Beyond ‘History and Memory’. Traces of Jewish Historiography in the Middle Ages

Beyond ‘History and Memory’. Traces of Jewish Historiography in the Middle Ages

By Johannes Heil

Medieval Jewish Studies, Vol. 1 (2007/8)

Abstract: “Beyond ‘History and Memory’” pursues the discussion about Jewish historiographical thinking in the Middle Ages and challenges the assumption that there was almost no Jewish historiography between Flavius Josephus and Isaak M. Jost, especially deliberately historical work (Momigliano, Neusner). Following the paths explored by Bonfil, Funkenstein and Yerushalmi, the author argues that the lack of medieval Jewish historiography is rather the result of losses than of a distinctly a-historical mindset. Though no comprehensive medieval Jewish chronicle is extant, and most probably no such work was ever written, a closer look shows that medieval Jews deployed various forms of historiographical practices which served specific apologetic, affirmative and identificational needs. These practices reflected in one way or other the minority situation of pre-modern Jews, who countered the narratives and the teachings of the other side with their own stories. To illustrate what he understands as “interlinear” and “participatory” forms of historiography, the author deploys a broad spectrum of examples of medieval Jewish texts. He also argues that some Jewish historiographical pieces, when they served the narrative needs of the other side, found their way into the work of Christian Latin chroniclers such as Thiertmar of Merseburg or Dalimil.

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