In a past issue of Christian History Magazine, Editor Kevin A. Miller wrote;
“Recently, a group of Christian leaders, mostly missionaries to the Muslim world, gathered in Jerusalem, at the spot where 900 years earlier Christian knights and soldiers stormed the walls. They read historical accounts of the Jerusalem massacre (so-called). Then they formally apologized for the crusades. I apologize for their apology.”
In 2001, former U.S. President Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University about the then recent terrorist attacks of 9-11. In his speech, Clinton referenced the crusades and commented that –
“…When the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem in 1099, they … proceeded to kill every woman and child who was a Muslim on the Temple Mount.” He cited “contemporaneous descriptions of the event” as describing “soldiers walking on the Temple Mount… with blood running up to their knees.”
I’ll deal with Ex-President Clinton a bit later, but I want to go back to Kevin Miller. He goes on to say;
“…It’s too easy to repudiate the actions of Christians of other times and places. They become the distant uncle with the dark and troubled past – someone we don’t talk about. And when we’re forced to, we shift nervously and turn a little red.
“For too long, modern Christians have assumed the crusaders are not (our) spiritual parents: “If these crusaders were real Christians, they wouldn’t have done such a thing!”
“But the crusaders were real Christians. They deplored their sins. They longed for forgiveness. They loved fellow Christians in the East. They yearned to do something noble and lasting for their Lord. They prayed and fasted before battles and praised God for their victories. Their devotion and courage make ours look juvenile.
“…Much of what they did was wrong. Yes, and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So there’s little point in becoming judgmental. Better to try to understand the crusades in the context of their times.”
I can understand when non-Christians use the crusades as an opportunity to criticize the Christian Faith, but it breaks my heart when fellow Christians allow themselves to be brain-washed by the political-correctness of our age and buy into the lies that are so prevalent in our so-called enlightened culture today. Too many of my fellow believers are willing to just park their brain at the door and accept the anti-Christian rhetoric regarding the crusades. There are numerous books available today that will offer a balanced, objective view of what really happened during the crusading era, and will also offer an explanation of the events that led to the launch of the crusades in the first place. There are of course, many more texts that will endeavor to promote the anti-Christian propaganda that all crusaders were all evil, greedy, murderous brutes who reveled in killing babies and raping innocent women. The literature of our day is a veritable mine-field, and one must be careful when attempting to find the truth amongst the myriad of texts devoted to the crusading era.
The crusades were not imperialist expansion as so many today believe. They were not a campaign launched by greed and the desire for plunder. They were in fact, the exact opposite. The Muslim faith, founded by Mohammed in the seventh century A.D., did in fact expand in an imperialist fashion, forcibly converting all those who resisted. By the time of the first crusade in 1099, almost two-thirds of the Christian world had been overrun and converted at the point of a sword. Entire Christian nations such as Egypt, Syria, North Africa, Spain, Asia Minor, the Levant, to name a few, were invaded by Muslim armies, conquered, and the inhabitants were either killed, forced to convert to Islam, or sold into slavery. Indeed, Muslim armies actually sacked Rome, crossed the Pyrenees and reached as far into France as Poitiers, and laid siege to Vienna not once, but three times!
In 1095, the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire made a plea to the Pope in Rome, asking for assistance. Muslim armies had overrun the entire eastern portion of his empire, and the remainder was under threat of falling to Muslim Imperialist expansion as well. The result was the famous sermon preached by Pope Urban II, that launched the first crusade, which by the way, was the only crusade of the sixteen that was actually successful in achieving its goal.
So in truth, the crusades were nothing more than push-back. And if the crusades never took place, then it’s a distinct possibility that Islam would have completely overrun the Christian world and obliterated it. It was already two-thirds of the way there! In a word, the crusaders were fighting for nothing more than their right to exist. This statement is going to stick in the craw of a lot of people, but it is the truth.
I won’t go into a lot of the history of the crusades, because many more scholarly writers have done a much better job than I could ever hope to, but there are a couple of issues I would like to clarify, because whenever the topic of the crusades is mentioned, they always come up, and even some Christian leaders will refer to them to vilify their brothers in Christ of that bygone era.
The first is the whole issue of Ex-President Clinton’s statement about the ‘blood up to the knees.” There was in fact a slaughter that took place when Jerusalem was taken in 1099, but it was the result of troops who were “out-of-control” as Paul F. Crawford put it. Their leaders didn’t sanction the action, and were actually angered by it.
In spite of this, the inhabitants of the city were offered the opportunity to capitulate without force before the siege began, and would have been allowed to leave the city unmolested if they had done so. Instead, they chose to resist, and under the rules of engagement of the day, doing so would mean that all of the inhabitants of the city would be put to the sword if they were defeated. The defenders of the city knew this, and took their chances, hoping that a rumored army from Egypt would arrive to relieve them in time.
Ex-President Clinton’s description of the “blood up to the knees” to describe the slaughter is pure nonsense. The Temple Mount was the highest point in the city at the time, and it would have meant that all of Jerusalem would have been submerged in hemoglobin if the crusaders were wading in it up to their knees on the Temple Mount! He probably got the idea from Raymond of Aguilers, who wrote an account of the siege, but who actually stated that the crusaders were awash in blood up to their ankles, not necessarily on the Temple Mount. Clinton, wanting to sensationalize his speech, brought the level up to the knees, which would have been an absolute impossibility, since there weren’t enough people in all of the Middle East to produce that much blood, let alone in the city of Jerusalem!
Paul F. Crawford sheds a little more light on the situation when he states;
“…The physics of such a claim are impossible, as should be apparent. Raymond was plainly both bragging and also invoking the imagery of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. He was not offering a factual account, and probably did not intend the statement to be taken as such.”
The second issue is of an account of a group of crusaders who supposedly rounded up some Jews, forced them into a synagogue, and then burned it down on top of them while they stood around outside and sang, “Christ we adore thee.”
This story was first told by a Muslim historian (so-called) named Ibn al-Qalanisi, a minor city official who lived in Damascus (1071 – 1160). It was he who first wrote that during the siege of Jerusalem, the “Jews assembled in their synagogue, and the Franks burned it over their heads.”
Now, you may say that this is proof positive that the event actually took place; we have a contemporary account describing the heinous action of the crusaders. Not so fast. Ibn al-Qalanisi wrote his chronicle of the first crusades some sixty years after the siege of Jerusalem; not exactly contemporary. And he never ventured out of Damascus, so he had to rely on second-hand accounts to pen his history. He was also noted for not being fond of the Franks (the European crusaders) at all. And it was in fact a modern day source that claimed, “the crusaders circled the screaming, flamed-tortured humanity singing ‘Christ we adore thee!’ with their crosses held high.” These were not the words of Ibn al-Qalanisi.
In fact, a letter was discovered among the Cairo Geniza collection in 1975 by historian Shelomo Doy Goitein (a Jew), that is believed to have been written just two weeks after the siege. In the letter, it describes the burning of the synagogue, but states emphatically that the building was empty at the time.
So while a synagogue was burned, no Jews were in it at the time. The entire story is a myth, but is taken for truth and is used to malign the crusaders by so many modern critics, including Christian leaders such as Rev. John Hagee and Mart Dehaan of Day of Discovery.
Did crusaders commit terrible acts during their campaigns? Yes, I believe some did. Were there abuses on the part of the crusading armies? History records them; I won’t deny that. But to paint all crusaders with the same brush is unfair; many were true to their faith, and gave up everything they had, including their families, knowing they would never see them again, to travel across foreign countries where the language and the customs were unknown to them, to suffer untold hardship and privation in order to defend and protect fellow Christians who were being slaughtered and enslaved, and preserve the tangible representations of their faith, namely the places where their Saviour had lived, died, and rose again some 1000 years before.
What these two Christian leaders and so many other Christians fail to understand is that many of those who went on crusade so many centuries ago were in fact just as devout in their faith as we are today, and in some respects more so, and I expect to see them when I get to heaven. When I do, I will offer them my most sincere thanks, for if it had not been for their actions on those battlefields of yesteryear, Islam may have indeed overrun Europe, and we might all now be bowing to Mecca five times a day.
For further reading, the following is a list of books and online articles: