The Dialogues against the Jews of Petru Alfonsi and a culture of awareness in twelfth-century Iberia

Harari, Hedda, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Osheim, Duane, Department of History, University of Virginia

Excerpt from authors introduction:

In my thesis, I wish to concentrate on Petrus Alfonsi (1062?-1140s?), a twelfth century Jewish convert to Christianity, and his post-conversion text Dialogi contra Iudaeos (Dialogues against the Jews). Although this text expressed objections toward Judaism and Islam, I believe that it reflects, to some degree, a culture of intellectual exchange and mutual awareness. Alfonsi's work highlights the exchange of knowledge and ideas and the existence of religious diversity within Iberia in the early twelfth century. I will first show how Latin Christendom conceived of Judaism and other cultures prior to the twelfth century. Next, I will trace religious, commercial, and political changes in Europe and new patterns of anti-Jewish polemics that developed along with and following the First Crusade. I will then move to Alfonsi and his Dialogi, and to theologians who incorporated Alfonsi's techniques. Following Alfonsi's view on Judiasm and Jews, I will discuss in depth the one chapter of his Dialogi that discusses Islam and Muslims. Alfonsi was the first Western scholar to portray Islam in a more accurate light. To contextualize this specific dialogue, I will also explore Western attitudes toward Islam and Muslims in Iberia and elsewhere in Europe. I will conclude my paper with a short analysis of the work that gave Alfonsi his contemporary popularity, the Disciplina Clericalis, a collection of morality tales for the clergy. In this works, as in the Dialogi, Alfonsi owes a great debt to his Jewish upbringing, especially knowledge of the Talmud as well as his knowledge in Arab language and culture. By the mid-thirteenth century, French King Louis IX and Pope Innocent IV publicly supported the burning of the Talmud. As Anna Sapir Abulafia asks, "What was it about Judaism that animated so much thought and emotion within Christendom?"

MA (Master of Arts)
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