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Sat Dec 20, 2014, 07:34 PM

James Carroll on disarming the memory of Jesus: “America threatens the world with violence in ways t


James Carroll on disarming the memory of Jesus: “America threatens the world with violence in ways that no other country does”

The brilliant scholar James Carroll on anti-Semitism, Pope Francis and how liberals can be honest believers

Jesus died around the year 33. Thirty years later, the Romans began killing Jews in a more systematic way. Between 67 and 136, over the course of a three-phase war, the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and killed thousands, perhaps even millions, of Jews, in communities across the Mediterranean.

It was during this period that the Gospels were written, offering the first accounts we have of Jesus’ life. Somehow, we tend to forget this, but Christianity was born as a Jewish sect, during a time of terrible violence. We read about Jesus’ life through a prism of strife. “The Christian movement,” James Carroll told me, “is stamped with a case of communal PTSD.”

Carroll is a journalist, columnist, novelist and scholar. A devout Catholic, he used to be a priest. In his new book, “Christ Actually,” Carroll chronicles how the Roman war pushed early Christians to define themselves in opposition to Judaism, and to divorce Jesus from his Jewish roots.

That antagonism would lead to other wars against the Jews centuries later, one of which would outstrip even Rome’s. For Carroll, the Holocaust is a defining moment for Christians, one that requires a new look at the religion’s history.

Carroll isn’t interested in pinning down the exact historical details of Jesus’ life, though. Instead, in “Christ Actually,” he seeks an interpretation of Jesus that isn’t quite so warped by hostility and war. The interpretation that emerges is of a resolutely nonviolent, wholly Jewish figure—a figure, in short, who offers little traction for anti-Semitism and holy war.

Reached by phone, Carroll spoke with Salon about religious violence, Pope Francis and why Christians should bring their Jewish friends to church.

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