Texts and the ambiguities of knowledge in Piers Plowman
This chapter, by Kath Stevenson, explains that traditions of Christian knowledge are an abiding preoccupation for William Langland in Piers Plowman, with Langland exploring fundamental questions about the pre-eminence or otherwise of abstract learning, textually mediated and transmitted (‘clergie’), over experiential knowledge (‘kynde knowynge’) and about the role of learning in Christian salvation. What good is knowledge? In an age of abstruse academic discourse, in which Langland himself was deeply versed, Langland’s protagonist Will searches urgently for the knowledge that is truly valuable, that is, the knowledge that will enable him to save his soul. Stevenson locates Langland’s ambivalence concerning the efficacy of textually mediated learning within the wider contexts of vernacular theology in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and in particular shows Langland’s treatment of the Passion in the central passus of his poem to be informed by the developing traditions of affective piety. For Langland the Passion can function as a site in which textual and experiential knowledge are united, with abstract intellectual knowledge becoming transfigured as it is fused with ‘kynde knowynge’.
In this study, the various aspects of the way the Jews regarded themselves in the context of the lapse into another religion will be researched fully for the first time. We will attempt to understand whether they regarded the issue of conversion with self-confidence or with suspicion, whether their attitude was based on a clear theological position or on doubt and the coping with the problem as part of the process of socialization will be fully analysed. In this way, we will better understand how the Jews saw their own identity whilst living as a minority among the Christian majority, whose own self-confidence was constantly becoming stronger from the 10th to the 14th century until they eventually ousted the Jews completely from the places they lived in, England, France and large parts of Germany. This aspect of Jewish self-identification, written by a person who converted to Christianity, can help clarify a number of
The attitude to women who convert to Christianity was different from the attitude described above, and extremely complex. There are almost no descriptions of women converting voluntarily. On the other hand there are discussions concerning women who were forced to convert. The discussion that we perceive as a Halakhic discussion is in fact an intellectual discussion that is particularly special.
It is impossible to understand the question of the attitude to converts to Christianity without examining the attitude to Christians who converted to Judaism. This attitude is the mirror image of the attitude to converts from Judaism. In the same way that converts to Christianity were rejected and members of Jewish communities would try to distance themselves from them, so they would try to become close with and appreciate converts to Judaism.
This chapter compares the attitude to those leaving their faith in the Hellenistic world (the Period of the Mishna), with the attitude to those leaving their faith in the Period of the Gemara when the non-Jewish world in Europe was primarily pagan.
This chapter will describe the attitude to converts to Christianity during the First Crusade when conversion was forced on the Jews by the Crusaders and when the threat of death was very real should they not succumb to the demand. Some Jews managed to flee, others were converted forcibly while some died as martyrs and others put themselves and their children to death in order not to be forcibly converted. The attitude now became that of seeing all converts as having been forcibly converted though it was still not clear how one reconciles the desire that many had to accept the forced convert back into the faith with the normative ideal expressed by the action of the martyrs.
The Jew who remained a Jew was obliged to define his attitude towards the Jew who converted to Christianity, and indeed this had to be done in many spheres. The halakhah had laid down in principle the decision that a Jew who converted to Christianity was still, despite everything, a brother and a Jew, but this decision was eroded over time. The Rabbinic authorities were being asked Halakhic questions such as: is a convert regarded as a dead person or not? What happens in the case of the wife of a convert who remains Jewish? Can a convert bequeath or inherit possessions? Is the wine he produces “the wine of non-Jews” (that Jews were forbidden to drink)? What is the law applying to those who converted to Christianity and later returned to Judaism? Can they be trusted? Do they have to undergo immersion, like converts to Judaism?
This chapter looks at the struggle of the Jews in dealing with the Christian success in conquering the Land of Israel from the Muslims and establishing the Land of Israel , the land to which the Jews were theologically due to return, as a Christian kingdom. This Christian theological success created a crisis among the Jews that brought about the phenomenon of voluntary conversion to Christianity seen clearly, for example, in the autobiography of Yehuda Herman, a Jewish apostate, and at the same time a Jewish polemic reaction directed against Christians and against Jewish converts to Christianity.