Between Official and Private Dispute: The Case of Christian Spain and Provence in the Late Middle Ages

Christian and Jewish disputesBetween Official and Private Dispute: The Case of Christian Spain and Provence in the Late Middle Ages

Ram Ben-Shalom

AJS Review: Vol. 27, No. 1 (Apr., 2003), pp. 23-71


Literary and historical evidence of religious disputes that took place between Jews and Christians during the Middle Ages exists in a varietyof sources. Hebrew manuscripts and Latin documents concerning such encounters survive from the disputations that were held in Paris (1240), Barcelona (1263), and Tortosa (1413- 1414). Some of these were written by participants themselves after the events described. Some were produced by Christian authors as protocols, either during or after the disputations. Significant discrepancies concerning the same disputeare to be found between the Christian and Jewish accounts.’ Other material on this subject exists in the literature of the Christian Adversus Iudaeos (dating from late antiquity and the early Middle Ages) and in the Jewish polemical literature (dating from the twelfth century). Pioneer studies have also recently appeared using the records of the Spanish Inquisition,in which much evidence was found concerning such disputes.


Amos Funkenstein made an important preliminary classification of Christian arguments used in the Middle Ages against the Jews. His distinction between the “old polemic” and various types of “new polemic”was accepted by scholars,who never the less made distinctions or took issue over questions of periodization and of the aims and identity of the groups and institutions that adopted the new polemic. Jeremy Cohen formulated a complementary classification presenting four categories of Jewish argument against Christianity, showing that at each stage Jewish figures responded to new tactics adopted by their Christian opponents and that they themselves adopted Christian methods in order, in turn, to attack Christianity.

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