Jansen, “Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy”

9780691177748Here is an interesting-looking new book from Princeton University Press on the ways in which church and state cooperated to keep the peace in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Florence, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy, by historian Katherine Ludwig Jansen (Catholic University of America). I’m a bit surprised, I have to say. From what I know, medieval Italy wasn’t greatly characterized either by peace or penance–which could be said of most societies across time, including our own. The part about the Kiss of Peace is fascinating. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Medieval Italian communes are known for their violence, feuds, and vendettas, yet beneath this tumult was a society preoccupied with peace. Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy is the first book to examine how civic peacemaking in the age of Dante was forged in the crucible of penitential religious practice.

Focusing on Florence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, an era known for violence and civil discord, Katherine Ludwig Jansen brilliantly illuminates how religious and political leaders used peace agreements for everything from bringing an end to neighborhood quarrels to restoring full citizenship to judicial exiles. She brings to light a treasure trove of unpublished evidence from notarial archives and supports it with sermons, hagiography, political treatises, and chronicle accounts. She paints a vivid picture of life in an Italian commune, a socially and politically unstable world that strove to achieve peace. Jansen also assembles a wealth of visual material from the period, illustrating for the first time how the kiss of peace—a ritual gesture borrowed from the Catholic Mass—was incorporated into the settlement of secular disputes.

Breaking new ground in the study of peacemaking in the Middle Ages, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy adds an entirely new dimension to our understanding of Italian culture in this turbulent age by showing how peace was conceived, memorialized, and occasionally achieved.

Walls, “Thoreau”

9780226344690Yesterday I posted about the connection between Spiritualists and Transcendentalists in nineteenth century America, and about new book that argues that Spiritualism may be making a comeback, re-enforced by new scientific theories. To round out this week’s books, here is a biography published earlier this year on one of the original Transcendentalists, Henry David Thoreau. In Yoder, the Supreme Court famously offered Thoreau as an example of what did not qualify as a religion for First Amendment purposes (Thoreau manifested a philosophy rather than a religion, the Court explained), but, with the rise of the Nones, who knows? Maybe Thoreau would be a religion of one. The book is Henry David Thoreau: A Life, by University of Notre Dame professor Laura Dassow Walls, and the publisher is the University of Chicago Press. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“Walden. Yesterday I came here to live.” That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau, and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place Thoreau in the American pantheon. His attempt to “live deliberately” in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854.

But there was much more to Thoreau than his brief experiment in living at Walden Pond. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Many books have taken up various aspects of Thoreau’s character and achievements, but, as Laura Dassow Walls writes, “Thoreau has never been captured between covers; he was too quixotic, mischievous, many-sided.” Two hundred years after his birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls restores Henry David Thoreau to us in all his profound, inspiring complexity.

Walls traces the full arc of Thoreau’s life, from his early days in the intellectual hothouse of Concord, when the American experiment still felt fresh and precarious, and “America was a family affair, earned by one generation and about to pass to the next.” By the time he died in 1862, at only forty-four years of age, Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. What did that portend for the contemplative individual and abundant, wild nature that Thoreau celebrated?

Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.

“The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one,” says Walls. The result is a Thoreau unlike any seen since he walked the streets of Concord, a Thoreau for our time and all time.

Vosganian, “The Book of Whispers”

9453aa94e9dd50e2c55ac53c0b7d9ad2Continuing our focus this week on Orthodox Christians, here is a new book from Yale University Press on the Armenian Genocide of 1915, an ethnic cleansing campaign against Armenian Orthodox Christians in Ottoman Turkey that also swept up Greek and Syriac Orthodox Christians, as well as Catholics and Protestants. The Book of Whispers, is by Romanian parliamentarian Varujan Vosganian. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A harrowing account of the Armenian Genocide documented through the stories of those who managed to survive and descendants who refuse to forget

The grandchild of Armenians who escaped widespread massacres during the Ottoman Empire a century ago, Varujan Vosganian grew up in Romania hearing firsthand accounts of those who had witnessed horrific killings, burned villages, and massive deportations. In this moving chronicle of the Armenian people’s almost unimaginable tragedy, the author transforms true events into a work of fiction firmly grounded in survivor testimonies and historical documentation

Across Syrian desert refugee camps, Russian tundra, and Romanian villages, the book chronicles individual lives destroyed by ideological and authoritarian oppression. But this novel tells an even wider human story. Evocative of all the great sufferings that afflicted the twentieth century—world wars, concentration camps, common graves, statelessness, and others—this book belongs to all peoples whose voices have been lost. Hailed for its documentary value and sensitive authenticity, Vosganian’s work has become an international phenomenon.

Frankfurter, “Christianizing Egypt”

9780691176970_0The Coptic Church today is suffering one of the worst periods of persecution in its history. Yet few Americans, including American Christians, know much about it. In fact, I’d guess that most Americans, including American Christians, assume that Egypt is uniformly Muslim, except for a handful of American Evangelical missionaries and their congregations. In fact, Christianity has ancient roots in Egypt, and the Coptic Church preserves some of the earliest Christian traditions.

A new book from Princeton University Press, Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity, by Boston University Professor David Frankfurter, discusses some of that history. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

How does a culture become Christian, especially one that is heir to such ancient traditions and spectacular monuments as Egypt? This book offers a new model for envisioning the process of Christianization by looking at the construction of Christianity in the various social and creative worlds active in Egyptian culture during late antiquity.

As David Frankfurter shows, members of these different social and creative worlds came to create different forms of Christianity according to their specific interests, their traditional idioms, and their sense of what the religion could offer. Reintroducing the term “syncretism” for the inevitable and continuous process by which a religion is acculturated, the book addresses the various formations of Egyptian Christianity that developed in the domestic sphere, the worlds of holy men and saints’ shrines, the work of craftsmen and artisans, the culture of monastic scribes, and the reimagination of the landscape itself, through processions, architecture, and the potent remains of the past.

Drawing on sermons and magical texts, saints’ lives and figurines, letters and amulets, and comparisons with Christianization elsewhere in the Roman empire and beyond, Christianizing Egypt reconceives religious change—from the “conversion” of hearts and minds to the selective incorporation and application of strategies for protection, authority, and efficacy, and for imagining the environment.

Leppin, “Martin Luther”

9780801098215On this 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, we continue with our list of new and forthcoming works on Martin Luther. From Baker Academic Press, here is a new biography of the Reformer — looking rather skeptical on that jacket cover, come to think of it  — by German medievalist Volker Leppin (University of Tübingen), Martin Luther: A Late Medieval Life. The description from the publisher’s website:

This brief, insightful biography of Martin Luther strips away the myths surrounding the Reformer to offer a more nuanced account of his life and ministry. Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this accessible yet robustly historical and theological work highlights the medieval background of Luther’s life in contrast to contemporary legends. Internationally respected church historian Volker Leppin explores the Catholic roots of Lutheran thought and locates Luther’s life in the unfolding history of 16th-century Europe. Foreword by Timothy J. Wengert.

Matthew Hale on the Law of Nature (Postema, ed.)

9780199234929It is impossible really to understand the American church-state arrangement without knowing something about the English Civil War, which loomed so large in the Framers’ imagination. Yesterday, I posted a new treatment of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Today, I’ll point out another new work on seventeenth century England, an edition of Matthew Hale’s writings, edited by University of North Carolina professor Gerald Postema: Matthew Hale: On the Law of Nature, Reason, and the Common Law: Selected Jurisprudential Writings (Oxford). Here’s a description of the book from the publisher’s website:

Lawyer, judge, public figure, historian, theologian, and amateur natural philosopher, Sir Matthew Hale worked and wrote in the middle decades of the seventeenth century, perhaps the most turbulent period of English political history. His reflections on reason, law, and political authority, unpublished in his lifetime, are collected in this volume. It sets Hale’s previously unpublished Treatise on the Nature of Laws in General and touching the Law of Nature and his “Reflections on Mr Hobbes his Dialogue of the Laws” in context of other key works of legal and constitutional theory. The Treatise reveals a complex general understanding of law and of moral and legal reasoning. “Reflections” brings these general considerations to bear on English law, in his critical response to Hobbes’s all-out attack on common-law jurisprudence. “Reflections” suggests a conception of judicial reasoning, and a view of political authority, that deepens the view Hale defends in the longer and more systematic work. His views on practical reasoning are elaborated and related explicitly to the discipline of law in his “Preface to Rolle’s Abridgement” and in parts of his History of the Common Law. In the Treatise, Hale argues that human law is necessarily instituted in the practices and customs of specific communities, manifesting their consent; this view is enriched and deepened in the History and “Considerations touching Amendment of the Law”. His views on the foundations of political authority, sounded in the Treatise, are argued at length in Prerogatives of the King and “Reflections”. “Reflections” argues for necessary legal limits of ruling power and Prerogatives offers a systematic discussion of the nature and limits of political authority. Taken together, these writings offer a rich and subtle articulation of a classical common-law understanding of law, reason and authority. Gerald J. Postema presents these seminal writings in a modernized text for readers from philosophy, law, political theory, or intellectual history. He contributes an extended introduction setting out the theoretical and historical context of the works.

Poole, “Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost”

9780674971073-lgBesides being one of the greatest poets in the English language, John Milton was a major public figure, an official in the Commonwealth government and a political writer whose works addressed many church-state issues, including divorce laws (he favored their liberalization) and religious toleration (he favored that. too). A new book from Harvard University Press, Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost, by Oxford scholar William Poole, touches on Milton’s political and religious writings as well as, obviously, his greatest poem. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost tells the story of John Milton’s life as England’s self-elected national poet and explains how the single greatest poem of the English language came to be written.

In early 1642 Milton—an obscure private schoolmaster—promised English readers a work of literature so great that “they should not willingly let it die.” Twenty-five years later, toward the end of 1667, the work he had pledged appeared in print: the epic poem Paradise Lost. In the interim, however, the poet had gone totally blind and had also become a controversial public figure—a man who had argued for the abolition of bishops, freedom of the press, the right to divorce, and the prerogative of a nation to depose and put to death an unsatisfactory ruler. These views had rendered him an outcast.

William Poole devotes particular attention to Milton’s personal situation: his reading and education, his ambitions and anxieties, and the way he presented himself to the world. Although always a poet first, Milton was also a theologian and civil servant, vocations that informed the composition of his masterpiece. At the emotional center of this narrative is the astounding fact that Milton lost his sight in 1652. How did a blind man compose this staggeringly complex, intensely visual work? Poole opens up the epic worlds and sweeping vistas of Milton’s masterpiece to modern readers, first by exploring Milton’s life and intellectual preoccupations and then by explaining the poem itself—its structure, content, and meaning.

Harline, “A World Ablaze”

9780190275181Here is another in the flood of books commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this year, A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation (Oxford), by BYU history professor Craig Harline. Looks interesting. Here’s a description from the publisher’s website:

October 2017 marks five hundred years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg and launched the Protestant Reformation. At least, that’s what the legend says. But with a figure like Martin Luther, who looms so large in the historical imagination, it’s hard to separate the legend from the life, or even sometimes to separate assorted legends from each other. Over the centuries, Luther the man has given way to Luther the icon, a polished bronze figure on a pedestal.

In A World Ablaze, Craig Harline introduces us to the flesh-and-blood Martin Luther. Harline tells the riveting story of the first crucial years of the accidental crusade that would make Luther a legendary figure. He didn’t start out that way; Luther was a sometimes-cranky friar and professor who worried endlessly about the fate of his eternal soul. He sought answers in the Bible and the Church fathers, and what he found distressed him even more — the way many in the Church had come to understand salvation was profoundly wrong, thought Luther, putting millions of souls, not least his own, at risk of damnation. His ideas would pit him against numerous scholars, priests, bishops, princes, and the Pope, even as others adopted or adapted his cause, ultimately dividing the Church against itself. A World Ablaze is a tale not just of religious debate but of political intrigue, of shifting alliances and daring escapes, with Luther often narrowly avoiding capture, which might have led to execution. The conflict would eventually encompass the whole of Christendom and served as the crucible in which a new world was forged.

The Luther we find in these pages is not a statue to be admired but a complex figure — brilliant and volatile, fretful and self-righteous, curious and stubborn. Harline brings out the immediacy, uncertainty, and drama of his story, giving readers a sense of what it felt like in the moment, when the ending was still very much in doubt. The result is a masterful recreation of a momentous turning point in the history of the world.

Jones, “The Templars”

9780525428305Why waste your time reading tripe like The DaVinci Code when real history is so much more interesting? Here, from Penguin Random House, is a new history of the Knights Templar, The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors, by historian Dan Jones. The Templars were a Catholic lay order that fought in the Crusades and, incidentally, established an early global financial network. Eventually they ran afoul of the French monarchy, which pressured the papacy to dissolve them–see, there’s even a church-state angle. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

An instant international bestseller, this major new history of the knights Templar by the bestselling author of The Plantagenets is “another triumphant tale from a historian who writes as addictively as any page-turning novelist.” –The Guardian

Jerusalem 1119. A small group of knights seeking a purpose in the violent aftermath of the First Crusade decides to set up a new order. These are the first Knights of Templar, a band of elite warriors prepared to give their lives to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Over the next two hundred years, the Templars would become the most powerful religious order of the medieval world. Their legend has inspired fervent speculation ever since. But who were they really and what actually happened?

In this groundbreaking narrative history, the bestselling author of The Plantagenets tells the true story of the Templars for the first time in a generation, drawing on extensive original sources to build a gripping account of these Christian holy warriors whose heroism and depravity have so often been shrouded in myth. The Templars were protected by the pope and sworn to strict vows of celibacy. They fought the forces of Islam in hand-to-hand combat on the sun-baked hills where Jesus lived and died, finding their nemesis in Saladin, who vowed to drive all Christians from the lands of Islam. They were experts at channeling money across borders. They established the medieval world’s first global bank and waged private wars against anyone who threatened their interests.

Then in 1307 the Templars fell foul of a vindictive King of France, whose lawyers built a meticulous case against them. On Friday October 13, hundreds of brothers were arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and the order was disbanded amid lurid accusations of sexual misconduct and heresy. They were tried by the Pope in secret proceedings and publicly humiliated. But were they heretics or victims of a ruthlessly repressive state? Dan Jones goes back to the sources tobring their dramatic tale, so relevant to our own times, in a book that is at once authoritative and compulsively readable.

 

Heller, “Jabotinsky’s Children”

From Princeton University Press, a new book on a lesser-known aspect of Jewish history, “right-wing Zionism” in pre-war Poland. The book, Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism, is by McGill University professor Daniel Kupfert Heller. Here’s a description of the book from the Princeton website:

k11134By the late 1930s, as many as fifty thousand Polish Jews belonged to Betar, a youth movement known for its support of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of right-wing Zionism. Poland was not only home to Jabotinsky’s largest following. The country also served as an inspiration and incubator for the development of right-wing Zionist ideas. Jabotinsky’s Children draws on a wealth of rare archival material to uncover how the young people in Betar were instrumental in shaping right-wing Zionist attitudes about the roles that authoritarianism and military force could play in the quest to build and maintain a Jewish state.

Recovering the voices of ordinary Betar members through their letters, diaries, and autobiographies, Jabotinsky’s Children paints a vivid portrait of young Polish Jews and their turbulent lives on the eve of the Holocaust. Rather than define Jabotinsky as a firebrand fascist or steadfast democrat, the book instead reveals how he deliberately delivered multiple and contradictory messages to his young followers, leaving it to them to interpret him as they saw fit. Tracing Betar’s surprising relationship with interwar Poland’s authoritarian government, Jabotinsky’s Children overturns popular misconceptions about Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars and captures the fervent efforts of Poland’s Jewish youth to determine, on their own terms, who they were, where they belonged, and what their future held in store.

Shedding critical light on a vital yet neglected chapter in the history of Zionism, Jabotinsky’s Children provides invaluable perspective on the origins of right-wing Zionist beliefs and their enduring allure in Israel today.

 

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