three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
user_rating: 
0

738947.pngCullen Murphy, an editor at Vanity Fair and former managing editor of the Atlantic, is the author of The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own (1999) and Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (2007).

The Topic: The Spanish Inquisition, in which the Catholic Church persecuted heretics and Jews in the late 15th century, forms only part of the Catholic Church’s 700-year-long effort to remove heresy from the Church. God’s Jury explores this long and varied history—from the "inquisitors of heretical depravity" formed by the papacy in the 13th century to ferret out heretics in southern France to persecution in Galileo’s Florence to the 20th century’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which condemns public intellectuals who hold unorthodox theology. But the Inquisition’s features—from surveillance to torture—are not intrinsic to the Catholic Church, Murphy argues. Indeed, they are embedded in modern civilization: Murphy cites the trials of Communist regimes, and, more recently, the Guantánamo Bay detention facilities to show the Inquisition’s lasting legacy.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 310 pages. $27. ISBN: 9780618091560

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"The pages teem with colorful portraits of inquisitors, victims and contemporary scholars. … It is also the heartfelt mea culpa of an enlightened 21st-century Catholic who takes pride in his rich cultural and religious heritage but refuses to deny historical truths." Mitchell James Kaplan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Cullen Murphy has an unusual talent for dealing in surprising ways with historical comparisons of past and present in lucid and lively prose. … His account of the control of information—from the Index of Forbidden Books to Orwell’s ‘memory holes’ to proposals for Internet restriction and the editorial standards of the Texas Board of Education—makes the reader think at least twice about the similarities and differences between some aspects of that distant world and our own, the world of the inquisitorial state." Edward Peters

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Murphy deploys his own Catholic bona fides early on; he’s definitely more Dorothy Day than Opus Dei. Still, one suspects that some readers will resent the barbs he hurls at Holy Mother Church." Alan Cate

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Boiling down nearly 700 years of history to a digestible portion seems difficult, yet even at 251 pages of text, God’s Jury feels padded at times. … Depending on your appetite for quirky detail, you may be delighted or irritated to learn, say, about the papal water pipes’ being encrusted with lime or that the Sumerian archives at Ebla, in what is now Syria, contain 17,000 cuneiform clay fragments." Patricia Cohen

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Murphy] shows that the Spanish Inquisition formed only a part of the apparatus of surveillance created by the Roman Catholic Church to detect and destroy heresy. … Mr. Murphy also juxtaposes numerous events and texts from yesterday with those of today." Geoffrey Parker

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At his best, Murphy assays Inquisition history both by smoothly synthesizing secondary sources and by describing his encounters with active scholars in the field. … [But] he can let his critique grow so wide-ranging as to include what would seem to be permissible modes of interrogation during wartime." Samuel G. Freedman

Critical Summary

In juxtaposing the events of the Inquisition with institutions and practices today, Cullen Murphy shows the lasting prevalence of the Catholic Church’s techniques to stamp out heresy. At its best, this historical survey demonstrates the motives and methods of the Inquisition; takes us into the bowels of age-old archives and medieval churches; and provides local color into Murphy’s characters both then and now. Indeed, Murphy writes with wit and humor about what, in most hands, would be a terribly sordid topic. Still, a few critics felt that by comparing the Inquisition to techniques at, say, Guantánamo Bay, Murphy made incongruous comparisons. And for staunch Catholics, God’s Jury may read as heresy itself. But for readers interested in the topic, God’s Jury is a compelling and "subtle, learned warning against intolerance in our own time" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).