Jews, Visigoths and Muslims in Medieval Spain: Cooperation and Conflict

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Jews, Visigoths and Muslims in Medieval Spain: Cooperation and Conflict. By Norman Roth. [Medieval Iberian Peninsula Texts and Studies, Volume X.] (Leiden: E. J. Brill. 1994. Pp. viii, 367.)

Norman Roth has undertaken no small task in this work. He addresses the interaction of the Jewish residents of the Iberian Peninsula first with their Visigothic overlords and subsequently with the Muslims and Christians. English-language historians more commonly formulate their narratives of this subject from a Christian European point of view, less frequently from the Islamic frame of reference. Here we have the Jewish people as the integrating perspective. The sources for this complex sweep constitute a varied mix of literary and philosophical works, poetry, sermons, jurisprudential responsa decisions, chronicles, law codes, and municipal charters. The emphasis rests more clearly on the literary and religious texts, less on the institutional codes.

The book begins with an account of the Jews under the Visigoths, then under the Muslim Umayyad dynasty centered in Cordoba and the decentralized Taifa kings who followed. Roth then proceeds to the North African invasions under the Almoravids in the eleventh century and the Almohads in the twelfth, and both the Muslim and Jewish minorities under Christian rule during the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries. The second half of the work contains three topical chapters dealing with cities, economy, and slavery, Jewish and Muslim relations, and finally the Jewish polemic against Islam. We obtain English translations of a number of source materials for the first time, and an abundance of information available in no other readily usable study. The author also surveys the work of other historians in the text and in the rather copious notes provided at the rear. The style is quite readable although occasionally discursive, offering genealogical material and spelling variables that might have been better placed in the notes. …