Review of "Constantine's Sword" by James Carroll
(Posted at amazon.com, but with text marked in red replaced by ellipses)
This book is supposed to be a history of the treatment of the Jews by the Christian Church, but it is actually a personal history of the author and his disillusionment with the Catholic Church. There is some historical material of general interest but it is only a small fraction of the more than 700 pages of the book. 200 pages would have been more than enough to cover whatever material of general interest there is in the book. The mixture of personal and historical material can be irritating. For example, in Part Seven of the book there is a rather interesting discussion of how the Church benefited by co-operating with authoritarian regimes. However that discussion is cut short by introducing the story of a pilgrimage during the author's youth. In addition to his personal history the author often digresses to topics that have little connection to the main theme of the book, such as a chapter on Abelard and Héloïse.
I might have been willing to overlook the large amounts of peripheral (or outright extraneous material) if the parts that covered general history provided any new insights. Unfortunately, most of that material is superficial, if not highly questionable. Carroll tries to answer the question on why Judaism survived while all ancient pagan religions were eliminated by the Church. He attributes that to an admonition by Saint Augustine. Could it also be that the Jews themselves had something to do with it? To start with, there were several Jewish communities outside the Christian Roman empire (for example, in the Persian empire). Others they were in the periphery of the empire, for example in Spain. Several Jewish communities in the core of the empire (for example, in Cappadocia) disappeared entirely. Thus the basic argument of the book seems to be wrong.
The book is certainly critical of the Catholic Church and I noticed at least one review suggesting that the writing of the book was encouraged by "the Jews" to hurt that Church (anti-Semitism is alive and well on the Internet). However, I found several parts of the book also insulting to the Jews, so conspiracy theorists have to look elsewhere.
T. P. - May 2002