung und Kontextualisierung. Nixey dagegen lässt fort, was ihr nicht in den Kram passt, und fügt wahre, halbwahre und unzutreffende Behauptungen zu einem Konstrukt zusammen, dem nicht nur Einseitigkeit, sondern ein Übermaß an Falschheit vorzuwerfen ist.
In Nixey’s book, one has to laboriously search for sections that can withstand a review without qualification. Those who want to inform themselves on Nixey’s topics seriously, should resort to other books: Johannes Hahn on violence by Christians and Gentiles in late antiquity, Wolfgang Speyer on book destruction and censorship, Egert Pöhlmann for the transmission of texts and Peter Gemeinhardt on ancient Christianity and education. They offer what Nixey’s book, now translated into five languages and celebrated by many journalists, lacks: factual competence, a sense of proportion, an effort for appropriate representation and contextualization. Nixey, on the other hand, ignores what does not fit into the junk, putting together true, half-true, and false claims into a construct that is not just one-sided, but an excessive falsehood.
Let us hope that Nixey’s book continues to be ignored by most people.