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Did the Bishop Run Away?

The Sunday Times reports on an objection to Ridley Scott’s new film about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven:

Many of the resulting reviews have been poor. Bob Waliszewski, director of Plugged In Film Review, a programme heard on 300 US radio stations, said the film depicted Christians as “mean-spirited”, while Saladin, the Muslim leader, was shown as a chivalrous knight.

“The Bishop of Jerusalem is a coward who deserts his flock, and most of the crusaders are driven by greed rather than piety,” he said. “This is not how Christians I know see each other, nor will we want to see this film.”

So which bishop would that be? The cast list doesn’t make clear, but given the other characters, I suspect that it is supposed to be the Roman Catholic Patriarch Heraclius. That would be historically unfair, assuming Wikipedia to be accurate (I’m currently short on access to authoritative sources on the subject). Although a hostile source paints Heraclius as worldly and corrupt, he did defend the city from Saladin (hyperlinks in original):

Heraclius returned to Jerusalem in 1185 and supported the accession [to the Kingship of Jerusalem] of Guy of Lusignan, a relative newcomer to the kingdom. In 1187, Saladin invaded the kingdom, and when Guy marched out to meet him, he asked Heraclius to march along with him at the head of the army with the relic of the True Cross (Heraclius, however, was ill, and the bishop of Acre took his place). The relic did not save them, as Saladin inflicted a crippling defeat on them at the Battle of Hattin on July 4. In Jerusalem Heraclius helped lead the defense of the city against Saladin, but it was finally forced to capitulate on October 2. Heraclius personally negotiated the surrender with Saladin, who allowed him and the other Christians to leave the city unharmed; Heraclius stripped the gold from the churches and was said to carry away cartloads of treasure with him.

On the other hand, patriarchs “deserting their flocks” is not an unknown phenomenon. Here’s a bit from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia (an old public domain work). Remember, when the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, there were indigenous Orthodox Christians as well as Muslims. This was just a few decades after the Greek-speaking and Latin-speaking churches had fallen out:

The crusaders naturally refused to recognize the claims of the old, now schismatical, patriarchal lines [i.e. the Greek Orthodox and other Oriental Orthodox Patriarchs of Jerusalem and elsewhere], whose representatives moreover in most cases fled; so they set up Latin [i.e. Roman Catholic] patriarchs in their place. The first Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was Dagobert of Pisa (1099-1107); the Orthodox rival (Simon II) had fled to Cyprus in 1099 and died there the same year (for the list of his successors see Le Quien, III, 1241-68). It was not till 1142 that the Orthodox continued their broken line by electing Arsenios II, who like most Orthodox patriarchs at that time lived at Constantinople. At Antioch, too, the crusaders had a scruple against two patriarchs of the same place. They took the city in 1098, but as long as the Orthodox patriarch (John IV) remained there they tried to make him a Catholic instead of appointing a rival. However, when at last he fled to Constantinople they considered the see vacant, and Bernard, Bishop of Arthesia, a Frenchman, was elected to it (the succession in Le Quien, III, 1154-84).

Note that these patriarchs are actually fleeing the murderous Roman Catholic Crusaders, not the Muslims – not that I blame them. And, the way things are going, we might get to see a fleeing Patriarch again before too long, albeit for a different reason. From the AP:

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, dozens of Palestinians heckled the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, Eireneos, as he led the Palm Sunday procession, demanding his resignation and holding up signs reading “Shame on you.” Police said protesters also threw empty water bottles.

The protesters, many of them Christians, want the patriarch to step down because of allegations that he was involved in the sale of church property in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem to Jewish organizations.

But I digress. Meanwhile, Muslim News reports:

WASHINGTON, D.C., CAIR – A prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group said today that the new 20th Century Fox epic “Kingdom of Heaven” is a “balanced” portrayal of the Crusades, despite earlier concerns that the film might offer stereotypical portrayals of Islam or Muslims.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) based its judgment on a private screening of the Sir Ridley Scott film at Fox studios in Los Angeles. “Kingdom” is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide May 6th.

I remember that Terry Jones made a very entertaining documentary series about the Crusades a few years back for the BBC. The jocular style annoyed some, but I recall that many of the series’ contentions – that the Crusader leaders were often younger sons looking for new domains, or that the whole thing was a barbarian invasion by the west of the higher Muslim and Byzantine cultures of the east (although there was also a real religious motivation among many who took off to kill the infidel) – was hardly controversial (although Catholic historian Thomas Madden offers a revisionist view). But that was back in the 90s, before Christian conservative lobbies had fully realised the power of resentment…

UPDATE: Alt.Muslim has more.

(Tipped from MediaWatchWatch)

3 Responses

  1. Have you seen Youssef Chahine’s 1963 movie _Saladin_? Saladin’s the hero, naturally, and Richard the Lionhearted is, if not the villain exactly, at least of dubious character, urged on to duplicity by his evil associates. It’s mighty weird to see Richard and his generals standing around in typical Crusader costumes planning strategy – in Arabic. Luckily the print I saw had French subtitles…

  2. Well… technically, that view of the Crusades is a lot more historically accurate than the Western hero-worship that goes on in some textbooks. The Crusaders _were_ mostly younger sons looking to carve out some fiefdoms for themselves because of the very little primogenture made of their inheritances. Basically the Pope and military leaders decided to have themselves a war of conquest, and did the medieval version of the pre-emptive strike.

    I don’t blame the bishops for fleeing- anyone who had the cash to do so fled in the face of the Christian advance. Those that couldn’t flee generally endured rape and pillage even if they surrendered; communities of Christians, Jews, and Muslims that had co-existed more-or-less peacefully for a long while (like during the cultural flowering under the Moors in Spain) ended up in a state of war that has largely simmered to this day. The Jews, in particular, fared very badly under the Crusaders.

    The Crusades are still a matter for much bad blood between Arabian Muslims and the West; the fact that the Crusaders also took out Byzantium for plunder (they didn’t care that the Byzantine Greeks were Christians, they just wanted some looting and the Doge of Venice wanted to get paid) does put rather a nasty historical light on the whole thing.

    It was an ideological war of greed, all told… plus ce change, plus ce meme chose, I guess.

  3. I’ve recently been reading “The Normans and the Norman Conquest” by RA Brown. It’s topic, young (well, life expectancy _was_ low) Knights of Latin Christendom in expansionist plans to gain their own lands is consistent with the story here. Eye-opening, in a similar themed tome, were Arab views of the barbarians from Europe.

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