Here is the video trailer and critique of the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” by CRI
This link has a much better history of the crusades film to watch
SOURCE CRI: SYNOPSIS
Kingdom of Heaven, a recent film set in the era of the Crusades, unfortunately perpetuates the false view that fanatical Christians brought war to an otherwise peaceful Muslim world. The film’s hero, Balian of Ibelin (played by Orlando Bloom) essentially represents a Hollywood version of what a Crusader should have been like: brave, concerned about the poor and underprivileged, tolerant, and not much interested in holy places in Jerusalem or in Christian doctrine—except to reject the extremism apparently caused by focusing on either one.
Real Crusaders were quite different, in that they were highly motivated by their Christian beliefs. By the late eleventh century, however, some of these beliefs had moved away from basic biblical and early church teachings. It was not their belief in absolute truth per se, but rather this mix of error with truth, along with the pressures of war, that led to some of the widely cited Crusader atrocities. Any proper attempt to evaluate the Crusades needs to measure their stated goals and actions against pertinent biblical criteria and the historical context at the time. Such an evaluation shows that the Crusades began with several noble and legitimate motives, but that these motives degenerated in practice at times. Even at their worst, however, the Crusades (only the first four are briefly considered) were little different than other wars conducted by Muslims before, during, and after the Crusades.
The recent film Kingdom of Heaven shows conflicts between Muslims and Christians in the twelfth century after the Second and before the Third Crusade, and dramatically culminates with the short siege and fall of Jerusalem to the Muslims in 1187. It is an amazing Hollywood version of the period, but it certainly is not factual history.
Among other things, it portrays Balian of Ibelin (played by Orlando Bloom) as a twenty-first-century, tolerant, sensitive hero who gained some kind of victory in the failed defense of Jerusalem, when, in fact, nearly all Christians at the time considered this loss to be a tremendous disaster.
More significantly, the film’s portrayal of Reynald of Chatillon, the French knight who controlled Karak castle and raided caravans that were going to Mecca, suggests that his actions were typical of most Crusaders who were trying to spread Christianity. The implication is that men like Reynald brought war to an otherwise peaceful, even idyllic, Muslim area. This cinematic image falls short of the truth in important ways, because wars were widespread throughout the Muslim world long before the Crusaders arrived and the Crusaders did not seek to convert Muslims by force.1
Such misconceptions, nevertheless, have contributed to the situation today in which “the Crusades” have become virtually synonymous with supposed Christian cruelty and intolerance. The Crusades actually were motivated in part by the desire of Christians in the West to help fellow Christians in the East. Those who went to the East suffered and often died in their attempts to help. Even if those attempts were misguided, unnecessary, or unsuccessful, there was little cruelty or intolerance in that aspect of the Crusades. Of course, the Crusades did involve warfare—often French, Norman, or other Christians against Turkish, Arab, or other Muslims—and that warfare brought death and destruction to all sides involved, as does war in any era. The Crusading era also included regrettable cases in which Christians and Muslims engaged in criminal, sinful, and wicked behavior apart from the fighting itself.
How can people begin to understand and evaluate this complex historical mix correctly? I believe that to conduct a proper evaluation of it, people should begin with the biblical and theological criteria for a legitimate war that were in use at the time, and then should consider whether the Crusades were conducted in harmony with such Christian teachings and with their own stated goals.
A JUST WAR?
Church fathers such as Ambrose and Augustine argued that such biblical texts as John 18:26; Romans 13:3 4; and 1 Peter 2:13 14 provided justification for governments to use force, including war, as “an agent to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4 NIV). These and other church leaders since the fourth century approved of Christians serving in the military and participating in war, at least under some circumstances, based on such passages as Matthew 8:5 7, Luke 3:14; 6:15; 14:31; and Acts 10 11. Various other views had existed among Christians, to be sure. The spectrum ranged from pacifism or nonresistance to offensive, preventive wars. By the time of the Crusades, however, many Christian writers and thinkers accepted a middle position in this spectrum, which was often called the just-war view. According to Augustine, this view argued that a war was legitimate if it (1) had a just cause (primarily that of defense); (2) had a just intention; (3) was a last resort; (4) was declared by a legal government or proper authority; (5) had limited objectives; (6) was fought with appropriate and proportionate means; and (7) ensured the protection of noncombatants and included proper treatment of the wounded and of prisoners.2 The first five criteria relate primarily to legitimate reasons for going to war in the first place while the last two provide standards for the proper conduct of those who are engaged in war. They can be applied fairly well to the stated motives for the Crusades and to the actual conduct of the Crusaders.
REASONS FOR THE CRUSADES
It is widely known that the Crusades were launched in November of 1095 when Pope Urban II called for a campaign to free the Holy Land from the control of the “Saracens” or “infidels” at the church council at Clermont in France. It is often wrongly assumed that Urban wanted to increase his own power, or that of the Roman Catholic Church, by ordering Christians to fight; however, the real motivations and circumstances behind Urban’s action are less widely known.
To Defend Christians in the East
Christians in the Middle East and Europe had needed to defend themselves against aggressive Muslim incursions ever since Islam began in the seventh century. Muslim groups, from the seventh through the tenth century, conquered Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, and many other areas that Christians had inhabited since the early church era. More immediately preceding the Crusades, in the late eleventh century (1070), the Seljuk Turks, who promoted the majority Sunni branch of Islam, overran much of the Near East and captured Jerusalem from the Fatimid dynasty, a Shi’a Islam group that had controlled Egypt and parts of the Middle East since the early tenth century. In 1071, these same Turks defeated the Byzantines in what today is eastern Turkey, and subsequently moved west into territory that was inhabited by Greek Christians.
This loss of territory and the continuing threat posed by the Muslim Turks prompted the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus (who ruled from 1081–1118), to request defensive aid from Christians in the West. This plea, in the form of a letter from Alexius, was what sparked Urban’s speech at Clermont. The text of his speech, unfortunately, has not been preserved. One eyewitness later mentioned, however, that Urban specifically cited the plight of the Byzantine Christians: “Your brethren who live to the east are in urgent need of your help…the Turks and the Arabs have attacked them and conquered…as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont.”3
Various Turks looted, raped, and pillaged in Christian and Muslim areas in the eastern part of Turkey that comprised the Asia Minor peninsula rather indiscriminately between 1071 and 1095.4 The threat to Eastern Christians in Byzantine territory in the 1090s, therefore, was real. Defending from these Turkish attacks would fit many of the criteria of a just war, but, unfortunately, the hordes of peasants and the unruly groups of professional soldiers that later showed up at Constantinople proved to be little help for Alexius or for Byzantine Christians.
To Protect Pilgrims and Churches in the Holy Land
Also behind Urban’s action at Clermont was the harassment of pilgrims from the West in Asia Minor and Palestine, which started after the Seljuk conquests in the 1070s. The earlier Fatimid rulers of Egypt generally had placed few restrictions on travel to the holy sites in Palestine for Christians, and pilgrimages had become popular in the eleventh century. Securing continued safe passage of Christians was important to Urban: “Let the great suffering of those who desire to go to the holy places stir you up. Think of those who made pilgrimage across the sea!…Remember, I pray, the thousands who have perished vile deaths [in route], and strive for the holy places from which the beginnings of your faith have come.”5
The worst problem in the eleventh century for travelers from the West to Palestine, as well as Christians who were already in the East, was what actually had occurred some years prior to the Turkish conquests. The Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (c. 996–1021) severely persecuted Christians and ordered the destruction of many churches throughout Egypt and Palestine. About 30,000 churches eventually were looted or burned, and equally large numbers of Christians and Jews were killed or forcibly converted to Islam.6 Al-Hakim even ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. His men demolished the sacred tomb and chiseled away much of the rock of Golgotha. After his disappearance and presumed murder in 1021, however, relatively peaceful relations resumed between the Fatimid rulers and the Christians in Egypt and Palestine. Subsequent Byzantine emperors financed the rebuilding of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and pilgrims came again, in increasing numbers, until the Seljuk attacks at the end of the eleventh century.7
Urban, or those who heard him, may have remembered al-Hakim’s actions and associated them with the more recent Seljuk attacks. One of the more sensational accounts says that Urban mentioned “an accursed race,” that was “utterly alienated from God,” which had depopulated the territory around Jerusalem “by the sword, pillage and fire” and “destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion.”8 This description seems to match the actions of al-Hakim better than those of the Turks, but in either case, whether systematically or haphazardly, churches and Christians—as well as territory controlled by Christian rulers—had been attacked by aggressive Islamic forces in the years just before the First Crusade.
To Export Troublemakers?
Urban probably had other motives as well. He seems to have hoped to reduce warfare among Christians in Europe. Recently Christianized but still warlike groups, including former Vikings and Magyars, often were fighting, and Urban probably wanted to redirect their belligerent actions: “Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels.…Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians [emphasis added].”9 On the whole, however, Urban made it clear that the sanctioned aggression was to defend Christians in the East, and to secure other limited objectives including safety for pilgrims who were traveling to the holy sites and for those already in the area. These goals were largely compatible with just-war teachings.
BAD THEOLOGY, GOOD MOTIVATION
Urban’s call was widely heeded, probably more widely than he expected, because of the strongly religious character of western Europe in the Middle Ages. In that setting, he found the perfect way to motivate Christians to go to war, even if it meant death, by promising complete forgiveness of sins without the normal process of penance: “All who die by the way…or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am vested.”10 If this was not enough, he seemed to pledge heaven itself to those who merely attempted the task: “Undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of heaven.”11 The decrees from the Council of Clermont confirmed these promises: “Whoever, out of pure devotion and not for the purpose of gaining honor or money, shall go to Jerusalem to liberate the church of God, let that journey be counted in lieu of all penance.”12
Crusade expert Jonathan Riley-Smith says Urban’s action was unprecedented; “Never before had a holy war been proclaimed by a pope on Christ’s behalf, the participants in which were treated as pilgrims, took vows, and enjoyed indulgences.”13 These indulgences for fighting were not just for the First Crusade, but became a feature of all later Crusades. For example, Bernard, the powerful speaker and most prominent proponent of the Second Crusade, also told people throughout France that those willing to fight would “likewise obtain the indulgence of all thou hast confessed with a contrite heart.”14 The response to these kinds of promises was amazing. Those who heard Urban at Clermont reported that the crowd broke into repeated shouts of “Deus le volt!” (“God wills it!”).15
It is highly doubtful biblically, however, that God willed men or women to seek spiritual forgiveness through external, often violent, actions. Of course, the misconception implicit in the Kingdom of Heaven movie, that the Crusaders were charged with establishing a physical “kingdom of heaven” in or around Jerusalem apart from the actual second coming of Christ, does not reflect New Testament teaching (see, e.g., Matt. 5:38–44; 18:2–4; 26:52; John 3:3–7, 18:36; Rev. 21). In any event, Urban did not authorize a war against Islam in general, and did not call for the conversion of Muslims by force. The violence sanctioned to support Byzantine Christians and gain control of Jerusalem, “the navel of the world,”16 undoubtedly would involve killing, but this extension of Scripture was still far different than the command found in the Qur’an to “strike off the heads” of infidels (Sura 8:12).17
THE FIRST CRUSADE (1095–99)
Within a few months of Urban’s call, without planning or proper provisions, more than 100,000 religiously motivated peasants, poorer soldiers, and churchmen from western Europe began to march—and things began to go wrong. Badly misguided mobs, apparently thinking that there was little reason to march thousands of miles to fight infidels when some lived much closer to home, attacked Jews in the German cities of Spier, Worms, Cologne, Mainz, and elsewhere. Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were looted and destroyed, and hundreds of Jews, even some who had fled to Christian homes or to the residences of local bishops for protection, were killed. Many Christians, including Pope Urban and the Holy Roman Emperor, condemned these attacks. Most of the people involved in these anti-Jewish actions eventually died along the way or were killed fighting fellow Christians in Hungary and never even reached Constantinople. Some thoughtful Christians wondered if God had judged them for their reprehensible behavior.18
The Peasants’ Crusade
Other peasant Crusaders—mainly French, German, and Italian—got a little farther along the way to Jerusalem, but were no more effective in advancing the cause of Christ than the early German groups. Inspired and led in part by a poor but charismatic monk, Peter the Hermit, tens of thousands of men, women, and children eventually reached Constantinople in 1096. Since they had subsisted by begging, foraging, and pillaging along the way, Alexius was quick to provide transportation for them across the Bosporus strait to get them away from the city and into mostly Turkish territory as soon as possible. Without experienced or effective leaders, petty rivalries and stresses soon led various contingents further to abandon the biblical principle that Christians should lay down their lives for their brothers (John 15:13)—and their raiding soon degenerated into the rape and slaughter of some local residents, mostly Greek Christians.
When the Turks did move against these “Christian” marauders, most were killed, but many were enslaved or forcibly converted to Islam.19 It is hard to see any link in principle between the activities of these peasant Crusaders and Urban’s stated goals, or with the precepts of a properly conducted just war.
The Princes’ Crusade
The first official Crusade was led by various French, German, and Italian nobles—princes and barons. These Crusaders were well-equipped professional soldiers, and, unlike the people in the Peasants’ Crusade, they arrived at Constantinople without much difficulty, in late 1096 and early 1097.
Led by such men as Raymond IV, count of Toulouse; Hugh of Vermandois, the brother of Philip I, the king of France; and Adhemar, the bishop of Le Puy and official papal legate, these Crusaders clearly represented legal governments or authorities. Personal rivalries among the various leaders and sporadic clashes between the Crusaders and Alexius’s own troops around Constantinople, however, caused difficulties. Moreover, as a condition for providing them with transportation and aid, Alexius expected the Crusade leaders to pledge loyalty to him and to promise that whatever territory they might win back from the Turks would belong to the Byzantine Empire. Most leaders made a pledge and were taken across the Bosporus into Turkish territory, but hard feelings already were present. This resentment soon intensified into an open split with Alexius after the Crusaders besieged Nicaea, the Turkish capital in the region. Alexius managed to get the town to surrender to him when the Crusaders were on the verge of capturing it themselves. The Crusaders then felt betrayed.20
After a couple of minor victories against Turkish forces in western Asia Minor, the Crusaders, essentially on their own politically, began a long and torturous march across Turkey toward Jerusalem. The hardships and deaths on this journey, along with the amazing preservation and extraordinary military success of those who survived—as evidenced by their capture of Antioch in 1098 and their defeat of the forces sent to relieve the city—transformed the nature and goals of the Crusade, according to Riley-Smith. After the papal representative, bishop Adhemar, died, and several other leaders died or left, the remaining forces were convinced that God was their personal and direct leader, and that they were His warriors and champions. Their warfare was now explicitly deemed holy and just, and those who died fighting were thought to be martyrs.21
The Siege of Jerusalem
The surviving Crusaders who finally reached Jerusalem in May of 1099 were equally convinced that God would deliver the city and the Holy Sepulcher to them. They didn’t know or care that the Fatimids already had taken back the city from the Turks during the previous year. An acceptable deal for free access to the city and its holy sites presumably could have been reached with these Muslims since they had generally practiced such a policy when they controlled the city before 1070. Continued war to gain unrestricted pilgrim access to Jerusalem—a major goal of the Crusades—was not justified, since it was not now a last resort; nevertheless, when its inhabitants did not surrender, the Crusaders besieged the city. Expecting a miracle, the Crusaders at one point marched barefoot around the city like the Israelites at Jericho, but the Jerusalem walls did not fall. Equally providential from the Crusader viewpoint, however, were siege towers, catapults, and a battering ram (which was built using equipment supplied from Genoese and English ships that had made a timely landing at Jaffa on the coast) that eventually led to a breach in the Jerusalem defenses on July 15, 1099.22
The crusading army, as any victorious army at the time would have, killed many of the defenders and sacked the city, but scholars debate the scope of the destruction they wreaked. Most historians now discount as hyperbole accounts of “rivers of blood” and “blood rising to the bridles of their horses.”23 The Crusaders certainly did kill Muslim defenders of the city that had fled to the al-Aqsa mosque, however, and they burned a synagogue with some Jews inside. Among the Jews probably were men who had helped in the defense of the city against the Crusaders, but neither action would be legitimate based on just-war principles (even if the losing defenders expected no better).24
French Crusade specialist Jean Richard concludes, however, that the killing in Jerusalem was not systematic. First, he argues that Hebrew letters discovered recently in a Jewish manuscript repository at Cairo show that some Jews were escorted to the seaport at Ascalon where they were ransomed by friends who came from Egypt. Richard observes that the letters also note with surprise that the Franks, the generic name for the Crusaders, respected women in Jerusalem. Next, he states that many Muslims simply were expelled from the city and not killed following the Crusader victory. Some of these Muslims apparently went to Damascus, since the Muslim leader Saladin later made an attempt to locate their descendants there and bring them back after he recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. Finally, Richard points out that most Christians had been expelled from Jerusalem by the Fatimid governor before the Crusaders took the city.25 It is possible that some of these Christians were killed in the general chaos, but careless descriptions of Crusaders indiscriminately killing thousands of Muslims, Christians, and Jews—men, women, and children—are not supported by the best evidence.26
After a celebration at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the defeat of a Fatimid army that belatedly had attempted to relieve Jerusalem, many of the surviving Crusaders went home. They had not come to colonize or to gain wealth, but to fulfill holy vows. Their actions clearly were not holy when they moved away from biblical teachings, but even in such cases they were little different in war than their contemporaries.27
THE SECOND CRUSADE (1147–49)
The Second Crusade was launched to recapture the Christian stronghold of Edessa in Syria that had fallen to the Muslims in 1144. The Armenian Christian city had in essence married into the conflict at the time of the First Crusade and its loss seemed to mark a resurgence of Muslim aggression that needed to be countered. The results were dismal. Several German armies were annihilated in Turkey long before reaching Syria. Those Crusader forces that reached Palestine safely by sea, foolishly, treacherously, and unsuccessfully attacked their one significant Muslim ally in the region: the city of Damascus. That failed attack had the unintended consequence of strengthening the hard-line Muslims and preventing future accommodations with the remaining Franks.28
SALADIN AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
One of the most interesting characters in the whole Crusader era was Saladin (c. 1137–1193), the Muslim leader who finally united various factions, decisively defeated the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin near the Sea of Galilee on July 4, 1187, and recaptured Jerusalem shortly afterwards. He was known for his chivalry and his military skill. The film Kingdom of Heaven portrays him very positively, as have many authors in the West since the English Romantic writer, Sir Walter Scott, wrote a flattering but now historically discredited book about him in the early nineteenth century. Saladin, prior to this, largely had been ignored in Muslim history according to crusade historian Jonathan Philips.29
Saladin, ironically, might never have been able to forge his decisive and victorious coalition in 1187 without the negative stimulus from the vicious and unprincipled Reynald. Operating from Karak in the years before Hattin, Reynald violated truces, tortured and killed Muslim captives, and at one point even tried to attack Mecca. His actions, though certainly conditioned by his own long imprisonment under Muslims, were still inexcusable and united Muslims against him and the Franks he seemed to represent. Christian survivors of Hattin probably were glad to be rid of Reynald when Saladin personally killed him after the battle, essentially as depicted in the Kingdom of Heaven film.30
On the other hand, such treacherous characters did not exist only among the Franks. The later Muslim sultan of Egypt, Baybars (c. 1223–77), for example, broke pledges, desecrated churches, and frequently poisoned or otherwise killed Christian civilians and Muslim enemies. The most infamous case was his sack of Antioch where the carnage horrified even the Muslim chroniclers. Baybars, moreover, sent his own taunting account of the massacres to the absent Christian ruler of Antioch, specifically detailing the killing of priests, deacons, monks, and many others in the city.31
THE THIRD (1189–92) AND FOURTH (1202–04) CRUSADES
The Third Crusade was designed to recapture Jerusalem after its fall to Saladin. It is often considered to have been the most chivalrous and romantic Crusade since it featured Richard “the Lionhearted” and the gracious Saladin. Both men were good military leaders, but after a few battles, political pressures and other concerns eventually led them to negotiate rather than continue fighting. Richard secured rights for pilgrims from the West to travel freely to Jerusalem and other holy sites throughout the region—a key reason for the Crusades in the first place—and the Franks retained control of several important coastal cities. Saladin and his successors, though, kept Jerusalem.32 While disappointing to many Christians in the era, the compromise generally fits with just-war theory.
The Fourth Crusade was far different. By nearly any measure it was a disaster, since it ended not at Jerusalem, but with the Crusaders sacking the Christian controlled city of Constantinople in 1204. The circumstances that led to this debacle hardly matter, as it was clearly not a just war. It was simply war; while little different in practice than many others, it nevertheless contributed quite negatively to subsequent views of the Crusades—and indirectly provided stimulus for the revisionism of the modern Kingdom of Heaven.