770 AD to 790 AD, Psalm 86: The Umayyads of Cordoba.

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andalousie 0shutterstock_428796748(1)This generation is that of the 770s and the 780s.

For the Abbasid dynasty, this generation begins with the continuation of the reign of Al Mansur (754-775) who succeeded the first caliph Abbassid Al Saffa’h (749-754). It is Al Mahdi (775-785) who succeeds him then Al Hadi (785-786) and Haroun Al Rachid (786-809).
The Abbassid caliphs of this generation focus mainly on consolidating their power against the Alides, who challenged their legitimacy for the benefit of Ali’s descendants. They try to appropriate El Andalus, but quickly give up any claim because of the determination of the Umayyad caliphs in particular that of Abd Al Rahman.


This period marks the golden age of Abbasid rule, which lasted for nearly five centuries under various fortunes.
The emergence of this dynasty around the new capital Baghdad benefits Jews attached to Babylonian academies, at least initially (in the following century, discriminatory measures against Jews will be adopted by the Abbasids).
On the side of the Carolingian Empire, this generation sees the beginning of the reign of Charles, son of Pepin Le Bref (the Short), and future Charlemagne, after the death of his brother Carloman in 771.
In Cordoba, this generation is mainly marked by the continuation of the Umayyad caliphate of Abd Al-Rahman I (756-788). Hisham 1st (788-796) will ensure his succession.
Many Berber or Arab leaders of the Iberian Peninsula wanted to question the Umayyad power.
Faced with the resistance of Abd Al-Rahman, in 777, they do not hesitate to use the help of Charlemagne, head of the other emerging empire of the West.


The expedition failed because Charlemagne had to leave to counter the new threat of the Saxons. This retreat took place at the cost of many casualties in Charlemagne’s army and was likely to freeze the border between the two new Western kingdoms for many generations.
The Umayyad dynasty thus manages to make itself a recognized place between the two empires of the moment: the Abbassid Muslim empire and the Christian empire of the West led by the Carolingian kings.
For the generation of interest to us, these three entities have a conciliatory policy towards the Jews who prosper in each of the empires.
This salutary parenthesis for the Jewish people in continuity with the previous generation is praised by David himself, who expresses himself in the psalm of this generation. He thanks God’s protection at the beginning of this psalm (the continuation of the psalm will confirm that this introduction is a thank you and not a petition):

(extract of the psalm 86 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 8 )

  • A prayer of David. O Lord, incline Your ear; answer me for I am poor and needy.
  • Watch my soul for I am a pious man; save Your servant-You, my God-who trusts in You.
  • Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I call to You all the days.
  • Cause the soul of Your servant to rejoice, for to You, O Lord, I lift my soul.
  • For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, with much kindness to all who call You.
  • Lend Your ear, O Lord, to my prayer, and hearken to the voice of my supplications.
  • On the day of my distress I shall call You, for You will answer me.
  • There is none like You among the godly, O Lord, neither is there any like Your works.
Until now, the spread of monotheism, through Christianity and Islam was mainly circumscribed to the ancient world: the Mediterranean and land from Egypt to Persia.
The rise of the Carolingian Empire, under the aegis of Charlemagne, its most prestigious representative extends the influence of Christianity and allows it to reach new lands in the heart of the future Europe.
Charlemagne, a fervent defender of Christendom, is through his faith a real propagator of monotheism.
In one of his capitulars (dated 789) he says:
  • To all  [1]. First of all, that the doctrine of the Catholic faith be read and preached to all the people with fervor, by bishops and priests. For this is the Lord’s first command, Almighty God, in the Law: “Hear, O Israel, it is Yahweh who is your God, Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. “
This new advance of monotheism is welcomed in the following psalm:

(extract of the psalm 86 associated to this generation, verses 9 to 11 )

  • All nations that You made will come and prostrate themselves before You, O Lord, and glorify Your name.
  • For You are great and perform wonders, You, O God, alone.
  • Teach me Your way, O Lord; I shall walk in Your truth. Unify my heart to fear Your name.
While almost a century earlier the Jews of Spain were at risk of annihilation, at least religiously, this generation sees a new Spain where Jews find freedom to worship, and which will become a point attraction for all Jews in the Middle East.
It is this reversal that David celebrates in the verses of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 86 associated to this generation, verses 12 to 15 )

  • I shall thank You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I shall glorify Your name forever.
  • For Your kindness is great toward me, and You have saved my soul from the lowest depths of the grave.
  • O God, willful transgressors have risen against me, and a company of mighty ones have sought my life, and they did not place You before themselves.
  • But You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and with much kindness and truth.
This new promised land for the Jews is the result of the Arab invasion of Spain.
But this domination would not have been enough on its own. For if Spain had remained a satellite of the Abbasid power, it is likely that religious tolerance would have been less pronounced, both in Spain but also in the Abbasid empire itself. The presence of strong opposing forces probably pushed the Abbasid dynasty to spare the minorities at least initially.
In fact, it is the installation of the Umayyad dynasty of Córdoba, by the emergence of a land of cohabitation, which leaves a strong imprint in the formation of Western Europe.
Its founder, Abd al-Rahman, can not afford to go against the Christian and Jewish minorities, already having enough enemies to fight.
He himself came from his mother, Berber Christian tribes, who themselves were probably Judaism in older times.
  • Abd Al Rahman [2] went from the East to the West during his flight, pursued by the Abbasids. Many years earlier, her mother had traveled in the opposite direction when she was reduced to slavery by the Arabs who were waging war against the Berber tribes and taken to a harem in Syria. If a slave, engrossed by her master, gave birth to a male child, she would automatically acquire her freedom and receive the title of “umm wallad”, “the mother of the son”, which gave her a privileged position in the house. Without any other place to hide, Abd Al Rahman, the exiled prince, found hospitality in the tribe from which his mother had been snatched, carried off as spoils of war. The chance (!) That had saved her so many times brought her to the very places she never saw again. This tribe was called Nafza, and its territory was in the neighborhood of Ceuta.
It is to this providential character, the son of a slave (save the son of Your maidservant), that allows Jewish communities to prosper in Spain for the centuries to come that David continues his psalm:

(extract of the psalm 86 associated to this generation, verses 16 )

  • Turn to me and be gracious to me; grant Your might to Your servant and save the son of Your maidservant.
David takes the opportunity to conclude his psalm on the divine help expressed here by the emergence in history of a character who initially had virtually no chance of survival and yet managed to create a kingdom that will serve as an embryo for Western Europe:

(extract of the psalm 86 associated to this generation, verses 17 )

  • Grant me a sign for good, and let my enemies see [it] and be ashamed, for You, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.



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[1] Christian Bonnet et Christine Descatoire : « Les Carolingiens (741-987) ». (p.47)

[2] Antonio Munoz Molina : « Cordoue des Omeyyades ». Chapitre : « Le prince fugitif » (p. 56)