Archive for July, 2017

Joseph’s journal: 16

26 Tishrei, 4808 (September, 1058)

I can still remember the day of my father’s first battle. It was a Friday. I watched from my bedroom window as my father mounted his stallion and departed in the first light of dawn.

The next day, the Sabbath, Samuel ibn Nagrela returned victorious. He paced the house, charged with energy and excitement. He was much too excited to sit still. Talking to himself he reviewed the events of that day over and over. I hid in the hall outside the salon where my mother cornered my father, trapping him in a corner. She put her arms around him and held him tightly to stop his shaking.

“Did you have to fight my love,” my mother asked?

I couldn’t restrain myself and ran into the room.

“Did you kill anyone, Papa?” I asked. “Did you receive any wounds?”

My mother led him to a chair in the dining room. She pushed him gently into it then sat on his lap, her arms around his neck, her face buried in his chest. She was sobbing with relief and my father patted the small of her back. My uncle joined us and took one of the chairs, pulling it closer to hear my father’s account of the battle.

“No, I did not have to fight. King Badis, myself, and two of his chiefs, all of us protected by bodyguards, were able to see almost all of the fighting from one of the highest hills, while still seated on our horses. It went as God willed it. When Zuhair, at the head of his army, reached the bridge at Alfuente he discovered it destroyed. At that moment, our soldiers hidden above the gorge on both sides, rained arrows, crossbow bolts, and stones from slings down onto his troops at the end of the column.”

“Zuhair had two hundred mercenary Nubian foot soldiers in his army. On the day we first went to greet him I observed the commander of our Nubian mercenaries talking with a young man from Zuhair’s army. I questioned the commander and learned the man he was talking to was a younger brother, a captain in the employ of Zuhair. I then had a private discussion with our commander, and he agreed to make contact with his brother. His charge was to outline a course of action that would be very profitable to his brother, and to his brother’s men.”

“When our troops attacked the baggage train, Zuhair’s Nubians scurried to plunder his supply train, then joined their relatives fighting for us. Zuhair managed to form his remaining troops into battle array, but his cavalry was trapped in the gorge. They did not have room to maneuver. Whenever his foot soldiers managed to fight their way out of the gorge, our Calvary was able to cut them down.”

“During the whole of the battle, Ahmad ibn Abbas was screaming invectives against me. His voice echoed off the walls of the gorge, blaming me for all of Islam’s ills. His shouting dominated all the other sounds of battle, including the screams of the wounded men and animals. The commander of Zuhair’s Slav Calvary was thrown from his horse and taken captive. When Almeria’s cavalry saw their commander captured, they were the first to break ranks and scatter, with our men in pursuit. Zuhair’s entire army had no choice but to run for the foothills, trying to make their individual way up into the relative safety of the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The strongest struggled to reach the edge of the snow and make their escape. Those on foot were unable to keep pace with those who were mounted and were captured. Those still mounted, braved the steep slopes and deep precipices, but their horses stumbled in the rough terrain. Some men were pitched off their mounts, while some horses fell off the edges into gorges. Zuhair was unable to control his horse. The terrified animal struggled to join other horses running out of control along the edge of a cliff. His horse stumbled and fell, carrying Zuhair into the void. His head was crushed on a large boulder that arrested his fall.”

“Many Almerians were slain and many more were taken captive. General Boluggin gave me the honor of putting Ahmad ibn Abbas in chains. He stumble along, his hands bound behind, in front of my horse, all the way back to Granada.”

That same evening, Father showed me a tiny rolled up Torah with miniscule writing. He had commissioned this easily transportable Torah when he first decided he would participate in war. That same Torah was with him in every battle he ever fought.

“It is a complete Torah,” he told me. “I accompanied King Badis and the army and I prayed that our Lord would give me the strength and courage of David. It was with God’s help we defeated the Almerians.”

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Ha Nagid’s journal: 15

10 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

Today, after presenting Zuhair with many gifts, Badis hosted a dinner with all the ceremony and honor befitting a guest king. I was present when Badis and his most trusted chiefs sat with Zuhair to discuss relations between the two states. Zuhair was attended by Ahmad ibn Abbas and two of his generals but he said nothing. He allowed ibn Abbas to do all the talking for him. I remained in the background, silent but observant. Zuhair sat on his cushions, arms folded and a smirk on his face.

Badis asked that Almeria annul its pact with Carmona. Ahmad ibn Abbas replied by bragging about the size and strength of the Almerian armies and boasted that Zuhair was strong enough to do as he pleased. Ahmad continued his diatribe by suggesting that Granada was already dependent upon Almeria’s strength and goodwill for its survival and should be thankful for the protection.

I could see our chiefs were seething, ready to snatch their swords and begin a slaughter. Warning stares from Badis kept them silent and under control. Badis pointed out that Zuhair had pleaded for Granada’s help only two years previously. Now here he was at our gate as an uninvited, but welcomed guest, presuming to suggest he was somehow entitled. Ahmad ibn Abbas was not satisfied with the consternation he had wrought. He persisted. I sat quietly, my face a mask, while ibn Abbas continued to infuriate. He told our chiefs they should force Badis to rid himself of the Jew sitting amongst them if they wanted peace with Almeria. Badis, seething, glanced at me, then fought to conceal the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. The arrogance of Zuhair and his minion brought several of the chiefs, who previously had only tolerated me, to my side as friends and supporters. Badis could see this happening.

After Zuhair and his entourage returned to their camp, Badis stalked the room where he had hosted the meeting. He cursed, waved his arms, and shouted his anger. His manhood had been denigrated and he was ready to fight. His honor, that of all his Zanhadja chiefs, and their people, demanded they not succumb to this Slav eunuch and his arrogant Arab vizier.

I reported that none of the patrols we sent out found an Almerian army close enough to cause problems. Badis was determined to attack the next morning, but Prince Boluggin asked for permission to try one more time to convince the Vizier of Almeria not to renounce the old pact with Granada. Badis glanced at me and I nodded agreement. There was nothing to lose by allowing it.

That very evening, Boluggin went to the tent of ibn Abbas in this last attempt to prevent war. He returned within the hour to report he was convinced ibn Abbas and Zuhair fully intended to either annex or destroy the Zanhadja kingdom. While Boluggin was gone, I suggested to the king and assembled chiefs that Boluggin would be a good choice to command our army. There was unanimous agreement.

Although Boluggin was distraught about the outcome of his peace initiative, he was honored by Badis’ offer to appoint him commander of our forces and accepted.

I then retrieved from my satchel a large map I had commissioned. I spread it out on a table and suggested a strategy for battle that was very different from the type of warfare commonly waged. Arabs, Berbers, and Slavs all emphasize the use of cavalry. They preferred to meet on open ground to engage their enemy where they can maneuver their horses. The intent of this strategy is to bring the opposing cavalry into the range of archers and crossbowmen. These battles inevitably end in hand-to-hand combat, where force of numbers usually prevail.

I pointed out to the war council the route Zuhair had used to come to Granada. It was the same route he was most likely to use on his return. To arrive he had skirted the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Not far from Granada the army had crossed over the Genil River, using the bridge at the small village of Alfuente. On their return, Zuhair and his army would have to pass through a narrow gorge before reaching that bridge. I suggested our archers and foot soldiers take advantage of the topography and hide in the hills on either side of the gorge. If the bridge was destroyed prior to Zuhair’s arrival, and our forces waited until the tail of their column was in the gorge, his army would be trapped in our ambush. Their only escape would be into the mountains where their cavalry would be of little use.

Badis and his chiefs agreed. Orders were issued. Boluggin made certain his troops were distributed in the most advantageous sites for the ambush. His engineers were dispatched to destroy the bridge.

Now, everything was in the hands of God.

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Ha Nagid’s journal:13

5 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

After the rejection of his overtures by Almeria, King Badis instituted regular meetings with his generals. He also spent considerable time drilling his army. It is good that he is personally involved, preparing our defenses. Today we received intelligence that Zuhair was on his way to Granada, with a thousand elite troops.

Why only a thousand troops? We have at least four thousand soldiers. Why would Zuhair invade with only a thousand? I can only speculate that Zuhair’s ego has made him reckless. I suggested that King Badis send out scouting patrols in all directions from Granada. Perhaps Zuhair’s plan is to distract us in one direction, and attack with force from another. Maybe the whole thing is just an attempt at intimidation, overconfidence, and hubris. In any case, my advice to the King is to wait. He should act surprised when Zuhair appears. Time will reveal his intentions. Is it possible Zuhair is so deluded he thinks Badis will become his vassal without a fight?


Ha Nagid’s journal: 14

9 Iyar, 4788 (May, 1039)

Zuhair and his army arrived late this afternoon. He made camp on a hill just south of the Jewish section of Granada. His arrival at the head of so many soldiers, without prior announcement, was rude and provocative. King Badis rode out to greet him with only his personal guard, myself, and three tribal chiefs. When Badis asked the reason for this breech of manners Zuhair’s explanation was that he had come to pay his respects at the grave of his great ally and friend King Habbus. This was, of course, bogus since he had never offered condolences to Badis when Habbus died.

We returned to the Alcazaba where King Badis followed my advice. Contrary to the advice of the majority of his tribal chiefs, he restrained his outrage. He waited to see what Zuhair would do next.

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Joseph’s Journal:11

Shevat 4807 (January, 1058)

Yesterday I read my father’s journal entry written on 20 Tishrei, 4733. This evening I asked my mother if she regretted not being married to her cousin.

“Was he always still your first love?”

She shrugged and replied, “I never was allowed a choice or an opinion. The decisions were made by my father then my Uncles.”


Joseph’s journal:12

25 Tishrei 4808 (September, 1059)

I think I was about ten years old when I showed my father my most recent copy of one of his poems. This one was written in Arabic. I correctly identified it as acrostic, in the tawil meter. The first letter of the first word in each stanza spelled out Nagrela. I clenched my new gold coin in my left hand ready to leave his presence and add the coin to my growing hoard.

He leaned forward and patted the seat of one of his guest chairs. I will do my best to recreate the conversation we had.

“Wait, Joseph…sit,” he instructed.

I sat.

“First I want you to remember something very critical. Those who occupy important positions, as I plan you will someday, always have enemies. You must work hard to make certain you have at least twice as many friends as you do enemies. Do you know what is necessary for you to do to make and keep friends?”

“I’m not certain. I don’t have many friends other than Samuel ben Yehuda.”

“I know his father, it is a good family. Samuel is a big strong boy, no?”

“Yes, he has been here in the house, we study sometimes together.”

“Anyhow, the first rule for making and keeping friends is to follow the words of Rabbi Akiba: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  The second rule is to always be humble, do not act as though you are better in any way than those you want as friends. The third rule is to care, really care, about their health, and wellbeing, and that of their family members. If they are in need of anything, and you have the ability to take care of that need, you must do so. That includes emotional support as well as material support. The fourth rule is to maintain contact. It is hard work to maintain friendships, but if you have not heard from a friend recently you must initiate contact, let them know you are thinking of them. Ask if there is anything you can do for them. At the minimum, you must arrange some sort of meeting, or a study session, or invite them to a party. You need to be with them in an informal setting.

The fifth rule is to do nothing to create bad feeling. This is especially true of your relationships with the Muslims or Christians. You must have friends amongst those peoples. Adapt yourself to their culture and beliefs. You know our Berber masters are fond of wine, good rich foods, and women, as well as young girls and boys. Are you old enough to understand this last bit of what I am telling you, Joseph?”

“Yes, Papa, I know of this from your poetry. But you don’t do those things do you? You just imagine them and write poems?”

“Because it is essential for me to not give cause for King Badis and the Berber chiefs to no longer be my friends, I do participate, but with restraint. I never take wine or food in excess. I sometimes dally with the women and children, but I do not consummate. Do you know what I mean by consummate?”

“No, Papa.”

“When you are older I will explain it. Just always remember that I love your mother and all you children. Enough of this. This evening I want to tell you more of my history. Perhaps this will help you understand all I have had to do to achieve my present position. Speaking of these matters aloud also reminds me of events and helps me maintain constancy and clear thinking.”

“You know that early one morning in Menachem Av, 4796, when you were just two years old, King Habbus died. The next few days were crucial for our family. It was very possible I would be arrested. If that happened, your mother had to be prepared to flee the city with you and your uncle. I arranged for horses and a carriage for all of you at the Cogollos Vega farm. I also purchased a house in Jaen, in the Jewish section. If I was taken, your mother would make her way there. I instructed your mother and uncle not to speak of these arrangements to anyone, but to be prepared to depart immediately. Your uncle was given the responsibility to see to it that you and your mother were safe.”

Father told me that over the next several days he had meetings with Prince Boluggin. He knew that many of the Zanhadja tribal chiefs preferred to have Boluggin, rather than Badis, as the new king. Father repeated his previous arguments to Boluggin, in even greater detail. He again described the responsibilities of the king and the restrictions that would be placed upon him, both by the position and by people’s expectations. Father asked him to consider what he knew about the personality and character of his older brother. He asked him what he thought Badis would do if he, Boluggin, accepted the handshake of fealty and allegiance when offered by those tribal chiefs who were most likely to support him. While he spoke to him, Father could see that Boluggin understood that Badis would not give up the throne quietly. Father went on to point out that a civil war between brothers was a terrible price to pay for power. Father spoke of his own nightmares, inspired by his conversations with the one God, who Jews do not name but the Muslims know as Allah, about the horrors that would come to Granada from a civil war.

Later, my Father learned from his spies that same afternoon some of the chiefs did meet with Boluggin. He did not know what Boluggin’s response to them was. Father had spoken to Prince Badis on several occasions during the King’s final illness and pledged his support, along with that of the great majority of the Jewish community.

Three days after his conversation with Prince Boluggin, Father was called to King Haddus’ bedside. Haddus told him he knew about his nephew Yaddair’s efforts to have my father removed as Vizier. He asked my father, which of his sons he considered to be the best to rule the kingdom after his death. Father was frank. He told the king he considered Badis to be better prepared and better suited by temperament and personality to be a strong ruler. He was most likely to follow the example set by his father. He told Habbus that although there was strong support for Yaddair he couldn’t understand why he might consider choosing a nephew over one of his own sons since both were qualified. Father told me Habbus agreed then asked him to take writing up materials. He dictated an order for his nephew, instructing him to forgo trying to usurp the throne. Yaddair was further instructed to provide his loyalty, support, and counsel to the new king. While seated at the King’s bedside, my father composed the document. When it was finished, Haddus read it, nodded his head, and held out his hand for the pen. After signing, he called for a messenger and gave instructions to deliver the document into Prince Yaddair’s hands.

Within hours of Habbus’ death, one of our servants knocked on the doorjamb of my father’s study, where I sat with him reciting a passage from the Torah.

“There is a messenger from the palace at the front gate sir,” the servant said.

“Well, Joseph, I expect this is the news I have been waiting for. At least it is a messenger, not soldiers to take me away.”

He told the servant to bring the messenger to us. When the messenger entered the study, Father looked at him and lifted his chin. The messenger looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

“He is my son; he does not speak of anything said in this room. Please tell me what has transpired.”

The messenger told us that Prince Boluggin refused to shake the hands of those that came to him offering fealty. Prince Badis promised to make Boluggin commander of all the mercenaries, including the Negro infantry from Nubia. He also promised him the choice of several large estates. Prince Boluggin accepted all of these honors and pledged his loyalty to Badis.

“Who sent you with this message?” asked Father.

“Prince Badis sent me. He also told me you are invited to attend the ceremony that will crown him King.

“When is the ceremony to take place?” asked Father.

“The ceremony is scheduled to begin at ten tomorrow morning.”

Father thanked the messenger and asked him to tell King Badis he will be honored and very pleased to attend him.

After the messenger left my father allowed himself a smile of satisfaction.

“Well, the first obstacle had been overcome, Joseph, but Badis has an unstable and volatile personality. He could prove to be less easy to influence than was his father. We are entering some interesting and dangerous times. That’s enough for this evening, Joseph. I see you listen very intently to what is said in this room. Do you remember?”

“Yes, Papa, I remember everything.”

Several evenings later, I was back in father’s study. He glanced at my copy of the poem he had assigned and smiled.

“Yes, good, Joseph,” and he handed me the gold coin he was holding between thumb and first finger.

“Sit. Tonight I want to talk about what has happened in the short time since Badis became king. Within days after he was crowned, Badis appointed two brothers as new Viziers, Ali and Abdallah ibn al-Karawi. The brothers were classmates of Badis at the school for chief’s sons. They have remained close friends and spend much time in diversion with the king. Their father’s family was originally Christian. The grandfather, converted to Islam and the whole family subsequently converted. The family has supplied aides to various Zanhadja chiefs since the grandfather’s conversion. The two new Viziers have the ear of Badis. I had to make certain I knew what advice they gave so I could adapt mine to theirs.”

“King Badis also increased the functionaries of his court to include native Andalusians, those decedents of the original people who inhabited Andalusia. The native Andalusians willingly adopted the trappings of any religion they needed to survive. They accepted the different Paganisms and Gods of the Romans, then the Visigoth beliefs, then Christianity. When the Muslims invaded, many of them found Islam, although today there are still a few who observe the Pagan practices of their ancestors. Some few Andalusians even converted to Judaism, but most converted to Islam. It made life significantly easier for them. So now I am dealing with Andalusians, Arabs, Berbers and Slavs, all of whom have envied and hated each other for generations, and are now struggling for influence at the court. Of course they all hate Jews, especially Jews who occupy higher positions of power than they enjoy.”

Now I am now forced to make friends of all these natural enemies so I can maintain my position. My fate, inherited from my father, is always to strive to retain enough influence so I can protect our people.

My father continued:

“To further complicate matters the Vizier of Almeria renewed his efforts to oust me. He did his best with King Habbus. After Habbus died, he sent a strong letter to Badis reiterating his charge that giving a Jew high office is forbidden in the Qur’an. He suggested that I was the only obstacle to peace between Almeria and Granada. Without comment, King Badis handed me that letter and waited for my response. I read it quickly, then read it again, with considerable thought and concentration before looking up.”

“I decided to ignore the first part of the letter and focused my attention to ibn Abbas’ reference to a recent pact between his King Zuhair and the Prince of Carmona. I reminded King Badis that Carmona’s territory abutted Granada’s, western borders. I reminded him that the rulers of Carmona were Zenaga and closely related to other Zenaga, and those tribes were chronically attempting to unite to destroy the Zanhadja. I then spoke about the advisability of maintaining a good relationship with Almeria to protect the rear of the kingdom from attack. This was essential if he was to deal with the generations-long conflict with the Kingdom of Seville to the east.”

“I suggested King Badis send a respected Arab theologian, such as my friend Abu l’Hassan, as his emissary to hold meetings with ibn Abbas. He might be more inclined to listen to an Arab emissary who enjoyed strong theological credentials. I suggested that the charge for Abu l’Hassan should be to remind ibn Abbas, and Zuhair, of how quickly and forcibly Granada came to the aid of Almeria in their recent conflict with Seville, and how mutually beneficial it would be to renew the alliance.”

Badis accepted my father’s advice. He sent the noted scholar, also a sharia judge, to conduct talks with the leaders of Almeria. Badis further instructed the emissary to inform the leaders he considered the Jew too valuable to be dismissed. Abu l’Hassan returned dejected. He reported that ibn Abbas told him under no circumstances would he advise Zuhair to accept Badis’ arguments. He hinted that with his strong army of Slavs, Arabs, Negroes, and Christian mercenaries, along with his ability to hire additional Catalan troops, Zuhair would not have much difficulty if he decided to annex Granada to his kingdom.

After receiving this report, my father’s advice to Badis was to start an immediate buildup of his own army, but to wait until Zuhair made the first move. He explained that the longer we could delay, the more time we had to gain strength.

Badis followed Father’s advice. This was also the time that Father embarked on an exhaustive study of treatises on military strategies, techniques, armaments, and descriptions of how historically decisive battles had been won.  He had agents from throughout the Diaspora purchase books on these subjects, many delivered by messengers on fast horses. Most of these books were written in Latin or Greek. When my own in studies in Latin and Greek were advanced enough, I asked my father if I could borrow some of his books. He was happy that I showed interest. I took the time to read several of them and discovered they were all published by successful Generals and Father had made copious notes to himself in the margins.

During that same time, my father, even at his advanced age, hired experts to come to the house to teach him the use of the sword, spear, bow and arrow, shield, sling, and all the other weapons in common use. He also purchased three well-bred stallions and took time, at least three times a week, to practice horseback riding along with his training for battle.

My father became thin, fit and muscular. He could hold his own with the various swordsmen he brought to the courtyard of our house for practice and exercise.

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Ha Nagid’s journal:10

20 Tishrei, 4733 (October, 1024)

I was born in Cordoba in the year 4654 (993). My brother Isaac is slightly over a year older than me. We were both keen students. Isaac still has a quick, retentive mind, and superior powers of reasoning. I was marginally slower than he. My father was not extremely wealthy but he was a successful businessman, and he made certain his sons studied with the best teachers available. We both studied with the renowned scholar Rabbi Hanokh and his son Rabbi Moses ben Hanokh, both highly respected for their learning. We also studied with the leading Hebrew grammarian of his generation, Judah Hayyudi. There were other teachers for Latin and Greek, Arabic, Aramaic and Berber. The language of the streets, Ladino, we learned on the streets.

Our father did not neglect to teach his sons business affairs. We both became practical and self-sufficient, as well as well-educated. In those days students met at previously set times in the homes of their teachers, sometimes in the synagogue, and sometimes even in shops where books were sold. Most wealthy homes, both Islamic and Jewish, had extensive libraries. The teachers would lead and direct long discussions of various literary topics, and all the scholars present were expected to participate sharing their insights and opinions. Significant amounts of time were set aside for the reading and analysis of all the various meters of Arabic and Hebrew poetry. Readings were followed by an in-depth discussion about the form, texture and meaning of the poems.

At an early age I enjoyed recognition for my understanding of both Arabic and Hebrew poetry, even approbation by Arab scholars who appreciated my writings. I have always been excited to learn something new every day and feel if I haven’t the day has been wasted. I have even made an extensive study of the Qur’an, and of the writings of many Muslim theologians. Of course, I have studied Torah, and both editions of the Talmud, extensively and in great detail. Neither have I neglected the writings of Christian scholars and the New Testament.

Leaders of the large Jewish community of Cordoba often spoke of the accomplishments of the physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut. Ibn Shaprut achieved preeminence as Foreign Minister to the illustrious court of the Caliph of all Andalusia. As a youth, I often daydreamed about matching or even surpassing the accomplishments of ibn Shaprut, hero of all the Jews of Andalusia.

It was in the month of Siven, 4674 (1013) when the Berbers took final control of Cordoba from the Umayyads, after three years of strife. The result was the breakup of the Umayyad Empire into many city/states now known as the Taifa. During those three years of conflict the Jews and other citizens of Cordoba were under continuous stress as well as physical danger. I was twenty years old and decided to leave Cordoba to escape the turmoil. My father and the rest of my family stayed behind in hopes of retaining the home and business.

I joined a small group of immigrants. We were all intent on braving the roving bands of Berbers and effecting an escape. Berber raiders were continuing to create havoc in the countryside and on the highways, robbing, raping, pillaging and murdering those they encountered. Our small group’s plan was to reach Malaga, where the ruler of that Taifa had an agreement with the Berbers. They accepted tribute from him and in return agreed to leave him, his holdings, and his people alone.

There was then, and still is, a highway that follows the course of a thousand-plus-year-old Roman road from Cordoba to Malaga. That road runs south and slightly east from Cordoba and is less than two hundred kilometers in length. Under normal circumstances it is a relatively easy eight-day trip on foot. Our small group of emigrants inquired of everyone we met along the way with the intent of finding the easiest road and avoiding contact with Berbers. We first headed in the opposite direction, northeast out of Cordoba then took the road to Montoro. We then followed a little traveled road south and west crossing the Guadajoz River then east to Baena. From Baena we made our way east then south again skirting the eastern slopes of the Subbetica Mountains and continuing south to Archidona. From Archidona we learned the roads were safe from Antequera to Malaga. We finally arrived in Malaga after twenty days of walking.

Several times during the journey we were forced to hide from roving Berber bands. During those twenty hectic days, I formed a special relationship with the donkey that carried my most valued books, and the supplies and gear I needed for the trip. The donkey followed me closely, keeping the rope from my hand to his halter slack. Whenever we were forced to hide, my hand on the donkey’s nose was enough to prevent him braying. I kept that donkey for many years.

After I was settled in Malaga I opened a small shop and started a business selling spices. I had sewn a dozen gold coins into the hem of my cloak. Those coins were all I had as capital to start my business. The business acumen I learned from my father proved valuable. Over the next several years my business expanded enough for me to purchase the building that housed the shop. The business provided an adequate, albeit not extravagant, lifestyle.

The Jewish community of Malaga was small, about forty families. Almost all the heads of households were either craftsmen or merchants. There were no young scholars or writers with whom I could interact. I did manage to find some intellectual stimulation in the home of Rabbi Judah, the leader of the small Malagan Jewish community. But there was no extensive circle of intellectuals to provide the back and forth discourse I was accustomed to when living in Cordoba. I felt isolated and depressed, except when I was able to interact with the new friend I made during my first year in Malaga.

Ali ben Ahmad ibn Hazm became one of the most renowned Muslim intellectuals of our generation. He was the son of a high-ranking member of the recently deposed government of Cordoba. Although he and I were both born and raised in Cordoba, we did not meet until after both of us moved to Malaga. After the takeover by the Berbers, ibn Hazam’s father was ousted by the new Berber rulers, then imprisoned and was forced to forfeit a significant portion of his property to obtain his freedom. Despite these family setbacks, Ali ibn Hazm continued his studies and acquired a deep understanding of Arabic literature, philology, and the theory of logic. He also composed beautiful poetry, but his overriding passion was the study of theology.

After we met, as two refugees from Cordoba, there was an immediate connection. Then, and for the rest of his life, ibn Hazm was a controversial man. He particularly enjoyed arguing with anyone who held religious views that differed from his, not excluding other Muslim theologians. He also enjoyed debating literary subjects. He and I spent many hours engaged in good spirited argument.

Ibn Hazm particularly enjoyed arranging public debates. He loved to demonstrate his knowledge and debating skills to an audience. He challenged me to a series of debates about the veracity of certain sections of the Torah. My friend eventually published a book detailing those debates, his arguments and my responses. In that book, he voiced the opinion that I was the most accomplished debater he ever knew. We maintained a respectful friendship while we both resided in Malaga, but once I attained a position of authority and success, ibn Hazm, who never achieved a similar level of recognition, became increasingly vindictive and eventually turned against me.

Within the small Jewish community of Malaga, and increasingly within the entire population of the city, my reputation as a scholar was increasing. There was also considerable interest in my ability to write grammatically correct Arabic, free of error and in the flowery style much appreciated by the Andalusians. It wasn’t long until those skills were put to use. I was happy, and pleased, to compose letters for people I knew.

By this time, I had all but given up on my youthful dreams of living up to the standards set by my hero Hasdai ibn Shaprut. My spirits reached a new low as I approached thirty years of age. I was unmarried as well as frustrated with the lack of an intellectually challenging life. Then something totally unexpected happened.

The house next to mine was owned by the Finance Vizier of Granada, Abu l-Abbas. The house and nearby estates of this worthy man were maintained and managed by one of his stewards. The steward made my acquaintance and frequently asked me to write letters to the Vizier. I answered the Vizier’s questions about his affairs in Malaga and provided updates on his properties. Abu l-Abbas was apparently impressed by the level of skill and learning apparent in that correspondence and asked the steward about the scribe responsible. On one of his visits to Malaga, Abu l-Abbas insisted the steward introduce him to me. After a short conversation, the Vizier recruited me to return with him to Granada to become his aide.

A legend is often repeated in Jewish community of Granada that I was responsible for the growth in influence and the wise advice of the Vizier l-Abbas. According that legend, the Vizier, on his deathbed, admitted to King Habbus that the writings and wise council he provided for the king were all my work thus securing for me the position of Vizier. This legend is pure fabrication, but it seems to have developed a life independent of reality. It will, no doubt, persist.

Even after moving to Granada, my life did not progress smoothly. As my reputation grew and I became more successful I was appointed Ha Nagid, responsible for the good behavior of the Jewish community as well as tax collector for that community. This, inevitably, resulted in my acquisition of enemies. Tax collectors are never popular and the way the system works, throughout Andalusia, is that the rulers tell those responsible for collecting taxes how much the government expects from their assigned district. These so-called “tax farmers” collect as much as they think they can, and kept the difference. I became successful in this endeavor and thus managed to alienate several wealthy, and influential, heads of old Jewish families in Granada. When I arrived, the Jewish community comprised at least forty percent of the inhabitants of Granada and was destined to grow in numbers under my nurturing.

I wanted to help my friend from Malaga, Rabbi Judah. It also was true that Rabbi Judah’s daughter Rebecca was young, beautiful, and of marriageable age. I secured a tax territory for Rabbi Judah and the Rabbi moved his family to Granada. I made no secret of my interest in Rebecca, but she was already spoken for. A second cousin, who was the Rabbi’s disciple, had been promised her.

The fact that I brought in an outsider to assume the lucrative tax farmer duties rankled, and further alienated those same, already out of sorts, old Jewish establishment families. The situation was worse because Rabbi Judah was an even more recent arrival than I was. The Jewish men who felt slighted turned to the Muslim officials with whom they had long-standing relationships. They managed to convince those officials that I was collecting significantly more than I should in taxes and was keeping enough to become overly wealthy. I was arrested and put into prison. Later I discovered the same malcontents also hired thugs who attacked and killed Rabbi Judah and his disciple, the fiancé of Rebecca, while I was in jail and they were out collecting taxes.

My many friends in the Jewish community, along with the Finance Vizier l-Abbas, managed to obtain my release from prison, but it was too late to save Rabbi Judah. I suggested I should marry Rebecca and assume the responsibility and honor of caring for the Rabbi’s family. Despite having to pay a huge fine to help secure my release, I still had considerable financial resources. Rabbi Judah’s family agreed to the arrangement but insisted the marriage be delayed for a full year of mourning. Eventually the katuba was signed and Rebecca and I were married.

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Chapter 8: Letter from Abu Dja far Ahmad ben Abbas

3 Junada al-thani, 421(August, 1030)

To the most honorable King of Malaga, ibn Ali Musa:

King Habbus of Granada, and his Zanhadja, have ignored the teachings of the Qur’an by ignoring my advice to rid themselves of the Jews in their government, particularly their Vizier of Finance, the self-righteous ibn Nagrela. They have placed their own self-interest above the law dictated by the Prophet.

My King Zuhair respectively petitions you to join him in renouncing the Zanhadja for retaining the Jews in their administration. If you do this thing I believe I will be able to convince King Zuhair to form a mutual defense pact with you and Muhammad ben Abdallah, the ruler of Carmona. The alliance of Almeria, Malaga and Carmona will surround Granada with enemies and force them to adhere to the teachings of the Qur’an. The alliance will also provide other benefits to our respective Kingdoms.


Chapter 9: Joseph’s journal;

15 Siven, 4806 (June,1059)

I know I fall short of father’s achievements. I am less than an average poet and I am useless as a soldier, let alone the Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of Granada, a role my father filled with distinction. I perceive the brutality and stench of battle as perhaps the most disgustingly fearful and repugnant activity of man. My Berber masters consider war the culmination of living. I have inherited father’s position as Chief Vizier, but cannot duplicate his accomplishments. I know how to manage the finances of the Kingdom, and I do it well. I know how to pick the best man for a job. I am calm, quiet, observant. With careful thought, and an excellent network of spies, I am able to forestall plots, revolutions, and other threats against the kingdom.

King Badis is a good listener, and I have his ear. Most of the time he heeds my advice because my father taught me the techniques that make him believe that he was actually the one who formulated the strategy. Badis is also good about inviting disparate views but he keeps his own council before acting. Mostly he does nothing. He waits patiently for events to develop until his choices of action are more obvious, more limited. This behavior of non-action is one I approve of, and encourage.

At dinner, this evening I spoke of family matters with my mother, Rebecca, and my uncle, my mother’s brother, Rabbi David ben Judah, who lives with us. My sister Sarah is now married, and about to give birth to her first child. My brother Judah died as an infant, and my brother Elyasaf is not yet Bar Mitzvah. My wife Sarah supervised the preparation and serving of the dinner by the servants, her usual role. My children, who had been fed earlier, were in their beds.

My uncle is a good man, a moral man, very learned in the specifics of Jewish law as promulgated by the great scholars, but he has contributed nothing new. He is, however, very competent in managing the details of the many estates and investments I inherited from my father. He also serves me well as a sounding board, allowing me to unload my worries while offering only the advice of the sages.

When I was but sixteen years old, my father sent me across the Mediterranean Sea and then on a long trek through the desert to Kairwan in Tunisia. He sent me to learn at the Yeshiva of Rabbi Nissim, who was known to be one of the most learned Rabbis throughout the diaspora. Rabbi Nissim was also my father’s friend and colleague of many years. Although they had never met face to face they carried on an intense correspondence regarding the proper interpretation of passages from the Torah and Talmud.

I studied at the feet of Rabbi Nissim until I was nineteen years old. Eventually, he told me that I was the best student he ever had, and that I had learned as much Torah and Talmud as he could teach. He told me it was time for me to return to Granada where I needed to learn how to become the successor to Ha Nagid, as my father was no longer young. Rabbi Nissim also offered me a parting gift, the hand of his daughter Sarah in marriage. This was a gift I could not refuse. I had admired her, and done everything I could to be her friend and confident, since my arrival. She was then and is now a beautiful woman. She is also a dutiful daughter and wife.

Rabbi Nissim, and his entire family, accompanied me on the long sea voyage to Malaga, and from there, by mule drawn wagons, to Granada. Soon after our arrival in Granada the wedding was held, and our two families were joined. My father convinced Rabbi Nissim to remain in Granada to teach in Father’s Yeshiva. To make it easier he moved the Yeshiva from our house to a much more commodious venue, a house in the Jewish section, that he subsequently gave to Rabbi Nissim.

Not long after my wedding a renowned Arab scholar by the name of Haj Amin el Badr returned to Andalusia from a pilgrimage to Mecca. He responded to the machinations of Abu ben Abbas by trying to convince King Badis to get rid of my father as his Vizier, but Badis refused, as he had refused all previous efforts. El Badr then started preaching in the largest mosque in Granada, repeating the idea that it was not possible to trust a non-believer. He managed another audience with King Badis and claimed he had a solution to the Jew problem. He proposed to convince my father to convert to Islam.

Badis was delighted at the prospect of relieving his boredom by having Badr and my father debate the merits of Judaism versus Islam. He ordered that Badr and my father would conduct an open debate in his throne room in front of all those nobles who wanted to attend. This would be Badr’s one and only opportunity to convince my father to convert. I didn’t want to go but my father insisted that I be present, and that I make careful notes of all that transpired.

We entered the Alcazaba through the gate at the foot of the tower. The access to the gate is from a walkway that goes up a slight slope then makes a right angle turn that prevents the gate from being seen from outside the walls. We passed through the gate and entered the inner closed space, vaulted with many turns and openings high on the walls through which defenders can fire arrows and crossbow bolts. We emerged through an archway into the large courtyard, the Place of Arms. Defenders can control all access to this yard where, during peacetime troops practice marching and maneuvers. In case of an invasion any enemy that manages to reach the courtyard can be attacked from the top of the surrounding wall and from the tower, both areas only accessible via a narrow, steep, and vaulted staircase.

The massive stone inner walls are faced with Granada’s brick, red in the bright summer sunlight, dark and ominous in the shadows. We passed through alternate heat and cool, sunlight and shade. As I followed my father’s purposeful stride I noticed only the sound of his and my footfalls echoed through the passage ways. No other people were seen, no other sounds were heard. I smelled orange blossoms but couldn’t see any orange trees. I smelled spices being toasted but no kitchens or workers were visible.

After leaving the Place of Arms, we walked through a pointed arch embellished with vertically juxtaposed prisms then entered the Baraka, the blessing hall. This hall is rectangular in shape about twenty meters long but only slightly over four meters wide with a high vaulted ceiling. A plain low plinth serves as the foundation for the walls, all richly decorated with painted plasterworks. At both ends of this hall were alcoves with tiled plinths embellishing the columns that support stilted scalloped arches, ornamented with highly decorated pendentives. This is a construction where the curved triangle of vaulting is formed by the intersection of a dome with its supporting arches.

Finally, we entered the throne room through a double arch. The room was already crowded with nobility and administrators. The disturbing sound of many guttural, hushed voices assaulted my ears, which were, by then, accustomed to the muted sounds of our route to this place. This was my first time in that room, a room my father specifically designed to create awe. I stood, transfixed. I shivered, either from the abrupt change in temperature or in anticipation of the unknowable.

I looked around and estimated the room to be a little over eleven long strides square, but the ceiling soared above our heads. The floor was brilliant white marble covered in brightly colored silk rugs. Scattered around the room were piles of cushions, also covered with ornately decorated silk weavings. On the walls were hung heavy silk rugs with sumptuous colors and intricate designs. Huge ceramic vases decorated with cobalt blue, manganese-black, iron-green, copper-red, tin-white, and lead-yellow designs were scattered around the hall.

Each wall contained three arches, the center arch being the largest. Each of the eight smaller arches opened to niches through the two-and-a-half-meter thick wall. From where I stood all the niches seemed to extend through the wall and end as balconies, overlooking what I did not know. The center arches were twin arches with two lattice windows located near the top. The arches, the walls, the niches, the balconies, everything were covered with decorative inscriptions, poems praising Allah or the King. There was also an arch over the platform, which was covered with huge cushions serving as a throne. The platform was raised half-a-meter above the floor, accessed by two steps. It was unoccupied. The arch over the throne platform was decorated with a molding starting at the imposts and framing the opening and contained a quote from the Qur’an:

Help me Allah stoner of the devil.   

In the name of Allah who is merciful and has mercy.

Be, Allah, with our Lord Mahomet and his generation, accompaniment and salvation.

And say: my help of Allah’s rage and of the devil that permits breakage of hell;

And save me from evilness of the jealous when he is jealous

And no other divinity lives than Allah’s to who eternally praise

The praise to the Allah of the centuries.

Most of the room was in dim light. The lack of sunlight made the room cool on the hottest days but the latticework on the openings allowed filtered light into the room. I noticed that the light from the several of the lattices was focused on the platform throne. The effect was to surround the seated king in diffused light, which added to his power and mystery.

Above the arch over the throne platform was a paneled ceiling embellished with ribbon bow motifs and painted stars. The walls of the room, surrounded by a glazed tile plinth, are decorated with carvings of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables combined harmoniously with geometrical designs.

Scattered on the walls, embedded in the geometric designs were inscriptions I didn’t notice at first. There is no victor but Allah, was repeated several times. Rejoice in good fortune, because Allah helps you. Be sparse in words and you will go in peace.

These sayings were an elaborate form of propaganda, designed by my father, to reflect the power and might of the king.

The murmuring of many voices stopped abruptly when King Badis entered the room. He wore a turquoise colored outer silk robe decorated with intricate designs made of gold thread on the collar and cuffs. Under the robe were pants and shirt of brilliant white silk, and on his head a silk turban matching the cloak, also decorated with gold thread. Without speaking, he ascended the platform, sat crossed-legged on his cushions, and nodded at Badr.

Without preliminaries, Badr started the debate by pointing out that the Qur’an clearly states that Jews are money grabbers. I will do my best to repeat what was said from the notes I made and my memory of that fateful encounter.

“How can a money grabber be trusted to control the finances of the Kingdom?”

“Highness and notables of the land. Our Holy Torah forbids the charging of interest on loans to our people,” answered my father.

“But Jew, we are not your people,” Badr said with a laugh.

“Your Highness, I had not finished my answer. Our Holy sages tell us in the Talmud that it is a far worse sin to charge interest or deal falsely with non-Jews.” Father proceeded to quote from memory the various passages from the Talmud that made this idea clear. He ended with a clincher. “Our Rabbis strictly enforce this rule of law and Haj Amin El Badr has benefitted from this directly. He borrowed the funds necessary to make his pilgrimage to Mecca from the money lender Yehudah and was not charged interest. I am also told he has not yet paid back all of the borrowed funds.”

Badr seemed confused and requested that the debate be halted for the day to be resumed the next and King Badis with a thoughtful smile on his face agreed, stood up and left the room.

The audience of nobles was stunned. They had expected something dramatic and witnessed only an initial feeling out.

The following day my father and I followed the same route but I was feeling a more ominous anticipation. My father was calm, serious but didn’t seem worried or nervous. This time the cacophony from those gathered in the throne room was louder, more intense. King Badis entered, dressed in royal blue, and again the audience went silent. Badis did not smile, just waved his left hand at Badr who opened the second day with the following statement:

“Is it not written in your Torah that a prophet from your midst will be chosen by God and that you must heed his words? Whom else can this be but Mohammed?”

Badr stood smiling with satisfaction. My father got up from the cushion he was sitting on and responded.

“This is a total misinterpretation. Our scholars have pointed out that the Torah says; ‘…just as I Moses am from your midst so will our Lord bring forth additional prophets from your midst. …’ This is the direct quote from the Torah. I submit that your sainted prophet Mohammad did not receive the prophetic tradition in a direct line from the prophets as Moses foretold. He did not come from our midst. Moses was our prophet and we believe in him because of the miracles he performed leading to our exodus from Egypt, and because he was the one chosen by God to receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The Torah also commands that we Jews not add to what is set as law in the Torah, nor delete from it. Your prophet ignored portions of the Torah that contradicted his message just as the Christians have done. We cannot accept any revisions to the Torah.”

Badr’s sneered, his face reddening as he struggled to contain his anger and frustration. My father allowed only a hint of a smile and stood calmly, waiting. Badis smiled broadly, leaned forward and rested his chin on his left fist.

“So, Jew, if yours is the true faith why and how did Islam become the dominant religion of the world? Why does a mosque now stand on the very ground where your temple was? Why have so many Jews converted to Islam?”

Only the sound of many men breathing deeply could be heard. All heads shifted to look at my father. The anticipation was palpable. How could the Jew possibly respond to this?

“Islam has spread among the multitudes. I cannot deny that fact. This must have happened because God willed it so. We believe that God wishes that monotheism be spread amongst all non-believers so that when the Messiah does arrive it will be easier for all to accept him. We Jews were expelled from our homeland because we sinned against our Lord and his Torah. When we all return to God’s commandments and repent he will restore his people to Zion. This is what we believe.”

“This Jew is too clever Majesty. He has answers for everything. I ask a favor. I have brought with me a former Jew by the name of Abu Sufyan. I ask this man be allowed to debate ibn Nagrela. I think, your Highness, that it will take one cunning Jew to outdebate another Jew.”

“Where is this man?” asked Badis.

A short man in a common wool cloak pushed forward from the back of the room.

“I am Abu Sufyan,” he bowed low to the King. “May I speak Majesty?”

Badis gave permission with a wave of his right hand.

“Your Highness and gathered nobles, when a Jew is faced with death, the Torah instructs that he must convert, because to preserve a life a Jew may ignore any prohibition of the Torah. The only exceptions allowed are that one must die rather than commit murder, lead an amoral life or worship idols. Islam is not considered Idolatry by the Jews so if you order ibn Nagrela to convert he is not being ordered to commit murder or compromise morality. He must convert or be put to death.”

“Great King,” my father said, as he gathered his thoughts “I am attacked by an apostate Jew who converted rather than be executed for being a thief. I ask that I be allowed to go to my home and pray to God for guidance before responding.”

Badis agreed. “We will resume this tomorrow after the noon meal.”

As soon as he left the throne room the place erupted with sound.

On the walk home I studied my father’s face. He was deep in thought. I dared not ask how he planned to respond. Would he really risk death by refusing to convert?

All that night my father prayed and consulted with Rabbi Nissim on ways to respond to the argument raised by Abu Sufyan. The next day, after the noon meal, the debate resumed.

Badis spoke to open the proceedings.

“Ibn Nagrela, based on what we heard yesterday I believe you must accept Islam with a clear conscience, or I will be forced to order your execution.”

My father stepped forward and spoke directly to the king.

“My king, the Torah tells us that in times of persecution we may not abandon Torah to save our lives, it is obvious to me that we Jews are facing a time of persecution.”

Abu Sufyan jumped off the cushion he was sitting on.

“There is no truth to that statement,” he shouted. “Nobody in Granada is preventing the Jews from practicing their religion. The truth is that the people do not want the a favorite of the King to have influence over their lives, if he is a Jew. They fear he will favor his own people over them.”

My father turned slowly to face his accuser.

“Even if I agree that you are correct, and also believe that my people will not be persecuted, as you persecute me now, I still may not convert. If I accept Islam as my religion, I will be rejecting the Torah. Moses told us the Torah is eternal. There are many passages in the Talmud describing self-sacrifice. How can I do less than Rabbi Akiba, or Daniel, who was thrown to the lions rather than convert?”

Once again, he addressed the king.

“As Ha Nagid of the Jews, and as your Vizier who has always supported your Highness, my conversion would be an embarrassment and sin for all generations who follow. Your Highness knows that for the past many years, first for your father and now for you, I have devoted my life, my brain, and all my energy to you and to our Kingdom. My guiding principle has always been the best interest of the Kingdom. No, your Highness, I am prepared to die here and now rather than convert.”

My heart beat so strongly in my chest I feared those close to me could hear it. My father’s face was calm, almost serene, then I saw a slight tremble of his lower lip. I prayed to God that nobody else, especially King Badis, noticed that tremble.

Badis was immobile, his chin again resting on his left fist. He gazed around the silent room, slowly then stood up and stared at each of the nobles and tribal chiefs in the room until each looked away.

“Ibn Nagrela you have convinced me and all of those present.” He looked again around the room and held each person’s eyes until they nodded agreement. “You have remained true to your people and your religion and have answered all of the arguments of your accusers. I have complete faith in you. You have served this Kingdom well and, I am certain, will continue to do so. I order that Abu Sufyan and Haj Amin El Badr both be imprisoned and kept locked away to ponder the danger of attacking my most trusted servant.”

I smiled with relief, as did my father.

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Chapter 7: Open letter from Abu-far Ahmad ben Abbas

14 Rabi’ al-awwal, 421 (May, 1030)

To all True Believers living in Granada:

The blessed Qur’an instructs that a non-believer should not hold any office that provides a measure of authority over any Muslim. In keeping with the Holy word of Allah, all Jews in the service of Muslim Kings must be dismissed. To disobey is to flaunt the law as set down in the Qur’an.

My King, the blessed by Allah, Zuhair has instructed me to demand specifically that the Jew Samuel ibn Nagrela be removed from the high office he holds in Granada. The position must be held by a True Believer.


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