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Carroll's book, however, is not just a polemic; his literary gifts enable him to produce a coherent narrative studded with arresting cameos and acute analysis. His plot, highly simplified, runs as follows: Jesus' first mourners, who considered themselves Jewish, engaged in earnest critiques of their faith; but the authors of the Gospels, by then feuding with the Jews, calcified those critiques as slanders. Constantine's use of Christianity to unify his far-flung empire effectively declared open season on all nonbelievers. Church fathers (by now influential Romans themselves) assigned the villain's role in the Crucifixion to the Jews rather than to Rome. As Europe was unified under the Cross, the Jews, preserved yet ghettoized per Augustine's instructions, became the Continent's captive "other," slaughtered as a warm-up for Muslims in the First Crusade and as scapegoats during the Black Death. Whereas church historians--and philosopher Hannah Arendt in the 1950s--distinguished between Catholic anti-Judaism and the racial anti-Semitism of the 20th century, Carroll maintains that the demarcation first collapsed far earlier, when the Spanish Inquisition targeted Jewish converts to Christianity strictly on the basis of their "impure" blood.
The book has its flaws. Martin Luther was a Jew hater, but he deserves better than the rushed hatchet job Carroll delivers in attempting to maintain his focus on Catholicism. And the author, a former priest and staunch left-wing Catholic who offers his work "as my personal penance to God, to the Jewish dead and to my children," is not content just to document the stain on his church. He sees anti-Semitism as intimately entwined with issues of Catholic power and authority, and devotes his last 70 pages to a call for a "Vatican Council III" to pursue such measures as choosing bishops by popular vote.
The proposals are not incongruous with what has come before. But it would be a shame if Catholics and other Christians let skepticism about Carroll's earnest yet implausible cures deprive them of his masterly history of one of the West's epic plagues.