Dr. David Neiman's lecture series, The Church and The Jews traces the intimate and troubled relationship between the Christian Church and the Jewish people. The series starts with the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. when the Catholic Church was founded and takes us through the Crusades, the Disputations of the 13th century, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Reformation.
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The story here spans the arrival of Christianity as an official religion of Rome in the 300s, through Martin Luther's times. As my scholarship into these times in Muslim, Jewish and Christian spheres deepens, it is refreshing to have good lectures between heavier forays. These are not as ponderous as deeply scholarly books, and yet deep enough to give me a strong start into the subjects. As such they empower and accelerate my learning, with the light touch that lecture provides. There is much on European political history and particularly the Catholic church and its greatest thinkers in these times, alongside the Jewish thinkers and leaders. This work effortlessly, gracefully spans politics, philosophy, law, and theology, showing sensible links between them, as a great professor can do. The Jewish migrations and various related actions of Jews and Christians alike suddenly make a lot more sense to me, showing that Professor Neiman was a deeply thoughtful scholar of all sides of these matters. Time and again we receive fine insights into the actors in their times, finding themselves facing real-world problems unfolding in real time, to solve (often imperfectly, sometimes disastrously) with doctrines and the tools at hand. He seems unfailingly charitable to the Jews' plights and perspectives, as I suppose I could expect, and I'm not scholar enough to completely critique this. Nevertheless, I never feel I am being shown one-dimensional Christians. Everyone is credibly an actual person in a world of fast-emerging, tough issues. My knowledge has gained immensely. I would contrast the next work of his I am hearing, "The Jews in History." The style and approach are somewhat different. In "The Church and the Jews," some basic history knowledge and curiosity is all that is needed, and many characters, institutions, doctrines, terms, and concepts are lucidly and patiently explained. "The Jews in History" would seem to require a bit more pre-existing background in the listener, in the basic stories of the Torah, for example. E.g., we are expected to know some detail of the stories of Joseph and Moses, to make sense of the comments. It has a more familiar tone, and has less patient, smoothly accessible structure and continuity as is found in "The Church and the Jews." Yet, it has a quality and depth all its own.
The lectures were presented in chronological order which made this an enjoyable experience. The presentations contained both breadth and depth in their handling of the topic which should appeal to those with a serious interest.