Publicador de contenidos

Back to 2017_09_14_opinion_ICS_benjamin_de_tudela

Anna Katarzyna Dulska, Ph.D. in History and researcher at Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra

Benjamín de Tudela, a testimony of coexistence between cultures

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:30:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

In an increasingly globalized world, relations between different cultures and religions are intensifying. challenge Such diversity is one of the greatest riches we have, but at the same time it is a great challenge for both the States and their migration policies, as well as for all of us who encounter the Other on a daily basis.

Moreover, recent cases of violence with religious undertones revive the question of the fragility of the coexistence of people of different beliefs within the same society. However, the dilemmas we are facing are nothing new. We are fortunate to have the testimony of a 12th century Navarrese traveler who, in addition to describing distant lands and cultures, tells us sample that peaceful coexistence is possible, as long as it is based on consensus.

Benjamin, son of Jonah, was born around 1130 in Tudela. He obtained a solid Education in the Torah and its interpretation (Halacha) and apparently spoke several languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Spanish, Latin). Both his training and character derived from a special, though pragmatic coexistence or coexistence of the three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) that by necessity flourished at that time in the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. It was probably his broad intellectual horizons and eagerness to know the world and, above all, the status of his brothers in faith in distant lands that drove his long journey through Europe and the Middle East.

Between 1161 and 1173 Benjamin traveled by land and sea over a considerable part of the then known world. His pathway took him through Saragossa, Catalonia, the French coast, Italy, Greece, Constantinople, the Aegean islands, Cyprus, the Anatolian coast, the Crusader states (Principality of Antioch, County of Tripoli and Kingdom of Jerusalem, which for him were no more and no less than the biblical land of Israel), Syria, the caliphate of Baghdad, Persia, Fatimid Egypt, Sicily and probably Germany and France.

In all the places he visited he noted things that caught his attention, demonstrating a wide range of interests: nature, history, peoples and their cultures and traditions, monuments, politics, Economics and commerce. Although it is true that his account lacks the literary values of, for example, framework Polo, the information he provides in a very succinct but clear and precise way was very valuable for his contemporaries (for many of them reading Benjamin's memoirs was the only way to know the world beyond their homeland), and it still is for us.

However, having personally observed the daily life of other Jews in the Middle East, the greatest value of Benjamin's work consists of leaving a testimony on the relations between them and the "host" societies: Byzantine, Frankish and Muslim during very turbulent times, in the midst of the Crusades. Apart from the importance that Benjamin's contributions have had for historians when studying the different aspects of the Middle Ages, his account speaks to us of a highly topical issue: the insertion of minorities in society.

Minorities of any subject, whether ethnic, national or religious, constitute a social group to a lesser or greater extent differentiated from the majority and as such face a harrowing experience of being outsiders among outsiders. They are outsiders to the host society, but at the same time the host society is an outsider to them. The relationships between the two are shaped in a long and continuous process of reciprocal perceptions, acceptances and rejections.

According to another traveler, the Pole Ryszard Kapuscinski, there are three ways of interrelating with the Other: through war, walls or dialogue. The Jewish Diaspora exemplifies this meeting, for throughout history Jews have had to find their place in different societies while these societies have had to learn to live with them, with better or worse result. In his book, the traveler from Tudela described the case of the Middle Eastern diaspora between the first and second Crusades. Although things were to change substantially shortly thereafter, Benjamin experienced all three types of meeting: from violence based on stereotypes, through certain legal restrictions that made daily life difficult and deepened differences, to a series of economic and commercial privileges that fostered the prosperity of the Jewish communities.

As Benjamin makes us understand it, it was dialogue - albeit mutually pragmatic and somewhat distanced - that prevailed. To everyone's benefit.