Rabbi James Rudin spent his professional career as the national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee and he brings nuanced insights from decades of participation in interreligious dialogue to his new book, "Christians and Jews — Faith to Faith: Tragic History, Promising Present, Fragile Future."Rabbi Rudin's major focus in this important book is the relationship between Jews and Catholics (appropriately so, because that is the most mature conversation) but he also writes about Muslim-Jewish relations and discusses theological differences in Protestant attitudes toward Judaism and Israel."Christians and Jews" can be used as a practical guide to organizing interreligious programs, but it can also be read for its concise introduction to Western religious history and theology, supplemented by a comprehensive, nine-page bibliography that could be the basis of an academic or personal course of study.Rabbi Rudin provides a straightforward and intelligent guide to the theological developments that led to the "tragic history" between Christians and Jews. He clarifies the differences between Jewish sects during the Roman occupation (Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots and Essenes) and shows how those groups impacted Judaism and Christianity. He carefully addresses the "painful flashpoint" of "who and what forces" brought about Jesus' crucifixion, including an extended analysis of the deicide charge and Christian portrayals of Pontius Pilate."Christianity, the faith that grew up after the death of Jesus, began almost unnoticed in the last chaotic days of the Second Temple," he writes. "Eventually, metaphysical interpretations and extraordinary cosmic claims about Jesus, some made centuries later, created a permanent theological separation, a rupture between Judaism and Christianity that has existed to our own day. But that clear division came only after Jesus' life and death."Rabbi Rudin's chapter on "Saul, Call Me Paul" introduces the reader to the theological roots of supersessionism, or displacement theology. He quotes Father John T. Pawlikowski that "the early church's anti-Jewish writings and teachings were more than a bitter tirade. Rather, they represent a basic component of Christian teaching: the church has replaced the Holy Temple and the synagogue, and the Gospels have supplanted the Torah."Supersessionism was strengthened by the way that Christians appropriated and misused Hebrew Scriptures. "Christianity could not stand alone without strong reference to its taproots within Judaism, the religion of Jesus. But at the same time, it was also necessary to transfer the divine promises and the spiritual legitimacy of the older faith to the new one." Rabbi Rudin's discussion of the suffering servant passages from Isaiah provide a casebook study of typology, a way of reading Scripture so that "many of the Old Testament events, institutions, rituals and personalities become ... predictions of what was to come following the birth of Jesus."The book outlines the "tragic history" between Jews and Christians in chapters that cover the depressing and vicious history of Christian conversionary activity (from medieval disputations to the deceptions of Hebrew Christians) to the rise of anti-Semitism and the Shoah. His frank discussion of the meaning of modern Israel captures his frustration that there are "people who are either unwilling or unable to accept Israel among the family of nations." The very existence of Israel is a "sharp rebuttal" to the Christian theological teaching that "that Jews are eternally punished by God for 'rejecting' Jesus."Rabbi Rudin's respect for Pope John Paul II is evident in his discussion of post-Vatican II Catholic-Jewish relations. "When he died in 2005, he had earned an imperishable place in Jewish history, because his leadership had strengthened Christianity's reconciliation with its Jewish 'elder brother.'"He outlines some of the difficult issues that face interreligious dialogue today but concludes that Christians and Jews are "prisoners of hope." "Today, thanks to the recent gains in interreligious relations, there is an opportunity to do what few other generations have achieved: reverse an old and negative history and build something new and positive.""Christians & Jews" suggests that Rabbi Rudin's professional life was not a career as much as it was a calling, one that required fortitude and faith but was repaid with friendship, fraternal regard and the blessed name of peacemaker.—Rachelle LinnerCorrecting mistaken views on Islam, scienceThe Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, by Nancy Marie Brown. Basic Books (New York, 2010). 328 pp., $27.95.In an era when there is talk of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, and debates on science and religion plague some public school districts, it is refreshing to read an old, old story that takes place before the Crusades, inquisitions and disputes over evolution or the shape of the earth. Nancy Marie Brown's "The Abacus and the Cross" is such a story.Pope Sylvester II (999-1003), born Gerbert of Aurillac in 946, provides a life and time frame in history to help correct the anachronistic views of Islam, science and Christianity as somehow doomed to conflict. Likewise, the mythology of a widespread panic as Christianity came to the turn of the first millennium are also dispelled by looking again at sources from the period itself, and not from later interpretations.Gerbert lived at a time before the separation of East and West, when the Holy Roman emperors, Otto II and III during most of Gerbert's career, were in touch with the Byzantine emperors and often married to princesses from Constantinople. While tensions between East and West were perennial, outright schism was to come only half a century later than the events recounted in this fascinating story.This was also a period when the "convivencia" between Jews, Christians and Muslims throughout Europe, including Arab Spain, meant that there was much more interchange between the Arab world, from Baghdad to Cordoba, and the Christian intellectual sphere in Europe than became possible after the 11th-century Crusades and the beginning of the Reconquista in Spain.Indeed, Gerbert, who studied in the area of Barcelona near the border between France and then-Muslim Spain is credited with bringing the Indian form of numbers, which we call "Arabic numerals," to Christian Europe, with his counting device, the abacus of the title. Of course, it was this numerical system, so much simpler than the cumbersome Roman numerals with its string of letters, that enabled a more efficient approach to mathematics and a wider numerical literacy.With his learning from Spain and his mathematical, astronomical and scientific expertise, Gerbert came to be a prominent teacher in what is France today, becoming archbishop in Reims; abbot of Bobbio, a Celtic-founded monastery with an impressive library; adviser, tutor and secretary to emperors; archbishop of Ravenna in what is now Italy; and eventually pope.These were the days before the authority of secular and religious leadership was sorted out, or the specific role the pope was eventually to play among emperors, kings and bishops was clarified. Therefore to try to distinguish between church, state and monastic authorities and their appropriate roles is an anachronism, seeking to find legal and church order when it was not yet settled. In fact, the story of Gerbert's career reads a bit like a soap opera, with ups and downs depending on the imperial, papal and monastic climate of the moment.In the years after Pope Sylvester's death, animosities with Islam and prejudice against science and the intellectual life led to mythologies surrounding his investigations, his erudition and learning. Some came to attribute them to the devil and witchcraft. His legacy remained controversial until modern research into his own writing and the context of his times has allowed a more dispassionate and positive picture of his era to emerge.The author draws on a wide range of sources to reconstruct a tale of the late first millennium. There is much more later — but unsubstantiated and unable to be substantiated — mythology surrounding the legend of this pope-scientist. However, Brown gives an engaging window into an era that reverses judgments not only of the Enlightenment and Reformation, but also of the traditional lives of the popes.This author documents that, while the science, mathematics and astronomy of Pope Sylvester's era cannot be judged by standards of 21st-century learning, they also must not be evaluated by the prejudices of later anti-intellectual, anti-Muslim and uninformed legends. The book makes for a fascinating read and shows how even old stories can enlighten a new world of ideas.—Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSCCuban boy bridges cultural gaps as refugee in MiamiLearning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy, by Carlos Eire. Free Press (New York, 2010). 307 pp. $26.A gem of a book, "Learning to Die in Miami" is a sublimely written true story of an 11-year-old boy uprooted from his Cuban home in 1962 and flown to Miami without his parents. With the literary craftsmanship of a novelist, Carlos Eire recounts his pilgrimage in search of a new life in a country he has never seen, in a language he does not speak and in a culture he only knows through films and television programs.Carlos "dies" numerous times in an effort to become Charles, the English equivalent of his Spanish name. Yet something of Carlos always remains. He favors the vivacious bare-bellied, hip-swinging women in Cuba's carnival parades over the banal baton twirlers in Miami's Orange Bowl parade. He has trouble understanding how a chicken with all its feathers, legs and beak could be transformed into colorless, tasteless slices of cold cuts. Others also remind him that his past is present in him. Even after he develops a substantial English vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, his classmates laugh at his accent.The book is available in Spanish from the same publisher, titled: "Miami y Mis Mil Muertes: Confesiones de un cubanito desterrado." In the Spanish title, Eire replaces "refugee" with "desterrado," a term fraught with emotional and psychological meaning. He defines it as a "landless" person or "someone robbed of his land."The author, now a professor of history and religious studies at Yale University, wrote the book in English and collaborated in the translation to "Cubanize" the Spanish.What Eire describes is a pilgrim's progress to adult self-identity as the culture he left behind and the one of his adopted land struggle to weave a new cloth.Eire came to the United States legally as a refugee with his brother, Tony. They were among the more than 14,000 children sent by their parents, who accurately judged that Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution was leading to a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. The children were resettled in the United States under Operation Pedro Pan organized by U.S. Catholic officials.In the United States, Eire quickly experiences the good and the bad. His first foster parents are a caring Jewish couple who arrange on his first Sunday to have a neighborhood Catholic family take him to Mass. His second household is formed by a Cuban couple, professional foster parents, who physically abuse their charges and treat them more as servants than family.Eire eventually moves to Bloomington, Ill., to live with an uncle before his mother is finally able to leave Cuba in 1965 and establish a humble home for Carlos and Tony in Chicago.The story is told through the eyes of an adolescent but enhanced by the reflections of a mature self-made man who has written academic books on faith and religious history. Throughout lies a sublime spiritual message of how a soul evolves amid a person's emotional, psychological, cultural and physical development. Eire mixes discussions of life, death and rebirth with faith themes of sin, guilt, resurrection and redemption.The literary style also melds parts of Charles with Carlos. The narrative follows the clipped, terse, staccato writing style of U.S. Nobel Literature Prize-winner Ernest Hemingway. Yet the thought pattern is akin to the stream of consciousness found in Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marques, in which present, past and future are not defined by chronological terms but flow in and out of each other according to thematic, psychological and emotional threads as envisioned in the mind of the author.Eire best summarizes his book when he says that "all genuine pilgrimages ultimately lead to the core of the soul through a linking of heaven and earth; past, present and future; self and other; dreaming and waking; and the here-and-now with the then-and-there."This autobiography is an emphatic reminder that every person torn from his or her native land is a unique human being who has to sacrifice a lot of himself or herself to find roots in another country.—Agostino Bono An evenhanded religious history of the Civil WarGod's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War, by George C. Rable. University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2010). 397 pp., $35.During the Civil War, priests traveled from regiment to regiment to say Mass in makeshift chapels. The simplest altar sheltered inside a small tent flanked by a few benches sufficed. And on the eve of battle, in North and South alike, priests were typically kept busy hearing confessions — eight hours nonstop for one Indiana chaplain, just before a fight in Munfordville during Braxton Bragg's 1862 Kentucky campaign. For whether devout or not, a soldier's greatest fear was dying without salvation."God's Almost Chosen Peoples," George C. Rable's comprehensive religious history of the Civil War, brims with such details. In this deeply researched and well-written narrative, he aims to show "how all sorts of people used faith to interpret the course of the Civil War and its impact on their lives, families, churches, communities and 'nations.'"A chaired professor of Southern history at the University of Alabama, Rable mined numerous archival collections in the North and South to produce a fascinating, evenhanded treatment of religion that spans theology to church and clerical history and beyond. He makes especially good use of denominational newspapers, including Catholic ones that have been overlooked in previous studies that focused more on Protestantism.By 1850, one in seven Americans belonged to a church. Perhaps not surprisingly, on both sides of the Civil War, many "turned to religious faith to help explain the war's causes, course and consequence," Rable writes. "Many believers took a providential view of both daily life and wartime events." In their view, "the Lord kept track of individual and collective sins, doling out victories and defeats according to a precisely calculated evaluation of the contending sides."Religion undoubtedly boosted morale and lengthened the war. Its close alliance with patriotism is a recurring theme throughout the book. A compelling example occurred on July 2, 1863, just before the Irish Brigade entered the renowned Gettysburg wheat field. Rable captures the scene: "Standing on a large rock, Father William Corby summoned the men to make a 'sincere act of contrition' and then sternly warned that the church would deny Christian burial to anyone who turned coward. With the soldiers kneeling, heads bowed, Corby stretched out his right hand offering the ancient Latin words of absolution."In the charged atmosphere of war, it was well nigh impossible for churches to advocate both abolition and pacifism. The Quakers, one of the historic peace churches (with the Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren), often found it difficult not to enlist in the Union Army. Complexities and contradictions confronted most religions in these days, and congregants sought to preserve church unity even in the midst of sectional conflict. Thus, for instance, Rable found that Southern Catholics remained "reticent" about the issue of secession.Above all, "God's Almost Chosen People" demonstrates the uncommon resilience of religious faith during times of crisis. Both general reader and scholar will find much here of value.—Nancy L. Roberts The Reviewers: —Rachelle Linner, a freelance writer, lives in Medford, Mass.—Christian Schools Brother Jeffrey Gros teaches ecumenical and historical theology at Memphis (Tenn.) Theological Seminary.—Agostino Bono, a retired CNS staff writer, covered Hispanic and Latin American issues.—Nancy L. Roberts directs the journalism program at the State University of New York at Albany. Her books include "Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker."