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People often change their religious identity, shifting from one faith or denomination to another. They vary a lot in how they regard the religion they leave. Sometimes, converts have a benevolent view of their old world, and they maintain excellent relations with their family and friends who chose to remain. In other cases, they become the deadliest enemies of that former faith, and even seek to combat or even persecute it. In the history of religious conflict and persecution, this is a vital but very under-studied factor.
This comes to mind in light of a fascinating book I recently read as part of my work on apostasy and religious defection. This is Frank Riess, The Journey of Deacon Bodo from the Rhine to the Guadalquivir: Apostasy and Conversion to Judaism in Early Medieval Europe (Routledge, 2019). It’s an amazing story, which I will summarize very briefly here, but the whole book is well worth your attention. Bodo was a German (Alemannic) aristocrat, who around 838 converted to Judaism, becoming Eleazar. He fled to Muslim Spain, where he became a ferocious anti-Christian polemicist. He urged the persecution of Christians who refused to convert to Islam or Judaism, which was then a radically novel perspective in the emerging Muslim world. This contributed to the celebrated persecution of the Christian Martyrs of Córdoba.
Conversions - Judaism - Europe - Anything - Commonplace
Christian conversions to Judaism did occur quite regularly in medieval Europe, though they were anything but commonplace. Another famous case involves one Johannes of Oppido who converted in 1102, and became “Obadiah the Norman Proselyte.” If you were going to abandon the faith, the horrendous 830s were as likely a time as any, when European Christianity appeared to be collapsing altogether in the face of foreign invasions and internal struggles. Just how bad were things then? Muslim or pagan raiders roamed freely...
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