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Destruction or Conversion: Intention and Reaction, Crusaders and Jews, in 1096

David Malkiel
Jewish History
Vol. 15, No. 3 (2001), pp. 257-280
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20101451
Page Count: 24
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Destruction or Conversion: Intention and Reaction, Crusaders and Jews, in 1096
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Abstract

The argument has long been made that Jews who took their lives during the massacres of the First Crusade in 1096 did so after choosing death over baptism. However, the texts, especially those relating to events in the Rhineland, the site of the greatest violence, do not support the argument. Both Jewish and Christian authors, if anything, suggest that an option to become baptized existed, if at all, only after the first, and deadly, assaults, whose principal driving force was mayhem. Moreover, the option of accepting baptism is principally, if not always, discussed in a personal context, of an individual or a family beseeched, most often by Christians the Jews already know, to convert. These episodes also follow, literarily, a prior massacre. Whether the texts reflect a real historical sequence of events may be impossible to say; they are extraordinarily complex and always edited, often well after the events, each with its own viewpoint that takes priority over simple chronography. Yet in no case does baptism take priority over mayhem. The long-standing counter-thesis of "choice" must be reconsidered.

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