Christians and Jews in Dispute: Disputational Literature and the Rise of Anti-Judaism in the West (C. 1000-1150)

Article excerpt

Christians and Jews in Dispute: Disputational Literature and the Rise of Anti-- Judaism in the West (c. 1000-1150). By Anna Sapir Abulafia. [Variorum Collected Studies Series: CS621.] (Brookfield, Vermont: Variorum, Ashgate Publishing Co. 1998. Pp. xvi, 310. $89.95.)

One of the striking aspects of medieval Christianity is the role of reason in the process of religious conversion, especially during the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. Earlier, experience, not intellect, led to conversion. Victory in battle attributed to the Christian God convinced a pagan ruler to accept baptism. Later, however, a literature of debate emerged, pitting a Christian against a Jew, stressing not miracles but rational argument to achieve the conversion of non-believers. This approach was, however, rarely successful.

This collection contains eighteen articles, two bibliographical and two dealing with Jewish chronicles describing the First Crusade. The core of the volume consists of fourteen articles dealing with the literature of religious debate, focusing on the relation between the emphasis on rational argument and the rise of anti-Judaism. The creation of the university and the revival of classical learning might, one would think, have led to a better appreciation of non-believers and a fuller understanding of the process of conversion and, perhaps, a culturally inclusive society. Instead, European Christian society became less so. Abulafia argues that classical theories of human community associated with Aristotle and Cicero were employed to create "a more sharply defined vision of universal Christian society," a vision that excluded non-believers (p. xii). The crucial figures in the development of the Jewish-Christian debate were Anselm of Bec and his student Gilbert Crispin, whose treatises were destined to have long careers in the ongoing debate about the place of Jews in Christian society.

According to Abulafia, the debate literature was not only designed to make converts but to enable the participants "to consolidate their own religious convictions" as well (III: 159). The recovery of ancient learning presented a challenge to Christians. …