Bible Review 18:4, August 2002

Bible Books

The Dark Shadow of the Cross

Constantine’s Sword
The Church and the Jews: A History

James Carroll (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001) 756 pp., $28.00 (hardback)

In November of 1996, James Carroll stood outside the walls of Auschwitz and beheld the giant wooden cross planted there a dozen years earlier by Polish Catholics in the midst of anti-Jewish demonstrations. How, Carroll asked himself, had the cross become a sign of sacrilege? How did this most sacred of Christian symbols become such an offense?

For Christians taught to see the cross as a sign of God’s triumph over evil, the idea that history could so transform the cross is an unbearable dissonance. But Carroll is a journalist for whom dissonance demands explanation. Events have meaning, Carroll insists in this best-selling account. What meaning could these events have? And so that day, he writes, “I vaguely grasped the necessity of learning, as the theologian Paul van Buren put it, ‘to speak of Auschwitz from the perspective of the cross…by first learning to speak of the cross from the perspective of Auschwitz.’”

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