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God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades Hardcover – September 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
It always seems counterintuitive to moderns that warfare and religion can be consistent. Ideally, followers of the prince of peace are to avoid the sword and shield. Clearly, this has not always been the case. Frequently in the crosshairs of critics are the Christian wars against Muslims known as the Crusades, commonly viewed as the birth of European imperialism and the forced spread of Christianity. But what if we've had it all wrong? What if the Crusades were a justifiable response to a strong and determined foe? Stark, a prominent sociologist and author of 27 books on history and religion, has penned a compelling argument that these bloody encounters had less to do with spreading Christianity than with responding to an ever more dangerous enemy—the emerging Islamic empire. There is much to be learned here. Filled with fascinating historical glimpses of monks and Templars, priests and pilgrims, kings and contemplatives, Stark pulls it all together and challenges us to reconsider our view of the Crusades. (Oct.)
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“GOD’S BATTALIONS launches a frontal assault on the comfortable myths that scholars have popularized about the crusades. The results are startling. His greatest achievement is to make us see the crusaders on their own terms.” (Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity)
“At last, a convincing, balanced book on the Crusades, far from the recent unsophisticated and ideological diatribes against them as “A Bad Thing.” Rodney Stark demonstrates that the Crusades were neither unprovoked nor colonialist. Here is yet another rich and readable book from this thoughtful and distinguished author.” (Jeffrey Burton Russell, author of A History of Heaven and Paradise Mislaid)
“An excitingly readable distillation of the new, revisionist Crusades historiography.” (Booklist (starred review))
“There is much to be learned here. Filled with fascinating historical glimpses of monks and Templars, priests and pilgrims, kings and contemplatives, Stark pulls it all together and challenges us to reconsider our view of the Crusades.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[Stark’s] new book, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, gives historic and sociological evidence for a fresh assessment of the Crusades.” (United Methodist Reporter)
“[Stark] wants to challenge the prevailing television pundit-level misunderstanding of the Crusades, and in this, his accessible, enjoyably argued book succeeds.” (Christianity Today)
“Award-winning author and sociologist Rodney Stark humbly goes to war against the many politically correct myths surrounding the history of the Crusades in this well-researched and easy-to-read academic masterpiece. Stark proves himself once again as a historical myth-buster.” (CBN.com, A+ rating)
“[Stark] makes the case [for the crusades] with admirable frankness and flair.” (The Catholic Thing)
“Rodney Stark turns what we ‘know’ about history on its head.” (Relevant Magazine)
“Stark’s style is clear and direct. He sets the pace of narrative masterfully...The result is a good read...Christian readers should welcome Stark’s affirmation of the best in scholarship, both old and new, and his willingness to argue a controversial position.” (Christian Scholar’s Review)
“Stark’s wonderfully readable prose and politically incorrect conclusions... point us to the question—Will 21st-century infiltration lead to surrender or revival?—on which Europe’s future hinges.” (The World Magazine)
“[God’s Battalions] rewards a careful reading, and not only because the story itself is so gripping, with tales of courage and desperation, outsized characters, and fate of cultures hanging in the balance. …Masterful… sets the record straight.” (National Catholic Register)
“[God’s Battalions] avoid[s] the black-and-white nonsense of current secular thinkers, who condemn the Crusades as part of their condemnation of the Catholic Church and of much later Western imperialism. …Stark demonstrate[s] a more sophisticated view of history, religion and culture.” (Catholic San Francisco)
“Stark’s clear, factual narrative offers larger-than-life characters…. [his] works are an encouraging corrective to the anti-Western history routinely taught in our schools.” (New Oxford Review)
“In God’s Battalions, Stark provides an account of the Crusades perfectly fitted for the Fox News audience. Clearly this is not the politically correct version of the Crusades, and that is fine: there is little that was politically correct about the Crusades in the first place.” (Christian Century)
“In God’s Battalions Princeton sociologist of religion Rodney Stark seeks to dispel myths about the medieval Crusades and replace them with a more factual account…The historiographic arguments made by Stark regarding the antecedents and consequences of the Crusades are very convincing.” (Jack Kilcrease, Historical Society of the Episcopal Church)
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Top Customer Reviews
Path: Stark walks the other side of the fence. He reveals what is on the flip side of the coin which no one talks about anymore. I am sure that the author got tired of hearing undocumented and illogical arguments surrounding the Crusades and finally sat down and compiled arguments from the actually sources left to us.
Sources: Stark pulls from sources during the Crusades until today. He sites all the popular authors on the Crusades, both from the West and Muslim world. He does so thoroughly and coherently. (I think I actually found a sentence without a footnote somewhere in there!)
Agreement: I greatly appreciated reading this alternate view of the Crusades. The truth is that the Crusades were not bloodless, gentle, nor fair - on either side. But that does not mean that they were colonialistic, one-sided, brutal offensive on a peace-loving Muslim populace.
Personal App: When people bring to the conversation arguments about the Crusades and why ISIS cannot be blamed for their horrific violence, I can now say, “Yes, about those Crusades…””
Favorite Quote: “To sum up the prevailing wisdom: during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam. Not so. As will be seen, the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places (kindle 139).
It would be worth another read and I would recommend it to someone who:
Is interested in history
Is interested in the Muslim world
On November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II gave a speech graphically detailing the torture, rape, and murder of Christian pilgrims and the defilement of churches and holy places committed by the Turks. “They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they pour into the vases of the baptismal font...They torture people...by perforating their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate on the ground...What shall I say about the abominable rape of women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you?”
This is the traditional explanation of how and why the First Crusade begun. Alexius Comnenus, the emperor of Byzantium, had written from his embattled capital of Constantinople to the Count of Flanders, requesting that he and his fellow Christians send forces to help the Byzantines repel the Seljuk Turks. These were recent converts to Islam who had invaded the Middle East, ambushed Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, captured Jerusalem, and driven to within one hundred miles of Constantinople.
This book counters more recent criticism that the long-ago crusades are helping to fuel modern Islamic fury. Not true. The author shows how Muslim antagonism about the Crusades did not appear until about 1900, when there was a reaction against the decline of the Ottoman Empire and against European colonialism in the Middle East. Anti-crusader feelings did not become intense until after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
A very well-written and highly researched book.
Stark systematically dissects and destroys the following notions about the crusades that still dominate public perceptions and debate.
1. The idea that the crusaders were aggressors, who fell upon peace-loving and tolerant Muslim states without provocation.
2. The equally anachronistic idea that the crusades were an early form of European colonialism.
3. The claim that Jerusalem was particularly “holy” to Muslims in the period before the Crusades.
4. The thesis that crusaders were primarily motivated by greed.
5. The portrayal of crusaders as uncultivated barbarians fighting a “higher” civilization in the Muslim east.
6. The assertion that the Christians conducted warfare in ways that were more brutal and cruel than their enemies.
7. The myth that the Muslim rulers were more tolerant of other religions — and their own heretics — than Christian rulers.
8. The thesis that Western/Latin crusaders fell upon Constantinople without provocation and “destroyed” the city without cause.
9. The notion that bitterness over the crusades persisted (despite the Muslim’s complete and utter victory over the Crusader States in the second half of the 13th century) to the present day.
Stark starts by cataloguing the long list of Muslim conquests against Christian states and peoples from Syria and North Africa to Armenia, Spain and Southern France, but he also provides a chilling list of mass murders of Christian monks and pilgrims — each with dates and numbers: 70 Christian pilgrims executed in Caesura for refusing to convert to Islam and 60 crucified in Jerusalem in the early eighth century, the sack and slaughter of the monastery near Bethlehem in the later eighth century, the destruction of two nearby churches gradually escalating to multiple attacks on churches, convents and monasteries in and around Jerusalem including mass rapes in 808 and 813, a new wave of atrocities in 923, the destruction of an estimated 30,000 (yes, thirty-thousand) Christian churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009. So much for Muslim “tolerance.”
Stark also brings considerable evidence that the alleged “superiority” of Muslim/Arab culture was largely based on accomplishments of Persian, Jewish, Indian and, indeed, Christian scholars living under Muslim rule. Thus the alleged mathematical superiority of the Arabs came from the Hindus, the great libraries and legacy of learning came from the Greeks, Arab medicine was, Stark argues, “Nestorian Christian” in origin and so on. He then contends that the Christian west was anything but “backward” and the so-called “Dark Ages” is a misnomer that says more about the ignorance of historians than the state of civilization in the period between the fall of Rome and the First Crusade. Stark points out that the military technology of the crusaders — from stirrups, horseshoes and crossbows to the devastatingly effective “Greek Fire” — was markedly superior to the military technology of their opponents. But it wasn’t just in military matters that the crusaders were ahead of the Saracens. In the fields of agricultural, land-transportation and nautical technology, Western technology also significantly out-stripped that of the Middle East.
Stark is perhaps at his best in documenting the many times that Muslim victors slaughtered the garrisons and inhabitants of conquered cities — long before the first crusaders even set out from Europe. He points out the hyperbole in popular accounts of the fall of Jerusalem in the First Crusade as well. But he is most effective in countering the myth of Muslim chivalry is his account of the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the 13th Century, where time and again the Mamluk leaders broke their word and enslaved or massacred those to whom they had promised freedom and life. One quote from a primary, Muslim source about the sack of the great Roman city of Antioch should suffice to make this point. The source is a letter to the Prince of Antioch (who had not be present in his city to defend it) by none other than the Muslim Sultan himself. Sultan Baibars gloated: “You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate Mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the Patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned in this world before going down to the fires of the next.” Ah, yes, Saracen “chivalry” at its best indeed.
The book does have its weaknesses, of course. Stark is covering far too great a canvas to provide any analysis or detail. His book is structured as a rebuttal to unfounded allegations and theses, but for the most part he does not provide alternative theses. Certainly, he does not describe personalities and their impact on events except in some rare instances. His explanations of developments are often facile, and occasionally he falls into outright errors. (For example, he claims plate armor was so heavy a knight needed a crane to mount his horse; in reality it was much lighter than chainmail and a knight in his prime could vault onto his horse without use of a stirrup much less a crane. ) But the bottom line is that this book does what it sets out to do: it destroys a whole series of insidious myths that turn the crusades into an excuse for all subsequent barbarity; it clears the way for a more productive debate based on fact rather than falsehood.