Three Myths about the Crusades – a review

The Lord be with you

RobinsonI just finished reading an article titled “Three Myths about the Crusades: What They Mean for Christian Witness” in the Winter 2016 (volume 42, number 1) issue of Concordia Journal. This journal is published by Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. The author is Paul Robinson who is an associate professor of historical theology and dean of the faculty at Concordia Seminary.

He begins with the difficulty historians have had in even giving a good working definition of a Crusade, followed by the definition he uses in the article. The three myths he address are, 1: The crusaders were motivated by land, power, and wealth rather than by religion; 2. The Crusades were wars of conversion; and 3. The Crusades initiated conflict between the West and the Muslim world that continued uninterrupted to the present.

I probably hear the third myth the most, though I’ve heard all three. Robinson writes concerning the third myth, in part:

Both the West and the Muslim world have received a narrative about the Crusades that has little to do with the distant past but is nevertheless used to fuel the conflicts of the present. We often hear, for example, that people in the Muslim world still carry a grudge against the Western powers as a result of their suffering during the Crusades. We might accept that statement without questioning it, thinking that people in that part of the world certainly have suffered greatly, no doubt remember that suffering, and act accordingly. It should seem odd to us, however, that people would carry a grudge for centuries over a war that they won. It is often forgotten in modern rhetoric surrounding the Crusades that the crusaders lost! They were driven out of the lands they had conquered in 1291. In the following centuries, the Ottoman Turks finally conquered what remained of the Byzantine Empire and threatened Europe, besieging Vienna in 1529 and 1683, though without taking that city.

The current state of distrust and enmity between East and West is of much more recent origin than the Crusades. Renowned Crusade historian Jonathan Riley-Smith argues in The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam that imperialism and colonialism, not the Crusades, are responsible for the innate Muslim suspicion of everything Western. …

If that quote doesn’t peak your interest, you just are not interested in the Crusades and how a skewed historical narrative can drive conflict today.

In his end notes Robinson provides references to contemporary books written by top Crusader scholars that, not only go into more detail concerning the three topics he covers but also addresses other myths. I would say the time I spent reading this short ten page article was well spent. You can view a copy of this journal on line and read the article yourself by clicking on the link below.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert