Professor. Brandon is a historian of religion (The Trial of Jesus of, Nazareth) and this book isa study of ancient religious ideas and events; but it is not, as the title implies, a study of religion in the pre-medieval world. It is rather a series of discrete chapters, each dealing with an event or a belief which occurred or flourished, as Gibbon said, ""before the triumph of the barbarians and the Christians."" Among the subjects treated are the genesis of the concept of the human soul, the significance of the Gilgamesh epic, the character of Herod the Great, the historical Jesus, the notion of spirits good and evil, and Pontius Pilate as a figure of legend and history. In such a grab-bag of topics one might expect a certain amount of superficiality here and there; a tendency to rely upon secondary sources; a willingness to foregoe analytic examination. Not So. The author, although he writes for a popular audience, is unfailingly meticulous in research and trenchant in criticism. Moreover, he writes so smoothly as to animate such topics as fatal as the Gnostic heresy and the religious significance of Time. The ""special"" nature of suck subject matter, however, will restrict the audience to those readers who are quite serious, indeed, about both history and religion.