Monday, December 15, 2008

Between Christian and Jew

by J J Cohen

So the abstract for my IMC Leeds plenary is due, an obligation complicated by the fact that grading and end of the semester student meltdowns have conspired to reduce my number of functional neurons to three (half the number I am used to working with).

Please let me know what you think of this first stab. As you will see, I am interested in an interrelated series of questions: how did medieval and how do contemporary interpreters use Jews to tell stories of Christian-Jewish separation? What spaces in between such narratives of segregation can be discerned in which keen division yields to messier interpenetrations? (Daniel Boyarin calls them "lines of influence and dialogue [that] go in both directions").

I don't want to assume in advance that we know what Christian or Jewish orthodoxy consists of: that is, orthodoxy tends to be a retroactive positing of some undifferentiated and homogenous identity that belies the mixed, impure realm of lived belief. Scholars have done quite a good job of emphasizing the diversity of Christian practice in medieval England, arguing against a monolithic orthodoxy ... but Judaism still tends to be defined as if it enters Europe unchanged by its surroundings, that lived Ashkenazic Jewishness in, say, thirteenth century Lincoln is rather similar to fourth century rabbinic Judaism, that medieval Jews don't acculturate. I'm following the line of thought established by Boyarin, Yuval, Ivan Marcus and others to postulate a more adaptive mode of Jewishness, a hybridity with counterparts in many contemporary formulations of Jewish identity. I'm attempting to do this by looking at Christian-Jewish interaction as glimpsed within texts that typically are analyzed for their strong separations: the Book of John Mandeville, Matthew Paris on the Hugh of Lincoln. Are there any texts (especially British ones) where glimpses of a Christian-Jewish middle space exist that I might not have thought of?

Between Christian and Jew:
Orthodoxy, Violence and Living Together in Medieval England

For medieval thinkers, Islam might constitute a heresy rather than a separate religion: Muhammad had deviated from a Christian path. Judaism, on the other hand, was the source from which Christianity traced its origin, and yet it was unthinkable that Christianity should be a Jewish heresy. Though possible for “Jew” to function as a synonym for “heretic” (as Margery Kempe learned during interrogation over her own orthodoxy), Jews were usually seen as temporally other to Christians: locked ever into an anterior time, long ago superceded by Latin Europe. Yet Ashkenazic Jewish communities came to cohabitate with Christians in cities across France, Germany, and England. Extant literary and historical texts suggest that these Jews offered through their rituals and their words a sharp challenge to Christian self-assurance. From the time they first begin to live among the English, they become a community intimately involved in deliberation over proof and religious belief.

Much scholarship on medieval Jews examines how they functioned in the Christian imagination, typically as unreal (spectral, hermeneutic or virtual) figures who enabled Christianity to envision itself as distinct from its Judaic source. The real life extension of such excision is physical and property-directed violence: negative representation cannot be divorced from the pogroms of 1190. Yet medieval texts provide ample evidence that Jews and Christians lived for long periods simply as neighbors. This paper will discuss what happens in the lived spaces between Christians and Jews, where there existed a potential for amity (beneath the story of Hugh of Lincoln is a tale of friendship across faiths) as well as complexity within hostility (a famous lapse in tolerance in The Book of John Mandeville might reveal more about Christian-Jewish interrelations, and the possibility of actually listening to contemporary Jews, than has previously been acknowledged).

This emphasis upon lived, middle space enabled the medieval Jew to cease to be a monster, an allegory, or a lachrymose martyr, becoming instead an embodied and culturally impure being whose temporality is not determined by the past (an Old Testament remnant) or future (as proto-Holocaust victim). The Jews of medieval England, I will argue, are so troubling to Christian orthodoxy for their very modernity.


Karl Steel said...

Looks like good stuff [only one suggestion on the organization: the "yet" in graph 1 conflates the presence of Jews with how they were interpreted: they were present, but--barring what you're going to do with your project--as scrineria [see below]]. I've a few ideas for the paper itself (rather than the abstract), but I don't want to track down the material unless I learn that you don't know it yet.

So, I think you could get some mileage out of Augustine's notion of Jews as scrineria, explored so nicely in the other Jeremy "not Jeffrey" Cohen's Living Letters of the Law.

I believe there's a few stories of Xians either sheltering Jews or sheltering their stuff during English pogroms. Can't quite remember where I saw that reference, but I can track it down if you need it.

Also the fact that most Jewish moneylenders in England were small-time moneylenders--more like pawnbrokers than bankers--meant that they performed a vital service for a LOT of people. No doubt financial records, where they exist, can help you get a sense of the on-the-ground experience of Xians and Jews doing business.

Finally, although this is touching on material I want to think through myself some day--so here's a gift!--there's a fair amount of material in which English Jews were compelled to behave reverently during Xian holidays. They had to assume a somber mien during Easter processions, &c, which rather mucks up the temporal distance Jews were meant to inhabit.

I presume you've read the chapter on Andrew of St Victor and conversations with rabbis in Beryl Smalley's Bible book.

Matthew Gabriele said...

Sounds interesting, Jeffrey. Sorry I won't be at Leeds. Anyway, there's some evidence (often overlooked) about Christians protecting their Jewish neighbors during the 1096 violence in the Rhineland. I discuss it (very) briefly in my:

“Against the Enemies of Christ: The Role of Count Emicho in the Anti-Jewish Violence of the First Crusade,” in Christian Attitudes toward the Jews in the Middle Ages: A Casebook, ed. Michael Frassetto (New York, 2006), 84-111.

Also there, and rarely commented on, is how acutely the Jewish sources seemed to understand the First Crusade and what it was. Solomon bar Simson's discussion of Emicho of Flonheim's vision, for example, is absolutely amazing for how closely it mirrors a not-widely-circulated imperial retelling of the Last Emperor legend...

Steve Muhlberger said...

Very interesting! This may boot me in the behind to write up a piece on religion, crusade and jihad I've been putting off for too long.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

OK, Karl, my brain is definitely not working, and my copy of Living Letters is on campus, so I have to ask what "scrineria" is? I know that Jeremy Cohen's book introduced the concept of the hermeneutic Jew; is "scrineria" another way of saying that? Even my Latin is failing me as I peer at the word.

So could you say what this sentence means:
the "yet" in graph 1 conflates the presence of Jews with how they were interpreted: they were present, but--barring what you're going to do with your project--as scrineria?
That the Jews were present as an idea/hermeneutic/virtual presence and not as "real" people? Because what I am trying to do is to look at situations in which cohabitation and accommodation and quotidian praxis render the Big Concept language that we are familiar with from Cohen, Biddick, Tomasch, Kruger, etc. a little less useful.

In the end I am not as interested in Christian attempts to compel Jews into gestural reverence (I'd add to your list the frequent complaint that synagogues were too noisy, and the Jewish voices were intruding on Christian spaces) as I am in Jewish refusal, or even in Jewish parody of such behaviors ... and the (grudging, or not) approval such refusal might garner from Christians. I am thinking for example of Jewish mockery of Christian saint's stories, such as the fake miracles that Gerald of Wales says were enacted by a Jew poking fun at the cult of Saint Frideswide, a performance that also potentially knocked the wind out of many other contemporary saints lives (esp. those supported by myths of Jewish ritual murder?)

As to two-way commerce: absolutely. Jews would have been small time pawnbrokers; they also would have played roles in daily Christian life performing jobs having absolutely nothing to do with the financial industry. And vice versa: keeping kosher would have prohibited Jews from eating some Christian food, but they would be able to purchase anything that was kosher from Christians. I want to explore the conditions under which commensality took place, so I'm especially interested in any scenes where Jews and Christians are eating together or sharing nourishment.

So the project isn't so much about what was said, say, in formal debates between Christian theologians and rabbis, or how Christian orthodoxy might have absorbed something from its proximity to Jewish scholars at work on understanding the Torah: I'm looking for something more "on the ground," in the sharing and possible amity (but also enmity: I want to grant the Jews the possibility of being just as genocidal in their fantasies as Christians were) that proximity and cohabitation engender.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Matt, Steve: thanks. I'll check out your reference right away, Matt. It is interesting that in these First Crusade pogroms the Jews consistently found protectors in the officials of the Church. The massacre at Mainz for example takes place in the archbishop's palace, where the Jews of the city were granted (what was supposed to be) refuge.

Karl Steel said...

Oh, Matthew G.: I've read and liked that piece. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Maybe I misspelled it? I haven't doublechecked: scrineria = writing desk, but also the servant who carried books & waited outside school while his charge suffered the pedagogue, and this is from Augustine, yeah?, that the Jews were the 'scrineria' of Xians?

In re: that 'yet': so maybe something like
Jews were usually seen as temporally other to Christians: locked ever into an anterior time, long ago superseded by Latin Europe. I argue that too much attention to Xian doctrinal comprehension of Jews, as well as to Xian violence against Jews, obscures the blah blah blah, for as hermetically separate as mainstream Xian doctrine rendered Jews, they lived and worked among Christians in cities across France, Germany, and England, and lived lives, by virtue of being blah blah blah. <-- clumsy, I know, but I sort of feel that 'yet' is overworked. <-- forgive me. I've been grading papers for a couple hours, and that's just the mode I'm in.

But I love this project. There's a chanson de geste--I can track it down in my notes if you like--in which a Jewish merchant sells a bunch of weapons to Xians [including Aeneas' sword?], and they joke about the Jew converting, and he blanches, horrified. It's done as a joke rather than a threat, and thus suggests the bonhomie of rivals and friends and businessmen rather than the deadly struggle of faith.

Do you also remember the ME otherworld vision in which a Jew and Xian travel to a Celtic otherworld together? if you don't, and if it sounds useful, I can track that down as well.

Matthew Gabriele said...


Not only ecclesiastical officials protect the Jews but their fellow townsfolk. The first place of refuge that the Jews of Worms go to is their neighbors (Christians). The burghers of Mainz initially barricade themselves inside the city, rather than let the crusaders inside, & at the Jews...

Also, you might be aware of the Nizzahon Vetus? That has all sorts of Jewish "resistance" written into it. (it's great for students too)

Karl Steel said...

And, on a similar note, doesn't Bernard of Clairvaux, inspired (at least) by the text 'Slay Them Not', save the Jews of Cologne from violence led by the wild preaching of a renegade monk? (see David Berger, "The Attitude of St. Bernard of Clairvaux toward the Jews," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 40 (1972): 89-108.

On scrinaria [here's the right spelling], see Augustine Contra Faustus 12.23.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Got it! Thanks for the clarification: this is the Augustinian argument that Jews serve many book related functions (librarians [librarii], writing desks [scriniaria], guardians [custodes], servants who carry tomes for children to school but have to attend outside while instruction is given [capsarii]). Notably missing: authors.

Thanks for the stylistic advice as well: I appreciate your being such a careful reader! I would love to have the Otherworld reference; it doesn't ring any bells for me.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Matt, I see you have a podcast on it so I will start there!

Karl Steel said...

Boy, I just cannot spell, can I? A pretty muddled memory too.

by the way, have you looked at material about Jewish and Xian wetnurses?

Here's some material from my notes:

“A disputisoun bytwene a cristenmon and a jew” in Conlee, John W., ed. Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology. Colleagues P: East Lansing, 1991.

This is set in Paris, but when? Jews already expelled from France, I imagine, when this poem written. Although no date provided. The two men are called “clerkes of Diuinite” (l. 9), with the same collapsing of theological difference as we see in the above poem. The Christian is English and had gone overseas to see wonders: it seems he’s come to Paris because of the learning there. The Jew is given no hometown, although it’s said of him, “To his trouþe helde he tiht, / Trewe as þe tre” (ll. 27-28): editor suggests that the tree here might be an ironic reference to the cross (180 n28). Argument begins over the Trinity and the Mass. The wager in their dispute is three casks of wine. Threats from the Christian abound: first he threatens Hell, and then he threatens prison (97-98). Christian man bears the Host with him on their little journey. The ground splits open before them at the power of the Host and they enter an Otherworld, which is nothing more than an idealized picture of the world they already know, except that they encounter, briefly, the Round Table and Arthur (ll. 185-89) They encounter a nunnery and are invited in for hospitality. They nuns bring out food - “riche” is all we know (l. 212) - but the Christian doesn’t eat. Odd that the Jew, implicitly, does, since by doing so, he’d be violating his Law: the Christian should be allowed to eat, although I know that eating the food of the Otherworld is a mistake (editor directs us to Thomas of Erceldoun ll. 177-92). By the power of the Host, the Christian banishes these false images and returns them to the real world. The Jew converts, having said, “Of blisse I haue be bare / Seþþen I was furst born” (ll. 275-6)

On the other reference, Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube. The Song of Girart of Vienne: a twelfth-century Chanson de Geste. Michael A. Newth, trans. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 196. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Tempe, Arizona, 1999.

Other material of some interest. The Jewish merchant Joachim. He's the one who provides -- actually gives -- Oliver with the weaponry and armor for his fight with Roland. When Oliver's sword breaks, Joachim gets him another one. We get a kind of genealogy of the sword Oliver uses -- it dates back to Aeneas -- but what's oddest about Joachim is that he's never mocked. I'll have to check the language here, but the passage introducing him begins: "Just as the count is arming for the fight, / Behold a Jew called Joachim arrive! / On cheek and chin his beard is lily-white; / Lords, when Pilate was captured for his crime / Of letting Jesus Christ be crucified -- / Although I think revenge was wrought in time / By Emperor Vespasian the wise, / Who rounded up, or so the history writes, / All the Jews whom he could find alive / In Salem town the praiseworthy and prized / And marched them through the gates and took their lives -- / Since that same hour which I have just described, / This Jew has lived in Vienne with his tribe; / He's a rich man, of wealth and fortune high, / Who gives so much to barons of the shire / That they're prepared to let him live and thrive" (ll. 4875-90). Historical events are a little confused here. First, there's the suggestion of genocide, but I suppose this Jew isn't meant to have been from Jerusalem. But the fact remains that either he's been alive since the time of Christ -- in this case, we have a version of the wandering Jew, or the Living Letter, or the Witness to the Crucifixion, or the Old Law embodied -- or we have something else going on. Jew must also be considered in reference to the aspersions cast on merchants throughout work, at least throughout the early portion of the work. Here's what also makes the Jew seem old: "Aeneas wore this coat of Eastern mail / But last it near Maradant in a fray / Fought in a forest with Roboant, they say; / A powerful knight slew Aeneas that day, / A soldier from the ranks of France the brave, / And he won then this coat of Eastern mail; / When he returned, straight to Vienne he came / Where Joachim paid him much in exchange; / In the Jew's treasure-chests since then it's lain; / He's given it to Oliver this day" (ll. 4956-65). Death of Aeneas by French hand and this soldier sells it to Joachim. Presumably Aeneas is thought to have come much earlier than Charlemagne: but how old is Joachim meant to be?

Also see this: Girart is so pleased with the gifts that he says he's going to baptize and dub Joachim's son. Joachim, aha, here's a cooking image definitely at play, responds, " 'May God forbid,' this Joachim replies: / 'That my own son should ever be baptised! / By God's own voice I swear I'd rather die / And see my son cast in the blazing fire!' / When Oliver hears this he laughs outright, / As do the counts and marquises and knights" (ll. 4906-10). We get the cooking/oven image with the Jew -- that has to be what's being referenced here -- but what we get in response is not horror, but laughter. Certainly the laughter of the powerful, but it seems kind of bemused and patronizing at the same time.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

This is great stuff, Karl, and I can hardly wait to see what you will do with it some day. Thanks for providing it!

The only thing I'll add is that Sir Thopas's armor is likewise fashioned by a Jew -- and maybe this episode is what is being referenced.

Eileen Joy said...

What I like best about your abstract, Jeffrey, is the problem of the Jews' "modernity," as you put it--once the Christian is living alongside the Jew, he/she cannot consign the Jewish neighbor to some sort of social and/or theological pre-history. Only one caveat regarding the existing scholarship on medieval Jewish-Christian relations that locate the Jew as spectral, hermeneutic, and virtual Other: I think Andrew Scheil's book, "The Footsteps of Israel," is noteworthy for delineating, in Anglo-Saxon England [which, clearly, as historical *location*, would never work for your purposes here of looking at *lived* side-by-side relations], "a variety of Christian apprehensions of Judaism, ranging from vehement denunciation and rejection to subtle embrace." This passage is significant to your project, I think:

"Jews were a meditative vehicle for exegesis; an exemplum of the direction of God’s shaping hand throughout history; a record of the divine patterns of the historical imagination; a subject for epic and elegy; an outlet for anger and rage; a dark, fearful image of the body; a useful political tool—all in all, a variform way of fashioning a Christian populus in England and continually redefining its nature. In Anglo-Saxon England, Jews and Judaism signify not image, but process; not a stable concept, but a complex negotiation." [p. 3]

Of course, Scheil's approach is still hermeneutic, ultimately, and you are moving beyond that, of course, to something more "on the ground," but I just think Scheil's book is often overlooked outside of Old English studies and I think his understanding of the complex *negotiations* between Judaism and Christianity in early England lays some critical groundwork for those "inbetween spaces" you're interested in. And lucky me, I will be in Leeds to hear this paper!

Anonymous said...

I come late to this thread by following a reference in a more recent post but I thought it might be of use if I responded to this query:

Are there any texts (especially British ones) where glimpses of a Christian-Jewish middle space exist that I might not have thought of?

My answer isn't British, so may be of use only for a future expansion pack, as it were, but there is some material from al-Andalus in which Muslim scholars complain about not being to tell Jews from Muslims; I think this may even be covered in the Covenant of 'Umar. The same concerns then arise with the conquest of Toledo and work to regulate its communities; the Christians arriving from the north find that all three cultures dress and talk too much alike. It's not quite the same deal because the presence of a more powerful Other sways the mistrust their way leaving the Jews (evn) more marginal but less maligned. If this would be of use I can find more references on it but the starting point would, I suppose, be R. P. Scheindlin, "The Jews in Muslim Spain" in Salma K. Jayyusi (ed.), The Legacy of Muslim Spain (Leiden 1994), pp. 188-200, from which I guess you might briefly get an idea whether this angle would be any use to pursue.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Thanks for that, 10th. The Leeds piece won't have time to be comparative, but it will be a larger project some day, for which your reference to distinguishability is VERY useful indeed.

Karl Steel said...

And, this is a stretch, but perhaps that bit about distinguishability could be brought into conversation w/ this famous passage from Geoffrey of Monmouth:

Non enim debebant pagani Christianis comunicare, nec intromitti, quia lex Christiana prohibebat. Insuper tanta multitudo supervenerat, ut civibus terrori essent. Iam nesciebatur quis paganus esset quis Christianus, quia pagani filias et consanquineas eorum sibi associaverant (373).

[pagans ought not to be in close communication with Christians, nor to be allowed to infiltrate in this way, for the Christian faith forbid it. What was more, so large a force had come that the inhabitants were terrified by them. Already no one could tell who was a pagan and who was a Christian (161)]