Lord Byron once commented that “History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page.” This statement on the repetitive nature of history is particularly valid in the case of Jewish history. Throughout history, Jewish people have been persecuted and this post will discuss one of the lesser known instances of anti-Semitism; the Granada Massacre in 1066.
In the Medieval period, Christianity was the dominant European religion. Several factors contributed to Christian persecution of Jews, with one of the major justifications for anti-Semitism being the idea that the Jews had killed Jesus. The most famous persecutions of Jewish people in the Middle Ages are the pogroms which occurred during the Crusades and also the anti-Jewish backlash which was a result of the Black Death. The persecution of the Jews after the Black Death was due to the idea that Europe had fallen into sin due to the existence of Judaism; because it was not the true faith its existence was seen as wrong by God and therefore in the eyes of the Christian leaders of Europe it had to be eradicated.
At the time, Granada was part of the Caliphate of Cordoba, a Muslim empire which controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula. The city was multicultural with a mixture of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. The reason why a Muslim power controlled Spain was because of the request of a Christian prince called Julian who requested that Musa ibn Nusair (the governor of North Africa) come and help them overthrow Roderick. Roderick was the King of Spain, who ruled tyrannically. Nusair then responded by invading Spain with an army of seven thousand which promptly defeated Roderick and then continued to conquer the majority of the rest of Iberian Peninsula. This was a worry for the other Christian nations of Europe who feared that Islam would spread into the rest of Europe. The power vacuum left after Roderick’s defeat meant that the Muslim armies could easily consolidate their influence over Spain. It was not until 1492 that Christian control over the Peninsula was recovered with the seizure of Grenada from the Moors.
The cosmopolitan atmosphere in Granada was the cause of tension between the Jewish and the Muslim populations of the city. This led to the Muslim mob storming the palace in Granada and lynching Joseph ibn Naghrela. Naghrela was the vizier of the city and was particularly disliked by the Muslim population partially due to his religion and also probably due to the local influence he wielded which angered the local Muslim nobles. Naghrela was not the only victim of this anti-Jewish attack, many of the Jewish citizens of the city were killed.
The massacre of Granada was in no way the worst case of Anti-Semitism in Medieval Europe, however it is still significant as it can teach us a lot about inter-religious relations and how our ancestors thought not only about themselves but also about how they viewed other religious groups. Luckily, in our modern world we are more tolerant of different faiths and cultures but unfortunately tensions still exist and are going on at this moment. The conflicts between Israel and Palestine, the rise of ISIS in Syria and close to home, tensions between Irish Protestants and Catholics are sadly reminiscent of earlier conflicts between religious groups such as the Crusades, and even the Thirty Years War. When Lord Byron stated that History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page” he had no idea how this statement would still be valid even today, and unfortunately even though we are commemorating the great loss of life which occurred during World War One, various groups continue to misunderstand each other and therefore see conflict as the only way to solve their problems.
‘December 30: The Granada Massacre’, Jewish Currents, 10th August 2014, http://www.jewishcurrents.org
‘Muslim Spain (711-1492)’, BBC Religions, 10th August 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk