Crusaders, Condottieri, and Cannon: Medieval Warfare in Societies around the Mediterranean

By Donald J. Kagay; L. J. Andrew Villalon | Go to book overview

CALLING NAMES: THE IDENTIFICATION OF JEWS IN
CHRISTIAN DOCUMENTS FROM MEDIEVAL TOLEDO
Nina Melechen

Identifying Jews—specifically, Jewish men—in Christian documents from Toledo and its diocese between the twelfth and fourteenth century is strikingly easy. But it is not so clear why such precise identification, which was not universal in the medieval Iberian Peninsula, developed in Toledo. The redundancy of identification used there saves the historian from confusion about who, in the available records, was a Jew, but it raises other very important questions. Why, in fact, did the Christians of Toledo call attention to Jews by over-identifying them, when the Jewish behavior described in their records was not in itself odd, and was mirrored by Christian behavior? And why did the scribes of Toledo develop such redundancy of identification when other Iberian Christians did not? The patterns of identification used in Toledo evidently resulted from the early use of the vernacular there, which permitted scribes to create new forms to distinguish members of minority groups. They worked to reinforce the symbolic boundaries between Jews and Christians and to reestablish the distinctions between the groups that were undermined by the very interactions the documents recorded.

From the thirteenth century onward, whenever individual Jewish men were mentioned as participants in Toledan vernacular contracts, bills of sale, records of lawsuits, or similar documents, they were over-identified as Jews. These same documents also named Jews as witnesses, neighbors, or authorities, in which cases they were frequently, but not inevitably, as heavily over-identified. At the first reference, a Jew's name was preceded by the term “don, ” a separator which at that time had no honorific connotations but simply indicated that he was not Christian.1 The Jew's given name and surname also identified him as a Jew, since Toledan Jews shared a pool

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1
See Manuel Ferrer-Chivite, “El factor judeo-converso en el proceso de consolidación del título 'Don', ” Sefarad 45 (1985): 133–134, 140–141. By the fourteenth century, “doña” was increasingly used to distinguish women from men, and thus ceased to be useful in distinguishing Jewish from Christian women. Around the same time “don” was also used to distinguish nobles from the non-noble.

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