The 2017 Eclipse Has Come and Gone, but What Secrets Did It Portend? Some Insights From the Jewish Middle Ages// David Shyovitz


posted August 22, 2017

In 1218, an army of Crusaders landed in Damietta, an Egyptian town in the Nile River Delta ruled by the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil. They were greeted shortly thereafter by a heavenly omen, described by the German-born canon and schoolmaster Oliver von Paderborn, who chronicled the military expedition:

Soon after the arrival of the Christians there was an almost total eclipse of the moon. Although this very often happens from natural causes at the time of the full moon, nevertheless… we interpreted the eclipse as unfavorable to the Saracens, as if portending the failure of the ones who ascribe the moon to themselves, placing great weight in the waxing and waning of the moon.

In Oliver’s estimation, the moon symbolized the fortunes of Damietta’s Muslim defenders, since Islamic ritual and liturgical life are oriented around a lunar calendar. The moon’s obstruction by the sun thus portended victory for those who followed the solar calendar, namely the forces of Christianity. And sure enough, the following year, after a lengthy siege, the city fell to the Crusaders (though it would be retaken by the Ayyubid forces just two years later).

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