The Medieval Review 16.10.27


Buc, Philippe, Martha Keil, and John Tolan, eds. Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe: The historiographical legacy of Bernhard Blumenkranz. Religion and Law in Medieval Christian and Muslim Societies, 7. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. 383. €75.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-56516-3 (paperback).



Reviewed by:


William Chester Jordan
Princeton University
wchester@princeton.edu

The bookends of this collection of articles, offered on the hundredth anniversary and celebrating the long career of the Viennese-born historian Bernhard Blumenkranz (12 June 1913-4 November 1989), are two essays, one by Robert Chazan and the other by Claude Denjean and Juliette Sibon. Both essays are encomia to Blumenkranz. Chazan relates how kindly the master treated him as a young Ph.D. student from the United States in Paris, and Denjean and Sibon testify to the effort with which Blumenkranz reanimated the study of Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations in France, his adopted home, after the Second World War. They note, however, that there still remain tendencies in the writing of medieval French history to ignore the kingdom's Jews. I only met Bernhard Blumenkranz once, at a conference in Wolfenbüttel. He was a charming and cosmopolitan man, easily moving from English to German to French in order to interact with other participants, and he seemed especially to enjoy meeting with the more junior colleagues, to hear what they were working on and to encourage them. He deserves a volume like this one, in which the authors regularly show how his research led the way, even as they challenge some of his own conclusions.

In Part I, "The Medieval Church and the Jews," all the authors explicitly or implicitly address Blumenkranz's contention that the advent of the crusades was a (the) decisive turning point in medieval Jewish-Christian relations. Capucine Nemo-Pekelman is skeptical about the reality and significance of the master's sketch of legal history, which saw the Theodosian Code, mediated by ecclesiastical "jurists" (she uses the quotation marks for these canonists avant la letter) as having had a general transforming effect--a negative effect--on the on-the-ground realities of Jewish status. Despite the confidence of her presentation, I think more work needs to be done on this issue. Anna Sapir Abulafia, in an exquisitely researched article on the glosses to Gratian's Decretum, shows that much more can be learned about the scholarly dialogue implicit in the glosses and the later counterpart to the on-the-ground realities Nemo-Pekelman refers to. In two other articles, realities hold center stage. What does it mean, Birgit Wiedl asks, to pawn sacred objects with Jews? Did they always get physical possession of these objects and by doing so promote Christian hatred? If one looks beyond polemical and chronicle sources, Eveline Brugger argues, one will find evidence even in what seem to be difficult times of the capacity of Jews and Christians (including Christian clergy) to cooperate effectively on workaday matters and to do so without evident animus.

The second part of the collection addresses questions of "Conversion and Proselytism." Martha Keil demonstrates that the forced baptisms of Viennese Jews in 1420/21 had complex consequences. Those who remained Christians did fairly well and, it is suggested, fitted in fairly comfortably. Even the University of Vienna, a center of anti-Jewish writings, welcomed the converts. Those who relapsed into Judaism, however, were burned. One wonders about the social psychology of the converted survivors. One wonders whether their material comfort had its counterpart in any spiritual discomfort otherwise known as survivors' guilt. Danièle Iancu-Agou has written a fascinating little piece on the family tree of Nostradamus, who had a maternal great-grandfather who was a convert and had to make many moral compromises to live his life. And Claire Soussen situates polemical texts of the thirteenth and fourteenth century in the struggle over conversion. Her principal example is the epistle of Rabbi Samuel de Fez.

Debra Higgs Strickland opens Part III, which is titled "Art and Material Culture," by exploring the fraught issue of Jesus's Jewishness and its manipulation and influence, in fascinating ways, on Jewish-Christian relations. She draws upon the artistic echoes of the apocryphal infancy gospels to do so and pays special attention to the so-called Tring tiles of the English post-Expulsion period, that is, after 1290 (the tiles are dated ca. 1330). "Jewish Images on Christian Coins," Eva Haverkamp's contribution, is a careful reading of Jewish stereotypes and restraints on stereotyping on coinage. The mediating role of Jews in mints, though our knowledge is fragmentary, is of particular interest. This third part concludes with Katrin Kogman-Appel's study of the eschatology of the fourteenth-century Catalan mappamundi. Her article, in one sense, has much in common with Haverkamp's. Both scholars have a gift for teasing out the nuances of visual texts. The conclusion, namely, that the mappamundi is a window into a society still more or less at peace with itself in terms of the relations of Jews and Christians in the second third of the fourteenth century, is all the more disconcerting since, as the author herself notes, the tragedy of 1391 loomed on the horizon.

The final section of the collection, Part IV, is devoted to "Places and Encounter." Gerard Nahon offers an overview of the Jews of Paris and the Hebrew sources related to their life. Ram Ben Shalom goes south to Provence and documents the career of Isaac Nathan of Arles, "the last Jewish intellectual in Provence," the compiler of the Hebrew concordance to the Bible. Isaac Nathan, who died in the 1470s, was the author of several works and now appears, thanks to the success of the author's investigations, to have had far more influence than modern scholars have traditionally thought. The article ends with a call for more research. Reading Javier Castaño's essay reveals the impulses to and constraints on travel for Iberian Jews. A comparative study of the phenomenon under other European medieval regimes might be quite interesting. Last (not counting the Denjean/Sibon encomium to Blumenkranz) but by no means least is Judith Olszowy-Schlanger's "response" to the master's more theoretical and normative treatment of medieval justice as it weighed upon Jews. She acknowledges Blumenkranz's expertise, but remarks that much more is available from day-to-day court cases than was readily available to him, material that can nuance conclusions based on norms and theories. These records show people, even people who were in difficulties with one another, having recourse to the courts in a routine fashion. Indeed, there is a pleasant normalcy that can be imagined from the evidence she brings together.

Bernhard Blumenkranz would be pleased, I think, to accept this collection as a tribute to his achievement.



Copyright (c) 2016 William Chester Jordan



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