Missions and Expansion
Written by: Marc A. Krell
On the other hand, medieval Ashkenazic Jews created their own hagiographies as if to reclaim the power of the passion narrative for themselves. One such fictional narrative about Rabbi Amnon of Mainz expresses the ambivalence of many Jews toward conversion to Christianity. After repeated attempts by a local bishop to convert him, Rabbi Amnon asked the bishop for three days to decide. Unwilling to give the Christians a religious victory on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he decided to become a Jewish martyr and his body was dismembered. Before he died, he composed a piyyut or liturgical poem. Just as Jesus instructed his disciples to spread his gospel three days after the crucifixion, Rabbi Amnon appeared three days after his death before the leader of the Mainz community and told him to publically distribute the prayer he wrote. In this way, the medieval Ashkenazic Jewish community emerged victorious over Christianity by supplanting their Messiah with another Jewish Christ-figure experiencing redemptive suffering, whose teachings would live on after his death.
These dueling Jewish and Christian counter-narratives demonstrate the degree of attraction each community had for the other's sacred motifs, while at the same time using them as weapons against the other. Like the Sephardic Jews in Muslim and later Christian Iberia, the Ashkenazic Jews engaged in a type of cultural adaptation that was part of a larger strategy of resistance in which they constructed their identities by actively negotiating the ideas of the majority culture and adjusting them to fit their ever-changing circumstances.
1. Why was assimilation essential to Judaism's survival?
2. How were political events associated with Islam closely linked to the spread of Judaism?
3. Describe the relationship between commerce and Judaism's spread.
4. Who was Rabbi Amnon? What did he contribute to Judaism's spread?