In 1240 the efforts of Nicholas Donin, an apostate from Judaism, to persuade Christian authorities to condemn the Talmud came to a head. Denounced as a collection of fables about God, as a repository of slurs of Christianity and of the central figures of Jesus and Mary, and as the book that displaced Jewish scripture (indeed, was even longer than the Old Testament), the Talmud was put on "trial," stimulated by Pope Gregory IX's concerns. The trial took place in Paris because it was the French ruler, Louis IX, and his mother, Blanche of Castile, who actually followed up on the pope's initiative. All of this is well known to specialists, as Robert Chazan, the author of the historical essay in the book under review, readily admits. The essay recapitulates what experts know and think they know about this event—its prehistory, biographical details on those who played a role, the trial itself, the substance of the second thoughts some Christian ecclesiastics had about the appropriateness of the whole thing and how these were resisted, and, finally, the long-term implications of the decision ultimately taken in the wake of the trial to burn all the examples of the Talmud that French authorities could get their hands on.
It is good to have the clear, even-handed, and up-to-date summary of the current consensus on these matters that Chazan provides. What makes this book even more valuable, however, is the accompanying translation of the major texts from Hebrew and Latin that have allowed scholars to reach their views. So, although most of the texts both in the original and in translation are accessible to scholars in the field, no one before John Friedman, Jean Connell Hoff, and Chazan have brought all of them together for a nonspecialist audience and provided the historical context to understand them. The translations are all new, although it is generously acknowledged that the new versions have benefited from earlier renderings.
The trial and burning of the Talmud were terribly disturbing events for Jews in northern Europe and elsewhere in the thirteenth century, and they influenced later Christian policies, although those policies were often modified in practice down the centuries. A book like this, with its relatively low [End Page 548] price, offers a wonderful set of readings for courses on medieval Jewish history and medieval history in general. The équipe that produced it has done a real service to teaching the Middle Ages.