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Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,220 ratings  ·  114 reviews
“A rare book that combines searing passion with a subject that has affected all of our lives.”—-Chicago Tribune
Novelist, cultural critic & former priest James Carroll marries history with memoir as he maps the 2000-year course of the Church’s battle against Judaism & faces the crisis of faith it has sparked in his own life. “Fascinating, brave & sometimes infu
Paperback, 768 pages
Published April 1st 2002 by Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Co. (NY/Boston) (first published 2001)
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This is a priceless investigation of anti-semitism in Christianity, and it is an invaluable book. However in asmuch as the author does not get past Christianity enough to understand that it had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, and the fact that it was Paul who was so heavily invested in creating a separate and different movement, which of necessity had victimization built in, as a good Cahtolic, he remains stuck with the guilt over this aspect, and the reader through him. Having said t ...more
Jul 24, 2008 Charles rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: God buffs, history buffs, Jews and Gentiles
It's a long trip from cover to cover, but a journey worth taking. I don't consider myself a slouch on Catholic history or theology, but I learned a lot from this book, a lot about what's happened and what's possible from an alternative reading of history and theology.

The book addresses some difficult questions: How should the Church's response to Nazism be evaluated in light of her response to the Kulturkampf of Otto von Bismarck or Communism? What does it really mean to compare Auschwitz to Go
Easily the worst book I have read in the last 10 years. The author's historical analysis is flawed throughout the book and no legitimate historian would find it plausible (I've read some of the scholarly reviews of the book and they were not kind). Claims throughout the book are often outrageous (e.g. New Testament is anti-semetic) with little or no scholarship to back up arguments--simply having a lot of footnotes does not mean it is well researched or supported by the literature of the field. ...more
Oct 26, 2007 GeekChick rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in the history of Christianity
Shelves: history
This might be the most powerful book I've ever read. It details the history of Christianity, with regard to antisemitism. It begins at the time of Jesus' death and goes through Vatican II. I knew the Church far from perfect, but I had no idea that it not only tolerated antisemitism but FOSTERED it.

Carroll is an ex-priest. The first part of the book (too long, in my husband's estimation) is spent on explaining Carroll's personal experience with the Church, which forms the framework for his writi
I think what may shed a cleansing light upon the dark recesses of ignorance pertaining to any dispute of this excellent book would be for everyone here to read up on Mithraism / Mithra. In a nut shell it preceded Christ by 600 years ( at least ) and, surprise, has almost identical teachings & many of the same stories as the bible. Basically Constantine who ordered the first mass printing of the bible was a follower of Mithra first and as a method of consolidating power helped replace the Pa ...more
Jan 20, 2008 Marcelo rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: each and every Roman Catholic.
This is a SERIOUS read. It's long, beautifully written and heartfelt, thoroughly researched and annotated, and 2 millenia in the making. Thought-provoking, yes, but soul-search provoking also. This should be mandatory reading for every practicing Christian, particularly Roman Catholics. James Carrol amazes. I need to blog about this.
Vasile Jurca
I recommend this book highly, especially for someone that is willing to have an honest look at Christianity without the cover of a holy veil to mystify us. Very well written book (a given for a novelist). The author--while rightfully criticizing the numerous heinous acts of the Church towards Jews (and others not so privileged to accept the light of the Jesus)--still feels the need to fold himself into the same sentimentality of ingrained ritual that perpetuates the Church as some sort of world ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 14, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Catholics
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: history
This is a rather uneven book. The history presented is pretty clearly derivative, the author having read secondary sources and deriving much of his portrayal from them. There are, as a result, statements of fact which are, in fact, arguable. Not enough, perhaps, to overturn the broad thesis of the text, but enough to occasionally raise the eyebrows of some readers. The theology is more thought out. Again, Carroll is quite reliant on others, but here he evinces having done quite a bit of thought ...more
This was one of the most difficult and most compelling books I have read in the last year. In this 600+ page tome, Carroll has given us a comprehensive history of the Roman Catholic Church's attitudes and actions toward Jews and Judaism. Starting with the New Testament authors and ending with the recent attempts to roll back the reforms of Vatican II, Carroll documents the ways in which the Roman Catholic Church, and the Christian movement more generally, has routinely, deliberately and diabolic ...more
Probably one of the best books I ever read. It helps to answer the question of why 'christians' have hated the jews thru the also provides thoughtful answers to many questions about the catholic story of the new testament, in an historical context of why the story is as it is. And to learn about the many theologians and philosophers who have suggested this analysis over the a lot of this is not new. This ex-priest has done a marvelous job of pulling all this information tog ...more
Mike Wigal
I don't understand humans. I'm a Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris anti-theist, so straight off you have an idea where I'm coming from. But here's a man, a former Catholic priest, who has put a tremendous amount of effort and research into examining not only the history of Christianity, but the concomitant history of the Catholic church's record of antisemitism. Some reviewers have questioned his historical accuracy, but I suspect those complaints are more agenda driven than anything else.

The record of th
It might seem difficult to make a religious history fascinating throughout, but Carroll does it. This book traces the history of Jewish/Christian (particularly Catholic) relations from the very start up through the Holocaust and beyond. This book is critical to understanding the way history has led up to where we are, no matter what religion you belong to. Highly recommended.
ebnewberry Newberry
This is an incredible book. It examines the relationship of the Church and the Jews throughout history. I learned an amazing amount about the world in general while reading this book. It is both sad, and hopeful. It is an important work to remind the readers that there is a better way to live and act.
Chris Pederson
When I hear conservatives, or anyone, say 'Judeo-Christian...' it makes me kind of ill. For me it started a little slow because he kept talking about how this affected his life. I wanted to know the history. But you get there.
Rich Griese
Not what I expected. I expected more of a history of the time of Constantine. What I got was Carroll's personal gripes about what he sees as Christianities antisemitism. It boggles me mind how Carroll, a former priest, had not been more aware of Christianities antisemitism before his indignation to write this book. I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. I recommend watching the DVD which is only about an hour and forty minutes instead of reading the 616 page book. This is more of a "save ...more
Very long book, but then there's an awful lot to cover, as Carroll makes evident. Other reviewers have noted that some of the author's personal history is obtrusive, but by the time you get to the very end, the inclusion of that perspective makes more sense. If you find yourself wondering how someone can remain a member of the Church in spite of all he chronicles, the answer is in the penultimate section.

New topics raised by this book, to continue to explore this year - what are the basic tenets
Steven Miller
a.k.a. how to create Hitler in as little as 1800 years.
David Vaughan
Saw the movie and liked it kinda halfway, thinking it overdid the self-righteousness of the author who messed up his father's work by criticizing the Vietnam war during an invited appearance at a dedication service, then showed off his knowledge of first-year Italian by querying joggers about the location of the tomb of Constantine's mother, when he could have simply looked at a map. The book contains more detail, but suffers from the same overwhelming guilt trip, as if to say that the very exis ...more
Barry Friedman
I was really looking forward to reading this book, after having seen the film several times. But, I found the beginning hard going. By page 120, Carroll had not yet really begun to delve into his topic.
I'm still reading, but now I'm reading one chapter at a time, putting the book down so that I don't get bogged down, then coming back to it for another chapter.
Slowly but surely, I'll finish it.

Still reading-- almost done. I have found the history and theology as explained in each chapter so painf
I finished Constantine’s Sword a week ago and still don’t know how to write a review that could do it justice. It's a very important work of well-researched history. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in European history, from the last days of the Roman Empire to the present. This book specifically explores how Jews have been persecuted by Christian institutions for two millennia.

Purists may dislike the blending of history with memoir, theology, philosophy, and essay. I thought the aut
If you are interested in the history of the Roman Empire and the "Birth" of Christian religion then this book is a must. It is the best book I've read on the subject and it covers the permutation of the Empire into the Catholic church and at the same time it lines up its evolution -as a world power and as an institution- with that of Judaism and its people. An exciting book, I wanted to keep reading it but the lousy interruptions -work, eating, sleeping- got in the way.

What the authors discusses
Edwile Mbameg
This is one of the books one reads in life and has one of those "Aha moments" when you do not only gain real wisdom but you equally acquire the ability to question assumptions which are taken for granted and accepted as "truths."

To borrow Zbigniew Brzezinski's words, Carroll's book is "an intellectual tour the force." He effectively addresses the origin of antisemitism. For one, I never knew it was religious. As an Atheist, I tend to be dismissive of religion hence my ignorance.

Two comments are
Tom Lombardo
In this book James Carroll combines a great deal of historical analysis with a personal narrative about his crisis of consciousness regarding his Catholic faith. He does not delve too deeply into an analysis of Christianity from a spiritual or philosophical point of view, but he presents a stellar history of the Church and especially the horrific impact Christianity has had on the Jewish population. Here's how he describes the first mention of "Christians" in recorded history:
[In] 64 C.E., well
Once again James Carroll has challenged my thinking and helped me to understand some large questions that I have had. His AMERICAN REQUIEM had a powerful effect on me as it helped me to understand my reactions to Vietnam. Likewise, his study of the Church and anti-semitism has clarified as well as confronted the indicting history of the Church.

Carroll writes so well, threading personal experience throughout the book. By doing so he not only freshens what sometimes becomes very deep, but helps t
In concluding this book, James Carroll writes that he offers it as a "personal penance to God". As bad as it sounds to say, I think that's why the book was so hard to read. The book struggles from a split identity: it can't decide whether to be a disinterested history, a personal ode to the Catholic faith or a philosophical attempt to find reconciliation between Christianity at large and Judaism. As narrative, the result is painful to read, veering between themes, overdeveloping some and neglect ...more
Alex Telander
To the everyday layman, it seems as if the Christians and the Jews have been fighting and disputing with each other for millennia; you wouldn’t be far off in that approximation. But now there is a book available that will solve all these riddles: Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll. Here is a read that will rip to pieces any idea or stereotypes you may have once had.

Carroll begins in the present day, in a small town in Poland where there is a dispute over an erected cro
Jan 31, 2010 Sue rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sue by: Eddie Z.
WRITTEN BEFORE READING: This may not be a book that I read cover-to-cover, all 750+ pages of it, but what I've read so far is fascinating & well-written. I understand there's also a PBS documentary of the book that's supposed to be good.

WRITTEN AFTER READING: One of the reviews calls this a "sprawling" history, & I think that's a fair term. It's part history, part theology, & part personal family history. For my part, the author, himself a believing Catholic, could have cut most of t
Sarah Finch
It's difficult to process my thoughts about this book I'm giving it five stars more because of how deeply felt it was and how deeply it made me feel. But given that it's a book about how the Church has eagerly superseded (and attacked) Jews and their theology, I wish the book focused less on the author's Catholic faith. It felt oddly co-opting of the story of anti-Semitism, like the theological equivalent of a white savior movie. That said, the book is fabulously written, exhaustively researched ...more
Although the concept behind this book was thought provoking, and the history of the Church was fascinating, I found the book to be ponderous, repetitive, Euro-centric and unnecessarily verbose. I literally needed a dictionary beside me as I read, which in itself is not necessarily bad, but had to refer to it so often, that I lost track of the point being made. The primary reason that I finished the book was to see if the author ever explained why he remained a Catholic (he does, sort of). I read ...more
John O'sullivan
Sep 11, 2014 John O'sullivan is currently reading it
I've wanted to read a general Caholic Church history for some time, and this was fortuitously given me by a friend. It's a mixture of Church & European history, and memoir, the author being Irish-American, Catholic, and an ex-priest.
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James Carroll was born in Chicago and raised in Washington, D.C. He has been a civil rights worker, an antiwar activist, and a community organizer in Washington and New York. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1969 and served as Catholic chaplain at Boston University. Carroll left the priesthood to become a novelist and playwright. He lives in Boston with his wife, the novelist Alexandra Marshal ...more
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