Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book review: The Veil is Torn

The Veil Is Torn: AD 30 to 70 Pentecost to the Destruction of Jerusalem (The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, #1)The Veil Is Torn: AD 30 to 70 Pentecost to the Destruction of Jerusalem by Ted Byfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My knowledge of church history (and all history, for that matter), is embarrassingly sketchy, so I’ve been devoting my Sunday afternoons to remedying the situation. The Veil is Torn is the first volume of the Christian History Project’s series, The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. Series editor Ted Byfield introduces the series in his Foreword, in which, following Chesterton, he writes that “the most dangerous people…are those who have been cut off from their cultural roots” (vii). Byfield believes that the whole western world is in that dangerous situation. In our world Christianity is unfashionable, and yet “our founding educational institutions, our medical system, our commitment to the care of the aged and infirm, our concept of individual rights and responsibilities, all came to us through Christianity.”

So this series is all about getting us back to our foundations, and this first volume starts where it all begins: with Jesus, his crucifixion, resurrection, and creation of the Church in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. From there it progresses to other historical happenings that are familiar to readers of the Bible. We follow Peter in and out of the Temple (and prison!). The majority of the rest of the book is then devoted to Paul. The title of chapter 4 is far from an overstatement when it describes Paul’s conversion to Christ as “the conversion that changed history.” Here we encounter a man whose zeal against Christ is transformed into zeal for Christ. The attractiveness and reality of Jesus were so great to Paul that he was willing to endure anything for the sake of his Lord. Sometimes the opposition to him was such that only the Lord was left standing with him:

With Barnabas now, for the moment at least, aligned with the Jerusalem faction, Paul found himself almost alone and surrounded by opponents: by hard-line Temple Jews who saw him as a danger; by the Christian legalists, both Gentiles and Jews, ostensibly backed by the Church authorities in Jerusalem, who considered him reckless and misguided; by pagans, who regarded him as an unpleasant rival and annoying threat; by Greek intellectuals, who viewed him as unbalanced, if not deranged; and, increasingly, by Roman authorities, who viewed him as a disruptive nuisance. (116)

And like his Lord, people have been opposed to him ever since (184-185). Yet he accomplished so much! The Taurus Mountains were a formidable wall discouraging travel from Tarsus to the north east. One single crack, the Cilician Gates, allowed admittance. Through these gates Alexander the Great led his army onward to conquer the world. “Now, through the same pass, the greatest conquest Europe would ever know was about to begin, and the force that would accomplish it was an army of two—Paul and, beside him, his companion Silas” (118).

Paul not only took criticism; he could also give it. Nero’s shenanigans were revolting to many of the Romans themselves; “they were un-Roman!” (218). But the Roman who most stridently denounced Imperial Rome was Paul himself in his letter to the Christian church at Rome. His letter “disclosed a distinct irony. For the Christians, who would be despised and persecuted by Roman officialdom for most of the next three hundred years, in fact stood for nearly all the virtues and principles which Rome had once enshrined” (219).

The last chapter, chapter 9, covers the fall of Jerusalem. It is a horrific tale. The citizens of that city had as much reason to be afraid of their own people as of the Roman army outside the city’s walls. Josephus says they ran out of both wood and room for crosses. Evil reached its lowest when an odour of fresh meat cooking came from the home of a woman named Mary. When a band of rebels demanded that she show her hidden store of food, she produced her roasted, half-eaten baby. The incident was so repulsive that “some Romans simply refused to believe such a thing could happen” (265)

I plan to continue reading through the rest of the volumes in this series. From what I have seen, each volume is well-written, interspersed with many attractive side bars, excurses, and pictures. I would highly encourage families to invest in this series. If Byfield is right, it will be an investment not only in history, but also in the future.

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