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Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages Paperback – August 24, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0691139319 ISBN-10: 0691139318

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691139318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691139319
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Jews in the medieval Muslim world faced much less violence and persecution than the Jews of European Christendom, concludes Cohen in this dense, highly rewarding comparative study. Under Islam, he writes, Jews, though considered infidels and subjected to humiliations and recurrent violence, nevertheless occupied a recognized, safeguarded niche within the social hierarchy, enabling them to achieve high status in commerce, medicine, the arts and government service. By contrast, Jews of the Christian world were marginalized and excluded from the prevailing society in the Middle Ages; theological hatred and deeply ingrained anti-Jewish feelings led to massacres, restrictions on Jews' movements and expulsions from towns and countries. Cohen, a Princeton professor of Near Eastern Studies, includes excerpts from period documents, letters, sermons, tracts and histories to buttress his edifying comparative analysis of Jews' legal position, economic activity, response to persecution and interreligious polemics under Islam and Christianity.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Did medieval Jews enjoy peace and security while living in an interfaith utopia under the crescent of Islam but experience hostility and persecution under the cross of Christianity? In this important comparative history study, Cohen (Near Eastern studies, Princeton Univ.) sketches the social, political, and economic status of Jews in Christian and Muslim theology, law, and social practice from the beginning of the common era to Spain's expulsion of the Jews in 1492. He shows that while European Jews were first marginalized and then expelled from the social order, under Islam Jews participated fully in commercial and professional activities. Islamic culture gave the merchant great respect; Christianity did not. While much of this is known to specialists, Cohen advances our knowledge through a fine treatment of the huge literature and the application of social anthropological theory. Scholars will welcome the sound synthesis; general readers will appreciate the lucid style. For research and general collections.
Bennett D. Hill, Georgetown Univ., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Yaakov Ben Shalom on January 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Cohen's book provides a good comparison of the situation of Jews living in Muslim and Christian lands in the Middle Ages. What makes his comparison particularly interesting is the wide range of arenas to which his applies his comparison. After a survey of the historic-theological and legal backgrounds to Christian treatment of Jews and Islamic treatment of Jews, there is a series of discrete chapters on a variety of overlapping aspects of social intercourse. These include economic relations, urbanization, social relations, inter-religious dialogue and dispute, and collective memory.

Cohen's analysis is scholarly, dispassionate, and generally apolitical (unlike some of the reviews of his book!). Moreover, with the exception of an introductory chapter to situate the book in modern debates, Cohen limits his examination to the Middle Ages. So, those readers who complain that he ignores trends in modern (since 1750s) or early modern (1500s-1700s) Christianity and Islam are missing the point. I would certainly recommend this book to an educated lay reader or for classroom use.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By goodmusicman on February 13, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mark Cohen's comparative study of the status of Jews under Christendom and Islam during the Middle Ages is the most sophisticated, nuanced, meticulous, and persuasively-argued study of its kind. The extremely negative customer review on this page betrays the bias of its author. Citing from Bat Ye'or to demonstrate that the Jewish position in Islam has always been wretched is an exercise in futility. Bat Ye'or is anti-Muslim to an extreme. She thanks "Judeo-Christian" values for the positive treatment Jews currently receive at the hands of the post-Holocaust Western world. As if the previous 1800 years of expulsions, libels, massacres, burnings at the stake, forced conversions, and genocidal attacks pursued in various periods by elements (i.e. states or populaces) loyal to the Catholic Church, the various Eastern Orthodox Churches and, in its first two hundred years, the Protestant Churches as well, never occurred or are somehow irrelevant. It was rather the separation of church and state that resulted from the 18th century Enlightenment that allowed for the fair treatment Jews currently experience in Western countries, although that too must be modified by the brutal pogroms in Russia in which thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were slaughtered, as well as the Holocaust perpetrated by European Christians, some of whom (such as in Croatia) were religious, though most were not.

When thousands of Jews across Europe were being burned alive on the streets during the Black Plague (1348 and further), Jews in Muslim lands were able to live and practice their religion, without fear that the local Muslim populations would associate them with the devil and kill them on the basis of outlandish libels.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Librarian on November 4, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mark Cohen's scholarly book not only documents the fact that Jews living in Muslim lands fared better than Jews living in Christian lands in the Middle Ages. It also documents the reasons that Jews did so much better in Muslim lands than they did in Christian lands.

Cohen's analysis is scholarly, dispassionate, and generally apolitical (unlike some of the reviews of his book!). It is sad that so many Americans are historic revisionists and attempt to claim that the Muslims of the Middle East have ALWAYS been anti-Semitic or (even stranger) try to pretend that the pogroms and Jewish ghettos and anti-Jewish laws of Christian Europe never happened. Mark Cohen is a scholar and an expert on Near Eastern studies and should be treated with much more respect than the talking heads on Fox "news" Channel who attempt to spread history revisionism like the myth that "the Muslims and the Jews have always been at war with each other". I would certainly recommend this book to an educated lay reader or for classroom use.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. King on September 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
An interesting and scholarly read on the large scale socio-political relationship of Jews in the middle ages. Cohen holds that whereas animosity towards Jews in Christian countries was directed specifically and theologically towards Jews, in the case of the Muslim world Jews generally enjoyed (or suffered) similar treatment to other other dhimmi groups, usually Christians.

Chapter 1 compares modern mythologies. The first is that of the shiny happy dhimmi who was both protected and prospered under Islam. Cohen argues that this originated from 19th century Jews hoping to challenge Christian societies to support political emancipation. This gets picked up in 20th century polemics as a statement that Jews and Muslims co-existed as brothers until the advent of modern Zionism.

The contrasting myth is that Jews were always second class citizens, victims of a specific intolerance. This serves to give a deeper rational for 20th century Arab and Iranian antisemitism and (a conjecture which I found interesting, but arguable) is sometimes used to raise the status of (or level of empathy towards) Oriental Jews with respect to the narrative of Ashkenazic of pogroms and the Holocaust.

Chapter 2 looks at the theological bases for conflict. The Christian vision as the "New Israel" begged the Augustian question that if Christianity replaced Judaism, why were the Jews still around. Islam instead had the doctrine of tarif - that Jews had falsified parts of their Torah and were in error and might still come around. In Christians Muslims had a more numerous competition to deal with than Jews.

Chapters 3 and 4:.
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