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God, Humanity, and History: The Hebrew First Crusade Narratives

Robert Chazan
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 281
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  • Book Info
    God, Humanity, and History
    Book Description:

    Although closely focused on the remarkable Hebrew First-Crusade narratives, Robert Chazan's new interpretation of these texts is anything but narrow, as his title,God, Humanity, and History,strongly suggests. The three surviving Hebrew accounts of the crusaders' devastating assaults on Rhineland Jewish communities during the spring of 1096 have been examined at length, but only now can we appreciate the extent to which they represent their turbulent times. After a close analysis of the texts themselves, Chazan addresses the objectives of the three narratives. He compares these accounts with earlier Jewish history writing and with contemporary crusade historiography. It is in their disjuncture with past forms of Jewish historical narration and their amazing parallels with Latin crusade narratives that the Hebrew narratives are most revealing. We see how they reflect the embeddedness of early Ashkenazic Jewry in the vibrant atmosphere of late-eleventh- and early-twelfth-century northern Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92395-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE: The Time-Bound and the Timeless in Medieval Ashkenazic Narrative
    (pp. 1-18)

    Medieval Ashkenazic (northern European) Jews were relatively recent immigrants. Beginning in the late tenth century, southern European Jews moved northward, settling in the towns that were at the heart of the remarkable efflorescence of northern European civilization. These immigrant Jews made their way into an environment that was simultaneously supportive of and resistant to their settlement. The support came largely from far-sighted political leaders, who were convinced that the Jewish immigrants would provide useful stimulation to the economy of their domains. The resistance was widespread, rooted in both the realities of Jewish life and the legacy of Christian tradition. The...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Hebrew Firsr Crusade Narratives
    (pp. 19-27)

    In 1892, the Historische Commission für Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland, committedinter aliato providing documentation illuminating Jewish life in Germany, published its second volume of medieval Hebrew sources, consisting of five narratives describing the fate of German Jewry during the great crusades of the late eleventh and twelfth centuries.¹ While each of these five narrative sources is interesting in its own right, the first three—which depict the events of late spring and early summer 1096—have attracted by far the greatest attention.² The three narratives, in the order published in 1892,³ are: (1) the so-calledSolomon bar...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Mainz Anonymous: Structure, Authorship, Dating, and Objectives
    (pp. 28-51)

    Of the three Hebrew First Crusade narratives, theEliezer bar Nathan Chroniclehas been the most widely copied and read; more recently, scholarly attention has focused on the so-calledSolomon bar Simson Chronicle.¹ However, it has been my sense for some time now that the most interesting, impressive, and valuable of the three compositions is theMainz Anonymous.² TheEliezer bar Nathan Chronicle—I shall argue—is but an epitome of the lengthierSolomon bar Simson Chronicle,with poetic additions;³ theSolomon bar Simson Chronicleis a rich but often maladroit compilation of a variety of independent sources;⁴ theMainz...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Solomon bar Simson Chronicle: The Editorial Prologue and Epilogue
    (pp. 52-69)

    TheSolomon bar Simson Chronicle,unlike theMainz Anonymous,has reached us in its entirety.¹ It opens with a specification of the date of the catastrophe visited on Rhineland Jewry and closes with a series of verses calling down vengeance upon the Christians responsible for the assaults and beseeching salvation for the Jewish victims of those assaults.² This complete narrative was introducedin totointo a later composite account of the fate of Speyer Jewry.³ The compiler of the composite account begins with material now lost,⁴ recounts the full story of 1096 by means of theSolomon bar Simson Chronicle,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Solomon bar Simpson Chronicle: The Speyer-Worms-Mainz Unit
    (pp. 70-82)

    The lengthiest unit in the compositeSolomon bar Simson Chronicledescribes the fate of three major Rhineland Jewish communities, those of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. The parallels between this unit and theMainz Anonymoushave given rise to much speculation as to the relationship between these two compositions. Two broad positions have been taken on this relationship—either that the texts are independent of each other or that one is the source of the other.¹ The view that theMainz Anonymousand theSolomon bar Simson Chronicleare independent of each other comes in two distinct forms. The first suggests...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The solomon bar Simson Chronicle: The Trier and Cologne Units
    (pp. 83-99)

    The editor of theSolomon bar Simson Chronicleadapted preexistent reports on the events of 1096 in order to provide a sweeping sense of the tragedy and to impose a certain perspective on the catastrophe in its entirety. In the case of the Speyer-Worms-Mainz unit of the composite narrative, we are in a unique position in that we can assess the editor’s adaptation against the original source he utilized. A number of additional sources can be identified, but in no other case are we fortunate enough to have the original from which our editor drew.

    Of the remaining units utilized...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Elizer bar Nathan Chronicle
    (pp. 100-111)

    TheEliezer bar Nathan Chroniclehas been the best known of the three 1096 Hebrew narratives. It has survived in multiple manuscripts, which is not the case for the other two. More important, it was cited first in ‘Emek ha-Bakha’ of Josephha-cohenand then in thẹΖemạh Davidof David Gans, thereby becoming the source of most early modern knowledge of the events in 1096.¹ The broader impact of theEliezer bar Nathan Chronicleis in all likelihood rooted in the combination of its literary format and qualities and the renown of its purported author.

    Like theSolomon bar...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Hebrew First Crusade Narratives: Time-Bound Objectives
    (pp. 112-123)

    The focus of this study is the Hebrew prose narratives written subsequent to the calamity of 1096. Although we know that utterly timebound communications were written during the period of upheaval itself (and in all likelihood afterward also) and although we have at our disposal a number of poetic dirges over the fallen Jews,¹ the prose narratives, like the 1171 Orléans epistle discussed in the prologue, were intended to address both time-bound and timeless concerns simultaneously. More precisely, the authors of these narratives felt that the prose medium—crucial for transmitting detailed information—could be utilized effectively for constructing an...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Historicity of the Hebrew Narratives
    (pp. 124-139)

    The time-bound objectives of the Hebrew First Crusade narratives lead us ineluctably to the issue of their historicity. If the authors and editors of the narratives, especially theMainz Anonymous,were determined to provide guidance, make requisite apologies, and memorialize properly by adducing extensive evidence on Christian and Jewish behaviors during the crisis period, then what implications flow with respect to the facticity of the data advanced by our narrators. Are these data to be trusted?

    As noted, earlier generations of researchers hardly reflected on the historicity of the 1096 Hebrew narratives, assuming their facticity. More recently, growing sophistication in...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The Hebrew First Crusade Narratives: The Timeless
    (pp. 140-156)

    I have argued that our Jewish authors did not fabricate patterns of Christian and Jewish behavior or Christian and Jewish thinking in order to serve apologetic, polemical, or theological goals. That is not to suggest that the Jewish narrators were not animated by apologetic, polemical, or theological goals—they surely were. Rather, these Jewish observers seem to have concluded that the accurate detail necessary to achieve their time-bound objectives was not at all antithetical to their broader purposes. Indeed, they seem to have concluded that precisely the accurate detail would serve them well in making their more far-reaching case.


  14. CHAPTER TEN God, Humanity, and History
    (pp. 157-174)

    The timeless objectives of the Hebrew First Crusade narratives were shaped by both the normal human desire to ameliorate tragedy through understanding and by Christian insistence that the catastrophe of 1096 should serve as a particularly dramatic sign of divine rejection of the Jewish people. A Jewish explanation that would simultaneously provide the solace of meaning and rebut the destructive Christian contentions was essential. It was, I would argue, no accident that the format chosen for clarifying the meaning of the events of 1096 was the narrative. As we have seen, our five Jewish voices make their cases largely through...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Comparative Dimensions: The 1096 Narratives and Classical Jewish Tradition
    (pp. 175-190)

    We have noted, from early in this study, the effort of our 1096 narrators to link their hero figures with great personages of the Jewish past. These linkages served multiple purposes, some time-bound and some timeless. With respect to the time-bound objectives of the narratives, association of the First Crusade hero figures with their predecessors served to erase any questions that might be raised over their radical martyrological behaviors. If the martyrs of 1096 were recapitulating the actions of prior Jewish stalwarts, then obviously their behaviors—however unprecedented and radical they might seem—were more than justified. With respect to...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE Comparative Dimensions: The 1096 Narratives and Their Medieval Setting
    (pp. 191-210)

    Comparison of the Hebrew First Crusade narratives with biblical and rabbinic prototypes has shown that the narratives, despite their immersion in the language, images, and symbols of Jewish tradition, made a substantial break with previous patterns of storytelling and conceptualization of the relationship of God and humanity. Now we must examine some medieval narratives for possible parallels in historiographic style and conceptualization.

    It has long been maintained that early Ashkenazic Jewry had its roots in Byzantium Jewry and was profoundly shaped by that area’s ancient and rich Jewish culture. The Byzantine roots of early Ashkenazic Jewry may well be somewhat...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 211-216)

    This study began with a working hypothesis, based on analysis of a valuable Hebrew latter written in the wake of the Blois tragedy of 1171. This hypothesis suggested that early Ashkenazic Jews composed accounts of contemporary events designed to provide important timebound information while at the same time addressing critical timeless issues. Examining the Hebrew First Crusade narratives from this perspective, we have been able to identify a number of time-bound objectives of the narratives. We have also been successful in understanding the timeless issues faced by the survivors of the catastrophe. In the process, we have learned that the...

  18. Appendix: The Hebrew First Crusade Narratives: Prior Studies on Relationships and Dating
    (pp. 217-222)
  19. Abbreviations
    (pp. 223-224)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 225-256)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-262)
  22. Index
    (pp. 263-270)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-271)