The Destruction of the Temple (Part II)

Following up on yesterday’s post about the impact the destruction of the Second Temple had on the politics of Christians in the Roman Empire, here is another on the impact the event had on Jews, Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth. The author is Jodi Magness (UNC-Chapel Hill) and the publisher is Princeton University Press. The publisher’s description follows:

A new account of the famous site and story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.

Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.

The Destruction of the Temple

Quite apart from theological meanings, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD had major political implications for Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire. For Jews, it signaled the beginning of the Diaspora and the end of statehood for the next 2000 years. For Christians, the destruction of the temple, and the Jewish rebellion more generally, created an opportunity to draw a distinction between themselves and Jews and declare their political loyalty to the emperor, themes that appear repeatedly in the New Testament.

A new book from Yale, The Temple in Early Christianity: Experiencing the Sacred, explores the meaning for early Christians of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The author is Eyal Regev (Bar-Ilan). Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A comprehensive treatment of the early Christian approaches to the Temple and its role in shaping Jewish and Christian identity.

The first scholarly work to trace the Temple throughout the entire New Testament, this study examines Jewish and Christian attitudes toward the Temple in the first century and provides both Jews and Christians with a better understanding of their respective faiths and how they grow out of this ancient institution. The centrality of the Temple in New Testament writing reveals the authors’ negotiations with the institutional and symbolic center of Judaism as they worked to form their own religion.

First-Century Nones?

9780231170772I don’t know enough of the history to say whether Gnosticism qualified as its own religion or whether it was a loose movement among members of many religions. If the latter, Gnosticism has a great deal in common with today’s movement of the Nones–people who belong to no single religion, but draw from mystical streams in many different faith traditions. So this new history of Gnosticism from Columbia, The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today, might help in sorting through an important trend in contemporary American religion. The author is Rice University scholar April DeConick. Here’s the description from the Columbia website:

Gnosticism is a countercultural spirituality that forever changed the practice of Christianity. Before it emerged in the second century, passage to the afterlife required obedience to God and king. Gnosticism proposed that human beings were manifestations of the divine, unsettling the hierarchical foundations of the ancient world. Subversive and revolutionary, Gnostics taught that prayer and mediation could bring human beings into an ecstatic spiritual union with a transcendent deity. This mystical strain affected not just Christianity but many other religions, and it characterizes our understanding of the purpose and meaning of religion today.

In The Gnostic New Age, April D. DeConick recovers this vibrant underground history to prove that Gnosticism was not suppressed or defeated by the Catholic Church long ago, nor was the movement a fabrication to justify the violent repression of alternative forms of Christianity. Gnosticism alleviated human suffering, soothing feelings of existential brokenness and alienation through the promise of renewal as God. DeConick begins in ancient Egypt and follows with the rise of Gnosticism in the Middle Ages, the advent of theosophy and other occult movements in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and contemporary New Age spiritual philosophies. As these theories find expression in science-fiction and fantasy films, DeConick sees evidence of Gnosticism’s next incarnation. Her work emphasizes the universal, countercultural appeal of a movement that embodies much more than a simple challenge to religious authority.

King Louis and the Conversion of Muslims

Here is an interesting-looking new book from Princeton on an historical episode (or legend) of which I’d never heard. In the middle ages, the crusading French king and Catholic saint, Louis IX, allegedly converted a significant number of Muslims to Christianity and settled them in France. Most historians dismiss the episode as apocryphal, but, in The Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX, Princeton historian William Chester Jordan takes the story seriously. Whether true or not, the story is certainly suggestive of how the Catholic Church historically has viewed Muslims, a topic that recent comments by Pope Francis have revived. Here’s a description of the book from the Princeton website:

The thirteenth century brought new urgency to Catholic efforts to convert non-Christians, and no Catholic ruler was more dedicated to this undertaking than King Louis IX of France. His military expeditions against Islam are well documented, but there was also a peaceful side to his encounter with the Muslim world, one that has received little attention until now. This splendid book shines new light on the king’s program to induce Muslims—the “apple of his eye”—to voluntarily convert to Christianity and resettle in France. It recovers a forgotten but important episode in the history of the Crusades while providing a rare window into the fraught experiences of the converts themselves.

William Chester Jordan transforms our understanding of medieval Christian-Muslim relations by telling the stories of the Muslims who came to France to live as Christians. Under what circumstances did they willingly convert? How successfully did they assimilate into French society? What forms of resistance did they employ? In examining questions like these, Jordan weaves a richly detailed portrait of a dazzling yet violent age whose lessons still resonate today.

Until now, scholars have dismissed historical accounts of the king’s peaceful conversion of Muslims as hagiographical and therefore untrustworthy. Jordan takes these narratives seriously—and uncovers archival evidence to back them up. He brings his findings marvelously to life in this succinct and compelling book, setting them in the context of the Seventh Crusade and the universalizing Catholic impulse to convert the world.

Islam in Late Antiquity

15883We don’t think of it this way today, but in terms of ancient geopolitics, Islam was as much the heir of the Roman Empire as was Byzantium or the barbarian kingdoms of the West. Consider: within about a century of the fall of Rome, Islam had conquered the key Roman province of Egypt and all of North Africa. What had been a crucial part of the Roman world, the home of Tertullian and Augustine, very quickly became a crucial part of a new imperial state.

A new book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, The Apocalypse of Empire: Imperial Eschatology in Late Antiquity and Early Islam, by Stephen J. Shoemaker (University of Oregon) situates the Islamic conquest in terms of broader imperial politics and ideology–Roman, but also Persian. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

In The Apocalypse of Empire, Stephen J. Shoemaker argues that earliest Islam was a movement driven by urgent eschatological belief that focused on the conquest, or liberation, of the biblical Holy Land and situates this belief within a broader cultural environment of apocalyptic anticipation. Shoemaker looks to the Qur’an’s fervent representation of the imminent end of the world and the importance Muhammad and his earliest followers placed on imperial expansion. Offering important contemporary context for the imperial eschatology that seems to have fueled the rise of Islam, he surveys the political eschatologies of early Byzantine Christianity, Judaism, and Sasanian Zoroastrianism at the advent of Islam and argues that they often relate imperial ambition to beliefs about the end of the world. Moreover, he contends, formative Islam’s embrace of this broader religious trend of Mediterranean late antiquity provides invaluable evidence for understanding the beginnings of the religion at a time when sources are generally scarce and often highly problematic.

Scholarship on apocalyptic literature in early Judaism and Christianity frequently maintains that the genre is decidedly anti-imperial in its very nature. While it may be that early Jewish apocalyptic literature frequently displays this tendency, Shoemaker demonstrates that this quality is not characteristic of apocalypticism at all times and in all places. In the late antique Mediterranean as in the European Middle Ages, apocalypticism was regularly associated with ideas of imperial expansion and triumph, which expected the culmination of history to arrive through the universal dominion of a divinely chosen world empire. This imperial apocalypticism not only affords an invaluable backdrop for understanding the rise of Islam but also reveals an important transition within the history of Western doctrine during late antiquity.

How Belief Came to Transcend Religion

9780691174747_0The last sentence of the announcement of this new book from Princeton University Press–The Birth of Modern Belief: Faith and Judgment from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, by Berkeley historian Ethan Shagan–caught my attention. It confirms an essential, conservative critique of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment didn’t put an end to “belief” as a basis for one’s deepest commitments; it merely changed the objects of belief from traditional Christian concepts to new ones. I’m not sure what Shagan’s position is on all that, but the book looks very interesting indeed. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

This landmark book traces the history of belief in the Christian West from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, revealing for the first time how a distinctively modern category of belief came into being. Ethan Shagan focuses not on what people believed, which is the normal concern of Reformation history, but on the more fundamental question of what people took belief to be.

Shagan shows how religious belief enjoyed a special prestige in medieval Europe, one that set it apart from judgment, opinion, and the evidence of the senses. But with the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation, the question of just what kind of knowledge religious belief was—and how it related to more mundane ways of knowing—was forced into the open. As the warring churches fought over the answer, each claimed belief as their exclusive possession, insisting that their rivals were unbelievers. Shagan challenges the common notion that modern belief was a gift of the Reformation, showing how it was as much a reaction against Luther and Calvin as it was against the Council of Trent. He describes how dissidents on both sides came to regard religious belief as something that needed to be justified by individual judgment, evidence, and argument.

Brilliantly illuminating, The Birth of Modern Belief demonstrates how belief came to occupy such an ambivalent place in the modern world, becoming the essential category by which we express our judgments about science, society, and the sacred, but at the expense of the unique status religion once enjoyed.

McHugo on Sunni and Shia Islam

9781626165861We’re a little late getting to this one, but earlier this year, Georgetown University Press published an interesting looking book on a religious divide that gets insufficient attention from Americans: A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is by John McHugo (University of St. Andrews). The Sunni/Shia divide forms the background for many contemporary conflicts in the Mideast, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. An understanding of the conflict is thus essential to appreciating the politics of the region. Here’s the description of the new book from the Georgetown website:

The 1,400-year-old schism between Sunnis and Shi’is is currently reflected in the destructive struggle for hegemony between Saudi Arabia and Iran—with no apparent end in sight. But how did this conflict begin, and why is it now the focus of so much attention?

Charting the history of Islam from the death of the Prophet Muhammad to the present day, John McHugo describes the conflicts that raged over the succession to the Prophet, how Sunnism and Shi’ism evolved as different sects during the Abbasid caliphate, and how the rivalry between the Sunni Ottomans and Shi’i Safavids ensured that the split would continue into the modern age. In recent decades, this centuries-old divide has acquired a new toxicity that has resulted in violence across the Arab world and other Muslim countries.

Definitive, insightful, and accessible, A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi’is is an essential guide to understanding the genesis, development, and manipulation of the schism that for far too many people has come to define Islam and the Muslim world

A New Book on Eusebius

9781108474078Lately, law-and-religion scholars have been turning their attention to the Patristic period, during which Christians first began to think in earnest about the relation between church and state. To give just two examples, there’s Steve Smith’s new book on pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, and Robert Louis Wilken’s forthcoming book on early Christian concepts of religious liberty, which he presented at our Center’s colloquium this past fall. And so it might be a good time for us to reconsider Eusebius, that chronicler of Christianity in its formative centuries. A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Eusebius and Empire: Constructing Church and Rome in the Ecclesiastical History, does just that. The author is historian James Corke-Webster (King’s College London). Cambridge presents the book as a “radical” new treatment, which makes a traditionalist like me a little skeptical, but readers will be able to judge for themselves. Here’s the description from Cambridge’s website:

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, written in the early fourth century, continues to serve as our primary gateway to a crucial three hundred year period: the rise of early Christianity under the Roman Empire. In this volume, James Corke-Webster undertakes the first systematic study considering the History in the light of its fourth-century circumstances as well as its author’s personal history, intellectual commitments, and literary abilities. He argues that the Ecclesiastical History is not simply an attempt to record the past history of Christianity, but a sophisticated mission statement that uses events and individuals from that past to mould a new vision of Christianity tailored to Eusebius’ fourth-century context. He presents elite Graeco-Roman Christians with a picture of their faith that smooths off its rough edges and misrepresents its size, extent, nature, and relationship to Rome. Ultimately, Eusebius suggests that Christianity was – and always had been – the Empire’s natural heir.

Bebbington, “Baptists through the Centuries” (2d ed.)

6286For students of church-and-state in America, the Baptists loom very large. Together with Enlightenment figures like Madison and Jefferson, the Baptists had a profound influence in the early Republic as strong advocates of separationism. Next month, Baylor University Press will release a new edition of a history of the Baptist movement, Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People, by historian David Bebbington (Baylor). The new edition discusses the spread of Baptist churches in the global south. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Baptists through the Centuries provides a clear introduction to the history and theology of this influential and international people. David Bebbington, a leading Baptist historian, surveys the main developments in Baptist life and thought from the seventeenth century to the present.

The Baptist movement took root and grew well beyond its British and American origins. Bebbington persuasively demonstrates how Baptists continually adapted to the cultures and societies in which they lived, generating ever more diversity within an already multifaceted group. Bebbington’s survey also examines the challenging social, political, and intellectual issues in Baptist history―attitudes on race, women’s roles in the church, religious liberty, missions, and theological commitments.

The second edition of this proven textbook extends the scope with chapters on three parts of the world where Baptists have become particularly numerous: Latin America (where Brazilian Baptists number over 2 million), Nigeria (where Baptists are at their strongest outside North America, numbering roughly 5 million), and the Naga Hills in India (where Baptists form over 80 percent of the population). Each chapter also highlights regional issues that have presented new challenges and opportunities to Baptists: holistic mission in Latin America, the experience of charismatic renewal and the encounter with Islam in Nigeria, and the demands of peacemaking in the Naga Hills.

Through this new edition, Bebbington orients readers and expands their knowledge of the Baptist community as it continues to flourish around the world.

Tuininga, “Calvin’s Political Theology”

9781107171435Christian political theology is always characterized by a dualism between church and state–a dualism which, of course, is found in the Gospels themselves. In late antiquity, Pope Gelasius famously wrote of “two powers,” church and state (somehow, the reference is always to “two swords,” though Gelasius didn’t actually use that phrase); much later, the classical Reformers spoke of “two kingdoms.” A new book from Cambridge, Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church: Christ’s Two Kingdoms, explores the Calvinist version of the two-kingdoms doctrine which, obviously, had a huge influence in colonial New England and, through colonial New England, America itself. The author is Matthew J. Tuininga of Calvin Theological Seminary. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

In Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church, Matthew J. Tuininga explores a little appreciated dimension of John Calvin’s political thought, his two kingdoms theology, as a model for constructive Christian participation in liberal society. Widely misunderstood as a proto-political culture warrior, due in part to his often misinterpreted role in controversies over predestination and the heretic Servetus, Calvin articulated a thoughtful approach to public life rooted in his understanding of the gospel and its teaching concerning the kingdom of God. He staked his ministry in Geneva on his commitment to keeping the church distinct from the state, abandoning simplistic approaches that placed one above the other, while rejecting the temptations of sectarianism or separatism. This revealing analysis of Calvin’s vision offers timely guidance for Christians seeking a mode of faithful, respectful public engagement in democratic, pluralistic communities today.

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