The Medieval Review 14.11.12


Deimann, Wiebke. Christen, Juden und Muslime im mittelalterlichen Sevilla: Religiöse Minderheiten unter muslimischer und christlicher Dominanz (12. Bis 14. Jahrhundert). Geschichte und Kultur der Iberischen Welt, 9. Münster: LIT Verlag, 2012. Pp. 368. €39.90 (hardback). ISBN: 9783643115546 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Jesse D. Mann
Drew University
jmann@drew.edu

Interest in medieval Spain has increased significantly in recent years. As previously more homogeneous societies, notably in Western Europe, have had to accommodate new immigrants from Africa and Asia, and as apparently religiously-motivated conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere cause increasing international concern, scholars have found the world of medieval Spain, with its multicultural and multi-religious populations, especially intriguing and worthy of study. Historians in particular have been turning to the Iberian peninsula in the Middle Ages in search of precedents, models, and contexts for contemporary interethnic and interreligious encounters and confrontations. As she herself notes, Wiebke Deimann's study of Christians, Jews and Muslims in medieval Seville can be seen as an expression of this interest (21).

While not especially innovative or provocative in its methods or conclusions, this book, a slightly revised version of the author's 2010 doctoral dissertation at the University of Erlangen, is a clear, informative and bibliographically rich treatment of the relations among the three religions in an important Andalusian urban center from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Pursuing a path prepared by Thomas Glick and others (15), Deimann employs a "trans- or intercultural" approach to her subject, drawing on Muslim and Christian and to a lesser extent on Jewish sources. Her aim is to bridge the gap between students of Christian Spain and students of Islamic Spain (14). While not explicitly ideological, this approach in itself has interesting implications for our understanding of medieval Iberia.

Deimann focuses on a single urban center over several centuries in order to provide a specific case study, to underscore the complexity of the Spanish scene, and to problematize the less nuanced generalizations about interreligious relations often found in more synthetic works. Her arguments for focusing on Seville seem sound, and the temporal limits of the book permit consideration of both Muslim and Christian rule over the city (17-18). The "reconquest" by Ferdinand III in 1248 thus serves as an important dividing line in the history of medieval Seville and in the chronological structure of the book.

Essential to Deimann's work is the assumption that the situation of religious minorities is not static, that it develops and changes over time and space (47). Thus one cannot, for example, speak generally about the situation of Christians or Jews in Seville under Muslim rule; one must speak about the specifics of that situation under the Almoravids or the Almohads. Likewise, one must be careful in discussing the situation of Muslims or Jews under Christian rule, since their situation under Alfonso X in the thirteenth century differed from their situation in the fourteenth century. The point here is that not only are the lives of religious minorities more complex than constructs such as "the Muslim community" might suggest, but dominant groups too present complex and variegated attitudes within themselves and toward minorities. Deimann also reminds us that factors such location (rural vs. urban) and class (popular vs. elite) obviously affect perceptions of the "other."

Of course, in depicting interreligious relations in medieval Spain (or anywhere) much depends on the sources one examines. As Alex Novikoff has noted, use of differing sources can produce widely divergent, almost antithetical, images of medieval Iberia. [1] Deimann relies principally on legal sources and chronicles (mainly Christian and Muslim). Consequently, her discussion reflects how laws serve to organize, delimit and proscribe contact between dominant and minority groups. She recognizes that legal sources present ideals and do not always correspond to actual practice, but she contends, rightly, that such sources can nonetheless shed light on contemporary issues and interactions.

An important Islamic legal source Deimann analyzes in detail is Ibn ʿAbdun's Risāla fī l-qadā wal-hisba. This analysis, which includes a transliteration of the Arabic with German translation, makes very interesting reading. According to Deimann, Ibn ʿAbdun's hisba text moves beyond traditional dhimma law and also presents both Jews and Christians (especially the Christian clergy) in a distinctly negative light. Nonetheless, she suggests that Ibn ʿAbdun's numerous prohibitions reflect relatively frequent and close interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims in Almoravid Spain. The reader might wish to compare Deimann's analysis with that of Alejandro García Sanjuán, who reached similar conclusions and whose work is now available in English. [2]

When Deimann turns to Christian legal treatment of Jews and Muslims, she focuses upon Alfonso X's renowned Siete Partidas (chapter 7). In her discussion of this important if largely theoretical work, Deimann rejects both Dwayne Carpenter's characterization of the Siete Partidas as an example of "restrained tolerance" and Robert Burns's notion of "parallel societies" (233). While she considers "tolerance" an Enlightenment concept and thus inappropriate for medieval Spain, she also argues that the idea of "parallel societies" misrepresents the many interactions and multidirectional influences at work among Spain's religious groups in the Middle Ages.

Following scholars such as Larry Simon and Mark Meyerson, Deimann suggests that Alfonso X's legal work reflects the influence not only of medieval canon law, but more significantly that of the Muslim dhimma law. Rather than seeing Christian and Muslim jurisprudence regarding religious minorities as two parallel approaches to regulating religious identity and ritual purity, Deimann argues that the dhimma law had direct influence on this area of Christian secular and ecclesiastical law. This is a very interesting point that deserves closer scrutiny than Deimann's work can offer. Of course, both Ibn ʿAbdun's hisba and Alfonso X's Siete Partidas have been studied before, and Deimann's discussion does not really break new ground. It does, however, present a lucid summary of what these legal texts say about interreligious relations in medieval Spain.

When not examining legal works, Deimann recounts and discusses some major developments in the history of medieval Seville: the Mozarab alliance with the failed "crusade" of Alfonso I in 1125-6 and the subsequent exile of many Christians to North Africa; the rise of the Almohads, successors to the Almoravids; the "reconquest" by Fernando III and the "repopulation" of the city; the Mudéjar revolt of 1264; and the battle for the crown between Peter I and Henry II in the fourteenth century. Deimann frequently punctuates her chapters with useful summaries that concisely capture her conclusions.

In the penultimate chapter, which ends with the pogrom of 1391, the focus is on the state of the Jewish population in Seville. This may reflect Yitzhak Baer's view that during the "reconquest" Muslims and Christians were so occupied with each other that the Jews were of relatively little concern. Here, Deimann discusses the career of the inflammatory preacher, Ferrant Martínez, and underscores how, in the fourteenth century, popular anti-Semitism could be exploited for political purposes even while the royal court employed Jews as state officials and advisers.

The final chapter restates the author's main findings. Deimann reinterates her view that numerous factors (social, economic, political as well as religious) affected the relations among and within the religious groups in medieval Seville and that neither the position of the dominant group nor that of the minorities should be characterized in monolithic terms. The image of medieval Seville that emerges from this competent study is neither that of a "culture of tolerance" nor of a "community of violence," much less a "society organized for war." Rather, it is one of a city in which three religious groups interacted in various ways with varying motives. Deimann's aim is to use the example of Seville to illustrate the complexity of interreligious relations in medieval Spain, and in this she succeeds quite well.

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Notes:

1. See Alex Novikoff, "Between Tolerance and Intolerance in Medieval Spain: An Historiographic Enigma," Medieval Encounters 11 (2005): 11.

2. Alejandro García-Sanjuán, "Jews and Christians in Almoravid Seville as Portrayed by the Islamic Jurist Ibn ʿAbdūn," Medieval Encounters 14 (2008): 78-98.



Copyright (c) 2014 Jesse D. Mann



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