‘You say that the Messiah has come.’:The Ceuta Disputation (1179) and its place in the Christian anti-Jewish polemics of the high middle ages

‘You say that the Messiah has come.’:The Ceuta Disputation (1179) and its place in the Christian anti-Jewish polemics of the high middle ages

Soifer, Maya (History Department, Princeton University)

Journal of Medieval History, Volume 31, Issue 3, (2005)


This article suggests that the ‘Disputation of Ceuta’ provides a link between the Christian-Jewish polemical discourse of the twelfth century, produced largely for internal consumption, and the active missionising of the thirteenth century. Having purportedly taken place in the North African port of Ceuta between a Christian merchant from Genoa anda Jew from Ceuta at the time of Almohad rule (1179), the disputation displays the signs of a major shift in the Christian contra Judaeos strategies. Unlike other twelfth-century works of this genre, which address a variety of points central to Jewish-Christian debate, the Ceuta Disputation is remarkably consistent in its emphasis on one particular issue that of thecoming of the Messiah. The messianic content of this disputation thus foreshadows the central thrust of the thirteenth-century Dominican mission to the Jews, which finds its fullestexpression at the Barcelona Disputation of 1263. The article explains the prominence of thistheme in the period by suggesting that the extraordinary emphasis on the Messiah in the Ceuta

Disputation could be the result of the Christian protagonist’s meeting with the North African Jew face-to-face and discovering that the Messianic promise was a subject of considerableinterest for his opponent. More importantly, regardless of whether the discussion in Ceuta hador had not taken place, the new Christian attitude towards anti-Jewish polemics expressed inthe Disputation’s text was most likely inspired by real-life discussions between Jews andChristians.

Click here to read this article from Journal of Medieval History

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