Brown writes that Christian leaders had to carefully deploy Church resources, spiritual and financial, to create a new society to take over after the Roman one had collapsed. In the place of Roman municipal buildings and fortresses came Christian basilicas, monasteries and what Brown brilliantly calls “a coral reef of institutions devoted to intercession,” hospitals, hostels and eventually schools administered by the Church. This was the civilization of the Middle Ages, the foundation of a new vision for the Western world.
To look at one of the treasures on display in this wonderful exhibit, the Kennicott Bible, is to view an example of the shared heritage of Jews, Christians and Muslims. This is the key note of Crossing Borders. The Kennicott Bible and the other stunning, hand-written works on display show the “cross-pollination” of art and ideas among the cultured elites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam during the Middle Ages. More to the point, it is a testament to the shared devotion of these three faiths to the same God.
As Barnstone notes in his introduction, Aramaic has verse forms that are difficult to render in Western languages like Greek, Latin and eventually English. The Gospels, the “Good News” of Jesus, were written down and shared with the rest of the world in prose, not poetry. A vital link to the actual words of Jesus was lost.
The Metropolitan Museum exhibition charts the fascinating, if complex, process of cultural transformation that took place throughout the Middle East during the seventh to ninth centuries. For all of the thrust-and-parry military campaigns that took place, a spirit of mutual accommodation often characterized relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates that governed the Islamic world for much of the Middle Ages.
After Christianity was recognized as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380, a number of Christian groups, notably monks in Egypt, changed roles from martyrs to persecutors. A magnificent head of Aphrodite, dating to first century Athens, bears the marks of Christian vandalism. The eyes and lips have been chipped to “blind” and “silence” the deity. A cross was then inscribed on the forehead of Aphrodite.
Is Courageous great art? By almost any accepted measure, no. Is it meant to be great art? Presumably not. Will it speak to your heart? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Does it achieve its goals truthfully and without pretense? Positively. Does it promote goodness, responsibility, honesty, and truth? Absolutely. Is it then a successful work? I think an “Amen” is in order.
The premise of Philip Pullman’s new book is brilliant. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ offers us a version of the gospel narratives in which not one, but two boys were born to Mary. Jesus grew up to be a millenarian preacher, who prophesied the coming of the Kingdom of God, whilst his brother Christ skulked around in the background, recording and (more often) distorting his brother’s words for posterity.
Jesus of Nazareth started to preach and heal the sick when he “was beginning about the age of thirty years,” according to St. Luke’s Gospel. Of his early life during the first decades of the 1st Century, almost nothing is known. His ministry to the poor and troubled inhabitants of Galilee, Samaria and Judea lasted a mere three years. Then, after arousing the suspicion and anger of the ruling elite, he was crucified, died and was buried. In one of the strangest twists of human history, what should have been the end of the story was just the start.
For English-speaking peoples, 1066 and 1776 still evoke powerful recollections of liberty lost and freedom won. For most people in the West, however, 711 hardly strikes a note of any significance. But it should, for that was the year when a small force of Muslim Arabs and Berbers from Morocco crossed over from North Africa to Spain. Islam reached Europe in 711 and the world has never been the same.
And if Wills reads as persuasive, it is to himself, if not quite to this reader. Taking his stand before the time of St. Ireænus seems somewhat risky to me, if not downright reckless. I did, however, reflect that there yet remains powerful in this late hour of the West’s history a persistent if unacknowledged ambition of theologians per se to legislate for that cowran, tim’rous beastie, mankind. Granted, in our tradition we have Moses to thank for their vocation.
“Tensions often arise between secular teachings and Biblical beliefs. Many students are reading, say Kant and Nietzsche for the first time. They may be alarmed, but they also may find those writers intoxicating.”
Flannery O’Connor was Catholic and Southern, and that combined with her genius produced a writer whose works have become something of a cottage industry.