By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
I just finished a book that every Jew should read. Constantine’s Sword (Constantine was the Roman Emperor who legitimized Christianity as the state religion). The book, though a gold mine of information about the ménage a trois of Judaism, Christianity (then still Jews), and the mighty Roman Empire, has several handicaps that most reviewers ignore. It contains over a thousands pages. It must weigh close to eight pounds.
It is a book made for readers and weightlifters. After just two weeks with this rock of knowledge your friends will notice your chest and upper arm development.
You can’t hold the book in your lap – you can’t read it on your side, since it will inflame your appendix. And to read it on your back, holding it over your head is to invite sciatica.
Anyhow, given this semi-literary handicap it’s a book every Jew should read. You can always hire someone to hold the book and turn pages for you. Although that way you miss the body-building benefits.
“Been working out, Ted?”
“No, just reading a thousand page, ten pound book twice a day.”
The book was written by James Carroll, a well known scholar and former Catholic priest.
It has been on the New York Times best seller list. A man who loves his religion, but dearly sees its faults – not so much in its theology, but in its bloody relation with Judaism. Carroll, who is often described as a Catholic dissident, pleads that the church face the celestial mirror, admit its errors in its relation with Judaism, and set out on a new harmonious path.
A reasonable judgment for an institution based on confession and repentance.Naturally, he emphasizes the bloody hands of the church stained by centuries of pograms, the Inquisition, the silence of Pious XII, who signed the first treaty with the arch devil, Hitler, and finally the Holocaust.
But most interesting is his “take” on the original split of Judaism into “Jewish Christians” and true Jews. And the role played by Rome, actively wooed by this new off-shoot of Judaism, who found that violent vilification of classic Judaism was a mighty weapon for their theology; the Sword of Constantine explores the complete history of papal relationships with the Jews. And it must be said that Carroll is extremely critical of the church he loves and begs for a confessional catharsis to cleanse its past.
He examines the entire gamut of church behavior ranging from frantic calls for the “Christ killers to convert or die” to Saint Augustine’s plea that the Jews must be allowed to “survive, but never thrive”, as witness to the punishment of those who rejected the divine credentials of the Man from Galilee. A relatively benign statement in its day.
To summarize, everything you ever wished to know and more about Papal/Jewish relationships is here. And viewed by a scholar, though a loving Catholic, is critical of his creed. And who, furthermore, fully understands that his church bloomed from the bosom of Abraham. His theme of Church hatred vs Jews, he attributes (as do most historians) to Christianity’s early desire to cuddle up to Rome.
So Pontius Pilate wasn’t the executioner, but those frenzied Pharisees (who never crucified anyone in the history of Judaism from Abraham to this very day). Judaism has an abhorrence toward taking life. Jewish law calls for execution only for idol worship. A familiar mainstream observation, but unknown to every-day church going Christians deluded by gospels written in a politicized environment well after Jesus’s death.
Gospels written with Roman favor always in mind. Constantine’s Sword is a “heavy” read in more ways than one. But is remarkably revealing of a topic that is life or death to Judaism and a topic of which few are well informed. Furthermore, it comes in a time when Christian scholars, preachers, and church goers are learning more about the Jewish roots of Yehoshua Ben Yosef and his strange branch of Judaism.