Mireille Issa, Oriental Communities in the Western Histography of the Crusade

This study, adopting the western point of view, has the triple aim: to describe cosmopolitanism in the Middle East before and after the Crusades historically, geographically and anthropologically Confident in the critical exploration of Latin and Vernacular chronicles; those of the first generation with Foucher de Chartres, Albert d’Aix and Guillaume de Tyr as a main source, and those of their successors and later authors, the purpose of this study is to examine the Oriental, Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities individually. Applied to half a millennium of history, this examination allows a diagnosis of the evolution of the physical state as well as community politics and religious ideas. It also shows that this medieval Orient is hardly a synchrony stuck in history because, between the ninth and sixteenth centuries, a whole process was rigorously recorded in the rereading of different testimonies, journeys and stories about pilgrimages. 

The book is divided into three parts respectively corresponding to the three monotheistic religions and gives Muslims, Christians and Jews an almost equal attention. Islam is reproduced in its two branches, Sunnism and Shi’ism, with the split taken out in light of the evolution of the followers of Ali, mainly represented by the Fatimid regime in Egypt, and the Sunnis pride of some great figures, especially the Ayyubid Salahuddin, since his rise until his great victory of Hattin in 1187. The study on Mahomedians examines the states of cities under Muslim domination in, mainly, Tripoli, Beirut, Tyr, Alexandria and Jerusalem, which were lost in a fierce fight against the Latin conqueror. It shows, from the anthropological point of view, the multiple etymological presumptions of the Saracen expression, and sheds light on the states of certain minorities such as the Assassins, and those rarely mentioned as Druze, without neglecting ethnic factions, such as Turcoman and Bedouins. In the same way, the study treats a variety of beliefs, some of which are unusual; for instance, conversion, the attempt of conversion, as well as the unique sensitivity of baptism among Muslims. Finally, it noted that all prejudice towards the Muslim faithful is the result of a psychological internalization of the medieval West that is struggling in its faltering economies, and which willingly sees Muslims not sons of the region, but rather, a usurper of an originally Christian space, the Holy City, the center of the world. 

Christians seem to be the issue of a political-military enterprise wearing western eschatology, stirring the zeal of freeing the Holy Land from the persecuting Muslim tutelage. During two centuries, a strong Latin sovereignty arose in major liberated coastal cities. However, these cities did not last for a long time before falling again under the power of the Crescent. The fall of these cities, especially Jerusalem, had decisive repercussions on the viability of the Latin Kingdom. On the other hand, even though chronicles tend to showcase Western Christians in less good terms with Muslims than indigenous Christians, they did not spare the indigenous and accused all the faithful of the Oriental Church of heresy. A great part of onomastics is unambiguous. In fact, as Saracen comes from dissimilar etymologies, Syrian ethnology is subject to repository vacillation that can identify Christians in general prior to taking the precise meaning of Melkite. However in the texts, generic Christians embrace a wide range of community and racial affiliations: the Armenians engage with the Latins in military cooperation relations tarnished by disagreements; Jacobites profess in their solemnities with a separate liturgy; Nestorians are fundamentally opposed to the Latin dogmas in the contestation of the humanity of the Christ; Maronites are taken in by an inaccurate Western vision mistaking monotheism and monophysitism; Gregorians oscillate between Byzantine obedience and the desire to be affiliated to the Roman Church; Greeks are serious antagonists because of a triple conflict: the imperial title, power and dogma. Certainly, our study does not omit atypical, Western or Eastern, Christian categories, such as the Christians of the Belt, the Indians and the Colts. Even if they are a secular source has an adherence to the superstition of the witch, as Christians worship Mary, some beliefs individualize the faithful. 

As for the Jews, sometimes instigators and other times victims, overwhelmed by the myth of historical deicide, they seem to be subject to harsh reprisals. The study, which could not separate history, geography and anthropology given the lack of material, examines them through the nostalgic view of the late Hebrew pilgrims. Described as having a greater harmony with Muslims than with Christians, Jews scattered throughout the centuries on the geographical map, extending from Spain to Mesopotamia, discovered, in the thirteenth century, a curious religious cohesion that cements the respect of the founding biblical ancestors and the tombs of prophets, as well as the attachment to the Temple of Salomon, despite the community subdivisions into Essenes, Sadducees and Samaritans. 

In total, Oriental communities in the Western historiography of the Crusade means practicing a modest openness in the medieval concept of otherness, through examining the life of communities in need of coexistence on a well stirred map. With a glossary and a triple index, such as auxiliary tools for reading, the researcher denounces a narrow ideological point of view expressed on what is considered the precursor event of a clash of cultures in modern times.
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