Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land/god's War: A New History of the Crusades

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land/god's War: A New History of the Crusades

Article excerpt

FIGHTING FOR THE CROSS: CRUSADING TO THE HOLY LAND by Norman Housley Yale, 356 pages, $38

GOD'S WAR: A NEW HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES by Christopher Tyerman Belknap, 1040 pages, $22.95 paper

The last thirty years have seen a revolution in the way historians think about the Crusades. Although Jonathan Riley-Smith has probably contributed the most to this development die authors of these books are also major revisore. In 1954, the Eastern Orthodox scholar Stephen Runciman could conclude his threevolume history by declaring the Crusades to be an anti-Christian perversion-in his words, "the sin against the Holy Ghost." And today terms like "Zionist Crusader invaders" have become stock in trade of Islamicists. Such sweeping moral judgments and poUtical exploitation of anachronistic stereotypes, however, have disappeared from serious scholarship.

Tyerman's massive narrative, recendy reissued, is the more conventional book, a narrative focused principally on the "Numbered Crusades" to the Middle East and the Crusader states established there. His account is dense and complex, and a beginner is apt to get lost and give up. But for someone who wants an encyclopedic compendium of the state of the question for almost any topic in the field, this is an excellent reference work. As a replacement for Runciman's badly dated narrative, however, it falls short because of its discursive style. Runciman was vivid, animated, and, above all, a good storyteller. …

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