The Christian Road to Jerusalem

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
by Rodney Stark
HarperOne, 276 pp., $24.99

The Crusades, Christianity and Islam
by Jonathan Riley-Smith
Columbia University Press, 138 pp., $26.50

The Crusades were a major development on the medieval European scene, but their effect was, in the end, ephemeral. The forces of Christendom conquered Jerusalem in July 1099, but losses piled up after that. In 1187, Jerusalem fell to the resurgent forces of Islam under Saladin, and, in 1290, Christians had to abandon their last stronghold in Palestine.

Rodney Stark is a sociologist at Baylor University who has emerged of late as a major academic apologist for medieval Christianity. One of Stark's most recent books is titled The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. His latest bears a similarly polemical title: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. To many readers, this will seem a tough case to make. The great historian of the previous generation, Sir Steven Runciman, summed up his monumental three-volume history of crusading with the following: 

          High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a
          blind and narrow self-righteousness, and the Holy War itself was nothing more than
          a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost. 

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About the Author

Robert Chazan is S. H. and Helen R. Scheuer Professor of Jewish History in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. His newest book is Reassessing Jewish Life in Medieval Europe (Cambridge University Press), to appear in October.


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