by David Neal Greenwood
Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2021. Pp. xiv, 177.
Tables, stemma, append., notes, biblio., index. $55.00. ISBN: 1501755471
A Revisionist Look at the Imperial Apostate
Dr. Greenwood, a specialist in the study of the “Apostate” Emperor Julian (r. 361-363), has a revisionist view of the man, and not necessarily one as respectful of him as many earlier scholars have been, or the public perception, influenced by Gore Vidal’s novel Julian.
In this well researched and often insightful book, Greenwood discusses how, despite supposedly despising Christianity, Julian drew upon Christian models to shape his vision of what arguably could be termed a “reform paganism”. So Julian’s paganism emerges as nearly a “pagan monotheism” centering on a rather trinitarian Zeus, Herakles, and Athena, and with a unified institutional structure based on the Christian hierarchy, Moreover, and rather curiously, Julian portrays his uncle Constantine the Great as a pagan.
In presenting this view, Greenwood gives us a look at Julian’s family background, his intellectual evolution, and his actions. He also questions Julian’s reputation as an upright character, noting that he probably engineered his acclamation as Augusts by the troops at Paris in 360, while pretending reluctance. He was also quite willing to kill people whom he perceived to be a threat, or who were merely disagreeable.
Greenwood naturally also discusses Julian's military career, rightly showing him to have been an able tactician, successfully defeating “barbarian” invaders in the West, but then only lightly touches on the emperor’s ill-conceived and totally mismanaged invasion of Persia, which led to his death, and the loss of much of the East.
Julian and Christianity is an insightful work for those interested in Julian, the late Empire, and the rise of Christianity.