Ambivalent Vilence: Josephus Rationalist Evangelism, Rationalist Evangelism, and Defining the Human in the Siege of Jerusalem
The fourteenth-century alliterative Siege of Jerusalem has been cited for its unabashed anti-Judaism by some critics while others have argued that it is ethically nuanced and ambivalent toward its Jews. This essay argues that the Siege should be read in the context of high medieval Aristotelianism and the late medieval intellectual culture it engendered. The essay considers the rationalist mode of definition in which opposites such as black and white define one another and in which parts and wholes are mutually constituent of one another. The article then examines interactions between characters, especially the Jewish general Josephus and the Roman generals Titus and Vespasian, as well as between the poem and its sources in order to situate the Siege within the dialectical and related logical traditions. These include so-called rationalist evangelism that at once provides support for vitriolic anti-Judaism and sharp criticism of the same. The Siege is also engaged in the rationalist project of seeking to define the parameters for inclusion in the human community. The essay concludes that the Siege‘s ambivalence toward its Jews and the resulting breadth of critical treatments are effects to be expected of the poem’s investment in dialecticism and related rationalist modes of definition. The Siege of Jerusalem is more heavily invested in the interdependence of religious adversaries than in the eradication of Christianity’s religious others.
Yearbook of Langland Studies, 28 (2014), 137-72.