Seven Myths of the Crusades

By Tyerman, Christopher | The Catholic Historical Review, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Seven Myths of the Crusades


Tyerman, Christopher, The Catholic Historical Review


Seven Myths of the Crusades. Edited with introduction and epilogue by Alfred J. Andrea and Andrew Holt. [Myths of History: A Hackett Series.] (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. 2015. Pp. xxxvi, 163. $19.00 paperback. ISBN 9781-62466-403-8.)

Modern democratization of information has not been accompanied by an equivalent extension of learning. That, at least, is the implied premise of this book, which takes as its target the contrast between popular perception and academic understanding of the nature and significance of medieval crusades. Given the active and potentially toxic recruitment of the crusades in current international public and political debate, the peddling of myth and untruth may appear to possess more serious consequences than the ruffled egos of the ignored professoriat.

The stated aim of this collection of essays is to correct seven prominent popular misconceptions: that the First Crusade (1095-99) was unprovoked, the first military conflict between Christendom and Islam (Paul Crawford); that crusading demonstrated a form of irrational religious madness (James Muldoon); that the crusades initiated and defined European anti-Judaism (Daniel Franke); that crusaders were proto-colonists, motivated by material greed (Corliss Slack); that the Children's Crusade of 1212 was a genuine story of corrupted innocence (David Sheffler); that there is any connection at all between Freemasonry and the military order of the Templars (Jace Stuckey); that the crusades have been a constant historic source of Muslim grievance (Mona Hammad and Edward Peters). The aim may seem laudable enough. However, despite its solid scholarly virtues and intellectual caliber, it is hard to see how the book serves its purpose. On the one hand, most contributions are to varying degrees self-referentially academic, weighted with long (and, for the insider, very useful) footnotes that will hardly attract the uninitiated. Most spend time, much of it repetitive, detailing current historiographical matters perhaps of interest to fellow historians but of no interest for an audience from the misinformed public. Perhaps the idea is for the book to be used like a thirteenth-century preacher's manual, to help fellow professionals trounce the distortions of the ignorant. Professional solipsism pervades the de haut en bas editorial identification of wisdom in "the mainstream of today's scholarly interpretation-a general consensus built upon decades of research, reflection and debate" (p. …

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