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18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520066304
ISBN-10: 0520066308
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Inquisition history, a developing field, provides a key to the "understanding of past societies in their entirety." Peters, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Torture, demonstrates this key function as he traces the transformation of the inquisition tribunal from a simple legal procedural of ancient Rome to its employ as a feared instrument of enforcing religious orthodoxy in the medieval period, to its symbolic use in the works of such contemporary writers as Kafka, Koestler and Miller. In Peters's view, the societal divisions brought about by the Reformation in the 16th century provide the grounds for centuries of polemic, fiction and a vivid mythology that caused the term "The Inquisition" to be persistently associated with coercive authority that attempts to stifle free expression. Richly detailed and relevant in application to contemporary philosophy, this study, mainly of interest to historians and social scientists, establishes the thesis that "the history of myth is a valid part of history."
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The term 'inquisitive' carries no frightening overtones; cats are inquisitive, and so are children. There is nothing wrong with an inquiry. But an inquisitor, grand or otherwise, and the inquisition over which he presides, smell of scorched flesh and ecclesiastical injustice. It is the aim of Edward Peters . . . to deal with the term, and its referents, as both true history and false myth. Inquisitions existed; the Inquisition was invented. . . . Mr. Peters's book is as good a compendium as you will find -- scholarly, well annotated, exact but unpedantic." (Anthony Burgess, The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (April 14, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520066308
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520066304
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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88 of 94 people found the following review helpful By J. Angus Macdonald on April 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
Edward Peters' book "Inquisition" is the furthest thing from a whitewash. Peters marshals facts neatly, cleanly, and readably, seperating the facts from the fictions. Tracing the notion of inquistion from its linguistic roots (inquire, inquest) all the way to the parodies of Monty Python and Mel Brooks, he shows how what we think of as THE INQUISITION is a composite of some historical fact and a lot of (truth to tell) whitewash and propoganda.
One of Peters' central arguments revolves around the printing press. The moveable type printing press was developed in /northern/ Europe and, as the Protestant Reformation spread, so did the printing press -- primarily into Protestant lands. Spain, the largest empire in Europe at the time, was also ardently Catholic. The printing press was therefor enlisted as a propoganda tool. Many lurid pamphlets, of at best questionable veracity, were spread by Protestants to show the levels of evil, the depravity to which the Spanish had sunk; Peters also points out how several of these same charges had been levelled against other groups both prior to Spain's rise and then later against new foes, but due to the new power of the written word, and the rise in literacy, the charges truly struck home.
On the other hand Peters does not shrink from the vile acts of the inquistion, Spanish or otherwise. He points to the origins of what we now collectively recognize as "The Inquisition" during the 12th century, citings boths its powers and its limits. He shows the later abuses, especially in Spain and the New World, including torture, forced conversions, endless imprisonments, and the rest.
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115 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Loren Rosson III on December 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Edward Peters presents a tour-de-force of "Inquisition" as both history and myth. He declares at the outset: "There was never, except in polemic and fiction, 'The Inquisition', a single all-powerful, horrific tribunal, whose agents worked everywhere to thwart religious truth, intellectual freedom, and political liberty. That is 'The Inquisition' of folklore, martyrology artwork, and post-Enlightenment fiction." He traces the development of Roman Catholic inquisitions from their inception in the 900's, "pre-inquisitions" involving popular lynchings, secular judgments, and other forms of harsh coercion by Europe's laity, in contrast with the patient and persuasive methods used by the clergy. By the late 1100's and early 1200's, however, patience and persuasion ran their course, and inquisitions were officially chartered. The medieval inquisitions of the 1200's-1500's proceeded as formal but secret trials, guided by a doctrine of torture (outlined and explained at some length by the author), and they operated throughout Europe according to discretion, based on local needs. With the advent of the Protestant Reformation, they faded from history, and the Roman Inquisition (1542-1908) was chartered in their place to combat the new "heresy" tearing apart Europe, then later to focus almost exclusively on internal ecclesiastical discipline. It was the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834), originating as a national and public institution to deal with problems unique to Spain, whose character -- especially when the nation became the great world power in the 1500's -- shaped, dramatically, subsequent perceptions of "The Inquisition", the (supposed) singular, malevolent Catholic tribunal inflicting tyranny and intellectual oppression everywhere.Read more ›
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Marshall Fritz on August 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
My introduction to the notion that most of us believe a lot
of exaggerations and falsehoods about "the Inquisition"
was William Walsh's book, "Characters of the Inquisition."
Walsh was an ardent Catholic and a great admirer of Queen Isabella.

As a novice reader on the Inquisition, I had little
way to gauge how serious might be his bias. Then, along came
Edward Peters! His book is hardly a whitewash of the goal of a
confessional state (everybody believes in the same religion or
you leave), nor of the methods used in Spain and other places
to try to enforce this. But it does give us 20th Century
folks a clearer picture of 15th and 16th Century thinking
that heresy was treason, and treason then like today was a
serious crime against the state.

After giving facts of the inquisitions, Peters uses the second
half of the book to describe how the facts of the inquisitions
got exaggerated and embellished with falsehoods over
the centuries, eventually becoming what he calls the "Myth of
the Inquisition."

After reading Peters, I can even more enthusiastically recommend Walsh.

--- One chapter I would have like to have seen in Peters
is a review of inquisitions done by Protestants in Geneva,
Germany, and England, including the Witch Hunts. It would
be good to have something to compare to the Spanish, Portuguese,
Romans and Venetians.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Gregory L. Richey on March 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
I won't go into more detail about the book except to confirm the positive reviews below about the book's accuracy and thoroughness. I do want to note, for the benefit of those who might take "Jean Plaidy" as any kind of serious source, that Jean Plaidy is one of several pseudonyms used by Eleanor Hibbert, a mid-century pop British historical novelist who cranked out dozens upon dozens of novels, had no academic credentials and whose "historical fiction" is widely regarded as far more fiction than history. Might as well cite Danielle Steel.
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