According to one of Monty Python’s most famous sketches, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” But according to Vanity Fair editor at large (and Medfield resident) Cullen Murphy, inquisitions should come as no surprise given the past record of human civilization.

In his new book, “God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World,” Murphy traces the history of inquisitions — Spanish, but also Medieval, Roman, and others — and parallels their harsh methods of persecution and interrogation with others familiar from today’s headlines. “Any inquisition has an institutional basis that allows persecution or repression to occur over long periods of time. When you go back and look at the inquisitions with those things in mind, I think that you find the concept to be a lot more modern than you may have expected if you’re thinking about people in dark chambers with hoods and torches.”

What is most surprising in Murphy’s account is the almost nerdy bureaucracy that springs up repeatedly in inquisitions, which have a tendency towards exhaustive record-keeping. “Bureaucracy, on the one hand, keeps civilization running,” Murphy says. “On the other hand, it drives us crazy. I think anyone who has seen ‘The Office’ or has been through a line at the airport will have a bit of a sense of this already.”

 
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