By: William Jackson
The Crusades conjure up images of knights clashing their swords against curved Muslim sabers. We see visions of shields adorn with crosses, a Holy quest, Nobel Kings with righteous Armies apposing dastardly enemies to Christ’s Kingdom on earth. These are the things legend are made from and fairy tales are written of. Yet, when we study it out, we are soon to discover that the motives of these Christian Soldiers were not as poise as is portrayed.
What ignited this Holy War? In 1095 CE it seems that the Roman Empire, which fostered Christianity, was divided between east and west. Not only were these two parts of the kingdom divided physically but the people were opposed to each other in commerce, politics and even Christian leadership. The Western Emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, sent word to the Pope in the east that his Empire was under threat by the Turks which were Muslim. Pope Urban II sent a call out rallying Christians to be part of a Crusade, the first Crusade. The intent was to eliminate the Turks and open the way to the Holy Land which was a priority to Christianity. You see, pilgrimages by Christians to Jerusalem had been important as far back as Constantine’s reign about 700 years earlier. Another motive behind the Crusades was that they would help to unify the churches in the east and west. These Crusades would go on for the next 175 years.
During this First Crusade, before the Crusading Army left for its destination, it practiced its violence on imagined heretics. This took the form of lethal antisemitism on the Jewish populace in both France and Germany1. The event has been historically called “the Rhineland massacres”. Some historians have even deemed it “the first Holocaust”2. It started in May of 1096. This would begin the wholesale slaughter of Jews. In Worms, Germany no fewer than 800 Jews were massacred for refusing baptism3. Other areas of the Rhineland experienced murder at the hands of the Crusaders with the highpoint being in Mainz, Germany where over 1,100 Jews were killed. Three years after this butchery in Europe, after Jerusalem was seized, Jews were burnt alive in their Synagogue in the Holy City by the Crusaders4. It didn’t end here, during the Second Crusade a French monk by the name of Radulph preached the message “that the Jews should be slain as the enemies of the Christian religion”5. This inspired the massacres of Jews in the Rhineland, Cologne, Mainz, Worms, and Speyer. These incidence of genocide go on with almost every Crusade.
In our current day we witness globally evil powers like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) torturing and killing all in the name of (their) god. At no point do we think that there will be a future date that their past should be forgotten. Like ISIS the Crusaders took God’s name in vain and through greed and violence committed despicable acts all in the name of their battle cry “God wills it”. Some might liken these Crusades to God calling the Israelites to war (Numbers 31:2, Deuteronomy 20:16–17, 1 Samuel 15:3,18, Joshua 4:13, Ecclesiastes 3:8) but there is a big difference here. Israel’s Army was controlled and inspired by the one true God and at certain points the Israelites were punished by God for doing wrong (Numbers 32:22-23, Joshua 7). Conversely, The Crusader Army was inspired by a pope. The pope in the catholic religion “represents Jesus Christ Himself”6. The idea that God willed this narcissistic evil through a human representative of the Christian messiah is outrageous.
Many of us who have left our Christian walk to get closer to Tanakh have been pressured and insulted by the Christian need to keep us in the fold. It’s like they abandon their own teachings (Matthew 7:12, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Romans 12:9) to attack those that are not like minded. As for me, as despicable and hypocritical as the Crusades were I definitely see that same mindset alive and well today.
- Norman Golb (1998). The Jews in Medieval Normandy: a social and intellectual history. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
- Riley-Smith, Jonathan (1991). The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. University of Pennsylvania
- Jim Bradbury (2004). The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 182.
- Brown, Michael L. Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the “Church” and the Jewish People. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 1992
- Gottheil, Richard; Joseph Jacobs. “The Crusades”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-02-
- Cardinal Sarto, as quoted in Publications of the Catholic Truth Society Volume 29 (Catholic Truth Society: 1896): 11.