The Crusades: Just War or Just War? Part 2

Happy New Year!

In my last post, I began to lay out the historical background for and description of the Crusades. This is a continuation of the same.

Although there has been a popular misconception of how tolerant Muslims are of people of other faiths living within conquered territories. As Stark describes it:

In principle, as “People of the Book,” Jews and Christians were supposed to be tolerated and permitted to follow their faiths. But only under quite repressive conditions: death was (and remains) the fate of anyone who converted to either faith. Nor could any new churches or synagogues be built. Jews and Christians also were prohibited from praying or reading their scriptures aloud—not even in their homes or in churches or synagogues—lest Muslims accidentally hear them.[1]

 

This is in addition to they way Jews and Christians were treated as second-class citizens. Nevertheless, these conditions were tolerable compared to what came with Seljuk Turk conquest.

While the cries of “God wills it!” may have been a response to the reports of what was happening in Palestine, the call for the First Crusade were not. Pope Gregory VII planned to call for the crusade in order to assist the Byzantine Emperor with the defense of Constantinople and the recovery of Byzantine territory from the Seljuk Turks. Byzantines had good reason to fear conquest by the Turks. In 1064 the Turks laid siege to the Armenian capital, Ani. Hoping to spare the inhabitants, the city surrendered. Stark relates the account of “an Arab historian Sibt ibn al-Gawzi (d. 1256), who claimed to be quoting an eyewitness: ‘The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it…The dead bodies were so many that they blocked all the streets.’”[2] Likely aware of these events, those who heard of the Turks treatment of holy sites and pilgrims in Palestine would have been credible. Rather than a “mandate to destroy the infidel in the Holy Land,” the First Crusade was a call to repel a vicious invader from the Byzantine Empire, and to liberate Jerusalem from an oppressive conqueror.

Haught’s article continues,

Gathering crusaders in Germany first fell upon “the infidel among us,” Jews in the Rhine valley, thousands of whom were dragged from their homes or hiding places and hacked to death or burned alive. Then the religious legions plundered their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem, where they killed virtually every inhabitant, “purifying” the symbolic city. Cleric Raymond of Aguilers wrote: “In the temple of Solomon, one rode in blood up to the knees and even to the horses’ bridles, by the just and marvelous judgment of God.[3]

 

Madden relates the Rhine Valley incidents:

The most infamous of the anti-Jewish crusade leaders was Count Emicho of Leiningen. On a rather pronounced detour, he and his followers marched down the Rhine plundering and massacring Jews in the cities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. Some local bishops did their best to protect the Jews, but many were killed all the same. In Mainz, Emicho’s men stormed the palace of the bishop, where the Jews had taken refuge.[4]

 

On these accounts, it would seem that the crusader armies went on an anti-Semitic rampage on the way to Palestine, which met with token resistance from local bishops. What really happened, however, is that three small groups of Germanic knights began to attack Jews. Principal among these was Emicho of Leiningen. In each of the cities mentioned in Madden’s account, the local bishop tried to shelter the Jews with mixed results. Volkmar and Gottshalk committed similar attacks. All three groups were destroyed when they tried to repeat this pattern in Hungary.[5]

As for the “religious legions plunder(ing) their way 2,000 miles to Jerusalem,” they must have been incredibly inept at plundering. As Stark tells us, “Large numbers of the poor noncombatants with the crusaders actually starved to death.”[6] (This incident was in the context of the siege of Antioch.)

Haught’s complaint that the crusaders “killed virtually every inhabitant, ‘purifying’ the symbolic city” needs to be examined in its historic context. As Stark explains

…the commonly applied “rule of war” concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing the attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.[7]

Stark also argues that “no sensible person will believe Raymond of Aguilers’s report that “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.” In fairness, however, it does seem odd for a churchman to exult in bloodshed like this. In a similar, Haught claims, “As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux declared in launching the Second Crusade: ‘The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified.’”[8] This case is a mixture of fact and fiction. Bernard did not say this in relation to the Second Crusade, but he did say it. Such a statement is incompatible with Christianity. Ezekiel 33:11 says “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

In spite of the documented rationale for the Crusades, which was one of defense of territory and the protection of pilgrims, there is still a popular notion that it was a war of one religion against another. I have argued above that this was the case for the Muslim, but it is not clear this was the case for Christianity. This is not to say there were no Christians who joined the crusades in order to fight Islam. There may have been an anti-Muslim attitude among a majority of crusaders. The goal of the crusades, however, was not the defeat of Islam, but the liberation of Christian territories. Nevertheless, Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells argue:

The crusade was, at least at its inception, the war of Christendom against the Muslims. With the Crusades, the Christian attitude toward the Muslims began to differ from Christian attitudes toward other known peoples. What distinguished the Christian attitude toward the Muslims was its fundamentally antagonistic nature.[9]

It is ironic to note that no mention is made here of the jihad that had been waged by various Muslim groups since Mohammed, particularly the invasions which the crusades were called to repel. That being said, it is popular in today’s culture to read any critique of a system, such as Islam, as an “attack” on the adherents. (Unless of course the system is Christianity, in which case it is fair game.) In his treatise On War Against the Turk, Luther is quite clear in his comments that it is Islam that the Christian ought to oppose in his disposition, and the invading Turk that must be opposed militarily.

[1] Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: the Case for the Crusades, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 39.

 

[2] Ibid., 104

[3] Haught.

 

[4] Madden, 18.

 

[5] Stark, 138

[6] Stark, 159-160.

 

[7] Ibid., 168

 

[8] Haught.

[9] Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells, The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 206.

Author: apologeticsminion

Daniel has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. He is married and has four grown children. Professionally, Daniel is a sign language interpreter.

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