King John, the Dark Ages, oh my…

Posted: January 16, 2010 in Crusades, medieval history, Middle Ages

So, Bad King John’s castle/palace at Kings Clipstone has been repaired…Good-o. Medieval News and have more details:

Here’s an interesting, and fairly recent, article, by Rabbi Avi Shafran, critiquing aspects of the BBC’s The Crescent and the Cross. In some respects he has a point, since casting the wars for control of Jerusalem in terms of “ownership” will strike modern ears with a very particular significance, and will only assist interested parties in highjacking the historical narrative for their own ends (yes, yes, I know, who doesn’t do that, but that’s not the point). The point is that by subtly portraying the Jewish presence in the Levant as fairly recent, the BBC is giving fodder to current political/moral debates.

On the other hand, to put the crusades in context, in 1095 any Jewish presence in and/or claims to the Holy Land were a non-factor. Neither the Frankish armies, nor the Byzantines, nor the Fatamids, nor the Seljuks gave much thought to the Jewish communities, unless it was to persecute them (the Franks, naturally, being the worst offenders here). Rabbi Shafran says, “And so, an ignorant but attentive student of the BBC will conclude from the network’s history lesson that Jerusalem is sacred to Christians and Muslims, and that adherents of the two faiths have fought over it for centuries” That “ignorant but attentive student” would be broadly correct in those conclusions. His next sentence, concerning the consequences of portraying the Jewish presence as a recent phenomenon, is more on point, but the fact of the matter is that, for both Gregory VIII and Saladin in 1188, the issues had nothing to do with the Jewish faith, since they would have agreed that Judaism had been superseded centuries earlier. The larger lesson here, I suppose, is that historians do not work in a vacuum, and, especially with a subject like the crusades, we need to consider the consequences of our words and works…

Now, HERE is the mother-load of badly written, pompous, slick, condescending, twisted, bulls*** attempts to write a “smart” bit of popular “history.” So much wrong with Rob Kezelis’ analysis here that I can hardly begin to analyze it. And I’m not talking about the modern political commentary, only the medieval “facts” he claims to be presenting. Worse than William Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire, just when I thought that wasn’t possible…And the absurdity of trying to use Charlemagne’s situation as a historical comparison with President Obama should be patent to anyone who knows anything about medieval history. Ugh…well, I’ll come back to this piece of nonsense later. (Pardon my anger, but this is really an affront to everything I believe is valuable, honorable, and worthy in the historical profession. I’ll probably be told I’m over-reacting.)

And I wonder sometimes where my students get some of their ideas about the past…

  1. Austronaught says:

    That is some absolutely horrible history, not to mention substandard writing. As for President Obama as Charlemagne, it’s as bad, if not worse than, the lamentably more common comparison of the Crusades to the war on terror.

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