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Urban ll, in an impassioned speech before thousands of people in Clermont,
France, on November 27, 1095, called upon all true Christians to free the holy
land from the Muslim infidels, who had invaded it centuries before. Christian
pilgrims were not able to visit holy sites, including the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre, the most sacred of all shrines. This sparked a period of violent
conflict between the Christian Europeans and the Muslims of the Middle East.
Thousands of knights, serfs, peasants, and even a few kings sewed the sign of
the cross on the front of their tunics, hung it on their shields, and went to
war for Jesus Christ. The Jews, without a country, found themselves caught in
THE HOLY WARS
The First Crusade
The First Crusade began at Clermont, France. The knights (surprisingly few in
number) were accompanied by mobs of farmers, shopkeepers, and other fortune
seekers as they left France on their way to Germany and then the holy land.
Throughout Europe, there were many towns and cities with prosperous Jewish
communities; some had been there for hundreds of years. The sight of these
wealthy communities ignited a fire of hatred among the Crusaders. Why should the
"killers of Christ" be allowed to live in peace and good fortune at home while
the soldiers of the cross traveled across Europe to their probable deaths? The
leaders of the Crusade promised they would avenge the crucifixion in blood.
Though some of the clergy who were among the Crusaders tried to prevent the
massacre, the size of the mob and its frenzy were unstoppable. In Speyer, Worms,
Mainz, Cologne, and a host of other German cities, the slaughter began. Men and
women, young and old, it didn't matter?they were all brutally killed. Synagogues
filled with Jews seeking safety from the mobs were locked and ignited. The
people inside were burned alive. Hundreds were offered a choice: convert or be
killed. Almost all remained faithful to their beliefs. Many committed suicide as
the knights and the unruly mob came into their towns. All across Europe, one
massacre followed another. Few of these thousands of victims put up any
resistance to the soldiers of the cross. The Crusades had been launched in
The slaughter did not stop in Europe. It continued wherever the Crusaders
went, occasionally including Orthodox Christians who had the misfortune to dress
or look like Muslims. Tens of thousands of Muslims were also killed.
Finally, the Crusaders reached Jerusalem, and on July 15, 1099, they captured
it. A terrible massacre ensued, with few Jews or Muslims surviving. Those who
did were sold into slavery. The streets were red with blood. Christianity had
earned a reputation that would last a long time. It was not the military
campaign or the ruthless treatment of the Muslim soldiers that gave Christianity
its negative image. It was the treatment of civilians, particularly women and
children. All this was done under the sign of the cross and in the name of
The slaughter of the local populace left few people to work the farms and run
the local economy. The knights built their great European-style castles on high
hills, far from roads and even water, and they soon became places of refuge and
escape. Eventually, they became prisons. Having traveled thousands of miles to
win the holy land and the infidels to God's truth, the European conquerors had
no gospel to offer their subjects. The Crusaders never understood the land, and
their isolated fortresses made them irrelevant to its people. Jesus would not
have recognized these soldiers who came to spread his kingdom. For they knew
little of the methods He taught and the way of sacrifice he walked.
The Second Crusade
The Second Crusade was not much different from the first. In 1144, an
itinerant monk began traveling around Europe urging soldiers to destroy the
Jewish communities of Germany to avenge Jesus' crucifixion. Though a brave few
raised their voices against this madness, it happened anyway. Though probably
less extensive than the First Crusade, the slaughter of innocent people in
Jesus' name only added to the horrible legacy of the Crusades.
The Third Crusade
Spared the horrors of the first two Crusades, the Jewish communities in
England were not so fortunate when the third one began. Jews in York, Lynn,
Norwich, Stamford, and other towns were massacred. Thus England, too, joined the
roster of countries whose Christian armies distinguished themselves in their
brutality against the "infidels," even if they were Jewish and citizens. The
slaughter continued for nearly 200 years.
The Shepherds' Crusade
The Crusades formally ended in 1291 with the loss of the holy land. But a few
years later, European Jews were subjected to the "Shepherds' Crusade." Nearly
40,000, mostly teenage "Crusaders" pillaged, killed, and burned their way south
across Europe. Some sources indicate 150 communities of Jews were exterminated
by these soldiers of the cross.
ORIGIN OF THE HATRED
The New Testament recorded bitter disagreement between some in the Jewish
community and early Christians. The opposition seems to have come primarily from
the Sadducees and certain groups of Pharisees. The struggle was a real one, over
significant beliefs, but the disciples and apostles continued to seek to
persuade Jewish people to follow Jesus (Rom.
12), just as Jesus himself had done.
It was long after New Testament times when Christians began to blame all Jews
for rejecting and crucifying Jesus. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple,
a fate that caused Jesus to weep (Luke
19:41?44), was triumphantly held up as God's revelation of the curse against
his former people. Church fathers like Augustine and Justin Martyr taught that
the Jews were now eternally cursed by God. Soon regular sermons were preached on
the Christian holy days of Good Friday and Easter, blaming the Jews for Jesus'
death. Little was said about the Roman soldiers who actually crucified him. The
fact that Jesus went willingly to his death and that he went because of the sins
of those who now condemned the Jews was mentioned even less. Constantine, the
first Christian emperor, passed many anti Jewish laws. Popes like Gregory Vll
forbade interaction between Jews and Christians, and barred Jews from holding
office. Jews were the enemies of God. Forced conversions and baptisms became
In spite of this oppression, the Jewish communities survived and flourished.
That only increased the resentment and abuse the Jewish people received. Local
violence flared occasionally, and entire communities were wiped out over the
rumor that Jews were guilty of blood libel for stealing the "Host" from the mass
and profaning it to renew Jesus' suffering. Jews were also accused of killing
Christian children so their blood could be used to make unleavened bread for
Passover. Such charges, insane to us, were widely believed, though not a single
example has ever been shown to have actually happened. But it didn't matter.
Thousands of innocent Jewish people died at the hands of their "Christian"
The Crusades simply expanded what had regularly occurred on a smaller scale.
Now Muslims were included as well. But the bloodshed did not end with the
Crusades. Jewish property was routinely seized for hundreds of years. The
Inquisition, from the 1100s through the 1500s, brutally destroyed entire
communities of Jews and tortured thousands of innocent people. In 1298, over
100,000 Jews were killed in Germany alone. Two thousand were burned in
Strasbourg. Thousands were forced to convert in Spain. Three hundred thousand
Jews were expelled from Spain the year Columbus discovered America. Martin
Luther wrote "Against Jews and Their Lies," a strident treatise condemning Jews
forever to the flames of hell. The persecution continued in Russia, Poland,
Hungary, and the Ukraine. Still the Jewish communities flourished.
Then came the Holocaust, the child of the beast.
There were certainly godly Crusaders. And good things did come from some of
the Crusades. But the greatest legacy was the reputation the Crusaders earned
for Christianity. To non-Christians, Europe was a Christian monolith. To them,
what Europeans did was what Christianity stood for. That's the way whole
civilizations judged the Crusades. Only recently have formal steps been taken to
renounce this part of our history. The Roman Catholic Church's Second Vatican
Council affirmed the Jewish roots of Christianity and repudiated collective
Jewish guilt for Jesus' death. The Lutheran Church in the United States recently
voted to repudiate the teachings of Martin Luther that are anti-Semitic. Many
individual Christians have awakened to the devastating effects the Crusades have
had on non-Christians' views of Jesus and his teachings. Many are rediscovering
the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Unfortunately, many of us are still ignorant of how far removed the soldiers
of the cross were from the methods and teachings of Jesus. The One who said,
"Love your enemies, love one another, and put away your sword," became the One
in whose name unspeakable violence was committed.
Because Christians hold crusades and sing from Crusader hymnals, many people
still believe we support Crusader ideals. We must correct this
misinterpretation. If we are to become true followers of Jesus, we must commit
ourselves totally to following him and his ways, renouncing the ideals and
methods of the "soldiers of the cross."