h i s t o r y the Kingdom of God among people far and wide, Paul ‘institutionalised’ the Jesus message in his numerous epistles to emergent Christian communities: he provided strong leadership by bishops, such as his friends Timothy and Titus – Jew and gentile – in Ephesus and Crete respectively; he conceptualised the communal meal as a sharing of redeeming blood; he linked redemption to Adam’s sin and Jesus’s life and death; and he transformed the deep memory of the sacrifice of Isaac into a foreshadowing of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection as the Paschal Lamb, which John would develop into the powerful Agnus Dei. Yet despite all this change, Paul still believed in Jesus as a chosen messenger, the Son remaining inferior to the Father.
At the end of the first century an important new step was taken towards the growing ‘deification’ of Jesus in the Gospel of John – so different from the Synoptic Gospels. John, who was probably a Jew immersed in Greek scholarship, imagined Jesus as a superior being. ‘In the beginning was the Word’, opens his Gospel, echoing the beginning of Genesis. He argued that, with the Incarnation of Jesus, a whole new world was made. While John was not a maker of institutions,
he created the Christian faith, in Christ’s divinity – the Word made Flesh.
This birth of faith marked the beginning of the end for Jewish Christianity. The Epistle of Barnabas, written around AD 135, all but recognises Jesus as God, and at the same time dismisses the Jewish covenant with God as long superseded by the new dispensation. As Christian identity emerged with new tenets of faith, powerful mages, and the inspiring examples of martyrs, so Jews and Judaism were rejected and vilified. In the great cities of the Roman Empire, pagan converts to Christianity – Justin, Melito of Sardis – were often vicious in their attacks on Jews and those perceived as Judaisers. The great exegete Origen applied Jewish traditions of commentary to reinterpret the Jewish bible, making it Christian scripture. Christianity was now institutionalised and established; when a rift opened up between Christian priests in Alexandria, due to the suggestion by the priest Arius that the Son was subordinate to the Father, the Emperor Constantine stepped in to seek and impose clarity.
What is also striking about these early centuries is the almost total absence of discussion of Jesus’s mother, Mary, who became paramount during the Middle Ages, who was refigured in the Reformation, and who was adopted by Catholic missionaries in order to convert the people of the Americas. She was relegated to accounts of the Nativity in Luke and Matthew, and mentioned only once – indirectly – by Paul. But there are nonetheless suggestive glimpses of future themes of the cult of Mary, and of the role she came to play in polemical exchanges between Christians and Jews. In Justin’s theology of supersession, Mary appears as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy that a ‘virgin’ shall conceive the Logos, the principle of divine action in the world, the Son of God. A generation later, in the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons (c AD 130–200), Mary also appears as an agent of the emergent salvation: if Adam was recapitulated in Jesus, then Eve was in Mary.
So much of our language, so much of the creative imagination – literary, visual, musical, ethical – is bound up in the story so expertly told here. Geza Vermes leads us from first-century Nazareth to fourth-century Nicaea – from charisma to institutions – with insight and not a little sense of loss. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 37
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Literary Review | a u g u s t 2 0 1 2 10 h i s t o r y j on at h a n m i r s k y
Did the Bomb End the War? Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and their Aftermath
By Paul Ham (Doubleday 628pp £25)
agasaki: The Massacre of the Innocent and Unknowing
By Craig Collie (Portobello 338pp £20)
On 6 August 1945, the first of the only two atomic bombs ever used in warfare exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima. The sudden drop in air pressure squeezed people’s eyeballs out of their sockets. Ground temperature reached 4,000°C, over twice the temperature at which iron melts. Tens of thousands of human beings were ‘burned, decapitated, disemboweled, crushed and irradiated’. The detonation of the ‘gadget’ – as the scientists who built the bomb called it – above one of the city’s main hospitals killed all the patients, nurses and doctors there. Three days later a plutonium bomb, almost twice as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima, exploded 1,640 feet above Nagasaki, leaving a vast white scar and killing 39,000 people, far fewer than the 78,000 dead at Hiroshima. The blast streaked through the sewers of the Shiroyama National Elementary School, killing 1,400 of its 1,500 pupils. Nagasaki’s entire medical system ‘ceased to exist’. Eight and a half thousand schoolchildren were killed. All the geisha houses and brothels were wiped out, but 94 per cent of the city’s industrial workers survived.
In both cities, as Paul Ham shows in his comprehensive and horrifying account, people continued to die for years afterwards from radiation sickness, while others were permanently disfigured by ghastly burns. After reports of these lasting effects began to leak out – American censors obscured them for at least a decade – US officials feared that ‘Jap propaganda’ would prompt Americans to feel sympathy for the Japanese ‘martyrs’. An American doctor, who worked at a hospital near where the weapons had been developed, commented:
may get burned and you may have a little redness, but in a couple of days you may have a big blister and a sloughing of the skin.
This cruelty pales in comparison to the titanic lies uttered by American officials – especially President Truman – in the immediate aftermath of the two bombings and for years afterwards. These lies were repeated so often that to this day many Americans believe them. For some time, Ham relates, the New York Times played a shameful part in this deceit (the Washington Post, however, was sceptical about the official claims).
It is not true, for example, that the bombs saved the million or more US lives that might have been lost had there been an invasion of Japan. The maximum number of American deaths forecast by US Army Chief of Staff George C Marshall was 31,000. In any event, as Ham shows,
the invasion plans had been deemed undesirable long before the Hiroshima bomb exploded. It is a lie that the bombs were dropped on industrial and military sites: the few that existed lay far from the blasts. It is a lie that the bombs forced the Japanese government to surrender: deliberations, which had included the emperor, began after the firebombing of major Japanese cities – as brutal as the raids on Germany – earlier that year. These killed many more people than the atomic bombs – 100,000 died in Tokyo after a single raid. This campaign continued even after the Nagasaki bombing. The cause of the surrender, writes Ham, was the Russian invasion of Manchuria. Even the war-crazed samurai members of the government, who contemplated a coup to keep fighting the war to the last man, feared the Red Army would swallow up too much Japanese territory. The Americans, too, wanted to end the war before the Russians seized large swathes of East Asia.
The core of Ham’s disclosures, though with little of his tremendous detail, has been revealed in Gar Alperovitz’s books and articles stretching back over forty years, which are cited only once in Ham’s text and minimally in his footnotes. There is no mention, either, of the American anthropologist Earle Reynolds, who was sent to Japan in 1951 to study the effects of radiation. Unlike his colleagues who cared little about what they found, Reynolds (whom I knew well) was
The thing is these people got good and burned – good thermal burns … A lot of these people … don’t notice it much. You
Nagasaki’s moment of impact a u g u s t 2 0 1 2 | Literary Review 11