The paper aims to present the experience of the encounter that two travellers, Benjamin of Tudela and Petachiah of Regensburg, had with the diaspora in the 12th-century Middle East and by studying their accounts, to observe the mutual perceptions between Christian and Muslim societies on one hand and Jewish communities living under their rule on the other. Moreover, the accounts will be contextualised within the legal landscape of the countries the travellers visited to demonstrate the existence of a profound dissonance between the law and its inefficacy, both to the advantage and to the disadvantage of the Jewish population.
The increasing persecution of Jews in Western Europe from the 12th century was not an isolated phenomenon but a manifestation of what R. I. Moore has termed ‘the formation of a persecuting society’. That the ‘othering’ of Jews partakes of the ‘othering’ of heretics may be seen from the sections devoted to the Jews in the inquisitorial manual of Bernard Gui; by their prosecution by the bishop-inquisitor and later pope, Jacques Fournier; and by the burning of the mystic Marguerite Porete together with a ‘relapsed’ Jew. However, at the same time as ecclesiastical authorities were reconfiguring Jews within an expanded semantic field of heresy, heretics were responding by incorporating the Jews and their persecution into their own apocalyptic scenarios. This paper will examine the role of the Jew in heretical discourse, with a particular focus on the testimony of the Southern French beguine Na Prous Boneta.