The Medieval Review 98.10.05


Linder, Amnon, ed., The Jews in the Legal Sources of the Early Middle Ages. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998. Pp. 717. $65.00. ISBN 0-814-32403-7.

Reviewed by Andrew Scheil, University of Hartford, scheil@worldnet.att.net

Amnon Linder has provided a valuable work of scholarship with his The Jews in the Legal Sources of the Early Middle Ages (hereafter abbreviated as JLSEMA). This comprehensive edition and translation of Jewry law from the fifth to the twelfth century is a useful resource for anyone interested in Jewish life in the early middle ages. A long-awaited second volume to Linder's earlier The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation (Detroit and Jerusalem, 1987),[[1]] JLSEMA presents 142 sources of various types broken down into five divisions: Byzantine texts (twenty-eight sources), western secular texts (twenty-five sources), and three types of ecclesiastical sources: papal decretals (nine), conciliar canons (forty-one; further subdivided into ecumenical and regional councils), and canonical collections (thirty-nine). Linder acknowledges in his introduction that the sources he collects here represent only the formal literate records of Jewry law; customary law pertaining to Jews, transmitted by oral tradition, is generally lost "and the historian is obliged to turn to much later written records or to non-legal evidence in any attempt to gain some knowledge of this type of legal activity" (p. 14). Thus JLSEMA must be used in tandem with other texts and traditions to provide an accurate picture of Jewish life and Christian attitudes toward Jews in the early middle ages. In his collection, Linder aims for "comprehensiveness rather than selectivity" (p. 16), including a broad definition of "legal sources": "A legal text, therefore, was any text considered as such [during the period], whether secular or ecclesiastical, of private or public origin, regardless of the classical format or content criteria" (p. 18). JLSEMA collects all the relevant published material on Jews in print (but often found in editions difficult to obtain), "supplemented . . . with certain texts still unpublished, known from manuscript versions only" (16). It would have been helpful if Linder had noted at this point exactly which manuscript sources he has edited here for the first time: the reader must scan the bibliographical apparatus to find these newly-published texts.[[2]] Linder provides an authoritative introduction to each of his sources, with excellent concise summaries of manuscript distribution, influence, historical context, and any particular problems in using the text. He includes very brief bibliographic annotation for each, intended as "basic pointers for a more extensive bibliographic search" (18). Linder breaks down his 142 sources into 1,016 consecutively numbered, smaller "text units." Each text unit includes a detailed bibliographic reference to the original printed source, the original incipit, rubric, and inscription in translation. Linder then prints the Greek or Latin text of the particular source (and, in one case, Arabic: see text units 309-311), often correcting the earlier printed edition. He also gives an accurate English translation of each text. The organization and layout of the volume, while retaining the same basic parameters of The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation, seems easier to use, with footnotes instead of endnotes for each source, and a cleaner, more readable typeface.

In order to maximize the usefulness of the collection, Linder has provided a generous context for each specific citation of Jews within his sources. Some text units are thus concise (only a sentence or two), and some are large (often several pages). Linder has "aimed . . . at presenting complete original texts, to the extent that the nature of the documents demanded and common sense allowed" (17). Although Linder's good common sense is certainly to be trusted, there of course remains a certain degree of artificiality involved in extracting this variety of material bearing on Jews from its original context and binding it together between two covers. As meticulous and generous as Linder is, scholars might still wish to consider the broader context of the text units within their own particular sources before making certain types of conclusions. However, collecting these texts together in one convenient volume allows for a powerful concentration of study, rendering broad trends and common concerns easily visible. There is ample evidence here for the standard conclusion that Jews were afforded a measure of political/legal protection absent in the later middle ages (e.g. text units 82, 158, 436, 595, 717, and many others). Linder also includes an extremely useful series of indices: Greek incipits, Latin incipits, persons, places, subjects. The index of subjects reveals a number of recurring points of contention, many of which are well- established areas of inquiry in the study of Jewish-Christian relationships in the middle ages: baptism, conversion, heresy/heretics, holidays (Christian and Jewish), circumcision, intermarriage, property rights, prohibitions and proselytism, rights, slaves, synagogues, taxes, violence, etc. There is fascinating material here for historians, but JLSEMA constitutes an important resource for anyone concerned with the fabric of medieval culture. To take only one example, Christian prohibitions against intermarriage, the sharing of food, bathing with Jews, and accepting medical treatment from Jews (see index of subjects: "Marriage and sexual relations, Christians with Jews," and "Prohibitions on Christians in relationship with non-orthodox") open a window into early medieval cultural taboos of miscegenation and the body that will be of interest to a variety of disciplines.

The text is meticulously edited, with very few errors: the dustjacket reads "in one of the main sources," a misprint for "is one of the main sources;" p. 383 "whose body found grave in the church" should presumably read "whose body found the grave in the church;" p. 389 "Let all learn from their example to keep to king fidelity" should read more idiomatically as "Let all learn from their example to keep fidelity to the king."

Amnon Linder's long-delayed collection will be an invaluable resource for every library collection, and for any scholar working on Jewish-Christian relationships in the middle ages.

NOTES:

[[1]] Linder explains that "I completed this book in 1987. Various circumstances delayed its publication, but I have been able to update it to 1992 and make use of new studies and critical editions published in the interval" (p. 18). (return to text)

[[2]] Even after such a search it can still be difficult to discern which sources Linder consulted in manuscript. Apparently, these include Hrabanus Maurus, Penitentiale II, (To Heribald) (source 125, text units 1125-1127), and Ivo of Chartres, Panormia (source 141, text units 1229- 1238).(return to text)

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