“God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch (Viking Compass; 336 pages; $25.95): This even- handed look at religious persecution by the pagans and the Christians of ancient Rome is a timely tale about the importance of religious tolerance in today’s world. Kirsch reminds us that “many of the implements of torture that figure so prominently in the practices of the Holy Office of the Inquisition were first invented and perfected in pagan Rome.” Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Kirsch writes, “we find ourselves very much at risk from the latest generation of religious zealots who have preserved the oldest traditions of monotheism, including holy war and martyrdom. The new rigorists include Jews, Christians and Muslims.” Kirsch, the author of four other fine works of biblical intrigue, by no means portrays his pagans as perfect. But at least he tells us the rest of the story.”
I’ll be interested to see if this makes it on any other “best-of” round-ups.