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19.08.05 Boyadjian, The City Lament

19.08.05 Boyadjian, The City Lament

Any work on the crusader period that makes use of sources in Latin, Arabic and Armenian deserves close attention and Tamar M. Boyadjian's The City Lament: Jerusalem across the Medieval Mediterranean is no exception. Boyadjian examines a series of twelfth-century sources that lament the loss of Jerusalem. The main argument of the book is that all of these sources hark back to the Hebrew Bible and that they reflect "reciprocal exchanges and commonalities across cultures" (9). In addition, "the book is also interested in bringing Armenian and Arabic poetry to those who would otherwise not be exposed to it" (10). Indeed, many readers who do not read Armenian or Arabic will be grateful to Boyadjian for introducing two important and understudied sources.

Chapter 1 ("Lamenting Jerusalem") sets the scene by providing an overview of the following topics: lamentations of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible (Lamentations, Ezekiel and Psalm 137) and in the Bible's precursors; Christian attitudes towards Jerusalem up to the First Crusade; Christian attitudes towards the practice of lamentation; Christian exegesis on Lamentations; Islamic attitudes towards the practice of lamentation and towards the city of Jerusalem; history of Armenian Cilicia; a survey of scholarly neglect of Armenian sources; and the tradition of lamentations in Armenian language. One cannot expect each of these complex topics to receive an equally nuanced treatment. However, one wishes, for example, for Boyadjian's discussion of Islamic attitudes towards the city of Jerusalem to have extended past 691, the date of the construction of Qubbat al-Sakhra, and perhaps to have taken into account literature in praise of Jerusalem, which reveals considerable fluctuations of the status of Jerusalem in Islamic culture. Chapter 2 ("The Lost City: Ibn al-Abiwardi, Ibn al-Athir, and the Lament for Jerusalem") focuses on an Arabic poem dedicated to the loss of Jerusalem to the Franks in 1099 and written soon after the fact, which appears in the much later compilation by Ibn al-Athir. The poem is of crucial importance for the study of Muslim reactions to the First Crusade and a detailed analysis of it is one of the volume's greatest strengths. The chapter would have benefited, however, from the author's engagement with Konrad Hirschler's "The Jerusalem Conquest of 492/1099 in the Medieval Arabic Historiography of the Crusades: From Regional Plurality to Islamic Narrative" (2014). Chapter 3 ("Papal Lamentations: The First Crusade and the Victorious Mourning for Jerusalem") discusses references to Jerusalem in five accounts of the famous speech by Pope Urban II at Clermont, which launched the First Crusade, in the chronicles of the First Crusade. The argument of this chapter is that these accounts reflect "a brief shift in Christian thought where the earthly Jerusalem receives a higher status than it had in the past" (74). Chapter 4 ("Jerusalem's Prince Levon: Lamentation and the Rise of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia")--the most interesting and important one of all--analyzes an Armenian poem on the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 written shortly after the fact, in 1189, by Grigor Tlay, the high patriarch. No translation of this poem into English exists (there is a partial and dated one into French), which is clearly a problem that needs to be rectified. Tlay's poem does not only lament Jerusalem lost, but also expresses hope that a new crusade, aided by Levon II, will lead to the city's re-capture by Christians. The chapter contains a brief but fascinating discussion of negotiations involving Pope Clement III, Emperor Barbarossa, and Prince Levon II, which took place at the same time as the writing of Grigor Tlay's poem. Finally, Chapter 5 ("Forgotten Lamentation: Richard I and the Heavenly Journey to Jerusalem") deals with references to Jerusalem in a Latin chronicle, Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, dedicated to the Third Crusade led by King Richard of England.

One voice is, unfortunately, absent from the study: there is no reference to medieval Jewish literature on Jerusalem. One cannot expect Boyadjian to be fluent in Hebrew in addition to all other languages that she has mastered, but at least a brief discussion would have been desirable.

A work that bridges such a significant number of very different fields simply cannot reflect the latest research in all of them. Still, The City Lament would have profited from closer engagement with crusader studies broadly defined. The cover advertises the book as challenging "hegemonic and entrenched approaches to the study of medieval literature and the Crusades." In the Introduction, Boyadjian writes about "the historical representation of the Crusades by a majority of Western scholars as battles purely between Christianity and Islam" (6). She repeats the same claim a couple of pages later: "the Crusades have been presented by a large number of scholars as battles purely between Christianity and Islam" (8). On two occasions, Boyadjian disagrees with Steven Runciman's History of the Crusades, published between 1951 and 1954 (40, 54). Yet, even leaving aside crusades against pagans, heretics, and other Christians, scholarship that takes into account cultural and religious diversity of the Middle East at the time of crusades, as well as intercultural interactions of all kind, is vast and quickly growing. Just to cite a small sampling of monographs on interactions between Eastern Christians and the Franks, it suffices to mention Christopher MacEvitt's The Crusades and the Christian World of the East (2008), Jonathan Harris's Byzantium and the Crusades (2003) and Andrew Jotischky's The Perfection of Solitude: Hermits and Monks in the Crusader States (1995). Benjamin Kedar's collected studies entitled Franks, Muslims and Oriental Christians in the Latin Levant: Studies in Frontier Acculturation came out in 2006. It is true that crusader studies largely deserve Boyadjian's criticism for making insufficient use of sources written from other than the Franks' perspective. However, the gap is perhaps not as significant as Boyadjian portrays it to be. In addition to the monographs listed above, Paul Cobb's The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (2014) is one recent example of this. Boyadjian's contribution is a very welcome addition to this trend in crusader studies, which is not new, but which is still essential and that will probably remain so for a long time.

I hesitate to mention stylistic problems. For instance, the word "ethnoreligious" (usually applied to "culture") appears on what sometimes feels like every other page without any explanation of the author's choice of this particular word. To give another example, Boyadjian describes the heterogeneous and largely leaderless armies responsible for the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 as "the invading European powers" (19). Figure 1 contains an image of a "medieval Islamic map of the world," but does not identify either the author or the date, although both are known.

In two concluding paragraphs, Boyadjian reiterates that the goal of her work was to demonstrate "the complex interpenetration of various ethnoreligious cultures, whose intercultural exchange collectively gave rise to an established genre of lamenting the loss of cities." There have already been successful studies of such "interprenetration" and "exchange" in the context of crusades (see, for example, Uri Shachar's "Violent Hermeneutics of Sacred Space in Jewish and Christian Crusade Literature" (2017)). In contrast, several of Boyadjian's case-studies appear to have only one link to the rest: the city of Jerusalem.

Despite these problems, Boyadjian's work accomplishes a crucial--and timely--task in giving the reader a chance to lament Jerusalem's loss through the eyes of authors belonging to a wide range of traditions. Her analysis of Grigor Tlay's poem especially is an effective introduction to a little-known source, which, one hopes, will lead to a wider awareness of and more studies on Armenian Cilicia.