July 19, 2007

THERE'S A BEACH READ FOR YA:

Onward, Christian Soldiers: God's War is the new standard in the field; a review of God's War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman (Alfred J. Andrea, 7/19/2007, Christianity Today)

Tyerman takes pains to point out that the old moralistic reductionism does violence to the complexities of history. He ends his book on a subtle note: "[T]he internal personal decision to follow the cross, to inflict harm on others at great personal risk, at the cost of enormous privations, at the service of a consuming cause, cannot be explained, excused or dismissed either as virtue or sin. Rather, its very contradictions spelt its humanity."

Adjectives for God's War almost fail. "Comprehensive," "monumental," and "epic" come to mind, and they are appropriate but scarcely adequate.

In brief, this is a work by a master historian that will replace Runciman's classic as the standard survey in the field. The spirit of Sir Steven constantly pops up throughout its pages, often as a foil for Christopher Tyerman's assertions and conclusions that run counter to those of his great predecessor.

Among the other misconceptions that Tyerman attacks head on is one that Runciman did not articulate but which has become fashionable today. It says that medieval holy wars between the Cross and the Crescent led directly to such phenomena as Western imperialism and contemporary Islamic anger over a presumed millennium-long assault on it by the Christian West.

Tyerman dismisses such putative connections as nonsensical inventions. In doing so, he mirrors an emerging consensus among Crusade historians that the Islamic world largely forgot about the Crusades after 1300. After all, it had been the victor, and under Ottoman leadership, it put Christian Europe on the defensive for about 400 years. All of this changed around 1900. At that time, Muslim anger over European imperial designs on the Middle East provided sufficient context for it to create the image of the "crusading Christian West."

A book that runs more than 1,000 pages (including notes) might be ponderous and unreadable. It is not. Tyerman's touch is light, his prose sparkles, and his delightful wit gives it spice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 19, 2007 7:59 PM
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