*This following post is adapted from an older 2005 blog post on my now defunct crusades-encyclopedia website and needs, eventually, further updating.
Few films have caused as much of a stir among crusades historians and students as Kingdom of Heaven. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and although it was not released until 2005, various commentaries and criticisms by those who had been given access to the film’s script began appearing in the press several months in advance.
The film focused on the crusading movement in the Levant in the years shortly before the calling of the Third Crusade [c. 1187]. The highlight of the film is Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem and the events leading up to the capture of the city from the crusaders. Viewers are guided through both historical and fictional events from the perspective of the film’s main character, the historical Balian of Ibelin.
While some Muslim groups ultimately expressed praise for the film, many crusades historians did not. The traditional battle between scholarly and popular views of the crusades flared as a result, with some prominent scholars denouncing the director’s claim to historical reliability. Consequently, judging by the nature of most news stories released during and after the production of the movie, the debate over the film’s depiction of historical events became, perhaps, a bigger story than the release of the film. Continue reading
Karen Armstrong is a former nun who writes broadly on political and religious issues including the crusades and Islam. As a well known critic of modern western attitudes towards Islam, Armstrong has often sought to draw attention to what she sees as historical injustices carried out by westerners in the East. She lists the crusades among these injustices. For example, in her work, Islam: A Short History, she writes:
It was, for example, during the Crusades, when it was Christians who had instigated a series of brutal holy wars against the Muslim world, that Islam was described by the learned scholar-monks of Europe as an inherently violent and intolerant faith, which had only been able to establish itself by the sword. The myth of the supposed fanatical intolerance of Islam has become one of the received ideas of the West. [pp. 179-180]
Of all of those currently writing on the crusades, her work is probably among the most popular and well known to the general public. In my case, I have had history students who have read her books in other settings come to me confused about apparent contradictions between what they were learning in my class and what they read in her book. I also once had a member of the general public, after reading a guest column I once wrote for the Florida Times Union, email me for the same reason, seeking clarification. The reason for these contradictions is because I have been trained as a medieval historian and work within the current dominant historiography of the crusades, much of which is decidedly at odds with some of the claims Armstrong makes in her works.