Siege of Jerusalem (poem)
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Siege of Jerusalem is the title commonly given to an anonymous Middle English epic poem created in the second half of the 14th century (possibly ca. 1370-1380). The poem is composed in the alliterative manner popular in medieval English poetry, especially during the period known as the "alliterative revival", and is known from nine surviving manuscripts, an uncommonly high number for works of this time.
The siege described in the poem is that of 70 AD. The poem relies on a number of secondary sources—including Vindicta salvatoris, Roger Argenteuil's Bible en François, Ranulf Higdon's Polychronicon, and the Destruction of Troy—and on Josephus’ The Jewish War, which was itself a source for the Polychronicon. The destruction of Jerusalem is ahistorically portrayed as divinely ordained vengeance by the Romans Vespasian and Titus for the death of Jesus Christ. The poem also describes the tumultuous succession of emperors in Rome in the late 60s, when rulers Nero, Galba, Otho and Vitellius met violent deaths.
Although technically excellent and linguistically interesting, the poem has rarely been presented to students of Middle English verse because of its sadistic indulgence in gory details and extreme anti-Semitic sentiment. This latter aspect of the poem raises important questions regarding the cultural milieu in which it was repeatedly copied and presumably read. Many modern critics have treated the poem with near-contempt due to its excessive descriptions of violence, such as the horrible execution of the Jewish high priests or the cannibalism of her own child by a Jewish woman in the besieged city. Other critics have pointed out that the anonymous poet does not flinch from the horrors of war and does not preach violence against contemporary Jews.
- Text of Siege of Jerusalem with modern English translation edited by Michael Livingston, University of Rochester, TEAMS Middle English Text Series
- Introduction to Siege of Jerusalem by Michael Livingston, TEAMS Middle English Text Series
- Bibliography of works related to Siege of Jerusalem
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