A New Edition of a Classic Textbook

Next month, Eerdman’s will release a new edition of A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, a textbook by one of the greatest living historians of Christianity, Mark Noll (Notre Dame – Emeritus). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Mark Noll’s A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada has been firmly established as the standard text on the Christian experience in North America. Now Noll has thoroughly revised, updated, and expanded his classic text to incorporate new materials and important themes, events, leaders, and changes of the last thirty years. Once again readers will benefit from his insights on the United States and Canada in this superb narrative survey of Christian churches, institutions, and cultural engagements from the colonial period through 2018.

On the Ghetto

The religious associations have largely disappeared, but in its original meaning ghetto referred to a segregated district in which European Jews were required to live–most notably in Italian cities like Venice, Padua, and Rome, where former ghettos have now become tourist attractions. Next month, Harvard releases Ghetto: The History of a Word, which traces the word’s evolving meaning across time. The author is historian Daniel Schwartz (George Washington University). Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Just as European Jews were being emancipated and ghettos in their original form—compulsory, enclosed spaces designed to segregate—were being dismantled, use of the word ghetto surged in Europe and spread around the globe. Tracing the curious path of this loaded word from its first use in sixteenth-century Venice to the present turns out to be more than an adventure in linguistics.

Few words are as ideologically charged as ghetto. Its early uses centered on two cities: Venice, where it referred to the segregation of the Jews in 1516, and Rome, where the ghetto survived until the fall of the Papal States in 1870, long after it had ceased to exist elsewhere.

Ghetto: The History of a Word offers a fascinating account of the changing nuances of this slippery term, from its coinage to the present day. It details how the ghetto emerged as an ambivalent metaphor for “premodern” Judaism in the nineteenth century and how it was later revived to refer to everything from densely populated Jewish immigrant enclaves in modern cities to the hypersegregated holding pens of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. We see how this ever-evolving word traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, settled into New York’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s Near West Side, then came to be more closely associated with African Americans than with Jews.

Chronicling this sinuous transatlantic odyssey, Daniel B. Schwartz reveals how the history of ghettos is tied up with the struggle and argument over the meaning of a word. Paradoxically, the term ghetto came to loom larger in discourse about Jews when Jews were no longer required to live in legal ghettos. At a time when the Jewish associations have been largely eclipsed, Ghetto retrieves the history of a disturbingly resilient word.

Byzantine Law

Law and religion scholars in the West typically ignore Byzantium. That’s so for several reasons, including the fact that so much of the relevant material does not exist in contemporary translations, and the fact, sadly, that Westerners since Gibbon are accustomed to dismissing Byzantium as irrelevant, although the empire lasted 1000 years and offers many insights into Christian jurisprudence. A (relatively) new book from Cambridge coves one of the more important emperors and his legal influence: Leo VI and the Transformation of Byzantine Christian Identity: Writings of an Unexpected Emperor, by historian Meredith Riedel (Duke University). The publisher’s description follows:

The Byzantine emperor Leo VI (886–912), was not a general or even a soldier, like his predecessors, but a scholar, and it was the religious education he gained under the tutelage of the patriarch Photios that was to distinguish him as an unusual ruler. This book analyses Leo’s literary output, focusing on his deployment of ideological principles and religious obligations to distinguish the characteristics of the Christian oikoumene from the Islamic caliphate, primarily in his military manual known as the Taktika. It also examines in depth his 113 legislative Novels, with particular attention to their theological prolegomena, showing how the emperor’s religious sensibilities find expression in his reshaping of the legal code to bring it into closer accord with Byzantine canon law. Meredith L. D. Riedel argues that the impact of his religious faith transformed Byzantine cultural identity and influenced his successors, establishing the Macedonian dynasty as a ‘golden age’ in Byzantium.

Religious Freedom and Religious Exhaustion

Historians debate what caused the interest in religious toleration in late 17th-Century Britain. Did writers like Locke reflect an older Christian ethic, a new Enlightenment worldview, or simply the exhaustion that had resulted from a century and more of religious debate and violence? A forthcoming book from Manchester University Press, Reformation without End, by Robert Ingram (Ohio University) no doubt addresses these issues. The publisher’s description suggests the author believes the final factor was the most important:

This study provides a radical reassessment of the English Reformation. No one in eighteenth-century England thought that they were living during ‘the Enlightenment’; instead, they saw themselves as facing the religious, intellectual and political problems unleashed by the Reformation, which began in the sixteenth century. Moreover, they faced those problems in the aftermath of two bloody seventeenth-century political and religious revolutions. Reformation without end examines how the eighteenth-century English debated the causes and consequences of those revolutions and the thing they thought had caused them, the Reformation. It draws on a wide array of manuscript sources to show how authors crafted and pitched their works.

Eppur Si Muove

From Princeton, here is an interesting new translation of several contemporary accounts of Galileo Galilei, including a poem written in his honor by the future Pope Urban VIII: On the Life of Galileo: Vivani’s Historical Account and Other Early Biographies. I guess Urban later changed his mind. The translator and editor of the new volume is Stefano Gattei (California Institute of Technology). Here is the publisher’s description:

The first collection and translation into English of the earliest biographical accounts of Galileo’s life.

This unique critical edition presents key early biographical accounts of the life and work of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), written by his close contemporaries. Collected and translated into English for the first time and supplemented by an introduction and incisive annotations by Stefano Gattei, these documents paint an incomparable firsthand picture of Galileo and offer rare insights into the construction of his public image and the complex intertwining of science, religion, and politics in seventeenth-century Italy.

Here in its entirety is Vincenzo Viviani’s Historical Account, an extensive and influential biography of Galileo written in 1654 by his last and most devoted pupil. Viviani’s text is accompanied by his “Letter to Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici on the Application of Pendulum to Clocks” (1659), his 1674 description of Galileo’s later works, and the long inscriptions on the façade of Viviani’s Florentine palace (1702). The collection also includes the “Adulatio perniciosa,” a Latin poem written in 1620 by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini—who, as Pope Urban VIII, would become Galileo’s prosecutor—as well as descriptive accounts that emerged from the Roman court and contemporary European biographers.

Featuring the original texts in Italian, Latin, and French with their English translations on facing pages, this invaluable book shows how Galileo’s pupils, friends, and critics shaped the Galileo myth for centuries to come, and brings together in one volume the primary sources needed to understand the legendary scientist in his time.

His the Religion

The Peace of Augsburg (1555) ended a struggle within the Holy Roman Empire between the Catholic Emperor Charles V and Lutheran princes. A key principle of the treaty was cuius regio, eius religio–“whose realm, his religion”–a prince could determine the religion of his state without interference from outside. It doesn’t seem like much, today; we wouldn’t say that freedom consists in believing as the prince directs you. But the principle acknowledged national, if not individual, autonomy in matters of religion, a major innovation at the time.

Last week, Yale University Press released a new biography of the Hapsburg prince and devoted Catholic who agreed to this arrangement, Emperor:A New Life of Charles V, by historian Geoffrey Parker (Ohio State). Here’s the description of the book from the Yale website:

Drawing on vital new evidence, a top historian dramatically reinterprets the ruler of the world’s first transatlantic empire.

The life of Emperor Charles V (1500–1558), ruler of Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and much of Italy and Central and South America, has long intrigued biographers. But the elusive nature of the man (despite an abundance of documentation), his relentless travel and the control of his own image, together with the complexity of governing the world’s first transatlantic empire, complicate the task.
 
Geoffrey Parker, one of the world’s leading historians of early modern Europe, has examined the surviving written sources in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, as well as visual and material evidence. He explores the crucial decisions that created and preserved this vast empire, analyzes Charles’s achievements within the context of both personal and structural factors, and scrutinizes the intimate details of the ruler’s life for clues to his character and inclinations. The result is a unique biography that interrogates every dimension of Charles’s reign and views the world through the emperor’s own eyes.

Balkanization

When American law professors hear the word “Balkanization” today, they’re likely to think of the homonymous blog. But of course the word originally refers to the peninsula in southeastern Europe, where a patchwork of fissiparous nations and religions have contended for centuries. A new book from Harvard, The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe, by Marie-Janine Calic (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität – Munich) explores the history. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

A sweeping history of southeastern Europe from antiquity to the present that reveals it to be a vibrant crossroads of trade, ideas, and religions.

We often think of the Balkans as a region beset by turmoil and backwardness, but from late antiquity to the present it has been a dynamic meeting place of cultures and religions. Combining deep insight with narrative flair, The Great Cauldron invites us to reconsider the history of this intriguing, diverse region as essential to the story of global Europe.

Marie-Janine Calic reveals the many ways in which southeastern Europe’s position at the crossroads of East and West shaped continental and global developments. The nascent merchant capitalism of the Mediterranean world helped the Balkan knights fight the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. The deep pull of nationalism led a young Serbian bookworm to spark the conflagration of World War I. The late twentieth century saw political Islam spread like wildfire in a region where Christians and Muslims had long lived side by side. Along with vivid snapshots of revealing moments in time, including Krujë in 1450 and Sarajevo in 1984, Calic introduces fascinating figures rarely found in standard European histories. We meet the Greek merchant and poet Rhigas Velestinlis, whose revolutionary pamphlet called for a general uprising against Ottoman tyranny in 1797. And the Croatian bishop Ivan Dominik Stratiko, who argued passionately for equality of the sexes and whose success with women astonished even his friend Casanova.
Calic’s ambitious reappraisal expands and deepens our understanding of the ever-changing mixture of peoples, faiths, and civilizations in this much-neglected nexus of empire.

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.

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