Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World - James Carroll, Mel Foster Unfortunately, I listened to this on Audio CD in the car and was unable to take even cursory notes so what follows is a list of impressions it made upon me and "things" that stuck in my mind.

* As a whole, the book looks at the relationship between violence and religion. Carroll argues that religious practice developed because humans had to reconcile the necessity of violence (if only in killing animals to live) with the pangs of conscience that arose within them. That need to sacralize violence only became more important after the Agricultural Revolution c. 12,000 BC, which saw the rise of sacrificial cults. (He interprets the story of Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac as a myth justifying the end of human sacrifice, for example.)

* But religion is like a game of whack-a-mole. It doesn't eliminate violence, it channels it into socially acceptable actions. It's in this context that he discusses the development of Christianity in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, setting it against the near constant state of revolt that afflicted Roman Judaea from about 60 to 138, when Bar Kochba's rebellion was savagely suppressed. The Jewish Christians were eliminated along with their nonbelieving Jewish cousins (the Romans not being big on doctrinal distinctions) and the Gentiles and Hellenized Jewish converts of the Diaspora carried on Jesus' legacy. The disastrous consequence (in Carroll's argument): Two millennia of anti-Semitism.

* I wish he would have spent more time on a notion he raises in discussing America's relationship with Jerusalem and that's the infantilization of religion as an unintended consequence of the US's separation of church and state. This is common to Western civilization as a whole as the apparent separation between knowledge and faith becomes more pronounced but is most evident (according to Carroll) in America.

* I was also fascinated by his discussion of how the notion of not sacrificing the youth of a nation (his interpretation of Abraham & Isaac, see above) was turned on its head to justify just that, particularly in the context of the First World War, Zionism and the current Islamist reliance on suicide bombers.

In the end, I enjoyed the book (though not enough to track down a physical copy - not at this time, anyway). Philosophically, Carroll and I are often on the same page, and his idea of "good religion" mirrors my own. But I think that's its problem when it comes to speaking to a broader audience. Carroll can be very persuasive in his interpretations of what the Bible is "really" saying but - in the end - he can muster no greater justification for them than others whose interpretations differ. I'm reminded of [a:Stephen R. Prothero|84485|Stephen R. Prothero|]'s [b:God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter|7655375|God Is Not One The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter|Stephen R. Prothero||10226193], where that author argues that the "God" of the world's major religions is not the same entity. And even within a religious tradition, "God" means different things to different people. Carroll's "God" and his "religion" will appeal to certain people but will remain unconvincing - if not downright blasphemous(1) - to others.

Recommended if only because of the provocations Carroll offers to our considered understanding of religion. In that regard, he's particularly good for the ancient Israelite material and the European Reformation; he's relatively light, however, on Islamic and doesn't even consider non-Western Christian movements.

(1) In his final chapter, Carroll gets all New Age-y and mystical, writing statements of seemingly profound wisdom that turn out upon reflection to not say much at all. And - to the dismay of Christian readers, at least - rejects the need for salvation entirely. This last part is the weakest section of the book, no question.