FOURTH TO SEVENTH CENTURIES

FOURTH TO SEVENTH CENTURIES
- reshaping of forces and circumstances -Reshaping of Forces and Circumstances At the beginning of the fourth century the vast majority of the Jewish people were dispersed in Mediterranean countries, a distribution which continued for many centuries afterward. Throughout their dispersion Jews were not only attached spiritually and emotionally to Ereẓ Israel, but this country still harbored an important concentration of Jewish population; the Patriarchate was to continue in more than a century of active and prestigious leadership of Jews almost everywhere (see nasi ). The great concentration of Jews in the "Persian" empire (Babylonia (בבל) in Jewish historical-geographical nomenclature) flourished under the leadership of the exilarch, increasing in numbers and with a prosperous economy which had a broad agricultural stratum and some involvement in commerce and crafts . In the Roman Empire the vast Jewish Diaspora was concentrated in great numbers in important cities, occupied as traders and craftsmen. The centers of the empire, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome, were also essential to Jewish life as they were central to the empire. The so-called edict of Milan, issued in June 313, was couched in terms expressing general tolerance and coexistence of religions; in reality it was the first step toward establishing the dominance of Christianity. Its declared intention was to grant et Christianis et omnibus freedom of religion, to each person according to his choice. The definitions there of divinity fit monotheistic religions as well as an enlightened paganism. Deity is described as Summa Divinitas or Divinitas in sede caelesti. The decree declares expressly that it was not designed to injure any person either in status or in religion. The sentiments to a large extent express a diplomatic softening for pagans and, for Jews, a sweetened coating of the bitter pill of the beginning of Christian domination. However, they also reflect an existing mood in the relationship between the religions at that time that could augur a future of real coexistence but in the event was destroyed by the pact between the Christian church and the Roman Empire. The interpenetration of modes of existence and conceptual patterns of the environment is evident in Jewish life in the fourth to sixth centuries. The decoration of synagogues, both in Ereẓ Israel as well as in the Diaspora, shows a readiness to use pictorial art, and even representation of human and animal figures, for synagogue murals and mosaics. It also demonstrates that pagan symbols had lost their idolatrous implications for the Jews, who took them over almost without change to adorn their own houses of worship. Thus a trend, evident notably at the synagogue of dura europos , developed and became increasingly reflected in Jewish life at this time. The symbolic pictography and inscriptions on Jewish funerary reliefs also show, in both Ereẓ Israel and the Diaspora, the same assimilation of pagan elements. The other side of this process, and parallel to it, was a still continuing movement of proselytes to Judaism, the presence of Jewish elements in pagan magic papyri, and above all, the entry of many central Jewish elements into the pagan world, which enabled its Christianization. This interpenetration, however, was not destined to become the framework of a social and political coexistence. The intense hatred generated during centuries of missionary propaganda and the fierce persecution to which it had been subjected caused the victorious Church in turn to adopt toward paganism the Jewish monotheistic stance at its harshest, and to employ in regard to Jews and Judaism the old popular pagan anti-Jewish animus, which developed into a tenet of dogmatic   absolutism at its cruelest. The tertium gens formed by Christianity declined to confront Judaism on a basis of equality and, once achieving dominance, took over all the potentialities and actualities of power with which to intensify division and persecution. This challenge, although the cause of much suffering, elicited a vital Jewish response in a concentration on inner values and a refusal to continue the process of interpenetration. From the sixth century on, pagan decorative motifs are no longer to be found in synagogues, while the painting of live figures for synagogue murals was abandoned for many centuries after that time. CHRISTIAN POLITICAL PRESSURE AND PROPAGANDA During the fourth and fifth centuries the Jews in the Roman Empire both recognized and felt the effects of a sustained Christian effort to redefine their legal status, to blacken their image in the eyes of gentiles, and to reduce their standing in society. This policy was pursued with a curious combination of acute love-hatred toward the Jewish people and its history, and an even more acute fearfulness of Jewish competition for the spiritual allegiance of the disintegrating pagan world. Internal Christian dissensions in the fourth century added fuel to hatred of the Jews in a Church that was already divided on its conception of the Trinity, quarreling about theological definitions, even to the extent of hairsplitting, and hitherto unaccustomed to the use of force to impose its authority. It now began to turn to imperial powers of coercion on the onehand and to interference in state affairs on the other, that, in the church's eyes, provided it with the combined means and formula for working out the divine will in history. Striving to retain its newly acquired power, it regarded Arianism and other heresies that emerged in this early period as a Judaizing attempt to undermine its precarious position. Already under Constantine I (306–337) laws were published forbidding the persecution of Jewish apostates to Christianity. In 339 Constantius II prohibited marriage between Jews and Christians, and the possession of Christian slaves by Jews. This last prohibition went far to undermine the economic structure of Jewish society, in agriculture in particular. In this period it was inconceivable to maintain any fair-sized agricultural unit without employing slaves, who were rapidly becoming Christianized. A flicker of the old-type coexistence, this time with an anti-Christian emphasis and a pro-Jewish tendency, reemerged under Emperor Julian (361–363), regarded by Christians as "the apostate." His attempt to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, his respectful language in reference to Jews, and the rights he granted them were not only motivated by a wish to disprove the Christian contention that Judea had been obliterated with the rejection of Jesus, they were also actuated by esteem for a great Jewish past and for steadfastness in adhering to a religious historical course. The Church and the Christian empire, alarmed but not sobered by the reemergence of paganism and its bid for an alliance with the Jews, crystallized a policy of obtaining laws against Jews and heretics. These were subsequently promulgated: "… in order that these dangerous sects which are unmindful of our times may not spread into life the more freely, in indiscriminate confusion, as it were, we ordain by this law to be valid for all time …" (Novella 3 of Theodosius II, Jan. 31, 438). On this basis Jews were denied all civic offices and dignities because "we believe it is wrong that the enemies of the heavenly Majesty and of the Roman laws should become the executors of our laws, and that they, fortified by the authority of the acquired rank, should have the power to judge or sentence Christians, … as if they insult our faith … For the same reason we prohibit that any synagogue should rise as a new building" (ibid.). Hence, at this early stage, the foundations were laid for the conception that the holding of public office by a Jew constituted both an insult to Christianity and a danger to Christians. Of the two reasons cited, the first was prompted by the competition between religions that continued into the fifth century and by the pride of victory. The second stemmed from suspicion of the character of the Jew and the view that he was perhaps activated by base motives in dealing with other people. Thus motivation was advanced for the principle that only if the Jews were humiliated and rendered powerless would Christianity and Christians be safe; on this principle Jews were barred from honors and public office in Christian states (and later in Muslim states) from the fifth until the 18th centuries. Although there were to be many exceptions to, and breaches of, this rule, these only proved its wide acceptance, as amply evidenced down the centuries in the bitter opposition to Jews holding positions of authority by the Church leadership and the consensus of popular opinion in Christian and Muslim societies. The change in legal status gained popular acceptance because of the consistency and virulence with which Church leaders preached hatred of the Jew. The eight anti-Jewish sermons delivered by John Chrysostom (see church fathers ) in Antioch in 387 both reveal the existence of a continuing good relationship at this time between parts of the general population and the Jews and instance the type of propaganda used by the Church fathers to disrupt it. The sermons vilify the Jews, their synagogues, their way of life, and their motives of behavior at length and in scathing terms. augustine of Hippo had a deep historic sense of the vital force displayed by the Jewish people. Several times in his writings he returns to the mystery presented by the non-assimilation of a small people, separated from the rest of the population not only by its specific beliefs, but also by a detailed way of life and its development of an individual culture, in an empire that was moving to increasing uniformity in all these respects. His conception of what the Jewish people might have been, and what under Christian dispensation it had become, emerges from his musings about the likely destiny of the Jews had they not constantly revolted against God and finally rejected Jesus, and about the reason for their continued existence in the world:   „ And if they had not sinned against Him, led astray by unholy curiosity „ as by some magic arts, falling away to worship idols and finally „ murdering the Christ, they would have remained in the same „ kingdom, and if it did not grow in size, it would have grown in „ happiness. As for their present dispersion through almost all „ the lands and peoples, it is by the providence of the true God, to the „ end that when the images, altars, groves, and temples of the false „ gods are everywhere overthrown, and the sacrifices forbidden, it may „ be demonstrated by the Jewish scriptures how this was prophesied long „ ago. Thus the possibility is avoided that, if read only in our books, „ the prophecy might be taken for our invention (City of God, „ ed. and tr. by W.C. Greene, Book 4, 34 (1963), 129). Augustine's assertion that a redeemed Jewish people would have remained happy and a separate nation in Ereẓ Israel was later remembered by few Christians. Both of his assumptions, that the Jewish dispersion proves the truth of Christianity through the Holy Writ that is in Jewish possession, and that it was necessary to provide proof of the correctness of the biblical passages quoted by Christians from the text in Jewish hands to doubting infidels – neither Jewish nor Christian, but pagan – clearly indicate a situation, at least within living memory, of a triangle in which Judaism, Christianity, and paganism are confronted. Later on, his premises provided the theoretical formulation for Christian readiness to suffer Jews in their midst. Augustine's understanding of Psalms 59:12 (Vulgate 58:12) as relating to sufferance of the Jews, on the condition that they be visibly dispersed and humiliated, was widely quoted and applied in the Middle Ages. INTERNAL CULTURAL AND SOCIAL ACTIVITIES At the same time that the church was preaching to its converted the dictum that the Jews continue to exist for the sake of Christianity, as despiritualized guardians of a spiritual "Old Testament," the Jewish people were developing a great and fruitful new life of intellectual and social creativity. In about 359 a constant calendar was determined and formulated, thus basing archaic sacred attitudes to time, its division, and purpose, on mathematical principles, and bringing to completion a long process of Hellenistic cultural influence. The leadership provided by the patriarchate and the patriarchs (see nasi ) through these difficult times, although frequently criticized, was on the whole successful and helped create a productive period in both the Jewish and general cultural spheres. The nasi Gamaliel b. Hillel maintained a regular correspondence with the great Antiochian rhetor Libanius over the last four decades of the fourth century, showing points of contact between the great Jewish jurists and those of the Roman world. Jewish creative and cultural activity was continuing at a time when a mob led by monks in 388 burned down the synagogue at Callinicum in Mesopotamia. Bishop ambrose of Milan thereupon asserted the authority of the Church and overruled emperor theodosius i by insisting that the culprits should go unpunished. Also in this period Emperor Theodosius II and his ecclesiastical advisers attempted to deter Jews from worship by forbidding the erection of new synagogues (see above). Jews reacted to this situation by recourse to both traditional and new solutions. The Patriarchate was extinguished by imperial decree in 429. However, Jewish leadership of the communities in the Roman empire continued in a less centralized but more successful form. In Ereẓ Israel the Jewish population held on to its soil and maintained its spirit of resistance by every means available, from the revolt in Galilee against Gallus in 351 up to the revolt in the reign of emperor heraclius and its alliance with the invading Persian armies in 614 (see below). In Babylonia the exilarchs were able to exercise their hegemony under more relaxed and stable conditions than those prevailing in the Roman and Christian spheres. But when a series of persecutions overtook the community in the second half of the fifth and the sixth centuries the exilarchs had the foresight to withdraw with their institutions to inaccessible regions and there to continue cultural activities and social leadership. In 495–502 the exilarch mar zutra ii led a revolt, created a small Jewish state, and paid with his life for this attempt. YEMEN Semitic tribes in the region of present-day yemen became converted to Judaism and maintained a Jewish principality in Ḥimyar that had close ties with the nasi at Tiberias. It was crushed by a coalition of Christian Byzantium and ethiopia after a battle to preserve Judaism and with the death of the king Yūsuf dhu Nuwās in 525. REDACTION OF THE JERUSALEM AND BABYLONIAN TALMUDS At the time of these events Jewish intellectual activity added a new dimension and prototype to the national literature. The academies of Ereẓ Israel and Babylonia constituted a living forum for discussion of the tenets and implications of Jewish morals and Jewish law, continuing despite external humiliations and harassments. The redaction of the so-called Jerusalem Talmud took place in the second half of the fourth century. During the second half of the fourth century and throughout the fifth – from the days of Rav ashi (371–427) until ravina (499) – the redaction of the so-called Babylonian Talmud was completed. Both Talmuds represent whole libraries of legal discussion and formulation – halakhah – and record fragments of moral and exegetical sermons – aggadah. The thoughts and efforts of numerous scholars are reticulated in them to form a protocol of the discussions, thus setting down a rich legacy for posterity and providing an exemplar for a specific mode of learning, of living, and of moral decision. The Talmuds became canonized in Jewish esteem alongside the Bible and the Mishnah – theoretically in a diminishing scale of sanctity. In practice, interpretation of the Talmud and the talmudic mode of discussion eventually dominated Jewish scholarship and set the pattern for Jewish modes of thought until modern times. After a short transitional period of creative activity by the savora'im , the Talmuds were regarded as closed and canonized entities. Beside the Talmuds, there also remain from this period the amoraic midrashim (see midrash ). These in technique bear close   affinity to the writings of the Church Fathers, while in content and aims they represent a system of Jewish culture, its values and aspirations, and its defense against Christian attacks. APPEARANCE OF ISLAM The degree and scale of Jewish influence on muhammad and early islam is much in dispute, but there is no denial of its existence and considerable significance. From early attempts at alliance with Jewish groups in Arabia – the so-called Jewish "tribes" – Muhammad turned against them, and, in a series of wars and battles in the years 624 to 628, succeeded in either extirpating them or expelling them from Arabia. Awareness of these influences and of the alliances and wars of the past was important later in determining the attitude of Islam toward Jews. TRENDS IN CHRISTIAN POLICY TOWARD THE JEWS By the end of the sixth century, two approaches toward the Jews were tried in the Christian sphere. emperor justinian attempted to influence Judaism in a missionary spirit, to interfere in the conduct of Jewish worship, and to direct the Jews as to what they should retain or relinquish in their scriptures and beliefs. In the preamble to his Novella 146 (Feb. 8, 553) he states expressly: "Necessity dictates that when the Hebrews listen to their sacred texts they should not confine themselves to the meaning of the letter, but should also devote their attention to those sacred prophecies which are hidden from them, and which announce the mighty Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The post-biblical strata of Jewish literature are to be excised: "The Mishnah, or as they call it the second tradition (Deuterosis), we prohibit entirely … it is … but the handiwork of man, speaking only of earthly things, and having nothing of the divine in it. But let them read the holy words themselves, rejecting the commentaries" (as translated by J. Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1961), 392–3). Justinian's argumentation against Deuterosis has a fundamentalist ring, but the stress is on negation instead of a positive evaluation of the Bible. The emperor failed in his object, not only as many of his other strong-armed attempts had failed because of the weakness of the empire in the late sixth century, but essentially because the Jews remained consistently attached to the whole of their corpus of scriptures and refused to become Jews according to Christian concepts. Not until the 13th century was a similar approach again attempted, when a campaign was launched against the Talmud, which also failed (see below: The Middle Ages). At the end of the sixth century another attempt to eradicate the Jews in a Christian country was begun in Visigothic Spain. With the changeover from Arianism and the attempt to unite the country under Catholicism by King Reccared I, compulsory conversion of Jews to Christianity became an integral part of the policy of the Visigothic state. However, barehanded force essentially proved no more successful than Justinian's attempt at dictation (see below). pope gregory i at the end of the sixth century developed a different and more enduring line of approach. In his many letters concerning Jews he proposed to tempt them to Christianity by offering fiscal alleviations in the belief that if the first generation did not become fully fledged Christians the second would become so. He thus authorized the use of economic pressure and reward to bring about Jewish apostasy. However, while insisting on strict maintenance of the status quo in respect of Jewish existence, he was vigilant in ensuring that Jews should not acquire any new rights or opportunities. He thus developed a practice which was in part based on application of the theory of Augustine and in part on a dogmatization of the various anti-Jewish laws of the later Roman emperors as incorporated in the Codes of Theodosius and Justinian. In his theoretical writings, in particular in his Moralia on Job, and in his commentaries on Kings and Ezekiel, Gregory views the Jewish way of life and Jewish identity as the arch-enemy of Christianity. Jacob here represents the gentiles, and Esau the Jews. SETTLEMENT IN WESTERN EUROPE The sixth century also saw the reemergence of Jews in Western Europe north of the Pyrenees. The existence of a Jewish community at cologne in 321 is already attested in an edict of Emperor Constantine. Discoveries of coins, and, in the opinion of some scholars, also terra cotta figurines found at treves (Trier), prove the presence of Jews – or at least of passing merchants – in several places in Western and Central Europe in the fourth century. However, there is no evidence of the continuance of these Jewish groups, or of the movement of individual Jewish merchants, in the disordered times of the barbarian invasions and the creation of the Germanic states in the late fourth and fifth centuries. South of the Pyrenees, in Arian Visigothic Spain and in the kingdom of Theodoric in Italy, Jews were to be found, living in relatively favorable conditions. The Arians did not simply adopt the attitude of the Catholic Church toward Jews; since individuals in these Arian Germanic states were regarded as subject either to the existing Roman law or the Germanic law of the conquerors, Jews were classified, under this definition, with the Romans. Procopius recounts (De Bello Gothico, 1, 5, 10.25) that the Jews of naples courageously and stubbornly defended this city for Theodoric against the Byzantines in 536. Though migration from a warmer southern climate to a colder northern one, and from an ancient and familiar cultural milieu to a new and uncivilized region, is not usual, this is the direction taken by relatively many Jews during the sixth century when they appeared in the Catholic kingdom of the Franks in what is now france . They were attracted by the rare opportunities for enterprising merchants in the newly developing countries. Seen through the writings of Bishop gregory of tours , Jews were able to tempt bishops and princes with the spices and costly cloths they brought with them. In the second half of the sixth century there is mention of sizable communities, as at clermont-ferrand , paris , and marseilles , which had their own synagogue buildings – certainly not constructed in accordance with the requirements imposed   by the Church – and stubbornly defended, sometimes to the death, their right to live as professing Jews. The figure of the jew priscus exemplifies the best in these groups: learned in the Bible, he is shown disputing as an equal, and unafraid, with Bishop Gregory in the presence of King Chilperic about Judaism and Christianity. He died a martyr's death at Paris, having dispatched his son to safety in Marseilles. THE JEWISH REVOLT IN EREẒ ISRAEL On the eve of the appearance of Islam as a world power and third great monotheistic religion – the last throes of the disappearance of the old order of the classical world – Jews in Ereẓ Israel again raised the standard of revolt in an attempt to reestablish Jewish rule in Ereẓ Israel. Desperate through persecutions under Emperor Heraclius they rebelled in 614, joined the Persian armies then invading the country, and between 614 and 617 established Jewish rule in Jerusalem. Their failure and cruel suppression (see also benjamin of tiberias ) add to the character of this event in Jewish history, which represents a last gleam of the classical constellations and one of the many harbingers of the new medieval situation. (Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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