BYZANTIUM AND THE JEWS

Written by Vladimir Moss

BYZANTIUM AND THE JEWS

 

     In the Old Testament, the faith of the Jews, though turned in on itself to protect itself from paganism, contained the seeds of true universalism. Thus God commanded Abraham to circumcise not only every member of his family, but also “him that is born in the house, or bought with the money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed” (Genesis 17.12). The Canaanite Rahab and the Moabite Ruth were admitted into the faith and nation of the Jews. King Solomon prayed that God would hear the prayer of non-Israelites who prayed in his temple, “that all people of the earth may know Thy name, and fear Thee, as doth Thy people Israel” (II Chronicles 6.33). And by the time of Christ there was a large Greek-speaking diaspora which was spreading the faith of the Jews throughout the Greco-Roman world and winning converts such as the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 11).[1]

 

     However, the Pharisees, who came to dominate Jewry, were interested only in converts to the cause of Jewish nationalism (cf. Matthew 23.15). It was the Pharisees who incited Christ’s death because He preached a different kind of spiritual and universalist Kingdom that was opposed to their nationalist dreams. And after His death the Jews became possessed by an egoistical, chauvinist spirit that was expressed in such a way that, as Rabbi Solomon Goldman put it, "God is absorbed in the nationalism of Israel."[2]

 

     Cyril Mango writes: “By virtue of a long tradition in Roman law, Jews enjoyed a peculiar status: they were a licit sect, their synagogues were protected from seizure, they appointed their own clergy and had recourse in civil cases to their own courts of law. At the same time they were forbidden to proselytise, to own Christian slaves or to build new synagogues.”[3]

 

     However, they continually strove to undermine the Empire. Alone among all the nations of the Mediterranean basin, they refused to benefit from, or join in, the Pax Romana. Having asserted, at the Crucifixion of Christ, that they had no king but Caesar, they nevertheless constantly rebelled against the Caesars and slaughtered thousands of Christians.

 

     Thus in 66-70, and again in 135, they rebelled against Rome. In 115-117, in Alexandria, whose population was about one-third Jewish, civil war broke out between the Jews and the Christians. And in 150 the Jews killed 240,000 Greeks in Cyrenaica and 100,000 in Cyprus. [4]

 

     The Jews were fiercely anti-Christian. As the Jewish Professor Norman Cantor writes: “Insofar as they thought about the Christians in the first seven or eight decades after the Nazarene’s death, the rabbis considered them only a desperate underclass of heretics, at best pathetic, more evidently contemptible and damnable. They made jokes about Mary. She was a whore, they cackled, and Jesus was the offspring of one of her sloppy unions…”[5]

 

     At the root of the Jews’ fierce hatred of Gentiles and Christians was the teaching of what came to be, from the second century onwards, their major “holy” book – the Talmud. The Talmud (like the later Jewish “holy” book, the Cabbala) purports to record a secret oral tradition going back to Moses and representing the true interpretation of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. In fact, it bears only the most strained and perverse relation to the Torah, often completely corrupting the true meaning of the Holy Scriptures.

 

     Moreover, the Talmud asserts its own superiority over the Scriptures: “The Law is water, but the Mishna [the first form of the Talmud] is wine.” And again: “The words of the elders are more important than the words of the Prophets.” This opposition between the true, God-inspired Tradition of the Holy Scriptures and the false, man-made tradition of the Talmud was pointed out by Christ when He said to the Pharisees, the authors of the Talmud: “Ye have the commandment of no effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15.6). And concerning their disputes, that former Pharisee, St. Paul, said: “Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and striving about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3.9).

 

     “Ye blind guides,” said the Lord to the Pharisees, “who strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.24). We can see what He meant when we realize that, as Douglas Reed writes, “the Talmudic Law governed every imaginable action of a Jew’s life anywhere in the world: marriage, divorce, property settlements, commercial transactions, down to the pettiest details of dress and toilet. As unforeseen things frequently crop up in daily life, the question of what is legal or illegal (not what is right or wrong) in all manner of novel circumstances had incessantly to be debated, and this produced the immense records of rabbinical dispute and decisions in which the Talmud abounds.

 

     “Was it much a crime to crush a flea as to kill a camel on a sacred day? One learned rabbi allowed that the flea might be gently squeezed, and another thought its feet might even be cut off. How many white hairs might a sacrificial red cow have and yet remain a red cow? What sort of scabs required this or that ritual of purification? At which end of an animal should the operation of slaughter be performed? Ought the high priest to put on his shirt or his hose first? Methods of putting apostates to death were debated; they must be strangled, said the elders, until they opened their mouths, into which boiling lead must be poured. Thereon a pious rabbi urged that the victim’s mouth be held open with pincers so that he not suffocate before the molten lead enter and consume his soul with his body. The word ‘pious’ is here not sardonically used; this scholar sought to discover the precise intention of ‘the Law’.”[6]

 

     A dominant feature of these Jewish “holy” books was their hatred of Christ and Christianity. Douglas Reed writes: “The Jewish Encyclopaedia says: ‘It is the tendency of Jewish legends in the Talmud, the Midrash… and in the Life of Jesus (Toledoth Jeshua) that originated in the Middle Ages to belittle the person of Jesus by ascribing to him an illegitimate birth, magic and a shameful death’. He is generally alluded to as ‘that anonymous one’, ‘liar’, ‘imposter’ or ‘bastard’ (the attribution of bastardy is intended to bring him under the Law as stated in Deuteronomy 23.3: ‘A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord’). Mention of the name, Jesus, is prohibited in Jewish households.

 

     “The work cited by the Jewish Encyclopaedia as having ‘originated in the Middle Ages’ is not merely a discreditable memory of an ancient past, as that allusion might suggest; it is used in Hebrew schools today. It was a rabbinical production of the Talmudic era and repeated all the ritual of mockery of Calvary itself in a different form. Jesus is depicted as the illegitimate son of Mary, a hairdresser’s wife, and of a Roman soldier called Panthera. Jesus himself is referred to by a name which might be translated ‘Joey Virgo’. He is shown as being taken by his stepfather to Egypt and there learning sorcery.

 

     “The significant thing about this bogus life-story (the only information about Jesus which Jews were supposed to read) is that in it Jesus is not crucified by Romans. After his appearance in Jerusalem and his arrest there as an agitator and a sorcerer he is turned over to the Sanhedrin and spends forty days in the pillory before being stoned and hanged at the Feast of Passover; this form of death exactly fulfils the Law laid down in Deuteronomy 21.22 and 17.5, whereas crucifixion would not have been in compliance with that Judaic law. The book then states that in hell he suffers the torture of boiling mud.

 

     “The Talmud also refers to Jesus as ‘Fool’, ‘sorcerer’, ‘profane person’, ‘idolator’, ‘dog’, ‘child of lust’ and the like more; the effect of this teaching over a period of centuries, is shown by the book of the Spanish Jew Mose de Leon, republished in 1880, which speaks of Jesus as a ‘dead dog’ that lies ‘buried in a dunghill’. The original Hebrew texts of these Talmudic allusions appear in Laible’s Jesus Christus im Talmud. This scholar says that during the period of the Talmudists hatred of Jesus became ‘the most national trait of Judaism’, that ‘at the approach of Christianity the Jews were seized over and again with a fury and hatred that were akin to madness’, that ‘the hatred and scorn of the Jews was always directed in the first place against the person of Jesus’ and that ‘the Jesus-hatred of the Jews is a firmly-established fact, but they want to show it as little as possible’.

 

      “This wish to conceal from the outer world that which was taught behind the Talmudic hedge led to the censoring of the above-quoted passages during the seventeenth century. Knowledge of the Talmud became fairly widespread then (it was frequently denounced by remonstrant Jews) and the embarrassment thus caused to the Talmudic elders led to the following edict (quoted in the original Hebrew and in translation by P.L.B. Drach, who was brought up in a Talmudic school and later became converted to Christianity):

 

     “’This is why we enjoin you, under pain of excommunication major, to print nothing in future editions, whether of the Mishna or of the Gemara, which relates whether for good or for evil to the acts of Jesus the Nazarene, and to substitute instead a circle like this: O, which will warn the rabbis and schoolmasters to teach the young these passages only viva voce. By means of this precaution the savants among the Nazarenes will have no further pretext to attack us on this subject’ (decree of the Judaist Synod which sat in Poland in 1631). At the present time, when public enquiry into such matters, or objection to them, has been virtually forbidden by Gentile governments, these passages, according to report, have been restored in the Hebrew editions of the Talmud…

 

     “The Talmud sets out to widen and heighten the barrier between the Jews and others. An example of the different language which the Torah spoke, for Jews and for Gentiles, has previously been given: the obscure and apparently harmless allusion to ‘a foolish nation’ (Deuteronomy 32.21). According to the article on Discrimination against Gentiles in the Jewish Encyclopaedia the allusion in the original Hebrew is to ‘vile and vicious Gentiles’, so that Jew and Gentile received very different meanings from the same passage in the original and in the translation. The Talmud, however, which was to reach only Jewish eyes, removed any doubt that might have been caused in Jewish minds by perusal of the milder translation; it specifically related the passage in Deuteronomy to one in Ezekiel 23.20, and by so doing defined Gentiles as those ‘whose flesh is as the flesh of asses and whose issue is like the issue of horses’! In this spirit was the ‘interpretation’ of the Law continued by the Talmudites.

 

     “The Talmudic edicts were all to similar effect. The Law (the Talmud laid down) allowed the restoration of a lost article to its owner if ‘a brother or neighbour’, but not if a Gentile. Book-burning (of Gentile books) was recommended… The benediction, ‘Blessed be Thou… who hast not made me a goi [Gentile]’ was to be recited daily. Eclipses were of bad augury for Gentiles only. Rabbi Lei laid down that the injunction not to take revenge (Leviticus 19.18) did not apply to Gentiles, and apparently invoked Ecclesiastes 8.4 in support of his ruling (a discriminatory interpretation then being given to a passage in which the Gentile could not suspect any such intention).

 

     “The Jews who sells to a Gentile landed property bordering on the land of another Jew is to be excommunicated. A Gentile cannot be trusted as witness in a criminal or civil suit because he could not be depended on to keep his word like a Jew. A Jew testifying in a petty Gentile civil court as a single witness against a Jew must be excommunicated. Adultery committed with a non-Jewish woman is not adultery ‘for the heathen have no lawfully wedded wife, they are not really their wives’. The Gentiles are as such precluded from admission to a future world…”[7]

 

     Sergius and Tamara Fomin write: “To the prayer ‘birkam za-minim’ which was read everyday against heretics and apostates there was added the ‘curse’ against ‘the proud state’ (of Rome) and against all the enemies of Israel, in particular the Christians… [The Christians were also identified with] the scapegoat, on which the sins of the Jews were laid and which was then driven into the wilderness as a gift to the devil. According to rabbinic teaching, the goat signified Esau and his descendants, who at the present time were the Christians.”[8]

 

     Another name that the Jews had for the Christians was Edom, and the Roman Empire was called “the kingdom of the Edomites”. Rabbi David Kimchi writes as follows in Obadiam: “What the Prophets foretold about the destruction of Edom in the last days was intended for Rome, as Isaiah explains (34.1)… For when Rome is destroyed, Israel shall be redeemed.” And Rabbi Abraham in his book Tseror Hammor writes: “Immediately after Rome is destroyed, we shall be redeemed.”[9]

 

     The teaching of the Talmud incited the Jews to terrible crimes against Gentiles, especially Christians. In about 520, 4000 Christians were martyred by the Jewish ruler of the South Arabian land of Omir (or Himyar), Dû-Nuwâs, for their refusal to renounce Christ.[10] Again, in 555, in spite of their traditional disdain for the Samaritans, the Jews supported them in their rebellion against Byzantium.

     “Under Theodosius II,” writes L.A. Tikhomirov, “it was discovered that the Jews, on the day of the feast of the execution of Haman [Purim], had introduced the practice of burning the Cross. The government had to undertake repressions against the blasphemy, but the Jews were not pacified. Under the same Theodosius II, in the city of Imma, the Jews during one of their feasts took hold of a Christian child, crucified him on a cross and with scourges cut him into pieces. The disturbed Christians took to arms, and a bloody battle took place. This incident, as they said, was not unique. The Christian historian Socrates relates that the Jews more than once crucified Christian children. At that time it was not a matter of ‘ritual killings’, and in such acts only the hatred of the Jews for Christans and mockery of them was seen. In the given case Theodosius II executed those guilty of the murder, but at the same time the government began to take measures to weaken Jewry. Theodosius destroyed the Jewish patriarchate in Palestine and confiscated the sums collected throughout Jewry for the patriarchate. But all these repressions did not quickly pacify the Jews. Under the same Theodosius II there took place in 415 the well-known brawl in Alexandria elicited by the killing of Christians by the Jews. All this boldness of the Jews in the face of a power that was evidently incomparably greater than theirs seems improbable. But we must bear in mind that this was an age of terrible Messianic fanaticism on the part of the Jews. It often drove them to acts that were senseless, in which pure psychosis was operating. Here, for example, is a purely internal incident having no relation to the Christians. At about the same time, in 432, on the island of Cyprus there took place an event which shows to what an inflamed condition the Jews of that time could come. On the island there appeared a man who was evidently mad, called Moses, the same who had led the people out of Egypt through the Red Sea. He declared that he now had an order from the Lord to lead the Jews out of Cyprus into Palestine through the Mediterranean Sea. His preached attracted crowds of Jews who did not hesitate to follow the prophet. These hordes went to the sea and, at a sign from Moses, began to hurl themselves from a lofty cliff into the water. Many crashed against the rocks, others drowned, and only the forcible intervention of the Christians saved the rest: fishermen dragged them from the water, while other inhabitants forcibly drove the Jews from the shore. This mass psychosis shows to what lengths the Jews could go in the name of the idea of the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel

 

     “The [Western] Church had already quite early, in the sixth century, begun to take measures to protect Christians from the influence of the Jews. Councils in Orleans in 538 and 545 decreed the suppression of relations between Christians and Jews and, moreover, forbade the Jews from publicly showing themselves during the Christian Pascha, doubtless to cut off the possibility of any blasphemous outrages. But we can understand why these measures could not be maintained, nor were they systematic, and relations inevitably continued, having two kinds of consequences: some they spiritually cut off from Christianity and drew them into heresy, and others they filled with hatred for the Jews.”[11]

 

     During the Time of Troubles that began for Byzantium with the murder of the Emperor Maurice in 602, the Jewish anti-Roman consciousness reached a new peak of frenzy. David Keys writes: “The so-called Book of Zerubabel, written by a rabbi of that name in Persian-ruled Babylon in the first quarter of the seventh century AD, prophesied the coming of the Jewish Messiah (and his mother!) and their defeat of the Christian Roman monster – an emperor/pope called Armilus – the son of Satan. Furthermore, a Palestinian Jew called Jacob who had been forcibly baptised by the Romans in Carthage described the Empire in typically apocalyptic terms as ‘the fourth beast’ which was being ‘torn in pieces by the nations, [so] that the ten horns may prevail and Hermolaus Satan… the Little Horn may come.’

 

     “The Jews viewed the apparently imminent collapse of the Roman Empire in the first quarter of the seventh century as evidence that the ‘beast’ (the formerly pagan but now Christian empire) was doomed, that the Devil in the guise of the last Roman emperor or Christian pope would be killed by the (imminently expected) Messiah. They saw the Persians (and a few years later, the Arabs) as the agents who would help destroy the ‘Roman beast’. Violent and often Messianic Jewish revolutionary attitudes had been increasing throughout the second half of the sixth century and went into overdrive as the Empire began to totter in the first quarter of the seventh. In Antioch in AD 608, Christian attempts [by the mad tyrant Phocas] at forced conversion, as the Persians threatened the city, triggered a major revolt in the Jewish quarter. At first the Jewish rebels were successful, and their community’s arch-enemy, the city’s powerful Christian patriarch, [St.] Anastasius, was captured, killed and mutilated. But the revolt was soon put down – and the 800-year-old Antiochan Jewish community was almost totally extinguished.”[12]

 

     In Palestine, the Jews appealed to all their people to join the Persians, and Jewish crowds killed the Bishop of Tiberias and 90,000 Christians in one day. When the Persians conquered Jerusalem, most of the Christians were sent into captivity to Persia. However, “the Jews distinguished themselves at this point with a beastly cruelty unique in the history of the world. They spared no money to buy many Christians from the Persians with one purpose only – to gain enjoyment in killing them. They say that in this way they bought and destroyed 80,000 people. The Jewish historian G. Graetz glides silently over this terrible fact, saying only: ‘Filled with rage, the Jews of course did not spare the Christians’ and ‘did not spare the holy things of the Christians’. Graetz reduces the number of Christians killed to 19,000.”[13] Graetz also admits that the Jews took a greater part in the destruction of Christian churches and monasteries than the Persians themselves.[14]

 

     The Persians were defeated by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who banished the Jews of Jerusalem to a distance of three miles from the city, and decreed that all the Jews of the empire should be baptised. But the pendulum swung again when the Byzantines were defeated by the new power of the Arab Muslims. Thus in 638 Caliph Omar entered the Holy Sepulchre, while Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem remarked: “Surely this is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet standing in the holy place.”

 

     The Jews, however, were delighted; many thought that Mohammed was a prophet who had come to prepare the way for the Messiah. And “even when the Messiah failed to arrive,” writes Karen Armstrong, “Jews continued to look favourably on Islamic rule in Jerusalem. In a letter written in the eleventh century, the Jerusalem rabbis recalled the ‘mercy’ God had shown his people when he allowed the ‘Kingdom of Ishmael’ to conquer Palestine. They were glad to remember that when the Muslims arrived in Jerusalem, ‘there were people from the children of Israel with them; they showed the spot of the Temple and they settled with them until this very day.’”[15]

 

     Byzantine power recovered somewhat under the iconoclast emperors. However, vigilance against Jewish intrigue was maintained. Thus Cyril Mango writes that “Leo III ordered once again the baptism of Jews and those who complied were given the title of ‘new citizens’, but they did so in bad faith, while others, it seems, fled to the Arabs. The failure of this measure was acknowledged by the Council of 787 which decreed that insincere converts should not be accepted[16]; it was preferable to let them live according to their customs while remaining subject to the old disabilities. A fresh attempt was made by Basil I: Jews were summoned to disputations and if they were unable to demonstrate the truth of their religion, they were to be baptized.[17] Remission of taxes and the grant of dignities were offered as rewards; even so, after the emperor’s death, most of the converts ‘returned like dogs to their own vomit’. The last recorded case of forced conversion was under Romanus I, but it only resulted in driving many Jews to the land of Khazaria north of the Black Sea. From then on such Jews as remained were left to live in relative peace; there was even a reverse migration of them from Egypt into the Empire in the late tenth and eleventh centuries…”[18]

 

     “The Byzantine emperors,” writes Oleg Platonov, “were unconditional opponents of the Talmud, forbidding the Talmud on their territory. In this policy the Russian sovereigns followed the Byzantine emperors. Right until the end of the 17th century the import of the Talmud into Russia was forbidden under pain of death.

 

     “The tradition of the non-allowance of the Talmud onto the territory of Christian states was broken after the falling away of the Western church from Orthodoxy and the strengthening of papism. The mercenary Roman popes and cardinals for the sake of gain often entered into agreements with the Jews and looked through their fingers at the widespread distribution of the Talmud in Europe. Nevertheless, amidst the Roman popes there were found those who tried to fight with this ‘book worthy of being cursed’, from the reading of which ‘every kind of evil flows’.

 

     “Popes Gregory IX in 1230 and Innocent IV in 1244 ordered all Talmudic books to be burned. In England in 1272 during the expulsion of the Jews searches for copies of the Talmud were carried out in their homes and they were handed over to be burned…”[19]

 

     Byzantium finally fell in 1453 to the combined onslaught of Turkish violence in the East and papist blackmail in the West. The Sultans had a more tolerant attitude towards the Jews, and after 1492 large numbers of Iberian Jews settled in Thessalonica (especially) and other cities of the empire. A new chapter in Jewish-Christian relations had opened…

 

 

Vladimir Moss.

March 29 / April 11, 2011.

 

 



[1] According to Paul Johnson, there were about eight million Jews at the time of Christ, comprising 10 per cent of the Roman empire (A History of the Jews, London: Phoenix, 1987, 1995, p. 171).

[2] Quoted in Douglas Reed, The Controversy of Zion, Durban, South Africa, 1978, p. 48.

[3] Mango, Byzantium, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980, p. 91.

[4] See I. Antonopoulos, Agapi kai synomosia, Athens, 1979, pp. 36-37 (in Greek).

[5] Cantor, The Sacred Chain, London: Fontana, 1996, p. 156.

[6] Reed, op. cit., p. 93.

[7] Reed, op. cit., pp. 89-91. The Zohar also says: “Tradition tells us that the best of the Gentiles deserves death” (Section Vaiqra, folio 14b, quoted in Webster, op. cit. p. 407). For a more detailed exposé of the Talmud and the religion founded upon it, see Michael Hoffman, Judaism Discovered, Independent History and Research, 2008.

[8] Fomin and Fomina, Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russia before the Second Coming), Moscow, 1994, vol. 1, pp. 201-202 (in Russian).

[9] Quoted in Rev. I.B. Pranaitis, The Talmud Unmasked, St. Petersburg, 1892, Bloomfield Books, Sudbury, Suffolk, pp. 43, 80, 81.

[10] See the life of the Holy Martyr Al-Harith, in St. Demetrius of Rostov, The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, House Springs, MO; Chrysostom Press, 1995, vol. II, pp. 351-376; Mango, op. cit., p. 92; L.A. Tikhomirov, Religio-philosophskie Osnovy, op. cit., chs. 41 and 42.

[11] Tikhomirov, Religiozno-Filosofskie Osnovy Istorii, Istorii (The Religio-Philosophical Foundations of History), Moscow, 1997, pp. 340-341, 350 (in Russian).

[12] Keys, Catastrophe, London: Arrow books, 2000, pp. 91-92.

[13] Tikhomirov, op. cit., p. 343.

[14] Graetz, Istoria Evreev (A History of the Jews), Odessa, 1908, vol. 1, pp. 28-32 (in Russian).

[15] Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem, London: HarperCollins, 1996, p. 233.

[16] Thus in the Council’s eighth canon we read: “Inasmuch as some person who have been misled by their inferences from the religion of the Jews have seen fit to sneer at Christ our God while pretending to be Christians, secretly and clandestinely keep the Sabbath and do other Jewish acts, we decree that these persons shall not be admitted to communion, nor to prayer, nor to church, but shall be Jews openly in accordance with their religion; and that neither shall their children be baptized, nor shall they buy or acquire a slave. But if any one of them should be converted as a matter of sincere faith, and confess with all his heart, triumphantly repudiating their customs and affairs, with a view to censure and correction of others, we decree that he shall be accepted and his children shall be baptized, and that the latter shall be persuaded to hold themselves aloof from Jewish peculiarities…” (V.M.)

[17] Gilbert Dagron writes: “In reply to Basil’s initiative came a pamphlet from the best theologian and canonist of the day, Gregory Asbestas, who did not content himself with defending the dogmas and the canons, but preached rebellion and threatened the imperial power with anathema” (Empereur et Prêtre (Emperor and Priest), Paris : Éditions Gallimard, 1996, (in French)). (V.M.)

[18] Mango, op. cit., pp 92-93.

[19] Platonov, Ternovij Venets Rossii (Russia’s Crown of Thorns), Moscow, 1998, p. 137 (in Russian).

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