Tag Archives: Middle Ages

“God’s Battalions”: A Corrective to Revisionist Crusades History

Crosses carved by pilgrims into a wall of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.  (Yair Talmor, Wikimedia Commons).
Crosses carved by pilgrims into a wall of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. (Yair Talmor, Wikimedia Commons).

“God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades” by Rodney Stark

“Muslims were [not] more brutal or less tolerant than were Christians or Jews, for it was a brutal and intolerant age. It is to say that efforts to portray Muslims as enlightened supporters of multiculturalism are at best ignorant.” (p 29)

In this reader-accessible but academic book, Professor Stark provides a very much needed corrective to the still accepted myths about the crusades into the Holy Land. Besides addressing the fallacies repeated as fact today (a few are given below), Stark presents a centuries-long history leading up to the crusades. Despite the reputation the Catholic Church earned over its handling of its Inquisition, at this earlier time violence was considered sinful. Even the killing of a criminal by a knight was deemed a bad thing. This may explain why Catholics didn’t respond sooner to centuries of mass murders and church destruction by Muslims in Palestine (see Moshe Gil, History of Palestine, 634-1099).

Fallacy 1: Crusaders were motivated by greed.

Fidelity 1: Piety and freeing the Holy Land, Jerusalem, were the crusaders’ motives. It must be understood that for some time Catholics believed that atonement for sins was gained through a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, for this is what their confessors told them. Obviously, this was spiritually very important to them and had nothing to do with wealth (in fact, pilgrimage was incredibly time-consuming, expensive, and dangerous). So when Pope Urban II announced that regaining Jerusalem would cleanse the liberators, it wasn’t an entirely new concept (becoming sin-free through violence was, however).

Fallacy 2: Muslims were tolerant and allowed conquered people to maintain their faith.

Fidelity 2: Depending on the time and area, conquered peoples were either (1) given the choice to convert to Islam or face death or enslavement, or (2) forced to pay heavy taxes, cease church or synagogue building, and never read scripture or pray aloud (even in their own homes).

More specifically relevant to the impetus for the crusades, and a definite show of Muslim intolerance, are the actions of the Turkish commander Atsiz. Sieging Jerusalem in 1071 or 1073, he promised the inhabitants safety if they relented. But when the city gates opened, “the Turkish troops were released to slaughter and pillage, and thousands died. Next, Atsiz’s troops murdered the populations of Ramla and Gaza, then Tyre and Jaffa” (p 97).

Fallacy 3: The crude European crusaders ruined the higher level culture of the Arab Muslims.

Fidelity 3: There are two related components of this fallacy that have been disproven but still remain in our culture. The first is that the Europeans were brutish children of the “Dark Ages.” As early as 1981 Encyclopedia Britannica refuted the long-held academic view that Europe even experienced a “Dark Ages.” On the contrary, this time period saw both the rise of agricultural

innovations that led to the biggest and strongest population ever, and many technological innovations that made the crusades possible.

Secondly, if you consider legitimate the claiming of conquered peoples’ knowledge as one’s own, then Islam “attained” high levels of it. Consider these very few examples: (1) “Arabic numerals” are Hindu; (2) Avicenna, considered the greatest of the Muslim philosopher-scientists, was Persian (this is true of many others, too); (3) Medical knowledge was from the Nestorian Christians. As conquerors, the Arabs made Arab names necessary and the Arab language mandatory for the intelligentsia.

Advertisements