Tuesday, 7 June 2016

[#31] Entries relating to the Jews of medieval England contained in the Oxford Dictionary of Medieval Biography (online edition).

·         Robert C. Stacey, ‘Eveske, Elias l’’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/52245?docPos=&backToResults=%2Fsearch%2Fresults%2Fcontributors.jsp%3FcontributorId%3D1118 accessed on 6 June 2016.

·         Robert C. Stacey, ‘Lincoln, Aaron of’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37090?docPos=&backToResults=%2Fsearch%2Fresults%2Fcontributors.jsp%3FcontributorId%3D1118 accessed on 6 June 2016.

·         Robert C. Stacey, ‘Norwich, Isaac of’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37588?docPos=&backToResults=%2Fsearch%2Fresults%2Fcontributors.jsp%3FcontributorId%3D1118 access on 6 June 2016.

·         Robert C. Stacey, ‘York, Aaron of’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38612?docPos=&backToResults=%2Fsearch%2Fresults%2Fcontributors.jsp%3FcontributorId%3D1118

Academic Entry:

Bibliographic entries in the ODNB relating to the careers of four (pre-) eminent Jews from medieval England.

General Entry:

I should start by saying that I love the ODNB – many of its entries are comprehensive and set the gold standard as far as biographical entries are concerned.  That being said, I am always disappointed by the sheer lack of entries relating to the Jews of medieval England. There are only four entries, as far as I am aware, of which only one relates to two of the six super-plutocrats (as I think of them) who dominated medieval Anglo-Jewish life during the mid-thirteenth century are reflected. Moreover, those entries that do appear are remarkably circumspect for some of the most important Jewish figures from medieval England and do no more than signpost some of the critical elements of the individuals being covered. Now, at this point it is probably fair to provide the disclaimer that the entries are written by one of the most distinguished, and eminent, scholars in my field: Professor Robert C. Stacey. However, while I love Stacey’s approach and methodology, there is something about his writing style that I really find polarises me against what he writes and, as regular readers will know it is instances like this that I really want to emphasise that you should read the things being reviewed for yourself. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with Stacey’s pieces from a factual point of view – we just have totally different approaches.

            There are two key themes which come out from these entries. The first, as one might expect given Stacey’s publications, is an emphasis on the presence of these figures in the tallage rolls (see especially Stacey: 1985). The second consideration which prevails is in the two entries relating people who were appointed arch-presbyter of the Jews, Elias l’Eveske and Aaron of York. Moreover, Stacey paints a relatively erudite picture of the career of each Jew, however, such is the briefness of these descriptions that one gets little sense of the lives of the individuals being pursued. I think that it might be expected that a historian who once condemned Michael Adler as having ‘done little more than plunder the printed records for curious details’, as Stacey did (Stacey: 1987, p. 62), might have made more of an effort not to do the same within the writing of these entries. However, I think the fact that these entries appeared at all in the ODNB is a positive feature, but they are perhaps to short and too few to provide any serious glimpse into the lives of individuals or medieval Anglo-Jewry more generally. Therefore, it must surely be an endeavour of a group as prestigious and esteemed as the ODNB upon the sterling foundations laid by Stacey and expand both the current entries and the number of entries relating to the history of medieval Anglo-Jewry.

If you know of any other entries relating to medieval Jews then please do let me know – I have deliberately excluded the entries for William of Norwich and Little St. Hugh of Lincoln for obvious reasons but it is interesting to note that both of those entries are more substantive that the ones considered here.

Work Cited:

Robert C. Stacey, ‘Royal Taxation and the Social Structure of Medieval Anglo-Jewry: The Tallages of 1239-1242’, Hebrew Union College Annual, 56 (1985), pp. 175-249.

Robert C. Stacey, ‘Recent Work on Medieval English Jewish History’, Jewish History, 2 (1987), pp. 61-72.

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