Author: Molly (Page 1 of 2)

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Map Analysis

After mapping Benjamin of Tudela’s route on both a modern map and St. Beatus of Liebana’s Mappa Mundi, there are some clear differences between the two maps and cartography of each time period. The most obvious difference between the modern map and Beatus map is that the Middle East and Asia are at the top of the Beatus map. There is a depiction of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden accompanying these locations at the top of the map because Earthly Paradise was supposed to be somewhere in the “unexplored” areas of the East.

The style of the Mappa Mundi is a T and O map meaning, representing only one half of the Earth. One would notice that only Europe, the Middle East and parts of the Asian and African continents are pictured. The ‘T’ represents the land, and the surrounding ‘O’ represents the water surrounding it. Jerusalem is strategically placed in the middle of St. Beatus’ Mappa Mundi due to its religious significance for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike.

The Beatus Map is, however, written in English, which is interesting because it was written by a Spanish monk, St. Beatus of Liebana based upon accounts from St. Isadore of Seville, Ptolemy, and the Bible. This map’s purpose was not to be exactly accurate (which it was not going to be due to the West’s knowledge of the rest of the world) but to depict the Diaspora of the Apostles.

When examining Benjamin’s travels on both the modern map and the Beatus Map, they do look similar in comparison, just flipped. With the exception of the far east, all of Benjamin’s travel locations do appear on the Beatus Map. It makes sense that, although oriented differently from the modern map, and despite the T and O style layout, most of Benjamin’s locations are accounted for. This is because The Beatus Map was arguably the most important map that came out of the Early Middle Ages. Benjamin also traveled mostly in the West and Middle East, so most of the locations are present in the Beatus Map.

Looking at these maps and all of the locations to where Benjamin traveled, it is difficult to believe that he did, in fact, travel to China, Tibet, and  India with few stops along the way. Benjamin gives fairly detailed accounts for numerous locations throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. There is a stark contrast between those accounts and the accounts of his “travels” in the far east. Especially because the Beatus map was a prominent map during the time of Benjamins travels, the fact that it does not depict India and East Asia would cause one to believe that he did not actually travel there.

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Germany (Alamannia)

Benjamin arrives in Germany from Lucca after 20 days of travel. He actually arrives in Verdun, which he says is “the commencement of Alamannia.” As is usual for Benjamin, he begins with describing the landscape of the place, which would  be very convenient for people following this guide, as the geographical aspects would be their first impression. Germany, he says, is full of mountains and hills.

It seems that he already knows there will be many Jews in Germany because after his geographical description, he speaks of the many congregations that exist there, specifically on the river Rhine from Cologne to Ashkenaz, both situated on either end of the river spanning about a 15 day journey. He also mentions a full list of cities which have Jewish congregations including Metz, Treves, Coblenz,  Andernach, Bonn, Cologne, Bingen, Munster, and Worms.

After this, there is a quotation that says that “Israel is dispersed in every land and he who does not further the gathering of Israel will not meet with Jews and I will gather them.” This appears to be one of the major purposes of Benjamin’s travels. He wants to be able to reunite the Jews. Benjamin writes highly of these congregations saying that they contain scholars and caring communities of people. At the end of his account  of Germany, he mentions other German cities where Jews live, and writes of them in high regard as well.

This portion of writing on Germany brings about some new ideas and styles of writing for Benjamin. We get more of an idea of his purpose in his travels through the quote about bringing the Jews together, which also explains why his travel narrative is more of a guide. He clearly wants Jewish people to follow it in order to find larger Jewish communities.

The quotations that Benjamin includes are different from his usual style of writing and it is interesting that he hasn’t used quotations until this point in his writing. Not only does it reveal more of the purpose in his travels, but it also shows his passion for his religion. Up until this point, we know he is Jewish and we know he must be dedicated to his faith because of his travels, but these quotations show his knowledge and passion for Judaism and Jewish people.

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Tiberias

Benjamin travels to Tiberias from St. George. He has to travel five parasangs to arrive in Tiberias. He notes that the city is located on the Jordan River, which is locally called the Sea of Chinnereth and flows between two mountains filling a lake, which is actually similar to a sea. This then flows into the Sea of Sodom, also known as the Salt Sea. Benjamin is very interested in the waterways in Tiberias, and he has been interested in the ways in which water connects various cities throughout his travel guide. Even though we do not know his occupation, perhaps it has something to do with building or transportation. Or he is just interested so that he can build a comprehensive travel guide for Jewish people who wish to complete similar travels. He is interested in how cities operate and how they connect to other cities through waterways specifically.

As with every city he visits, Benjamin’s main priority is counting the number of Jews, although he rarely mentions this first. He usually talks about the appearance of the city, and then mentions the Jewish population. In Tiberias, there are about 50 Jews, some of which he mentions by name. The head, R. Abraham is actually an astronomer, which I was surprised to read. I have never heard of astronomy being Jewish tradition, but I am assuming that it was popular for all different religious and ethnic groups in the 12th century.

After quickly mentioning the Jews of Tiberias, Benjamin brings up hot, bubbling waters (maybe geysers?) aptly named the Hot Waters of Tiberias. Near these hot waters, there is the Synagogue of Caleb ben Jephunneh, which could be the only synagogue in Tiberias because it is the only one mentioned. Benjamin names two Jews who are buried in Tiberias, who may be of interest to other Jews of Tudela who will read this guide.

When describing Tiberias, Benjamin does not stray from his usual formula of  describing his travels. He mentions everything worth mentioning to Jews who would want to escape from Tudela–how hard or easy it is to get to Tiberias, the landscape, and how many Jews there are. I am still surprised at how Benjamin is able to remove his own opinions from this narrative, or guide.

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Damascus

After Benjamin’s time in Banias, he traveled two days to Damascus, which he described as “the great city.” As with many other cities he visited, Benjamin was concerned with Damascus’ geographic location, landmarks, and terrain. He noted that the city was surrounded by walls, with lots of greenery, about fifteen miles of it on each side. Benjamin mentioned that no other city has fruit as spectacular as Damascus. To continue with his observations about the terrain, Benjamin also talked about the rivers flowing from Mount Hermon, such as Amana and Pharpar. The city is located at the bottom of the mountain and the Amana River flows through the city while the Pharpar flows through the gardens and plantations. As with many other cities, Benjamin talked about its trade and access to other parts of the world. He did not speak extensively about it, he just mentions that they carry on trade with “all countries.”

As is characteristic of Benjamin of Tudela, he noticed architecture in the city. Specifically the architecture of the city’s mosque, the Gami of Damascus. He was never judgmental of other religious in his accounts, he usually just mentioned them matter of factly. He was so  amazed by the Gami of Damascus that he said there was no other building like it in the world, with its “crystal glass of magic workmanship”, gold and class chambers, columns of gold, silver and marble, and a supposed rib of a giant. Benjamin’s descriptions usually seem very matter of fact, as if he has seen everything before, but it is apparent that he is impressed with this building given the amount of detail he supplied.

Then, as was customary for Benjamin in his travels, he mentioned the Jewish population, for that was the purpose of his travels. He learned that there were 3,000 Jews in Damascus and that most of them were “learned and rich men.” Also, the Academy of the land of Israel lived in Damascus and names other members of the Academy.

The last few sentences of Benjamin’s account  of Damascus are interesting because they mention populations of other religions, which he did not normally do with other cities. Benjamin said that 100 Karaites lived in Damascus and 400 Cuthim. It was important to Benjamin that they all lived peacefully but did not intermarry.

What was interesting to me about Benjamin’s account of Damascus was his fascination with buildings and the inner-workings of a city. After reading many of Benjamin’s accounts of various cities, I know that Benjamin paid close attention to terrain and buildings and other structures. The purpose of his journey was to learn more about Jews on his way to Jerusalem, but he was able to see and learn about other things he was interested in as well.

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