Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century ed. by Elisheva Baumgarten, Ruth Mazo Karras, and Katelyn Mesler
Entangled Histories: Knowledge, Authority, and Jewish Culture in the Thirteenth Century (Jewish Culture and Contexts), Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016; cloth; pp. 368; 25 b/w illustrations; R.R.P.
US $69.95, £60.00; ISBN 9780812248685.
This volume explores the long thirteenth century in terms of Jewish communities and the tension between their engagement and isolation in European and Near Eastern cultural contexts. Organized by the themes of intellectual exchange, religious and secular authority, and texts and translations, each chapter in this collection presents a case study that broadens the historian's perspective on the medieval period. Jewish cultural productions—and renderings of Jews in Christian and Muslim constructs—are evidence of real and imagined 'entanglements' between the separate religious communities.
The first section of the book includes chapters on different modes of European intellectual communication and religious practice, due to the convergence of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic influences in the Middle Ages. Mordechai Z. Cohen's analysis of Nahmanides's hermeneutics delineates the variety of philosophical approaches to 'scriptural multivalence' (p. 56) that influenced the art of interpretation in both Islamic and Christian Spain. The range of applications of Jewish religious texts available in the Parisian book trade is the focus of Judah Galinsky's chapter. From accessible study for the lay person to material for preachers' sermons, it is clear that French Jewish halakhic literature appealed to a much broader audience in Paris than it did in less cosmopolitan European Jewish communities. Also engaged with medieval French society was Rabbeinu Tam, whose correspondence with the Count of Champagne evidences the extent of the [End Page 194] integration of the Jewish intellectual elite in French court culture, according to the research of Avraham Reiner.
Further entanglements between Jews and Christians are explored in the second section of the book, under the broad theme of secular and religious authority. Piero Capelli's biography of Nicholas Donin, the instigator of the 1240 Paris trial of the Talmud, highlights the social and theological challenges posed by this thirteenth-century convert from Judaism. Donin's intimate knowledge of rabbinic Judaism, along with his fervent new commitment to Christianity, testifies to the close proximity of Jewish and Christian realms in medieval Europe. Rebecca Winer's chapter on Latin notarials also showcases this proximity, albeit in the very secular context of Jews utilizing Spanish notaries, rather than those of their own communities. Hebrew notations on these Christian records reveal the practical reasons for this custom: to legitimize official Jewish transactions in the unfamiliar lexis of Latin, rather than be subjected to the additional taxes and regulations that were placed upon such Hebrew professional services.
The final section on texts and translations offers insights into the multilingualism of medieval Jewish communities, and the ongoing affinity for Arabic language, philosophy, medicine, and science. The translation and distribution of Maimonidean and other texts from Arabic to Hebrew for broad consumption enabled dialogue between Jews of otherwise disparate backgrounds, as explored in the chapters by Yossef Schwartz and S. J. Pearce. Elisabeth Hollender lends scholarship to this same phenomenon by considering the transmission and shared use of an Andalusian-Hebrew poem by Judah ben Samuel ha-Levi in Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities.
Other chapters in this volume cover a very broad spectrum of case studies of thirteenth-century Jews in Europe and the Near East. The analysis by Kati Ihnat and Katelyn Mesler of wax figurines as part of medieval folk culture is fascinating, as the votives embodied Christian fears and fantasies of Jewish sorcery and host desecrations. Supernatural themes also emerge in Ephraim Kanarfogel's comparison of Sephardic and Ashkenazi perspectives on marriage and matchmaking, where Ashkenazi shadkhanim were often expected to draw on their valuable, and expensive, powers of divination in order to arrange the most impeccable matches. Luke Yarbrough's analysis of religious minorities in Egyptian madrasas and Uri Shachar's treatment of crusading rhetoric on spiritual pollution expand the scope of this book to include appreciated Near Eastern narratives. In sum, the contributors to Entangled Histories have each helped to expand the reader's understanding of the long thirteenth century in all of its religious and social complexities, enforcing the notion that the lives of medieval Jews, Christians, and Muslims were intertwined in ways that we have not yet considered. [End Page 195]