Christian-Jewish Interactions During the First Crusade
According to Fulcher of Chartres, Pope Urban II’s address at the Council of Claremont on November 27, 1095, called Christians to take up arms against the Seljuk Turks and Arabs of the east so as to aid oppressed Christians living there. However, some Christians interpreted his message as a call to arms against anyone that they deemed a threat to Christianity, which led to a violent persecution of Jews by Christian forces, specifically in the Rhineland region of Western Germany. The main sources that help elucidate the state of Christian-Jewish interactions during the First Crusade are “The Narrative of Old Persecutions” (also known as “Mainz Anonymous” because of its central focus on Mainz and lack of credited author), and accounts written by Solomon Bar Simson, Eliezer Bar Nathan, and Albert of Aachen.
Each account describes the Rhineland massacres as mercilessly brutal towards all members of the Jewish community, including women, children, and the elderly. In addition to graphic imagery depicting the slaughter of Jews by sword and hanging, the Mainz Anonymous and Eliezer Bar Nathan accounts emphasize the hopelessness of Jewish defense against Christian forces, through comparisons to passages in the Torah and Old Testament. For example, God presented the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with the opportunity for safety if ten righteous people within the city could come forth, whereas the Christian crusaders ruthlessly displayed no such mercy towards the Rhineland Jews and thus, the writer implied that the crusaders were unlike God (Chazan 239).
Motivations Guiding Christian Attacks on Jews
The aforementioned accounts of the Rhineland massacres suggest that the crusaders’ motivations for slaughtering Jews were made up of three parts – a desire to avenge Christ’s crucifixion, the promise of heavenly salvation, and the prospect of economic profit. Mainz Anonymous depicts a scene where Christian forces carry around a trampled corpse likened to Christ in order to rally crusaders against the Jews, the descendants of Christ’s persecutors. Violently avenging Christ by killing Jewish people was viewed as a holy mission by some of the crusaders in Rhineland, as made evident by a circulated report stating that “Anyone who kills a single Jew will have all his sins absolved” (Chazan 226). This gave both noblemen and poor folk spiritual incentive to delay their journey to the east. However, references to the massacre’s financial incentives for Christians abound in the texts as well, suggesting that many of the crusaders in Germany had secular ambitions. Albert of Aachen suggests that Count Emicho of Leiningen, Thomas, and Clarebold, three crusading noblemen, “slaughtered the exiled Jews through greed of money, rather than for the sake of God’s justice” (Aachen 47). Each source references the money, treasure, or great spoils of war that the crusaders obtained through their onslaught against the Jews, implying that monetary gains that could fund future military endeavors may have made Jewish communities attractive targets.
Interactions between non-religious burghers and Jews were also hostile. Many burghers offered Jews asylum in return for a sum of money, but reneged their promises when crusaders offered additional incentives. At the siege of Mainz, the burghers even opened the city gates for Count Emicho and his followers, granting them easy access to the city and aiding in Count Emicho’s violent mission.
The Relationship Between Jews and the Christian Clergy
Although Count Emicho and his followers led the attack against Jewish communities in the name of Christianity, the local clergy and various Church officials sought to protect the Jewish population by providing them with shelter. Bishop John of Speyer is applauded in the Mainz Anonymous for his willingness to hide Jewish persons, without being bribed. Bishop John supposedly even severed the hands of antagonistic burghers. Similarly, Bishop Rothgard of Mainz attempted to hide Jews from Count Emicho and his men, although the clergy received a large amount of treasure in exchange for promised security. However, the Bishop was unable to suppress Count Emicho and his followers indefinitely, so many Jews perished. The Jewish communities in France were also allies of the Jewish communities in Rhineland, and French Jews allegedly sent letters to Jewish people living along the Rhine River encouraging them to fast and plead for God’s protection from the invading crusaders (Chazan 225).
Many of the cultural interactions between Christian and Jewish communities were influenced by the similarities and differences in their religious ideologies. The notion that defeat is the result of sinful behavior and the lack of consistent reverence to God permeates Christian, Jewish, and Muslim texts, indicating that this ideology is a cultural similarity shared between all three major religious denominations during the Crusades. However, the idea of martyrdom took on different meanings amongst Jewish and Christian persons. In Christianity, martyrdom is generally thought of as giving up one’s life to an opposing force in a struggle to defend one’s faith. The Jewish notion of martyrdom in the Rhineland crusade texts is based on killing oneself and one’s family, rather than enduring death by the crusaders. The disturbing mass suicides undertaken in the name of God are equated with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Women are described slitting the throats of their children and infants even “slaughtered themselves for the sanctification of the [Divine] Name” (Chazan 232). The Jewish people considered death by their own hands to be like death by the hand of God, and it was preferred over death by the hands of crusaders. Christians also seemed to believe that conversion could be forced upon Jewish persons, while Jewish accounts, such as Mainz Anonymous, stressed that Jews forced into converting did not have a choice and thus, “did not desert their Creator” (Chazan 229).
Chronology of Events:
The crusaders first arrived in Cologne on April 12, 1096, but they forwent attacking the city for about a month. According to the Rabbi Eliezer Bar Nathan’s chronicle, the first attack on the Rhineland Jews occurred on the Sabbath, on the eighth day of Iyar, or May 3, in Speyer. The next attack occurred on the twenty-third day of Iyar, or May 18, in Worms, during which a bishop hid many Jews. Eight days later, the Christian crusaders gained entry into the bishop’s courtyard and the slaughter continued. On the third of Sivan, or May 27, during the new moon, Mainz came under attack and many Jewish persons took their own lives in God’s name. Sixty Jewish people were rescued by the bishop and transported to Rheingau, but the crusaders followed them and killed them. Next, the crusaders backtracked and attacked Cologne three days later, where the slaughter lasted from Pentecost until the eighth day of Tammuz. Mehr also came under attack on the seventh day of Tammuz. All of the attacks occurred in 1096, including massacres in the villages of Neuss, Wevelinghoven, and Xanten.
The following website is an additional resource for information on Christian-Jewish Relations in the First Crusade and subsequent crusades:
European Interactions during the First Crusade
Near the end of the 10th century, the Saxons, Vikings, and Hungarians officially adopted Christianity, resulting in the stabilization of Western Europe. However, there was much violence between the knights of Carolingian Empire, located in present day France and Germany. After the Empire’s collapse, these knights began fighting each other. Because of this violence, the Church developed the Peace and Truce of God, which established certain days of the year where the knights would not fight. While some popes disapproved of the violence in Europe, other popes justified the violence based on the argument that they were fighting enemies of the papacy.During this time, the papacy and the Roman Emperors became involved in what is known as the Investiture Controversy. This conflict refers to one of the most important instances of discussion of church versus state in Europe. During the 11th and 12th centuries, several popes made claims contesting the authority of European Monarchs. Specifically, there was disagreement over whether the pope or a monarch would have the ability to elect local church officials. A compromise was reached in 1122, with the Concordat of Worms, made by Henry V and Pope Calixtus II, which divided this power to both monarchs and the popes.
In the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches were in a schism. The Great Schism of 1054 referred to the separation of these two churches due to theological disputes and differing practices, such as which type of bread to use in the Eucharist. Though Pope Urban II never refers to this, it is possible that establishing power for the Roman Catholic Church may have been a goal of the Crusades. A majority of Anatolia had been taken over by the Seljuq Turks, however, a lack of unity among different warlords put Byzantium in a position of political weakness, leading to Pope Gregory VII calling for Crusaders to aid Byzantium, an order that was ultimately ignored because Byzantium’s defeat had little immediate significance on the empire, even though its defeat at Manzikert was a surprise for Byzantium.
Sunni-Shia Relations During Crusade Era
The death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 and the resulting schism in Islam had a tremendous influence on the political landscape of the pre-Crusades Middle East. At the onset of the Crusades, the two dominant Middle Eastern Islamic empires were the Shia Fatimids and the Sunni Seljuqs. The delicate balance of power between these two Islamic empires was destroyed when the Christian armies of the First Crusade swept southwards into the Holy Lands in the late 11th century, permanently altering the political landscape of the Middle East.
For further reading, go to “Middle East in 1095”
The Fatimid Caliphate
The Shia Fatimid Caliphate was a 10th to 12th century political and religious dynasty that, at its peak, held vast swaths of territory in North Africa and the Middle East. The Fatimids empire expanded eastward during the 10th century from their original territory in modern day Algeria and Tunisia. At their height in the 11th century, the Fatimids controlled modern day Palestine, Sicily, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, parts of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. With the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in 969, the empire became center in Cairo where the Caliph oversaw both political and religious affairs. The Fatimids controlled the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which gave the Caliphate a sense of prestige and honor that added to Sunni-Shia tension during this time.
The Seljuk Empire
The Sunni Seljuq Empire was an 11th to 14th century power composed primarily of ethnic Turks that was ruled over by a military family of the Ohuz Turkic tribe. The Seljuq Empire reached its height in the mid to late 11th century, when the empire included Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and Western Iran. The empire was based in Baghdad, where an intricate system of bureaucratic hierarchy was established to help rule over the empire’s vast lands.
Effects of the Crusade on Sunni-Shia Balance of Power
The First Crusade greatly altered the landscape of Middle Eastern empires, presenting a host of challenges for the Seljuq Empire and opportunities for expansion for the Fatimid Caliphate. As the Crusaders pushed south through Seljuq territory, the vast majority of the empire’s resources and attention was focused on the Christian invaders, leaving their southern territory susceptible to a Fatimid invasion. In February 1098, three years after Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade, Fatimid forces took control of Jerusalem from the Seljuqs. However, the Fatimid victory was short lived as Crusader forces sacked Jerusalem in 1099, massacring the Muslim and Jewish population and claiming the city for Christianity.
For further reading, please go to “Jerusalem in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”
Christian/Muslim Intercultural Relations
The relationship between Christians and Muslims during the crusading period (1095-1192 A.D.) is very complex and cannot be described as merely religious differences and left at that. Many factors affected the interactions between these two very different cultures and depending on the scenario, could lead to a truce being brokered between the two, or lead to war.
To say that the crusades were Christians against Muslims is a very shallow understanding of what was actually motivating the Crusaders. The first groups of people to assemble themselves and leave on crusade in 1096, mere months after Urban II’s speech calling for western aid to retake the East from the Muslims slaughtered thousands of Jews in Europe before even making it to the East, if they made it at all. This is due to the belief at the time that to be a good pilgrim and cleanse oneself in the eyes of God, wrongs done to God had to be avenged. When the Jews were blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus, they became an enemy of God, and thus fair game for the fanatic, war parties who followed individual, disorganized leaders focused more on plundering what they could in the name of God. This twisted sense of what Urban II wanted set the stage for the subsequent crusade missions after Edessa is taken by Muslims in 1144. The trouble with Urban II’s speech is that many fanatics took much of the reason for the call to arms and turned it into something that it was not intended to be; for example there are several accounts of Urban II’s speech at Clermont which change tone the further away from 1095 they are written. The version with the most emotionally stable language (known as the Gesta version) was written in 1100 by an anonymous crusader, however the author was almost certainly not present at the original speech. Possibly the closest recording of the speech was written by Robert of Rhimes in 1107, an uncomfortable amount of time between the speech and the writing of it, however Robert was probably present at Clermont and would have at least a basic idea of the tone of Urban’s speech even if the exact wording is probably inaccurate. Robert’s version focuses language on avenging wrongs done to God and describing the poor treatment of Christians in the East, saying “On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent if not upon you?” Giving a strong tie to the idea that led to the vicious treatment of Jews, however also pointing to the fact that the initial idea of the crusade mission was to help retake the East. This is the ideology that the Franks left Europe with and brought to the East for many generations throughout the Crusades.
The Muslim view on the onset of the Christian attacks were very different than what is usually spoken about (religion) when conversations about the Crusades arise. The East, particularly lands under Muslim control were very fragmented politically and constantly shifting who was allied with whom, for example, the Fatimid controlled Egypt was led by Shia Muslims, while more northern areas, especially in Anatolia, were under Sunni control. The Christian incursion was seen as a minor political issue, and the Christian forces themselves were seen as a new political gamepiece, not as a religious war-party, at least initially. Usama ibn Munqidh speaks of several truces brokered between various groups of Franks (generic term used by the Muslims to denote a westerner), most of which were broken at some point by one side or the other. But more than that, he also accounts hostilities between Muslim groups. The overall Muslim outlook on the crusaders changed with Nurradin and Saladin when they started looking at the Christian forces as an attack on Islam and the fighting became religiously fueled instead of simply political entities shifting from being allies to being enemies.
These ideological differences are what made the Christian/Muslim interactions so much more complex than most people think.
 Madden, Thomas. The New Concise History of the Crusades p.9 “Urban’s innovation was to emphasize the liberation of Palestine over the reconquest of Asia Minor and to tie it to the idea of pilgrimage.”
 See map of Near East
 Usama ibn Munqidh, The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades p.36 “We [Usama and group of Arabs he was traveling with] spent a miserable night, terrified of the Arabs there.”
Abramson, Henry. “Jews and the First Crusade: This Week in Jewish History by Dr. Henry Abramson.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 June 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05BoUSa3iG8>.
“Albert of Aachen on the Peasants’ Crusade.” The Crusades: A Reader. Ed. S. J. Allen and Emilie Amt. 2nd ed. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2014. 42-48. Print.
“Fatimid Dynasty.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.
“Fatimids in Egypt.” History of Islam. N.p., 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Madden, Thomas. A New Concise History of the Crusades. 2005.
Nathan, Eliezer Bar. “The Chronicles of Rabbi Eliezer Bar Nathan, “The Massacres of Jews by the First Crusaders” (1096).” Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations. N.p., 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <http://www.ccjr.us/dialogika-resources/primary-texts-from-the-history-of-the-relationship/257-bar-nathan>. [Excerpted from Shlomo Eidelberg, trans. and ed., The Jews and the Crusaders (KTAV, 1996), pp. 79-93.]
Real Crusades History. “The First Crusade – Episode 5: The Rhineland Massacre of the Jews, 1096.” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=219zAnN75lA>.
“Seljuq.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“The Hebrew First-Crusade Chronicles.” European Jewry and the First Crusade. Trans. Robert Chazan. Berkeley: U of California, 1987. 225-42. Print.
“The Islamic World Until 1600.” University of Calgary. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
“The Seljuk Turks against the First Crusade.” The Seljuk Turks against the First Crusade. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2016.
Usama ibn Munqidh, trans. Paul M. Cobb. Book of Contemplations: Islam and the Crusades. 2008