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Debating Truth

The Barcelona Disputation of 1263, A Graphic History

Nina Caputo and Illustrated by Liz Clarke

Publication Date - July 2016

ISBN: 9780190226367

256 pages
7 x 10 inches

In Stock

A graphic history that uses a theological disputation to explore interfaith relations, the complicated dynamics between Christians and Jews in medieval Spain, and the nature of truth


In the summer of 1263, Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, c. 1195-1270) traveled from his home in Girona to Barcelona at the behest of King James I of Aragon (1213-1276) to debate with a Dominican Friar named Paul about specific claims concerning the Messiah in Judaism and Christianity. The two disputants, each thoroughly convinced of the indisputable truth of his own religious faith and theological interpretations, argued their positions before a panel of judges headed by James I himself. Nina Caputo's new graphic history tells the story of the Barcelona Disputation from the perspective of Nahmanides.

By combining the visual power of graphics with primary sources, contextualizing essays, historiography, and study questions, Debating Truth explores issues of the nature of truth, interfaith relations, and the complicated dynamics between Christians and Jews in the medieval Mediterranean.

About the Author(s)

Nina Caputo is Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida. She is the author of Nahmanides in Medieval Catalonia: History, Community, Messianism (2007), and coeditor, with Andrea Sterk, of Faithful Narratives: Historians, Religion, and the Challenge of Objectivity (2014).

Liz Clarke is a professional illustrator based in Cape Town, South Africa.


"[T]hey have produced an outstanding, altogether original examination of this important event....A set of questions and resources for further research at the end enhance the book's value for undergraduates in classes on medieval Europe, Spain and the Mediterranean, Christian-Jewish relations, and seminars on historical methods. But it would also work well in a graduate seminar for the way it models historical thinking, and even scholars who know this material well--perhaps especially scholars who know this material well--will find the project highly illuminating."--Donald Copeland Klepper, The Historian

"Nina Caputo's marvelous reconstruction of the Barcelona Disputation is much more than a traditional narrative history. It is a laboratory permitting her readers to sift and weigh the evidence for themselves. She presents the dossier of primary sources that past historians have drawn from and their range of conclusions; but even more valuably, she lets us into the historian's workspace, allowing us to use the tools that she and Liz Clarke have assembled for the occasion, inviting us to share in the uncertainties, lacunae, and forking paths of which real historical interpretation is made. Too often when reading history books we passively consume narrative information about the past. This book invites readers to participate actively in rethinking it."--Marina Rustow, Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and Professor of History, Princeton University

"It is a rare treat to encounter a work of such historical, and aesthetic, probity. Erudite, thoughtful, and imaginative, Nina Caputo has put together and created a new and searching range of documents with which to read and reconstruct the 1263 Barcelona Disputation--a major event in the old asymmetric conflict that opposed Christians to Jews and to Muslims. Debating Truth is an exemplary perspectival account of the characters and plots, the broad contexts and settings, and the meanings and aftermaths of this layered contest. Attentive to law, culture, religion, and politics--and to narrative and interpretation--Caputo and Clarke have produced a striking book, a visual and intellectual feat that demonstrates that there is indeed much to debate still about truth and representation."--Gil Anidjar, author of 'Our Place in al-Andalus': Kabbalah, Philosophy, Literature in Arab Jewish Letters

"Debating Truth treats a timeless subject in a new way. How should believers in different faiths dispute the convictions that divide them? The Barcelona Disputation provides a famous medieval example of that question, now made available in a graphically novel and compelling way."--David Nirenberg, author of Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today

"A visual delight and a narrative tour de force, Debating Truth uses the conventions of the graphic novel to unearth an authentic sense of the drama and danger that infused Christian-Jewish relations in the Middle Ages. In tandem with the source collection and Caputo's historical overview, it provides both an engaging and lucid introduction to medieval Spain and a chance for students and scholars alike to meditate on how we remember the past and how we tell our stories about it."--Jay Rubenstein, University of Tennessee

"As a hybrid graphic history and academic work, Nina Caputo's Debating Truth not only offers an attractive and engaging book for classroom use but opens up welcome perspectives on the Barcelona Disputation. The graphic form forces the reader to contemplate the many gaps left in Nahmanides' account and in the historical record more generally."--Jonathan Decter, Brandeis University

Table of Contents


    Part I: Graphic history
    Chapter 1."Our lord king ordered me to debate Friar Paul..."
    Chapter 2. "We have three types of books..."
    Chapter 3. "Jesus never walked with the righteous in the Garden of Eden..."
    Chapter 4. "Moses, called master, having been summoned by the lord king..."
    Chapter 5. "I write this letter to you from Jerusalem..."

    Part II: The Primary Sources
    Document I: Nahmanides' Hebrew Account of the Barcelona Disputation
    Document II: The Latin Account of the Barcelona Disputation
    Document III: A letter from King James I permitting the Dominicans to compel Jews to attend public sermons and protecting the property and freedoms of those who convert
    Document IV: A letter from James I calling for the burning of copies of one of Maimonides' books on charges that it contained statements blaspheming Jesus
    Document V: Letter from James I to the Jewish communities of the Crown of Aragon instructing them to attend Friar Paul's sermons
    Document VI: Letter from James I limiting the friars' freedom to compel Jews to attend their sermons
    Document VII: James I's report of tribunal investigating charges that Nahmanides had blasphemed
    Document VIII: Letter of reprimand from Pope Clement IV to James I
    Document IX: Letter from Nahmanides to his son describing the physical landscape of Palestine. This document includes important demographic and political information as well as details about daily life in late thirteenth-century Palestine
    Document X: Selected canons from the Fourth Lateran Council concerning the statement of the Catholic creed,
    definition of heresy, a call for regulations governing Jewish business and public conduct, and a statement of privileges and rewards for those who participate in renewed military campaigns to the Holy Land

    Part III: Context
    1. Reconquista and the Boundaries of Christendom
    2. King James the Conqueror (1213-1276)
    3. The Jews of Spain
    4. Disputation in Medieval Society and Culture

    Part IV: Historiography
    Modern and Medieval Traces of the Barcelona Disputation
    Making This Book: Sources, Historical Narrative, and Visual Media

    Part V: Resources for Further Research
    Sources for Additional Reading
    Maps and Figures

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