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In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World [Anglais] [Broché]

Tom Holland
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Extrait

1

Known Unknowns



Between Two Worlds

Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar, an Arab king celebrated for his long hair, his piety and his utter ruthlessness, had been brought to defeat. Leaving the reek of the battlefield, he rode his blood-flecked white charger down to the very edge of the Red Sea. Behind him, he knew, Christian outliers would already be advancing against his palace--to seize his treasury, to capture his queen. Certainly, his conquerors had no cause to show him mercy. Few were more notorious among the Christians than Yusuf. Two years previously, looking to secure the south-west of Arabia for his own faith, he had captured their regional stronghold of Najran. What had happened next was a matter of shock and horror to Christians far beyond the limits of Himyar, the kingdom on the Red Sea that Yusuf had ruled, on and off, for just under a decade. The local church, with the bishop and a great multitude of his followers locked inside, had been put to the torch. A group of virgins, hurrying to join them, had hurled themselves on to the flames, crying defiantly as they did so how sweet it was to breathe in "the scent of burning priests!"1 Another woman, "whose face no one had ever seen outside the door of her house and who had never walked during the day in the city,"2 had torn off her headscarf, the better to reproach the king. Yusuf, in his fury, had ordered her daughter and granddaughter killed before her, their blood poured down her throat, and then her own head to be sent flying.

Martyrdoms such as these, feted though they were by the Church, could not readily be forgiven. A great army, crossing from the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, had duly landed in Himyar. The defenders had been cornered, engaged and routed. Now, with the shallows of the Red Sea lapping at his horse's hooves, Yusuf had come to the end of the road. Not all his obedience to the laws granted to God's chosen prophet had been sufficient to save him from ruin. Slowly, he urged his horse forwards, breasting the water, until at last, weighed down by his armour, he disappeared beneath the waves. So perished Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar: the last Jewish king ever to rule in Arabia.



The collapse of the kingdom of the Himyarites in ad 525 is not, it is fair to say, one of the more celebrated episodes of ancient history. Himyar itself, despite having prospered for some six centuries until its final overthrow under Yusuf, lacks the ready brand recognition today of a Babylon, or an Athens, or a Rome. Unsurprisingly so, perhaps: for southern Arabia, then as now, was firmly peripheral to the major centres of civilisation. Even the Arabs themselves, whom the peoples of more settled lands tended to dismiss as notorious brutes--"of all the nations of the earth, the most despised and insignificant"3--might look askance at the presumed barbarities of the region. The Himyarites, so one Arab poet reported in shocked tones, left their women uncircumcised, "and do not think it disgusting to eat locusts."4 Behaviour that clearly branded them as beyond the pale.

Yet, it is not only in terms of its geography that Himyar seems to lie in shadow. Similarly obscure is the period in which the death of Yusuf occurred. The sixth century ad defies precise categorisation. It seems to stand between two ages. If it looks back to the world of classical civilisation, then so also does it look forward to the world of the Crusades. Historians categorise it, and the centuries either side of it, as "late antiquity": a phrase that conveys a sense of lengthening shadows, and the Middle Ages soon to come.

For anyone accustomed to thinking of history as a succession of neatly defined and self-enclosed epochs, there is something vaguely unsettling about this. Rather like the scientist in the classic horror film The Fly, who ends up a mutant combination of human and insect, the world of late antiquity can seem, from our own perspective, peculiarly hybrid. Far beyond the borders of Yusuf's Himyarite kingdom, empires raised on fabulously ancient foundations still dominated the Near East and the Mediterranean, as they had done for centuries. Yet, their very age served only to highlight how profoundly they were coming to slip the moorings of their past. Take, for instance, the region immediately to the north of Arabia: the land we know today as Iraq. Here, across mudflats that had witnessed the dawn of urban civilisation, loyalty was owed to a king who was, just as his predecessor had been a whole millennium previously, a Persian. His dominions, like those of the Persian Empire that had existed a thousand years before, stretched eastwards to the frontiers of India, and deep into Central Asia. The splendours of the court over which he presided, the magnificence of its rituals, and the immodesty of his pretensions: all would have been perfectly familiar to a king of Babylon. That this was so, however, had been almost forgotten by the people of Iraq themselves. A spreading amnesia was blotting out memories that had endured for millennia. Even the Persians, far from venerating the truth about their glorious imperial heritage, had begun to obscure and distort it. The legacy of Iraq's incomparable history lived on--preserved in the Persians' fantasies of global rule and in the many glories that lent such fantasies credence--but increasingly it wore the look, not of ages departed, but of something new.

Other superpowers were less neglectful of their pasts. The great cities of the Mediterranean, built of stone and marble rather than the mud-bricks favoured by the people of Iraq, were less prone to crumbling into dust. The empire that ruled them likewise wore, in 525, a veneer of venerable indestructibility. Even to the Persians, Roman might appeared something primordial. "God so arranged things," they would occasionally acknowledge, albeit through gritted teeth, "that the whole world was lit up from the beginning by two eyes: namely, by the wise rulers of the Persian realm, and by the powerful empire of the Romans."5 Nevertheless, the Romans themselves, although certainly never averse to flattery, knew better. Rather than believing that their empire had existed since the dawn of time, they knew perfectly well that all its greatness had evolved from nothing. To trace the course of that evolution might therefore be to fathom the secrets of its success. Even as Yusuf was vanishing into the Red Sea, plans were being laid in the Roman capital for an immense ransacking of libraries and archives, an unprecedented labour of scholarship whose goal was the preservation for all eternity of the empire's vast inheritance of laws. This was no arid, merely antiquarian project. History, no less than armies or gold, had come to function as one of the sinews of the Roman state. It offered the empire reassurance that it was precisely what it claimed to be: the model of human order. How, then, was the prestige of Caesar to be maintained, if not by a perpetual trumpeting of Rome's triumphant antiquity?

The challenge for Roman policy-makers, of course, was that the glories of the past did not necessarily provide them with a reliable guide for the future. Indisputably, the empire remained what it had been for almost a millennium: the most formidable superpower of all. Wealthier and more populous than its great Persian rival, its hold over the eastern Mediterranean, always the richer half, appeared secure. From the mountains of the Balkans to the deserts of Egypt, Caesar ruled them all. Nevertheless, it was clearly an embarrassment, to put it mildly, that what had once been the western half of Rome's empire had ceased, by 525, to be Roman at all. Over the course of the previous century, an immense swath of her holdings, like a sandcastle battered by the waves of an incoming tide, had crumbled utterly away. Britain had been lost as early as 410. Other provinces, over the succeeding decades, had followed. By the end of the century, the entire western half of the empire, even Italy, even Rome itself, had gone. In place of the venerable imperial order there was now a patchwork of independent kingdoms, all of them--with the exception of a few in western Britain--ruled by warrior elites from beyond the limits of the former empire. The relationship that existed between the natives and these "barbarian" newcomers varied from realm to realm: some, like the Britons, fought the invaders tooth and nail; others, like the Italians, were given to hailing them as though they were Caesars. Yet, in every case, the empire's collapse resulted in the forging of new identities, new values, new presumptions. These, over the long term, would lead to the establishment of a radically new political order in western Europe. Rome's abandoned provinces would never again acknowledge a single master.

Time would see both the great empires of the age--the Persian as well as the Roman--go the way of Nineveh and Tyre. Not so the states established in Rome's western provinces, some of which still commemorate in their modern names the intrusions back in late antiquity of barbarian war bands. Small wonder, then, that European historians have traditionally seen the arrival of the Franks in the land that would eventually become France, and of the Angles in the future England, as events of far greater long-term significance than the activities of any Caesar or Persian king. We know now, as their contemporaries did not, that ruin was stalking both the rival empires. A century on from the collapse of the Himyarite kingdom, and the two superpowers were staring into the abyss. That the Persian Empire would end up toppled completely while that of the Romans was left as little more than a mangled trunk, has traditionally served to mark them as dead-ends, bed-blockers, dinosaurs. How tempting it is to presume, then, that they must have perished of decrepitude and old age. The lateness of late antiquity, to those who trace in it only a calamitous arc of decline and fall, has the quality of dinner guests who refuse to get their coats once the party is over.

Except that the empires raised by the peoples of the age wer... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

Praise for In the Shadow of the Sword:

"[Tom Holland's] conclusions may be tentative, but they are convincing. His book is elegantly written and refreshingly free from specialist jargon. Marshaling its resources with dexterity, it is a veritable tour de force."—Malise Ruthven, Wall Street Journal

"Those unwilling to struggle through academic texts have long needed a guide to the story of Islam as it's understood by those with the fullest access to the latest linguistic and archaeological evidence. Now at last in Tom Holland's In the Shadow of the Sword, they finally have it.... Holland—author previously of Rubicon and Persian Fire—is about as exciting a stylist as we have writing history today.... [This book is] accessible but delightful...as fun to read as any thriller, and with far richer intellectual nutritional content."—David Frum, Daily Beast


"The life of Muhammad and the rise of Islam are boldly re-examined in this brilliantly provocative history.... [An] ambitious and...important book.... Holland is a skilful and energetic narrator, and while he guides us along the more intricate twists and turns of the period, he also keeps our eyes on the bigger story."—Anthony Sattin, Guardian Observer (London)


"[An] elegant study of the roiling era of internecine religious rivalry and epic strife that saw the nation of Islam rise and conquer.... Holland confronts questions in the Quranic text head-on, providing a substantive, fluid exegesis on the original documents. Smoothly composed history and fine scholarship."—Kirkus Reviews


"This is a book of extraordinary richness. I found myself amused, diverted and enchanted by turn. For Tom Holland has an enviable gift for summoning up the colour, the individuals and animation of the past, without sacrificing factual integrity. He writes with a contagious conviction that history is not only a fascinating tale in itself but is a well-honed instrument with which we can understand our neighbours and our own times, maybe even ourselves. He is also a divertingly inventive writer with a wicked wit – there's something of both Gibbon and Tom Wolfe in his writing... [and] he possesses a falcon eye for detail.... [A] spell-bindingly brilliant multiple portrait of the triumph of monotheism in the ancient world."—Barnaby Rogerson, the Independent (London)


"This dramatic investigation of the origins of Islam is both a thrilling narrative history and a compelling piece of detective work.... A compelling detective story of the highest order, In the Shadow of the Sword is also a dazzlingly colourful journey into the world of late antiquity. We encounter brain-eating demons; a caliph with such oral-hygiene problems that he could kill a fly with one breath; and that old favourite, St
Simeon Stylites, rotting away on his pillar but still managing to miraculously cure a man with unfeasibly large testicles, “like a pair of clay jars”. Every bit as thrilling a narrative history as Holland's previous works, In the Shadow of the Sword is also a profoundly important book. It makes public and popular what scholarship has been
discovering for several decades now: and those discoveries suggest a wholesale revision of where Islam came from and what it is
."—Christopher Hart, Sunday Times (London)


"[M]agnificent...and brave....The historian and author of Rubicon and Persian Fire has now, after five years’ work, come up with In the Shadow of the Sword. His story is so compellingly told that it could almost be Dan Brown, except that Holland writes brilliantly, with a simultaneously dashing, meticulous and at times ravishingly camp style, and his tale is true."—Michael Bywater, The Week (London)


"Tom Holland is a writer of clarity and expertise, who talks us through this unfamiliar and crowded territory with energy and some dry wit.... [T]he emergence of Islam is a notoriously risky subject, so a confident historian who is able to explain where this great religion came from without illusion or dissimulation has us greatly in his debt."—Philip Hensher, The Spectator (London)



Praise for The Forge of Christendom

“An entertaining account of the fraught last years of the Dark Ages.”— The Wall Street Journal

“An enjoyable and exuberantly argued book . . . Holland combines sound scholarly credentials with a gift for storytelling on a magisterial scale . . . In a tightly woven and sometimes witty narrative, [Holland demonstrates] the subtle interplay of genuine religious sentiment and cynical power politics.”—The Economist

“[This] is narrative history in the grand manner, written with the panache and confidence we associate with the great historians of the 18th and 19th centuries.”—Allan Massie, The Daily Telegraph

“A superb, fascinating and erudite medieval banquet.”
—Simon Sebag-Montefiore, Evening Standard

Praise for Persian Fire

“Excellent . . . Holland is a cool-headed historian who writes here no less authoritatively and engagingly on classical Greece than he did on ancient Rome in his last book, Rubicon.”—Mary Beard, The Times Literary Supplement

“It is . . . a testament to Holland’s superlative powers as a narrative historian that he brings this tumultuous, epoch-making period dazzlingly to life, and makes the common reader familiar again with one of the most thrilling periods in world history.” —William Napier, The Independent

Praise for Rubicon

“Not since Ronald Syme's The Roman Revolution has there been such an original and enlivening piece of Roman history. Tom Holland has the rare gift of making deep scholarship accessible and exciting. A brilliant and completely absorbing study.”—A.N. Wilson

“A book that really held me, in fact, obsessed me . . . Narrative history at its best.” –Ian McEwan, The Guardian, Books of the Year

“Richly resonant. . . . Ancient history lives in this vivid chronicle.”—Booklist (starred review) --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 592 pages
  • Editeur : Abacus (4 avril 2013)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0349122350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349122359
  • Dimensions du produit: 3,9 x 12,7 x 19,6 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (4 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 28.847 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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4.0 étoiles sur 5
4.0 étoiles sur 5
Commentaires client les plus utiles
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I have read several books based upon plain historical facts by Tom Holland and I liked them. But this subject, full of supernatural events and speculation about God was too much for him (and he agrees, it was the most difficult subject he tried to cover). Sorry!
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Intéressant 14 juillet 2014
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Je ne l'ai pas fini mais je suis très prise par ce livre et j'apprends beaucoup de choses .
Il faut s'appliquer et progresser lentement car c'est un livre dense .
Très contente
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent service 29 juin 2014
Par Liu Lihui
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Nothing more to desire for online book purchase: the book is delivered within a week and is very well protected. Very content with the service of Totnes Books.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 In the Shadow of the Sword. TOM Holland 4 août 2013
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Fascinating. Excellently researched, detailed, complex. A clearly explained, with much wry humour, evolution of the three main religions and the struggle for supremacy of each. This work contains much little known historical detail which complements accepted scholarship.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 étoiles sur 5  68 commentaires
89 internautes sur 102 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 detailed exposition of Late Antiquity with unconvincing conclusion 20 mai 2012
Par David Reid Ross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
The book aims to explain Late Antiquity up to 600 AD, and to show how Islam developed from that up to 800 AD. Historians have much better records for Late Antiquity than they have for the first century of Islam - as this book notes and as many other historians have noted (and lamented). The bulk of the book amounts to an introductory overview; the origins of Islam takes up only the last third of it and this part reads more like an argumentary essay.

The prose is florid, yet interspersed with vulgarities. Holland is inordinately fond of the low, cant term "screwed" when discussing... tax extraction. This style felt to me like he was trying too hard to keep my interest. (He's much like Peter Heather here.)

Fortunately the book has marshaled an impressive array of facts behind its narrative. I was impressed that it had stayed so close to the cutting edge, especially in the Persia / Parthia sections.

Much of that recent material distills Parvaneh Pourshariati, "Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire"; that book came out in 2008. The reader must be warned here that Holland does not challenge Pourshariati where Pourshariati relies on mediaeval Iranian legend. For instance, Holland tells of Sukhrâ of the Parthian house Karin as avenger of the shah Peroz (pp. 83-5). Holland has this from Pourshariati `an Tabari (p. 455 nn. 47-49, 51). This is an in-house legend of the Karin and not history: Arthur Christensen, "Iran sous les Sassanides" (Copenhagen: 1944), p. 296. (Hat-tip to the review by Geoffery Greatrex, 1010.)

Where the book touches Islam, it is careful to contrast classical jargon against the way people (including Arabs) thought during the 600s. Two examples are "Quraysh" (from Syriac), who might not have coalesced into an Arabian tribe yet; and "Maqam" (from Hebrew), which back then meant "holy site". The book could have gone further - it applies the apocalyptic term Fitna to the First Civil War, but that term likely wasn't used for this war except amongst the Kufan Shi'a. Another scholar GHA Juynboll in the early 1980s showed that most Muslims agreed to apply Fitna only to the (far more destructive) Second Civil War.

Holland addresses the scholarly arguments over Islamic origins obliquely. I read in p. 306 that the scholarly consensus claims to have "disproved" that the Qur'an is a forgery... but the footnote 22 refers only to Wansbrough, Rippin and Hawting - all of whom argue that the Qur'an is, in fact, a forgery after all (wouldn't a better link point to the consensus, with the skeptics as a sub-footnote?). Later on, he'll note several contradictions between Arab rule and orthodox Islam, for instance Mu`awiya's consistent reference to the Crucifixion of Christ (which, as Holland points out, sura 4 denies). I suspect that Holland personally prefers the skeptic side; his book just won't admit it.

Holland is (much) more openly skeptical about the history of Mecca. He doesn't think Muhammad ever set foot there and he doesn't even think that the Zubayrite anticaliphate was based there. I felt whipsawed to see him (ostensibly) support the Qur'an and then to reject MECCA.

I wasn't convinced on the details of the argument; and I think that was because Holland hadn't fully convinced *himself* of it, or even fully formulated it when he submitted this manuscript. But that was just the last third. Up to then, the book was a real page-turner, exquisitely detailed and informative.

The book's wealth of detail holds value to all who are interested in Islamic origins. The book as a whole is also helpful as an introduction to Late Antiquity, especially Persian Late Antiquity (which we may now have to start calling, Partho-Persian). I have no problem in recommending this to others with occasional grains of salt.

[This book was a gift to me; but the donor did buy it via Amazon.]
[Also, a disclosure: At the time of posting this review, May 2012, I was writing a book of my own. My book partly depends upon this book and some might consider my book a rival (although I never intended to rival this book). I stand by my (4/5) rating and by the text of this review.]
26 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 an elegant read, but be careful of the details 4 juillet 2012
Par D. Layman - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
The reviews that precede me are thorough and point out both the strengths and weaknesses of *The Shadow of the Sword*. I am largely in agreement with their comments. I *do,* however, disagree with the claim that this is poorly written. To the contrary, the writing is elegant and flows rapidly: in the parts of the history that I was acquainted with, I could consume whole pages in seconds.

The problem arises precisely from Holland's fluent prose: as he reconstructs events, his eloquent descriptions can deceive the reader into taking his formulations literally, rather than being what they are--literary reconstructions. It reminded me of a newspaper: if it misrepresents the facts that I *know* about, how can I trust those assertions that I do *not* have personal knowledge about? I want to be clear: I am not accusing Mr. Holland of historical errors. The problem is that he writes so well that the reader can be tempted to take his descriptions at face value.

Here's an example, literally at random (Kindle Loc 3333): "In 527, five years before work began on Hagia Sophia, a small boy named Simeon had trotted through the bazaars and shanty-towns of Antioch, out through the olive groves that stretched southwards of the city, and up the slopes of a nearby mountain. Its rugged heights were no place for a child, nor for anyone with a care for comfort." There are 3 facts in those sentences: that Simeon became a stylite in 527, he was a child at the time, and that he came from Antioch. Everything else is in Holland's very vivid imagination.

Much in this work I already knew about: the Jewish and Christian history, and the contemporary skeptical reconstructions of Islamic origins and history. Unfortunately, when he poses the crucial questions about Islamic origins (ch. 6, "More Questions that Answers,"--"When?" [Loc 5030], "Where?" [Loc 5423] "Why?" [Loc 5779]), his answers are obscure. His answer to "Where?" was especially disappointing, since it is a question I myself have thought about a good bit. I was hoping he would give a clear, even if tentative, answer.

The Persian history was for me an eye-opener. In general, Holland excels at painting a picture of the fevered apocalypticism that coursed through Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian religiosity in the sixth and seventh centuries. That, along with the fact that he brings the contemporary literature on Islamic origins into popular historiography, is probably his greatest contribution.
52 internautes sur 61 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 A long and winding road 4 juin 2012
Par Max Blackston - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
If you didn't know the author, the title of this book and its cover illustration - a fallen helmet with vacant staring eye-sockets lying in the desert sand - give the impression of an epic historical novel. Distribution too; I bought a soft cover "airport edition" - a channel better known for promoting the latest books by best-selling authors. Although in its style and structure it reads like a novel - somewhat florid prose, and dramatic interruptions in the narrative to allow the reader to catch up on another part of the plot - anyone who buys the book under this expectation will soon realize that what they actually have is a hardcore history book.

It is essentially an attempt to present a historical account of Mohammed and the early history of Islam, as opposed to the idealized version subsequently enshrined in the religion that was founded in the name of the prophet. In order to achieve this, the author traces the development of the three major religions of antiquity - Christianity, Judaism and the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian Persian empire. This forms the essential context for explaining the rapid spread of Islam on the back of the Arab conquest of the ancient east early in the seventh century. He describes how some form of monotheism was by this time already pervasive in most of what we call the middle east. And this did not exclude the Arabs; thousands had moved north, where they could make a profitable living, policing the borders of both Byzantine and Sassanian empires as mercenaries, and where at the same time they were likely to have been influenced by the winds of monotheism. Crucially, he presents compelling arguments why Mecca - a thousand miles south in the middle of the Arabian Desert - could not have been the flourishing entrepot and major pre-Islamic religious center which Muslim tradition (although not the Qu'ran) would have it. Instead, he locates the place from which the prophet migrated to Medina and then returned to in triumph as somewhere on the Palestinian/Syrian border - perhaps even Mamre, where Abraham - the father of the Arabs as well as of the Jews, had pitched his tent beside a Terebinth tree. It was not until half a century after Mohammed's death, that the non-exclusive community of "believers" that he had founded was transformed into Islam, "submission" , by Abd al Malek the Caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Just as the Byzantine emperors had felt the need to stamp out different versions of Christianity and impose an orthodoxy on all their subjects, and just as the Rabbis of the Talmud labored to define minutely every aspect of Jewish life, so the leader of the first Arab empire needed to establish a defining central orthodoxy for his huge and diverse realm. That orthodoxy was Islam, a religion exclusively for the Arab conquerors, whose holy language was Arabic, and whose geographical origins were deep in Arabia.

The book eventually achieves its objective - but the road is long and winding. Some examples: The third chapter "New Rome" - although harking back to the origins of Rome - is essentially a narrative about Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. How is it possible to get 28 pages into such a narrative before the word "Christian" occurs? Apparently - as far as the story so far is concerned - Constantine's only significant achievement was moving the seat of empire to Byzantium. Then there are pages of panegyrics about Justinian's efforts to codify Roman law, but nothing about his ecclesiastical policies or his success in recapturing the lands of the western empire overrun by the barbarians in the previous century. The next section of this chapter swoops back in time to recap the growth of Christianity, Constantine's role in its establishment as the religion of the Roman state, and eventually Justinian too. Judaism gets a similar switchback treatment; starting with the Talmudic academies in 6th century Babylon, we flash back to Edessa where Jewish and Christian identities were being fought over in the 3rd century, and finally - in a chapter entitled "The Children of Abraham", which leads with six pages on Christian monastics and pilgrims - we get a potted history of the Jews from the time of Abraham up to the "present". i.e. 6th century Palestine.

The scholarship, in as much as I am qualified to judge it, is impeccable. The voluminous chapter notes are evidence of the thoroughness of Holland's research and the comprehensiveness of his sources. His reference to the marginal role of the rabbis until the 6th century, when they firmly established themselves as the leaders of the community and teachers of Jewish Law, is an example of how his narrative reflects recent state-of-the-art scholarship. His sources on Islam seem to include the most recent critical studies by Ibn Warraq and Fred Donner and others I am not familiar with.

The problem is Tom Holland's style; you never know quite where he is going. The narrative's swerves and switchbacks occur quite stealthily; in each chapter there is always a crucial turning point, which leads to his plot objective; you find yourself doing a backward search in an effort to find out how you got to where you are. The other book of his that I have read (Millenium/ The Forge of Christendom), starts at the end of the "story" with the dramatic meeting between the German emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory at Canossa. There it worked, because in a way the whole book is about the efforts of the Catholic Church to achieve its independence from emperors. In the present book I feel it works to the detriment of the narrative. The other distraction in the present book is the way he switches from a sweeping historical perspective to minute - and often prurient - details, like the halitosis of Abd al-Malek or the sexual antics of the empress Theodora before she got religion and married Justinian. Perhaps he really is trying to appeal to an audience that doesn't normally read "real" history, and would not swallow a straightforward chronological narrative - good luck with that.
12 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 A long and winding road 16 mai 2012
Par Max Blackston - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
If you didn't know the author, the title of this book and its cover illustration - a fallen helmet with vacant staring eye-sockets lying in the desert sand - give the impression of an epic historical novel. Distribution too; I bought a soft cover "airport edition" - a channel better known for promoting the latest books by best-selling authors. Although in its style and structure it reads like a novel - somewhat florid prose, and dramatic interruptions in the narrative to allow the reader to catch up on another part of the plot - anyone who buys the book under this expectation will soon realize that what they actually have is a hardcore history book.

It is essentially an attempt to present a historical account of Mohammed and the early history of Islam, as opposed to the idealized version subsequently enshrined in the religion that was founded in the name of the prophet. In order to achieve this, the author traces the development of the three major religions of antiquity - Christianity, Judaism and the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian Persian empire. This forms the essential context for explaining the rapid spread of Islam on the back of the Arab conquest of the ancient east early in the seventh century. He describes how some form of monotheism was by this time already pervasive in most of what we call the middle east. And this did not exclude the Arabs; thousands had moved north, where they could make a profitable living, policing the borders of both Byzantine and Sassanian empires as mercenaries, and where at the same time they were likely to have been influenced by the winds of monotheism. Crucially, he presents compelling arguments why Mecca - a thousand miles south in the middle of the Arabian Desert - could not have been the flourishing entrepot and major pre-Islamic religious center which Muslim tradition (although not the Qu'ran) would have it. Instead, he locates the place from which the prophet migrated to Medina and then returned to in triumph as somewhere on the Palestinian/Syrian border - perhaps even Mamre, where Abraham - the father of the Arabs as well as of the Jews, had pitched his tent beside a Terebinth tree. It was not until half a century after Mohammed's death, that the non-exclusive community of "believers" that he had founded was transformed into Islam, "submission" , by Abd al Malek the Caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Just as the Byzantine emperors had felt the need to stamp out different versions of Christianity and impose an orthodoxy on all their subjects, and just as the Rabbis of the Talmud labored to define minutely every aspect of Jewish life, so the leader of the first Arab empire needed to establish a defining central orthodoxy for his huge and diverse realm. That orthodoxy was Islam, a religion exclusively for the Arab conquerors, whose holy language was Arabic, and whose geographical origins were deep in Arabia.

The book eventually achieves its objective - but the road is long and winding. Some examples: The third chapter "New Rome" - although harking back to the origins of Rome - is essentially a narrative about Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. How is it possible to get 28 pages into such a narrative before the word "Christian" occurs? Apparently - as far as the story so far is concerned - Constantine's only significant achievement was moving the seat of empire to Byzantium. Then there are pages of panegyrics about Justinian's efforts to codify Roman law, but nothing about his ecclesiastical policies or his success in recapturing the lands of the western empire overrun by the barbarians in the previous century. The next section of this chapter swoops back in time to recap the growth of Christianity, Constantine's role in its establishment as the religion of the Roman state, and eventually Justinian too. Judaism gets a similar switchback treatment; starting with the Talmudic academies in 6th century Babylon, we flash back to Edessa where Jewish and Christian identities were being fought over in the 3rd century, and finally - in a chapter entitled "The Children of Abraham", which leads with six pages on Christian monastics and pilgrims - we get a potted history of the Jews from the time of Abraham up to the "present". i.e. 6th century Palestine.

The scholarship, in as much as I am qualified to judge it, is impeccable. The voluminous chapter notes are evidence of the thoroughness of Holland's research and the comprehensiveness of his sources. His reference to the marginal role of the rabbis until the 6th century, when they firmly established themselves as the leaders of the community and teachers of Jewish Law, is an example of how his narrative reflects recent state-of-the-art scholarship. His sources on Islam seem to include the most recent critical studies by Ibn Warraq and Fred Donner and others I am not familiar with.

The problem is Tom Holland's style; you never know quite where he is going. The narrative's swerves and switchbacks occur quite stealthily; in each chapter there is always a crucial turning point, which leads to his plot objective; you find yourself doing a backward search in an effort to find out how you got to where you are. The other book of his that I have read (Millenium/ The Forge of Christendom), starts at the end of the "story" with the dramatic meeting between the German emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory at Canossa. There it worked, because in a way the whole book is about the efforts of the Catholic Church to achieve its independence from emperors. In the present book I feel it works to the detriment of the narrative. The other distraction in the present book is the way he switches from a sweeping historical perspective to minute - and often prurient - details, like the halitosis of Abd al-Malek or the sexual antics of the empress Theodora before she got religion and married Justinian. Perhaps he really is trying to appeal to an audience that doesn't normally read "real" history, and would not swallow a straightforward chronological narrative - good luck with that.
9 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 part exegesis, part history, part textual criticism 7 septembre 2012
Par doc peterson - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
I haven't read the previous books by Tom Holland about the classical west The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West), of which apparently _In the Shadow of the Sword_ is the concluding volume. It is long winded ( some may say exquisitely detailed - I found it a bit overwritten), but ultimately Holland makes an interesting - if not tremendously controversial - point: as with the development and evolution of Christianity, so too did Islam evolve and change over time before finally asserting itself as a "religio" - a religion in its own right.

The first 300 pages of the book have very little to do with Islam, as Holland discusses the tumultous world that was the Near East in the 4th - 6th centuries: the Roman empire in the west was crumbling, there were divisions within the Christian church, the Sassanid empire was facing a succession crisis, and disease - apparently Y. pestis (bubonic plague) - ravaged the cities. To contemporaries, it must have been apocalyptic. In this highly charged social, political and religious climate emerged Islam. That these factors influenced its metoric success is hardly news (for an excellent and readable history on this period, I recommend The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In). Holland first argues that Islam (and the Muslim world) are strongly influenced by these classical precursors - that the Islamic empires of the Near East are very much part of the classical world and are, to a large extent, successor states. For example, in commenting on a 679 pilgrimage by the Frankish bishop Arculf, Holland writes, "the difference between (Frank and Arab) was one of quality, not kind. Saracens and Franks both lived like squatters amid the splendours of a vanquished greatness." (369) This, too is not a new interpretation. (An outstanding discussion of the connections between classical Rome and Greece to the Islamic world is Lost Histories: Exploring the World's Most Famous Mysteries.) What is new - and, I imagine, volitile and (somewhat) revolutionary, is Holland's textual criticism of the Qu'ran.

"Textual criticism" is a way scholars attempt to discern the authorship, date and place of composition of ancient texts. Of course, to do this to the Qu'ran would be (to devout Muslims), anathema, the Qu'ran understood to be divinely revelaed in its entirety to the Prophet Mohammed. Yet there are a number of tantalizing and unresolved questions that Holland considers. For example, given the wide variety of Christian sects in the Near East at the time of Mohammed, who (or rather which group) was he referring to when Mohammed referred to "Christians"? (There are several very good books on the history of the early Church during this time; a few I recommend are Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew and The Birth of Christianity : Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus) Why did Muslims reorient the qibleh (originally facing east towards Jerusalem, later facing south towards Mecca) when there is no Qu'ranic evidence to support or explain this? Holland goes further, seriously questioning the isnads (the "pedigree") of the hadith (the "sayings" attributed to Mohammed), essentially arguing that the more elaborate the isnad, the more likely it is to have been an utter fabrication.

That faiths have long labored to deny and destroy any evidence that there were any other interpretations of their belief than that accepted as "orthodox" is a subdiscipline of history and literary criticism. As Holland writes, "Long before the coming of Islam, schoalrs labouring over other works of scripture had inadvertently demonstrated an unsettling truth: the greater the sense of awe with which a text was regarded, the more complete might be the amnesia as to the original circumstances of its composition." (307) The final 140 pages of _In the Shadow of the Sword_, Holland attempts to show just how complete Islamic amnesia is towards the creation of the Qu'ran, with some startling inferences about where the original "city of the Prophet" was. (Holland claims it was not Mecca for a variety of reasons.)

The sanitization of the Qu'ran, and the uniformity of Islam, Holland attempts to show, was only complete with the ascention of the 'Abbysids as the ulema ascended to religious supremacy, recognized "by everyone, even the Caliph ... (of) the ulema's understanding that attributed almost every single thing of value ... to the Prophet and the Prophet alone." (431) Of course, in so doing, the 'Abbysids imitated both the Sassanids and Romans before them who believed their position as rulers of the world was the result of favor by the gods.

The claims and inferences Holland makes are fascinating and compelling. While I agree in broad terms with much of what he asserts here (especially regarding the evolution of Islam as a faith), the specific supporting details he provides are thin and based on conjecture. Holland attributes this to the lack of a tradition of literary inquiry (ala the Talmud), and he may be correct; still, there wasn't enough of a "smoking gun" - or even of a perponderance of evidence for me to be convinced wholly of his argument. The argument is worth considering; it is disappointing, then, to have it so deeply buried in historical detail that ultimately is of only ancilary value.
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