Consummate dilettantism!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Bit of Overlooked History

I enjoy discovering little bits of history that have been forgotten, or ignored, or dismissed in pursuit of larger trends. Courtesy of Google Books, I've happened upon this fascinating piece of information regarding public debates on religion in the Middle Ages. It is a fairly brief chapter (2 pp) taken from a book about Judaism, and it concerns a particular debate in Barcelona in 1263; you may read it in full.

The first line of this article from 1956 in Commentary magazine provides a summary:
P[ublic] debates on religion between Jews and Christians were a frequent occurrence in Europe during the Middle Ages, when the representative of the Church ... was most often a converted Jew
There's an article from Wikipedia here which names such an occurrence a "Disputation." It's fascinating stuff.
A significant category of disputations took place between Christian and Jewish theologians in order to convince Jews to convert. Often the Christian side was represented by a recent convert from Judaism. Christians believed that only the refusal of the Jews to accept Christ stood in the way of the Second Coming. The only way for the Jewish side to 'win' was to force a draw by drawing the Christian side into a position in which it was necessary to deny the Old Testament to win, committing heresy. According to Michael J. Cook, "Since 'winning' a debate could well jeopardize the security of the Jewish community at large, political considerations certainly entered into what Jewish disputants publicly said or refrained from saying. ... Official transcripts of these proceedings, moreover, may not duplicate what actually transpired; in some places what they record was not the live action, as it were, but Christian polemical revision composed after the fact."
Christians, then, would "debate" Jews with appeals to theology. The article additionally says the following with regard to the debate in Barcelona in 1263:
1263 - the Disputation of Barcelona before King James I of Aragon: between the monk Pablo Christiani (a convert from Judaism) and Rabbi Nachmanides. At the end of disputation, king awarded Nachmanides a monetary prize and declared that never before had he heard "an unjust cause so nobly defended." Nevertheless the Dominicans claimed the victory and Nahmanides was exiled and his report of the proceedings was condemned and burned. A committee appointed by the king censored the passages from the Talmud they deemed offensive.

No comments:

Post a Comment