“That the Pilgrims May Be Spared Prison”: Extortionate Taxation and the Politics of Pilgrimage in Islamic Jerusalem (970-1071)

Online Lecture with Prof. Brendan Goldman (University of Washington)

Thursday, February 24th at 5:00 pm

On Zoom

Jerusalem before the First Crusade embodied a series of incongruities: It was an economic backwater on the periphery of Islamic Palestine’s political administration. But it was also a center of pilgrimage. It was a symbol of Muslim supremacy. But it was also a site of shared Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious spaces and mythologies. When Muslim rulers persecuted non-Muslims (dhimmīs) in Jerusalem—especially in the context of extortionate taxation—their actions often evoked responses from Jewish and Christian communities far from the holy city. This talk examines several Cairo Geniza letters from the eleventh century that illuminate how Fatimid Muslim administrators used the sanctity of Jerusalem and its pilgrimage economy to extract revenue from the city’s few permanent Jewish residents. It asks: How do these documents shed light on minority-state relations in Islamic Jerusalem on the eve of the First Crusade? What might they tell us about the political economy of pilgrimage in medieval Palestine?