November Update

Sadly not much I am doing at the moment is very apt to put it on the blog: I have two articles under construction with upcoming deadlines, so most of my time and energy goes there.

I did manage to update the post on the Templar of Tyre with a short section on the manuscript and its edition history if you want to risk another look (just after the halloumi picture).

When I get stuck with my articles, I do some reading on the role and status of French in Outremer or on Acre as a cultural centre. Here is some recommended reading I have really enjoyed on these topics:

  • The French of Outremer, ed. by Laura Morreale and Nicholas Paul (Fordham Series in Medieval Studies), Fordham University Press: New York 2018.

This volume brings together several interesting contributions to the topic. I found the introduction (pp. 1-13) by Morreale and Paul and the first article by Laura Minervini „What we know and don’t yet know about Outremer French“ (pp. 15-29) particularly helpful.

Fordham University also has a project focussed on the French of Outremer. On their website you can find some very instructive short essays, which make for an excellent introduction, but also long lists of all the sources written in French in the Holy Land.

  • Cyril Aslanov, „Crusaders’ Old French“ in Research on Old French: The State of the Art (Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 88), Springer: Heidelberg/New York 2013, pp. 207-220.

A linguistic deep dive into the formation and the morphology of „Outremer French“. Rich with examples and utterly fascinating, but sometimes so dense it becomes difficult to follow, in particular if you have to look up Old French words all. the. time.

Langues d'oïl Walter.svg
Le français dans tous les sens, Henriette Walter, 1988, p. 149

Some key take-aways from my reading:

  1. Old French, Francine, the Romance vernacular spoken in the Île-de-France and Paris at the time, became the lingua franca of the Latin Crusader states. We knew that but now I can state it with greater confidence!
  2. The French spoken in Outremer through a process of koineisation emerged basically as another Langue d’oïl koiné parallel to Francine in Europe. Linguistically it seems to have been most closely related to the French spoken in the Northeast of the French language continuum: Picard, Walloon, Lotharingian, and perhaps Burgundian. This is not surprising since this is where the leaders of the First Crusade mainly came from and from where many nobles emigrated to the Holy Land, once the crusader states had been established.
  3. In the Levant French came into close contact with other Romance vernaculars like Occitan (in Tripolis, which was dominated by langue d’Oc-speaking conquerors from what is now southern France), Norman (in Antioch, which was dominated by Norman conquerors from Southern Italy), and the various Italo-Romance dialects (in the coastal cities and later on Cyprus, mainly from Venice, Genoa, and Pisa). This led to a process of re-romanisation of the French spoken in the Holy Land, while French-French was surrounded mostly by Western Germanic languages and, as Aslanov puts it, „deeply [g]ermanized“.
  4. There where several, usually one-sided, transfer processes of lexical material between French and the languages it came into contact with in the East. While Greek and Armenian took on French terms, French proved impervious to them. The other way round, French, that is Outremer French of course, did take on several Arabic terms, while Arabic did not adopt any French terms (with some prominent exceptions usually tied to the specific contexts of the crusades, like the Frankish words famously used by the Syrian knight and diplomat Usama ibn Munqidh in his Kitab al-I’tibar [كتاب الاعتبار‎, The Book of Learning by Example])
  5. Outremer French was used in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and later of Cyprus for purposes that would have been reserved for Latin in Europe: legal texts, treatises, and charters, coins, seals, and inscriptions. In particular when dealing with non-Latin-speakers, the crusaders often resorted to French as the language of diplomacy and „international relations“.
  6. The use of French in the Levant was highly innovative and productive. John of Antioch (NOT that one) wrote one of the earliest reflections on French grammar in French and the scriptorium in Acre produced breathtaking manuscripts of French texts like the famous Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César.
  7. A possible reason for the great success of the French vernacular in the Levant might have been the contact with the Greek and Arabic-speaking world, where the functional diglossia of the Latin West did not exist.

Currently I am reading this:

  • Jonathan Rubin, Learning in a Crusader City, Intellectual Activity and Intercultural Exchanges in Acre, 1191–1291 (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought), CUP: Cambridge 2018.

I am only halfway through this intriguing exploration of Acre as a centre of intellectual activity in the 13th century, but so far it is a very immersive and sometimes eye-opening read.

Before I wrap this up, let me share with you my discovery of the month: there is a Hebrew lament about the fall of Acre in 1291!

In it, a certain Yosef ben Tanhum Yerushalmi, a Jewish poet living in Mamluk Cairo (!), combines the lament for a personal loss, the death of his father, the highly-regarded scholar Tanhum ben Yosef Yerushalmi, with the lament for a political catastrophe, the destruction of Acre. Yosef starts his dirge by temporally and causally connecting the passing of his father and „the arrival of the news about the massacre of all the scholars living in Acre, together with their entire families, upon the conquest of the city by the Muslims“.

Some context: during the 13th century an influential, well-connected, and prosperous Jewish community had developed in Acre. It was particularly highly-regarded for the learnedness of its scholars. This community was destroyed when the Mamluks captured Acre. This destruction is also corroborated by Rabbi Isaac of Acre who escaped to Spain and later recalled the burning of the synagogue in Acre.

Yosef’s poem is rich with biblical imagery and deeply embedded in the Hebrew elegiac tradition, which of course is founded on the Book of Lamentations (אֵיכָה‎, Êykhôh in Hebrew and as part of the Ketuvim part of the Hebrew Bible). As such the text is heavily shaped by conventional motifs and poetic elements. It does not really offer an account of the events or even of what exactly happened to the Jews of Acre, but the language of lamentation shines brilliantly.

Woe! For blood was shed in God’s house, and their blood is easily worth gold of Parvayim.

It was a very bitter tragedy in the eyes of everyone who heard of it, like the day of the destruction of Jerusalem.

A noble community was killed because of their love for God, while they were stretching out their hands to Him in supplication.

Judeo-Arabic Heading and Hebrew Poem (on the Basis of Manuscript EVR II, A 100/1, fol. 16a–b, National Library of Russia), ll. 18-20

The parallelisation with the fall of Jerusalem and the effect, which the news of this event has, as it spreads, is of course striking. References to the destruction of Jerusalem are often many-layered. Shades of the Neo-Babylonian capture under Nebuchadnezzar II in the early 6th century BCE mingle with the catastrophic sack of the city by the Romans in 70 CE and of course the bloody conquest by the crusaders in 1099 as the culmination of the First Crusade. In the tradition of the Hebrew elegy, the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple is the ultimate political catastrophe and the worthiest cause for lamentation. In Yosef’s elegy this context is evoked to elevate the memory of his father and to emphasise his status as a man of wisdom and knowledge.

That the Jews of Acre were killed „because of their love for God“ and during prayer, turns the dead of Acre into martyr-scholars and posits the poem in the long tradition of Jewish martyrdom tales. The martyrdom of the Jewish scholars is elevated by the connection to the destruction of Jerusalem and in turn their martyrdom elevates the status of the place in which they were killed, since their blood is as valuable as the gold of Parvayim, the finest gold imaginable used by King Solomon to decorate his temple in Jerusalem [2. Chron 3:6]. The relationship between the falls of Jerusalem and Acre is mutually enforcing and elevating as causes for lamentation of the highest poetical order.

I am not sure why, but it is tremendously exciting to find this beautiful and deeply moving lament for (not only but also) Acre in a non-Latin/Christian/Western/European context.

All of this has been made available to the grateful non-Hebrew speaking/reading reader in this article:

  • Joachim J. M. S. Yeshaya, „A Hebrew Elegy by Yosef ben Tanhum Yerushalmi on the Death of his Father and the Mamluk Conquest of Acre“, in Frankfurter Judaistische Beiträge 39 (2014), pp. 33-52.

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