Benjamin travels to the city of Bagdad during his journey. It takes him two days to arrive from Okbara, a place with 10,000 Jews. It is hard to tell how long Benjamin stayed in Baghdad, but he writes extensively about it, especially in comparison to other cities he visited, so it was an important visit to him. The first topic he brings up is not the appearance of the city, but the religion of the people there, which makes sense because throughout his journey, religion is Benjamin’s main focus. He explains the role of the Caliph, likening him to the Christian Pope, bringing in another religion to give context to the position of the Caliph. Then he gets into where the Caliph lives, reporting details about the Caliph’s palace and living conditions as well as the greater landscape. Benjamin focuses mostly on the roles and lifestyles of the Caliphs, so much so that one can tell how fascinated he is with them.
Then, Benjamin brings up Judaism within the context of Bagdad, which is interesting to me as a modern reader learning about this journey that took place so long ago, and wondering what the interactions between Muslims and Jews would be like during this time period. It turns out that Benjamin has nothing but good things to say about the Caliph and the great king. Benjamin writes that the great king is “kind unto Israel” and knows the language and laws of it. The great king is regarded by his people as Mohammed.
Benjamin writes in great detail about the great Caliph’s palace, focusing on the opulence and luxury of his lifestyle. In the same section, he then details the sacrifice of a camel. The very last sentence is “He is a benevolent man.” In the next section Benjamin goes on to explain how the Caliph is able to heal the sick, saying that he is “a righteous man, and all his actions are for good,” which feels almost like propaganda to bring back to Tudela. As if he is trying to appease other Jews for the possibility of being taken over by the Islamic empire.
Then, Benjamin begins to write about the 40,000 Jews who live in Bagdad, with 28 synagogues, paying special attention to note that they live in “security, prosperity and honour” under the great Caliph, again, as if trying to provide comfort under the impending takeover of the Islamic empire. He provides details about successful Jewish people living in Bagdad in addition to details about how Jews and Muslims are able to come together to escort Mohammed to the great Caliph and the Head of Captivity, who is reportedly very kind to the Jewish people in Bagdad and in return receives many gifts from them, again, possibly another way for Benjamin to mollify the Jews of Tudela.
Benjamin seems to be writing this in a fairly matter of fact manner, but his attempt at pacifying the people back home about the Islamic empire is overt.