GigaNotoSaurus. And I say historical fiction but it’s probably in the ways the story diverges from history that it meets its speculative element. Whatever the case, it finds a man sent to judge a situation, and to diffuse it. And those things aren’t always so close together, can’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes to keep the peace, the judgment has to sort of take a back seat, or at least has to fit itself to the moment. To the needs of a moment when there’s a lot more at stake than who might be paying a fine or going to prison. To the review!
“The Purim of the Philosophers” by Jonathan Edelstein (9951 words)
No Spoilers: Moshe has been sent to Marseille to resolve tensions in the Jewish quarter of the city that threaten to boil over into bloodshed. All at a time when unity in the city between the Jews and the Cathars is paramount to work against the violent Crusades of the Catholic kings of France and Italy and beyond. Moshe arrives to find the Jews fractured, factioned, with the opposing leaders engaged in politics that would impossible most anywhere else, because Jews cannot hold political power almost anywhere else. The result is a tangled web of plots and treasons and Moshe in the middle of it all having to act as judge. Not of right and wrong, though, but of a new, political kind of judgment. A negotiation to keep the peace, because without that all other judgments might be moot. It’s a story that walks a delicate and dangerous road, hoping for the violence to miss, hoping for Purim.
Keywords: History, Religion, Crusades, Murder, Judgment
Review: This story looks at a very complicated political situation and how philosophy and religion work into that. Moshe’s job is not enviable, but his commitment is sound and informed by a life that has seen massacres and Purims both. He’s also someone who has been a judge before in a matter, one where he thought he was acting in the right, but that didn’t ultimately yield the result he wanted. Peace. And it’s sort of an acknowledgment that peace and philosophical supremacy aren’t necessary on the same page. Might not even be in the same book, though there are probably many arguments there. Moshe is a judge, and the traditional role of the judge is to decide what is wrong and right. Who is wrong and right. But here...things aren’t that simple. Here, it’s not just a matter of faith. Not just a matter of interpretations and arguments. Because here, as in too many places, the stakes are life and death for perhaps a whole population. And that’s a heavy thing for anyone. For Moshe, it means having to approach the matter not religiously but politically. And yeah, the two are linked, but it means putting the politics first, above what might be seen as justice. Of putting survival above making sure that those who have done wrong are punished.
And I love the twisting path the story takes, the mysteries, the revelations. Both of the Jewish leaders in the story have their secrets, the ways that they have tried to position themselves as the person who will be in charge of the community. Both have done things in pursuit of that power that have put them all at risk, the symptom of being in a situation where they have more rights than ever before in this city, in this situation. But where they still face annihilation, massacre in the form of the actual Crusade moving toward them. And there’s the reminder that they are not safe. The reminder that Moshe has to deliver, because the people...they haven’t forgotten, but these would-be leaders have perhaps lost sight of that in their quests for personal influence. And it leads to an imperfect solution. And not imperfect because it doesn’t accomplish what Moshe set out to do. Imperfect rather in that there is no perfect solution that can exist in a situation as loaded as the one they are in. It’s the sadness at the heart of the story, the lesson that the story, as steeped as it is in history, impacts with the closing lines. Of hope but of the recognition that things are not better. Still Jews face violence for who they are. Still there are needs for Purims. And it’s a tragedy. A tragedy that politics have only made more complicated. And it’s a beautiful and difficult story, but one very much worth spending some time with. Definitely go check it out!