Discover more from Kvetch
Is Christianity the Air We Breathe?
Notes on Dominion by Tom Holland and the evolution of religions
If you like Kvetch, please share it on social media or send it to someone who might like it. It’s the only way it grows. Kvetch was recommended last week by Scott Alexander here. To the ~300 new subscribers since last week — welcome!
In this Kvetch:
Dominion, by Tom Holland
How does causation in religion work?
Age of Complacency?
Great Figures of Christianity
Charles ‘Martel’ – ‘the Hammer’
Catherine of Siena
1. Dominion, by Tom Holland
I can just see Tom Holland looking around at the world today and sweeping his arms: Christianity, all of it. You, his astonished interlocutor, might ask… what? To which Holland pauses, asks you to wait a moment, goes into this office, and starts typing out his history of Christianity.
Like Vaclav Smil began his story of Energy and Civilization with the emergence of bipedalism four millions years ago, so Holland must begin with pre-Christianity and trace its emergence through to its domination and then even its birthing of secularism to explain the origins of our world. Notions so fundamental to our outlook that we barely notice them — universality, human rights, progressivism, the very idea of the secular — Holland attributes to Christianity. And just like the story of Abel and Cain repeats itself through the stories of Isaac and Ishmael then Jacob and Esau then Joseph and his brothers, so do the cycles of hypocrisy, inequality and repugnance at it, decadence preceding purification, conquest and revolt cycle through two millennia of Christian expansion all the way to today. And I mean today: the book deliberately ends with the word “woke”. Just another scion of American Protestantism, itself a scion of Christian cycles before it.
Christianity’s history brims with vitality — a kind of revolutionary spirit that sparks and ignites in constant explosions of adherents and disruptions to power structures, consuming everything in its path, absorbing the symbols of rival ideologies as trophies. To trace the shift in the residence of God’s will in Christianity is to trace the evolution of power. From the travels of Paul, to the establishment of the Pope and the Vatican, to then dissipate among its resisters: Germanic rebels, puritans disdainful of the trappings of wealth, the head of the King of England — until he lost it and God moved to the People. Then through even communism’s post-apocalyptic utopia, opposition to inequality, and disgust with the vulgar rich, as well as the universalist aspirations of secular human rights advocates.
If I had read Dominion before I wrote The Heroes We’re Allowed I would have used it. On one reading, Dominion is the history of the stories we tell. It spans the same arc of hero narratives I attempted: Greeks > Jews > Christians > Post-Christians (e.g. Nietzsche). This tidbit would have been invaluable: in the Iliad, the Greek word for prayer is the word for boast. A perfect mirror to the sacrificial humility of Christian heroes today. Dominion excavates the distribution and ideological advantages that Paul the Apostle adapted to the unusual monotheism of the Jews to find product market fit, proselytising the sanctity of the victim. The warrior heroes of old gave way to the ascetics of the Middle Ages, to then be mocked by Nietzsche, and swallowed up in the horrors of the world wars of the twentieth century and the music, social tumult and secularism that followed.
As a history of Christianity, Dominion is wonderful. As a thesis on the Christian origins of modernity it occasionally overfits. George W. Bush used Christian rhetoric in his War on Terror, but is that really the best explanation of US aggression? I’d reach instead to questions of public choice theory and personal hubris. John Lennon preached a post-religious utopia and brotherhood of man from his decadent mansion — but does that really echo decadent Christian preachers or reflect eternal human hypocrisy? Is it really Protestantism that infuses ISIS ideology or does a puritan impulse exist in every culture?
Holland makes his big pitch on Christianity’s unique force when he says:
…it was Christianity that had provided the colonised and the enslaved with their surest voice. The paradox was profound…. No other conquerors, dismissing with contempt the gods of other peoples, had installed in their place an emblem of power so deeply ambivalent as to render problematic the very notion of power.
Maybe. Yet there have been countless empires, and countless revolts against them, in similar cycles. Is Christianity itself the driver of this hypocrisy, avarice, conquest and revolt? Or do these behaviours and characteristics lie at the heart of man, and is Christianity their latest manifestation? Yet the history of Christianity is different to everything that came before — after all, it did conquer and shape much of the world. But how much of that is its charisma versus the technological currents that fueled European conquests?
Maybe Christianity broke the circular frameworks that preceded it and introduced the arrow of time to history. That would suggest it was a kind of hinge ideology, leading to progressivism and progress. Maybe? I don’t really know, but I’m skeptical. I’d rather consider technology as the underlying power that broke the cycle. The industrial revolution certainly, and before that ship building, navigation, metallurgy and so on. Could Christianity not have merely ridden on the wings of technology?
2. How does causation in religion work?
In some respects the idea that modernity sprang from Christianity is obvious. If the past is a religious one, and in the West a Christian one, then wherever we are now must have sprung from that milieu. It’s nice to have the threads traced directly through the splintering revolutions and counterrevolutions of Christian thought.
Zohar Atkins in his excellent conversation with Russ Roberts noted that Hassidism arose around the same time as similar pietistic movements in Christianity that “are about elevating to a religious ideal, the self”. He wonders whether that’s a coincidence or if they’re both born of a common sociology.
I once asked to what extent Judaism has been influenced by Christianity.
In The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000BCE – 1492CE, Simon Schama notes:
The formal Seder ‘order’ itself was, like so much else assumed to be immemorial,1 an institution of the rabbis no earlier than the third century CE, probably in response to the Christian Easter Eucharist, not the model for it.
Rabbeinu Gershom banned polygamy around 1000CE. It’s no coincidence that it happened in the bosom of the Christian world which uniquely barreled down the path of monogamy. (Sephardim, nestled in the Muslim world, accordingly did not adopt monogamy). Signs of Christianity's influence are everywhere in Judaism. Why must a religious Jew buy only kosher wine? It is not a meat or milk product, the Torah mentions nothing of wine. Because there is a fear that it would otherwise be used for Christian sacrament (ie. idolatry).2 What is more derivative than that?3
And yet this is also the wrong view. In Against the Grain, James Scott makes the case that it is insufficient to understand men and cities and domesticated animals and rodents and disease as evolving distinctly from one another — a better view is that they form cohesive ecosystems that evolve together. They’re reflexive. Causation goes both ways. Jewish scripture contemplating interaction with goyim does not render Judaism derivative but reflexive. Aristotle thanked Fortune for three things:
first, that I am a human and not a beast; second, that I am a man and not a woman; third, that I am a Greek and not a barbarian.
Jewish men are required to recite a daily prayer: thank God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or a slave. Rolling stones collect moss. So with Judaism and Christianity, and Islam and every idea contributed to the global milieu. Each idea and tradition exerts a gravitational pull based on its explanatory power or charisma or proximity or whatever else makes an idea potent. And so just how you cannot imagine Christianity without Judaism, for obvious historic and theological reasons, so (perhaps more controversially) you cannot explain modern orthodox Judaism without the last two millennia of Christianity.
The entire split between between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry is a recognition of host culture impact on Jewry. This is largely explicitly acknowledged by Jewish historians. For example, this is what Adin Steinsaltz writes in The Essential Talmud:
The Jews of the Moslem countries were strongly influenced by Arab philosophy, science, poetry, and language, which were then in full flower. In contrast, Europe was then steeped in the ignorance and gloom of the Dark Ages, and the Jews there had nothing to learn from the culture of their host countries; they were obliged to create their own spiritual life almost entirely without the aid of the great and distant institutions of Jewish learning. It is not surprising, therefore, that two parallel schools of talmudic exegesis-Sephardi and Ashkenazi-emerged.
I love this extract because it showcases both Jewish scholars’ acknowledgement of goyishe influence and their occasional arrogance and blind spots. You can’t acknowledge Arab influence and dismiss the influence of Christendom at the same time. Of course Jews in Christendom did not study and practice in a vacuum.
Part of the influence was exacted in brute force, such as direct censorship.4 The Talmud remains scarred by censorship to this day because it’s so long, its printing was so path dependent and its mutilation was distributed across nations and centuries.
At a more conceptual level, the influence of Christianity is also unsurprising. In The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli notes the fundamentally intertwined nature of space and time:
If we give a description of the world that ignores point of view, that is solely “from the outside”—of space, of time, of a subject—we may be able to say many things but we lose certain crucial aspects of the world. Because the world that we have been given is the world seen from within it, not from without.
Wherever you look in spacetime, you are considering it from another point in spacetime. It’s a strange question to ask what Judaism would look like with the Israelites alone in the world. You might come up with a counterfactual, but what’s it got to do with the price of eggs? We can only understand Judaism and Christianity and modernity and progressivism and communism and fascism with respect to one another. Does that mean they are born of Christianity? Or are these just ideas bubbling up from messy, intermingling pools and cross-currents of ideas and power?
3. Age of Complacency?
Where is the spirit and vitality of Christendom today?
Probably not for me to comment on the state of Christianity today — plausibly it continues to push frontiers and spark revolutions around the world.
But it does seem to be a sign of complacency in the West that men no long quarrel on religious matters, that they no longer defend their land against foreign barbarians or embark on pilgrimages. I don’t welcome another The Troubles or discrimination against Catholics or whomever, but it’s like what they say about war: it’s great aside from the death and destruction.
This observation by Holland on Pompey’s siege of Jerusalem is a striking example of religious conviction:
That Jews might be dogmatic in their eccentric beliefs was something of which Pompey was well aware; for the refusal of his opponents to fight on the Sabbath had greatly eased the task of his engineers in constructing their siege works.5
Something that recurs in Dominion: in every age men look around at the state of the world — war, pestilence, change — and see the end of days. This spurs a call to action to realise God’s plan ahead of the Day of Judgement. A similar impulse propels Orthodox Judaism, which believes (and has for millennia) that the coming of the Messiah is just around the corner. On this front, today we are not lacking: fears of nuclear war, of an intelligence that we’ll conjure to vanquish us, hyperventilation about climate change, and a new elite cult that ponders the end of days while soaking in defiant hedonism (I’m looking at you, Effective Altruism). And in a similar vein, they do seem to be prompting action.
4. Great Figures of Christianity
Holland’s history of Christianity threads through the great figures of each age. And what characters they are! Founders of religions are the greatest founders of all.
Below I extract some of the more colourful or impressive vignettes of Christian history (it’s certainly no exhaustive list of Christian thinkers or heroes, before you write in).
Not in Dominion, but in my list of great Christians I’d also include the Portuguese and Spanish crowns who between them in 1493, and with the Pope’s sanction, divided the world in two and effectively launched the Age of Exploration and Conquest by funding expeditions around the cape of Africa to subjugate foreign lands. Part of this was inspired by the search for Prestor John, a mysterious Christian King in the East with whom the European Christians would supposedly combine forces.
Amongst audacious religious founders, surely no one ranks ahead of Henry VIII. Taking advantage of the ideological and political events of his time, he seizes his opportunity: proclaims himself God-ordained and head of the new Church of England, getting rid of the pesky Pope and his own wife at the same time. Arguably no greater act of hubris exists: not only because it worked but because it persisted. The Church of England is no small thing! There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in England! The death of its head was just broadcast across the world without respite.
Charles ‘Martel’ – ‘the Hammer’
If you are unmoved by a phalanx of Frankish knights standing as a “glacier of the frozen north”, the final bulwark against Arab domination — I have nothing to say to you.
In 731, the great monastery founded by Columbanus at Luxeuil was raided by Arab horsemen. Those monks who could not escape were put to the sword. A mere two decades had passed since the first landing on Spanish soil of a Muslim warband. In that short space of time, the kingdom of the Visigoths had been brought crashing down. Christian lords across the Iberian peninsula had submitted to Muslim rule. Only in the mountainous wilds of the north had a few maintained their defiance. Meanwhile, beyond the Pyrenees, the wealth of Francia had tempted the Arabs into ever more far-ranging razzias. The daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine had been captured and sent to Syria as a trophy of war. Then, in 732, the Duke himself was defeated in pitched battle. Bordeaux was put to the torch. But the Arabs were not done yet. On the Loire, tantalisingly close, stood the richest prize in Francia. The temptation proved too strong to resist. That October, despite the lateness of the campaigning season, the Arabs took the road northwards. Their target: the shrine of Saint Martin at Tours.
They never made it. Martin was not a saint lightly threatened. The prospect that sacrilegious hands might tear at Martin’s shrine was one fit to appall any Frank. Sure enough, north of Poitiers, the Arabs were confronted by a force of warriors. Motionless the phalanx stood, ‘like a glacier of the frozen north’. The Arabs, rather than withdraw and cede victory to a Christian saint, sought to shatter it. They failed. Broken on the Franks’ swords, and with their general among the slain, the survivors fled under cover of night. Burning and looting still as they went, they retreated to al-Andalus, as they called Spain. The great tide of their westwards expansion had reached its fullest flood. Never again would Arab horsemen threaten the resting-place of Saint Martin. Even though their raids across the Pyrenees would continue for decades to come, any hopes they might have nurtured of conquering the Frankish kingdom as they had won al-Andalus were decisively ended. Instead, it was the Franks who went on the attack. The victor at Poitiers had a talent for ravaging the lands of his enemies. Although Charles ‘Martel’ – ‘the Hammer’ – was not of royal stock, he had forged for himself a dominion that left the heirs of Clovis as mere hapless ciphers. North of the Loire, he was the master of a realm that fused two previously distinct Frankish kingdoms, one centred on Paris, the other on the Rhine; now, in the wake of Poitiers, he moved to bring Provence and Aquitaine securely under his rule as well. Arab garrisons were scoured from the great fortresses of Arles and Avignon. An amphibious relief-force sent from al-Andalus was annihilated near Narbonne. The fugitives, desperately trying to swim back to their ships, were pursued by the victorious Franks and speared in the shallows of lagoons. By 741, when Charles Martel died, Frankish armies had the range of lands stretching from the Pyrenees to the Danube.
…or how Christianity will defeat your God and wear its skin as a trophy.
Woden, king of the demons worshipped by the Germans as gods, was darkly rumoured to demand a tithe of human lives. In the Low Countries, prisoners were drowned beneath rising tides; in Saxony, hung from trees, and run through with spears. Runes were dyed in Christian blood. Or so it was reported. Such rumours, far from intimidating Anglo-Saxon monks, only confirmed them in their sense of purpose: to banish the rule of demons from lands that properly belonged to Christ.
While the figure of Woden bestowed far too much prestige on kings ever to be erased altogether from their lineages, monks did not hesitate to demote him from his divine status and confine him to the remote beginnings of things. The rhythms of life and death, and of the cycle of the year, proved no less adaptable to the purposes of the Anglo-Saxon Church. So it was that hel, the pagan underworld, where all the dead were believed to dwell, became, in the writings of monks, the abode of the damned; and so it was too that Eostre, the festival of the spring, which Bede had speculated might derive from a goddess, gave its name to the holiest Christian feast-day of all. Hell and Easter: the garbing of the Church’s teachings in Anglo-Saxon robes did not signal a surrender to the pagan past, but rather its rout…The victory of the new was adorned with the trophies of the old.6
It was Boniface who had demonstrated this most ringingly. In 722, he had been consecrated a bishop by the pope in Rome, and given a formal commission to convert the pagans east of the Rhine. Arriving in central Germany, he had headed for the furthermost limits of the Christian world. At Geisner, where Thuringia joined with the lands of the pagan Saxons, there stood a great oak, sacred to Thunor, a particularly mighty and fearsome god, whose hammer-blows could split mountains, and whose goat-drawn chariot made the whole earth shake. Boniface chopped it down. Then, with its timbers, he built a church.
Many were his conquests. During the four decades and more of his rule, he succeeded in annexing northern Italy, capturing Barcelona from the Arabs, and pushing deep into the Carpathian Basin. Yet of all Charlemagne’s many wars, the bloodiest and most exhausting was the one he launched against the Saxons. For years it raged. Charlemagne, despite his overwhelming military strength, found it impossible to bring his adversaries to submit. Treaties were no sooner agreed than they were broken. The whole of Saxony seemed a bog. Charlemagne, faced with the choice of retreating or draining it for good, opted for the unyielding, the protracted, the merciless course. Every autumn, his men would burn the harvests and leave the local peasants to starve. Settlement after settlement was wiped out. Entire populations were deported. These were atrocities on a Roman scale – but Augustus, whose own efforts to pacify the lands east of the Rhine had ended in bloody failure, was not the only model to hand. Charlemagne’s lordship had been sanctified as that of the kings of Israel had been: by the pouring of holy oil upon his head. He ruled as the new David; as the anointed one of God. The record of Israelite warfare was a formidable one. Centuries before, translating the scriptures into Gothic, Ulfilas had deliberately censored it, on the principle that barbarian peoples needed no encouragement to fight; but the Franks, as the new Israel, had long ceased to rank as barbarians. In 782, when Charlemagne ordered the beheading of 4500 prisoners on a single day, it was the example of David, who had similarly made a great reaping of captives, that lay before him. ‘Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live.’
The spread of the Christian bible during this period — through written form as well as regional priesthood — was as impressive.
Small books written specifically to serve the needs of rural priests began to appear in ever increasing numbers. Battered, scruffy and well-thumbed, these guides were the index of an innovative experiment in mass education. Charlemagne’s death in 814 did nothing to slow it. Four decades on, the archbishop of Reims could urge the priests under his charge to know all forty of Gregory the Great’s homilies, and expect to be obeyed. One was jailed for having forgotten ‘everything that he had learned’. Ignorance had literally become a crime.
This one’s a bit of a cheat - wouldn’t call Galileo a Great Christian, although he makes for a great character in Dominion. I didn’t realise Galileo was a self-serving, social climbing autist. A nice example of disappointment being the final stop when you zoom in close enough on basically any Great Man. He’s also the embodiment of another important principle: if you’re bad at office politics you’re bad at your job.
Urban VIII, convinced that there would be no harm in his friend revisiting the issue of heliocentrism, provided only that he made sure to label it a hypothesis, was persuaded to give him the nod. For six years Galileo worked on his masterpiece: a fictional dialogue between an Aristotelian and a Copernican. Obedient to Urban’s instructions, he made sure to balance his book’s transparent enthusiasm for helio-centrism by citing the pope himself, who had sternly warned what folly it would be for any natural philosopher ‘to limit and restrict the Divine power and wisdom to some particular fancy of his own’. This statement, though, in the Dialogue, was put into the mouth of the Aristotelian: a man of such transparent stupidity that Galileo had named him Simplicio. The pope, alerted to what his friend had written, was persuaded by advisors hostile to Galileo that all his generosity was being flung back in his face. Conscious as only an Italian nobleman could be of his own personal dignity, Urban felt himself called upon as well to defend the authority of the Universal Church. Galileo, summoned to Rome by the Inquisition, was put on trial. On 22 June 1633, he was condemned for having defended as ‘probable’ the hypothesis that ‘the Earth moves and is not the centre of the world’.
Not only was Luther arguably the first mass media influencer / propogandist — he dared call the Pope the anti-Christ, got exiled, and abandoned “good works” in favour of Greatness.
But he is also a singular example of inspired writing: to really write, get kidnapped and locked in an eyrie to the point of madness. A cure for both procrastination and constipation.
Luther, leaving Worms, did so as both a hero and an outlaw. The drama of it all, reported in pamphlets that flooded the empire, only compounded his celebrity. Then, halfway back to Wittenberg, another astonishing twist. Travelling in their wagon through Thuringia, Luther and his party were ambushed in a ravine. A posse of horsemen, pointing their crossbows at the travellers, abducted Luther and two of his companions. The fading hoofbeats left behind them nothing but dust. As to who might have taken Luther, and why, there was no clue. Months passed, and still no one seemed any the wiser. It was as though he had simply vanished into thin air.
All the while, though, Luther was in the Wartburg. The castle belonged to Friedrich, whose men had brought him there for safe-keeping. Disguised as a knight, with two servant boys to attend him, but no one to argue with, no one to address, he was miserable. The Devil nagged him with temptations. Once, when a strange dog came padding into his room, Luther – who loved dogs dearly – identified it as a demon and threw it out of his tower window. He suffered terribly from constipation... He had come to understand that he could never be saved by good works. It was in the Wartburg that Luther abandoned for ever the disciplines of his life as a monk. Instead, he wrote. Lonely in his eyrie, he could look down at the town of Eisenach, where Hilten had prophesied the coming of a great reformer, and believe himself – despite his isolation from the mighty convulsions that he himself had set in train – to be the man foretold. At Worms, the emperor had charged him with arrogance, and demanded to know how it was that a single monk could possibly be right in an opinion ‘according to which all of Christianity will be and will always have been in error both in the past thousand years and even more in the present’. It was to answer that question, to share his good news of God’s grace, that Luther kept to his writing desk.
What better could he do, then, than break down the barrier that had for so long existed between the learned and the unlearned, and give to Christians unfamiliar with Latin the chance to experience a similar joy? Already, back in 1466, the Bible had been printed in German; but in a shoddy translation. Luther’s ambition was not merely to translate directly from the original Greek, but also to pay tribute to the beauties of everyday speech. Eleven weeks it took him to finish his rendering of the New Testament. The words flowed from his pen, phrases that might have been heard in a kitchen, or a field, or a market-place, short, simple sentences, language that anyone could understand. Easily, fluently it came. By the time that Luther had finished, even his constipation had eased.
Jan Žižka, one-eyed and sixty years old, was to prove the military saviour that the Albigensians had never found. That July, looking to break the besiegers’ attempt to starve Prague into submission, he launched a surprise attack so devastating that Sigismund was left with no choice but to withdraw. Further victories quickly followed. Žižka proved irresistible. Not even the loss late in 1421 of his remaining eye to an arrow served to handicap him. Crusaders, imperial garrisons, rival Hussite factions: he routed them all. Innovative and brutal in equal measure, Žižka was the living embodiment of the Taborite revolution. Noblemen on their chargers he met with rings of armoured wagons, hauled from muddy farmyards and manned by peasants equipped with muskets; monks he would order burnt at the stake, or else personally club to death. Never once did the grim old man meet with defeat. By 1424, when he finally fell sick and died, all of Bohemia had been brought under Taborite rule.
On his deathbed, so his enemies reported, Žižka had ordered the Taborites to flay his corpse, feed his flesh to carrion beasts, and use his skin to make a drum. ‘Then, with this drum in the lead, they should go to war. Their enemies would turn to flight as soon as they heard its voice.’ The anecdote was tribute both to Žižka’s fearsome reputation and to the continuing success of his followers on the battlefield after his death.
Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Siena is a nice example of some of the wild….err… eccentricities of key Christians. Like Joan of Arc, she was a virginal bride of Christ who impacted the geopolitical landscape of the day. That she was sainted while Joan was burned at the stake shows how fragile is the line between heretic and saint. Catherine liked to fast and to wear Christ’s foreskin, wet with blood, as a wedding ring:
As a young girl pledging herself to Christ, she had defied her parents’ plans to marry her by hacking off all her hair. She was, so she had told them, already betrothed…. Sure enough, in 1367, when she was twenty years old, and Siena was celebrating the end of carnival, her reward had arrived. In the small room in her parents’ house where she would fast, and meditate, and pray, Christ had come to her. The Virgin and various saints, Paul and Dominic included, had served as witnesses. King David had played his harp. The wedding ring was Christ’s own foreskin, removed when he had been circumcised as a child, and still wet with his holy blood.
Jesuits were elite emissaries: intellectually peerless, brave and adventurous. A deeply charismatic class of men.
So successfully had the first Jesuit to reach Beijing integrated himself into the Chinese elite that, following his death there in 1610, the emperor himself had granted a plot of land for his burial: an honour without precedent for a foreigner. Matteo Ricci, an Italian who had arrived in China in 1582 speaking not a word of the language, had transformed himself into Li Madou, a scholar so learned in the classical texts of his adopted home that he had come to be hailed by Chinese mandarins as their peer.
Cultures tend to conceive of their traditions as immemorial. Who can forget this speech by Tony Soprano as he chastises his captains who aren't making enough money for the crime family:
This thing is a "pyramid" since time immemorial, shit goes downhill, money goes up: it's that simple. I should not have to be coming here "hat in my hand", reminding you of your duty to that man.
This may be a better illustration of another principle in religion: religions tend to accrue rules and not to shed them. Most wine today will not be used for Christian sacrament — yet the rules remains. Bread too must be supervised by kosher authorities, for fear it may be baked in lard or other animal products — yet how much does that happen today? All incentives for the rabbinate are to ratchet rules in only one direction: to increase their control and power and to tax as much food production as possible.
In The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000BCE – 1492CE, Simon Schama notes that
it’s no accident that in their pitch [epic songs of triumph like the ‘Song of the Sea’] bring to mind the near contemporary war chants of the Iliad.
I’ve also wondered this about some of the staple Jewish hymns — like Etz Hayyim or the hymns of Yom Kippur. Beautiful and generally composed over the last millennium, how intertwined are they with Christian traditions of gospel and choir music? It would be remarkable if they weren’t. I’m not equipped to answer this question — please let me know if you are!
For example, Pope Gregory IX ordered the burning of copies of the Talmud in Paris in 1240. A Church synod in Basel in 1431 reaffirmed the stringent ban on the Talmud. In 1520 Pope Leo X permitted the printing of the Talmud, a decree subsequently reversed by Pope Julius who ordered the work burned again in 1553. This decree was alleviated by Pope Pius IV at the Church synod at Trent in 1564 that permitted Talmud distribution subject to redacting offending passages. This was not just a Catholic Churn thing. The Russians authorities prohibited the use of the word “Greece” in the Talmud, since Russian culture was supposedly its heir.
Much later, after the massacre of Jews on the Sabbath, Judas Maccabeus resolved to fight on the Sabbath if needed which may have turned the tide against the Greeks. This questions has persisted to the present day, as Jews in Israel were surprised by an attack on Yom Kippur in 1973 as they fasted and prayed, albeit they ultimately successfully repelled the invading Arab armies.
This doesn’t seem to reconcile with Schama’s claim that the Pesach Seder was instituted in ~300CE in response to Christian Easter if Easter was only Christianised in ~700CE?