Thursday, November 30, 2006

Spain's Golden Age 'lasted longer under Christians'

Writing in the New English Review Norman Berdichevsky claims that 'Golden Age' medieval Spain was more tolerant and lasted longer under Christian than Muslim rule.

The term “Golden Age” of Muslim Spain most correctly applies to a relatively short period from the eighth to the mid-eleventh century and is even more accurate when applied to the Christian North of the country for a period of more than three hundred years. (1050-1390).(...)

It is noteworthy that the most successful Christian rulers during the greatest advances made in the Christian re-conquest were also the most tolerant. Their kingdoms derived particular benefit from the active cooperation and participation of their Jewish communities. Alfonso VI, known as "The Brave" (1072-1090) appointed a Jewish minister and treasurer. The “philosopher king” Alfonso X (1252-1284) collaborated on many projects with Jewish scholars and translators and proclaimed them as valuable citizens, specifically forbidding the use of force to bring about conversions to Christianity. Jaime I, the conqueror of Valencia, was an enlightened king who promoted his Jewish subjects to positions of prestige and influence. As a sign of special favor, he offered a distinct part of the town for Jewish residence in 1239 at their own request.

Under Muslim rule, especially following the arrival of the Almoravids and the Almohades, both Christianity and Judaism were scarcely tolerated and regarded as decidedly “inferior” religions. Their adherents were either forced at sword point to convert or paid exorbitant tribute to remain “protected peoples” (dhimmis), who possessed a divinely inspired book of revelation. They had to pay a “head tax” from which Muslims were exempt. The Jews, being more literate and whose Hebrew closely resembled Arabic, felt much more able to adapt to the new State at once and began to specialize in those activities and professions that Arabs regarded as “beneath them” (especially trade and tax collecting), administration, or onerous and “defiling” (working with leather).

The arts, sciences, technology, literature, architecture, navigation, mapmaking, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and art that flourished in Medieval Spain are often credited to Islam but this is a distortion of the role played by adherents of all three religions. The United Visigothic kingdom of Spain prior to the Muslim invasions had inherited five centuries of Roman civilization and had made use of the achievements of the Greeks and earlier Carthaginians as well as the Assyrians in agriculture, irrigation, mathematics, time keeping, the calender, mining, architecture, road building, mosaic art, pottery, jewelry, law and civic responsibility. The Muslim conquerors who arrived in 711 had inherited these same arts and sciences on their path of conquest across the Byzantine empire, the Near East and Christian-Roman North Africa. Christian and Jewish artisans and scholars made major contributions enabling the Muslim conquerors to make use of these achievements. The Schools of Translation established in Granada and Toledo by Muslim and Christian rulers respectively relied heavily on Jewish scholarship.

Read article in full

No comments: