Tag Archives: crusades

“Thou shalt not kill” vs. “Thou shalt not murder”

When I lecture on the First Crusade in my courses at Florida State College at Jacksonville, I occasionally get a question from one of my students along the lines of “How could Christians do this?”

They ask because, as modern Christians with a post-Enlightenment understanding of their faith, they find the idea of God- or Jesus more specifically- supporting warfare to be troubling. Such students tend to associate New Testament Christianity with peace as Jesus himself famously called on others to turn the other cheek when confronted with violence. Often, in such cases, students will often cite the biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) as a proof-text supporting their assumptions that medieval Christians who participated in the crusades simply did not understand the Bible.

I find I often have to restrain myself a bit when I respond. Not because I am upset with the student, of course, but because I feel tempted to cover too much in my response. There are a number of assumptions here that are either demonstrably false or (at the least) highly debatable, but among the most significant, perhaps, is the idea that Exodus 20:13 represents a biblical injunction against “killing.” There are two major problems with this assumption. Continue reading

President Obama, ISIS, and the Crusades

Since President Obama’s controversial speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb 5th, during which he compared the medieval crusades (as a form of religious extremism) with the religious extremism of modern terrorist groups like the ISIS, crusades historians have been busy writing a number of pieces that address the issue. Medieval historian Dan Franke has given a comprehensive overview (with links) of the various debates that have taken place. I’d suggest that those unfamiliar with these arguments and discussions start by reading his overview provided here.

Although a bit late to the party, I have also offered my two-cents on the issue in an guest column published by the Florida Times-Union. See Guest Column: Crusades were a Reaction to Islamic Militarism– Florida Times-Union.

A selection from that column is provided below.

——————-

“Significantly, it was in large part because of a period of heightened threat to Christians in the East during the late 11th Century that the First Crusade was called, as Muslim armies had recently conquered much of once Christian Anatolia.

For more than 20 years, Byzantine emperors had been requesting (and sometimes pleading for) military aid from Western Christians until they finally received it in the form of the First Crusade as called by Pope Urban II in 1095.

As retired Cambridge University historian Jonathan Riley-Smith once noted, “The denigrators of the crusades stress their brutality and savagery, which cannot be denied; but they offer no explanation other than the stupidity, barbarism and intolerance of the crusaders, on whom it has become conventional to lay most blame. Yet the original justification for crusading was Muslim aggression…”

This brings us back to Obama’s comments. I found them problematic for reasons cited by Riley-Smith.

The president told critics of modern Islamic violence to get off their “high horse” by citing the crusades as an example of similar Christian violence. Paradoxically the crusades were largely the product of medieval Islamic violence.”

——————-

Edit: Dan Franke continues to keep us updated on the current debate taking place online and in print. Here he links to the most recent articles, including my own, and even an online discussion I had the other night with two medieval historians, David Perry and Paul Halsall, about some of these issues. See Dan’s addendum here and my exchange (on David Perry’s website) with David and Paul here.

ISIS and the Medieval Spoils System: The Fate of Captured Women

I don’t know Arabic, but assuming the translations that accompany this widely reported on video of ISIS (or “Islamic State”) soldiers laughing and joking as they wait to receive their share of captured Yazidi slave girls are accurate, then it is deeply disturbing. Around 19 seconds into the clip, one smiling soldier exclaims, “By Allah, man, I am looking for one to get me a girl.” At this, other soldiers in the room laugh and another declares for the camera, “Today is the female sex slave market day, which has been ordained.” The video is available on YouTube here.

Beyond the revulsion one feels for their cavalier attitude toward the enslavement and sexual abuse of children, a crime that fits well with a long list of documented atrocities committed by members of ISIS, I was struck (as a medieval historian) by how well such rhetoric seems to match a twelfth-century Arabic source for the crusading era. Continue reading