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On this day in 1189, King Philip of France, Emperor Frederick I of the Holy Roman Empire, and King Henry II of England -- soon to be succeeded by his son, Richard the Lionheart -- began assembling armies for the Third Crusade. Their goal, backed by Pope Gregory VIII, was to reconquer Palestine from Saladin, the Muslim leader who had taken Jerusalem two years earlier. Double-dealing and disease quickly dissolved the unity of the Christian kings, and the Third Crusade was fought to a draw within three years -- by which time the entire Jewish populations of Lynn, Norwich and Stamford had been wiped out and 150 besieged Jews in York had been driven to mass suicide. There were nine Crusades between 1095 and 1272, and various efforts to conquer the holy sites of Christianity continued right through the 18th century. The early Crusades, in particular, led to the murder of some ten thousand Western European Jews and thousands more in the Middle East -- along with hundreds of thousands of Muslims.
“The blood libel — the belief that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzoh at Passover — first surfaced in England in 1191, when Richard Lionheart took the cross . . . The image of the Jew as the child-slayer revealed an almost Oedipal Christian fear of the parent faith. When Hitler started his modern crusade against European Jewry, the ground had been prepared by a millennium of Christian anti-Semitism.” —Karen Armstrong
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.