Eamon Duffy is Emeritus Professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge. His book Royal Books and Holy Bones: Essays in Medieval Christianity was published last year.
 (December 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

Sacred Glamour

A portrait of Saint Luke from the Augustine Gospel book, late 500s

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

by Christopher de Hamel

The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript from Genocide to Justice

by Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh
Manuscript 286 in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is a superficially unexciting volume, measuring ten and a half inches tall, eight and a half inches wide, and three inches thick, in an austerely plain modern binding. Produced in Italy toward the end of the sixth century, its 530 …

The World Split in Two

Hans Holbein the Younger: Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, circa 1523

Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind

by Michael Massing
Most people in the West have heard of Martin Luther. Every Protestant is indebted to him for the fundamentals of their faith, and more than 80 million of them—close to ten million in the US—identify specifically as Lutherans. Luther’s vernacular writings, above all his translation of the Bible, have a …

Far from the Tree

William Blake: Newton, 1795

Priest of Nature: The Religious Worlds of Isaac Newton

by Rob Iliffe
Sometime in 1664 the young Isaac Newton abandoned his hitherto dutiful undergraduate note-taking on the standard Cambridge curriculum, dominated, as it had been for centuries, by classical languages and the works of Aristotle. Instead, his notebooks begin to trace his excited response to radical new scientific and philosophical ideas culled …

Secret Knowledge—or a Hoax?

The Voynich Manuscript

edited by Raymond Clemens, with an introduction by Deborah Harkness
When Umberto Eco, the semiologist, medievalist, and author of the best-selling medieval puzzle-novel The Name of the Rose, lectured at Yale to celebrate the Beinecke Library’s fiftieth anniversary, the only one of its many treasures he asked to see was the Voynich manuscript.

The First Blood Libel Against the Jews

A postcard in Yiddish commemorating the verdict in the 1913 trial of Mendel Beilis, a Jew charged with the ritual religious killing of a Christian child in Kiev. The jury acquitted Beilis but judged that the crime had occurred. Tsar Nicholas II (center) is bidding Beilis to go free—‘but I won’t waste any time in getting even for your acquittal with your Russian brothers you’ve left behind.’ The seated old man depicts the ‘Jewish people’; the ball and chain is labeled ‘blood libel.’ A conference on the blood libel will be presented by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and Center for Jewish History in New York on October 9.

The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe

by E.M. Rose
From the mid-twelfth century onward urban communities scattered across Europe persuaded themselves that each year about Eastertime the Jewish minorities living among them conspired in the systematic abduction and ritual slaughter of Christian children. That myth would be used to justify centuries of harassment, robbery, and judicial murder of European …

A Great, Ignored Transformation?

A page from La Vie de Saint Denys, an illuminated manuscript presented by Gilles de Pontoise, abbot of Saint-Denis, to King Philippe V in 1317. ‘Below large-scale representations of the saint’s preaching, trials, tortures, and death,’ Eamon Duffy writes, are ‘vivid vignettes of life along the Seine’: ‘diminutive townspeople shop or borrow from moneylenders, physicians inspect flasks of their patients’ urine, animals are driven to slaughter, millers stagger under sacks of corn, workmen trundle wheelbarrows, and boatmen row goods and passengers up and down the river.’

A History of Balance, 1250–1375: The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and Its Impact on Thought

by Joel Kaye
Joel Kaye’s first book, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought (1998), was a revised version of his doctoral dissertation. Academic theses can make for dreary reading, but Kaye’s advanced a bold, sweeping, and closely argued theory, designed to explain a …