BARCELONA, DISPUTATION OF


BARCELONA, DISPUTATION OF, religious disputation between Jews and Christians in 1263. The apostate Paulus [Pablo] *Christiani proposed to King James I of Aragon that a formal public religious disputation on the fundamentals of faith should be held between him and R. Moses b. Naḥman (*Naḥmanides) whom he had already encountered in *Gerona. The disputation took place with the support of the ecclesiastical authorities and the generals of the Dominican and Franciscan orders, while the king presided over a number of sessions and took an active part in the disputation. The Dominicans *Raymond de Peñaforte, Raymond *Martini, and Arnold de Segarra, and the general of the Franciscan order in the kingdom, Peter de Janua, were among the Christian disputants. The single representative for the Jewish side was Naḥmanides. The four sessions of the disputation took place on July 20, 27, 30, and 31, 1263 (according to another calculation, July 20, 23, 26, and 27). Naḥmanides was guaranteed complete freedom of speech in the debate; he took full advantage of the opportunity thus afforded and spoke with remarkable frankness. Two accounts of the disputation, one in Hebrew written by Naḥmanides and a shorter one in Latin, are the main sources for the history of this important episode in Judeo-Christian polemics. According to both sources the initiative for the disputation and its agenda were imposed by the Christian side, although the Hebrew account tries to suggest a greater involvement of Naḥmanides in finalizing the items to be discussed. The initiative in the debate remained on the Christian side throughout.

Basing himself on the Talmud as a whole, and in particular on the aggadic and homiletical passages, the Christian contestant sought to prove three points: that the Messiah had already appeared; that he was "both human and divine," and had died to atone for the sins of mankind; and that, in consequence, the precepts of Judaism had lost their validity. Against this Naḥmanides argued that the literal meaning of the passages quoted from the Talmud do not admit this christological interpretation. On the question of aggadah he claimed that the homiletical passages in the Talmud are not obligatory for Jews. Rabbis and eminent scholars, such as Yitzhak Baer, H.H. Ben-Sasson, and Martin Cohen maintained that Naḥmanides' claim was purely political, put forward in a disputation that had been imposed on him, so that he even had to use arguments in which he did not believe in order to overcome the Christian attack. Other scholars, such as Cecil Roth and Robert Chazan, expressed a more moderate opinion. Chavel, H. Maccoby, and B. Septimus suggested that Naḥmanides' view was fully compatible with a well-established Jewish tradition. Marvin Fox argues that this latter attitude is based on a complete misunderstanding of Naḥmanides' views and beliefs as they are found so clearly throughout his commentary on the Torah and that Nahmanides' view follows a Jewish tradition that, though paying full respect to the midrashic commentaries, does not accept them as necessarily binding, and avows that the main issue between Judaism and Christianity does not depend on belief in the Messiah. Naḥmanides even went on to attack the illogicality in Christian dogma concerning the nature of the Divinity. Some of his utterances hint at the future destruction of Christendom. He referred slightingly to the fate of Jesus, who was persecuted in his own lifetime and hid from his pursuers. Rome, which had been a mighty empire before Jesus lived, declined after adopting Christianity, "and now the servants of Muhammad have a greater realm than they." Naḥmanides also made the point that "from the time of Jesus until the present the world has been filled with violence and injustice, and the Christians have shed more blood than all other peoples." He similarly attacked the whole concept of the combination of human and divine attributes in Jesus.

A number of ecclesiastics who saw the turn the disputation was taking urged that it should be ended as speedily as possible. It was, therefore, never formally concluded, but interrupted. According to the Latin record of the proceedings, the disputation ended because Naḥmanides fled prematurely from the city. In fact, however, he stayed on in Barcelona for over a week after the disputation had been suspended in order to be present in the synagogue on the following Sabbath when a conversionist sermon was to be delivered. The king himself attended the synagogue in state and gave an address, an event without medieval precedent. Naḥmanides was permitted to reply on this occasion. The following day, after receipt of a gift of 300 sólidos from the king, he returned home.

The disputation had far-reaching consequences. It prompted the Dominican Raymond Martini to devise a better method of providing christological interpretations to the aggadah. In 1280 Martini concluded his book Pugio Fidei (Paris, 1651), and henceforward it was used indiscriminately by every Christian controversialist wishing to invalidate Judaism. The king cooperated with missionary activities throughout the realm and the Jews were forced to listen to the sermons preached by the Dominican friars. An order was issued by the latter between August 26 and 29 directing the Jews to erase from their copies of the Talmud any passages vilifying Jesus and Mary. Failure to do so was punishable by a fine, and books which had not been censored as required would be burned. The Mishneh Torah of *Maimonides was also condemned to be burned because of the references to Jesus in the chapter on the laws of kingship at the end of the work. Subsequently, the bishop of Gerona obtained a copy of Naḥmanides' own account of the disputation. Perhaps through his agency, proceedings were then instituted against Naḥmanides in 1265 before the court of the Inquisition on the charge that he had blasphemed Jesus. James' intention to sentence him to two years' banishment and to condemn his work on the disputation to be burned, evidently did not satisfy the Dominicans. He thereupon ordered the case to be tried before him personally, intending to adjourn it until the fanaticism had abated. The militant Christian religious mendicant orders acted as the instrument of the church in its war on Judaism. It was at the request of the friars that Pope Clement IV ordered the archbishop of Tarragona to collect all the Jewish books in the Kingdom of Aragon and surrender them to the Dominicans and Franciscans for examination; Paulus Christiani was recommended as a trustworthy and able assistant for this task. The bull Turbato Corde, also issued by Clement, became the basis of the Inquisition policy for prosecuting suspected Judaizers (see papal *bulls), and may also be regarded as an outcome of the disputation. The inference drawn by Naḥmanides is self-evident: he left Spain for Ereẓ Israel, arriving there in 1267. Judeo-Christian polemics continued in Barcelona in the days of *Adret, Nahmanides' outstanding disciple. On the Christian side Martini and Ramon Lull participated in the debates that took place in a more private forum. The use of Jewish classical texts by Paulus in his confrontation with the foremost rabbinic authority in Spain was an innovation in Judeo-Christian polemics. The Barcelona Disputation was the first arena where Paulus Christiani was able to try out his new technique of missionizing and where Naḥmanides provided Jewish counterarguments to the newly formulated Christian claims. While the Disputation may have been a great achievement for Paulus Christiani in his innovative use of rabbinic sources in Christian missionary efforts, for Naḥmanides it represented an additional example of the wise and courageous leadership which he offered his people.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 150–62; idem, in: Tarbiz, 2 (1930/31), 172–87; C. Roth, Gleanings (1967), 34–61; M.A. Cohen, in: HUCA, 35 (1964), 157–92; Ben-Sasson, in: Molad, 1 (1967), 363–5. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Forment, in: Escritos del Vedat, 7 (1977), 155–75; H. Grossinger, in: Kairos n.F., 19 (1977), 257–85; 20 (1978), 1–15, 161–81; M. Orfali, in: Sefarad, 39 (1979), 111–20; R. Chazan, in Speculum, 52 (1977), 824–42; idem, in HUCA 51 (1980), 89–110; idem, in: HUCA, 61 (1990), 185–201; idem, Barcelona and Beyond, (1992); H. Maccoby, Judaism on Trial (1982), incl. text of the Disputation; H-G von Mutius, Die christlich-jüdische Zwangsdisputation zu Barcelona (1982); J. Riera I Sans and E. Feliu (eds.), Disputa de Barcelona de 1263 (1985); S. Schreiner, in: Judaica, 42 (1986), 141–57; M. Fox, in: JJS, 40 (1989), 95–109.

[Haim Beinart /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.