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Anti-Semitism in the West from Constantine to the Expulsion of Jews from Spain

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Anti-Semitism in the West from Constantine to the expulsion of Jews from Spain



I. Constantine and Christianity as the state religion

A. Legislation concerning Jews

B. The Justinian Code

C. Anti-Semitic Church Fathers

II. The Crusades

A. The march to Jerusalem

B. Fourth Lateran Council

C. Host desecration and blood libel

D. Pogroms

III. The expulsion of Jews from Spain

A. The Inquisition

B. The Conversos

C. Expulsion


Anti-Semitism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against, and persecution of, the Jews as an ethnic group. Historically, this has been practiced for many different reasons, by the ancient Egyptians before the Exodus, under the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C.E. and for almost 2,000 years by European Christians. Anti-Semitism was a tenet of Nazi Germany, and in the Holocaust (Hebrew Shoah) 1933-1945 about 6 million Jews died in concentration camps and in local extermination pogroms, such as the siege of the Warsaw ghetto. In Eastern Europe, as well as in Islamic nations, anti-Semitism exists and is promoted by neo-fascist groups. It is a form of racism.1 Although, anti-Semitism can be historically proven to cover over 2,500 years, only the time from Constantine to the Crusades to the expulsion of Jews from Spain will be discussed.

In 306 C.E., Constantine became the first Christian Roman Emperor. At first, he accorded Jews the same religious rights as Christians. However, about 312 C.E., he made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. This signaled the end of the persecution of Christians, but the beginning of the persecution of the Jewish people.

With the establishment of Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century, the Church soon began to attack Judaism. The new "Christian" empire began to enact legal changes such as: The removal of former religious and governing privileges. The curtailment of rabbinical jurisdiction and the prohibition of missionary work. Jews were no longer allowed to hold high offices or have military careers (e.g. legislation in 537 C.E. which prohibited local Jewish people from serving on municipal bodies). Banning Christians from having contact with Jews. Forbidding of the reading of the Torah exclusively in Hebrew (553 C.E.). Confiscation of Jewish property and the prohibition of the sale of Christian property to Jews (545 C.E.).

The Justinian Code was an edict of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-564). A section of the code negated civil rights for Jews. Once the code was enforced, Jews in the Empire could not build synagogues, read the Bible in Hebrew, gather in public places, celebrate Passover before Easter, or give evidence in a judicial case in which a Christian was a party. Other decrees by the early Catholic Church: Synod of Elvira (306) prohibited intermarriage and sexual intercourse between Christians and Jews, and prohibited them from eating together. Councils of Orleans (533-541) prohibited marriages between Christians and Jews and forbade the conversion to Judaism by Christians. Trulanic Synod (692) prohibited Christians from being treated by Jewish doctors. Synod of Narbonne (1050) prohibited Christians from living in Jewish homes. Synod of Gerona (1078) required Jews to pay taxes to support the Church. Third Lateran Council (1179) prohibited certain medical care to be provided by Christians to Jews. Fourth Lateran Council (1215) required Jews to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians. Council of Basel (1431-1443) forbade Jews to attend universities, from acting as agents in the conclusion of contracts between Christians, and required that they attend church sermons.

After 312, the writings of the Church Fathers changed in character. No longer were they on the defensive and apologetic, but aggressive, and directed its venom at everyone "outside of the flock," in particular the Jewish people.

The war of the Christian Church against the Jews began with the Church Fathers' relentless attacks on those Jews who stubbornly refused to accept Jesus as Messiah. "The unbridled utterances of bigotry and hate coming from the venerated Church Fathers of the early Christian Church raises some doubt as to both their sanity and their saintliness."2 Despite their belief that Christ's death was necessary and predestined, they denounced the Jews as a "condemned race and hated of God."3

Because of the growing power of the Church, Christian theology and the Church Fathers were to become more and more obsessed with Jewish guilt. The following teachings of the Fathers were to be handed down throughout succeeding generations in Christendom. Origen (185-254 C.E.) echoed the growing hostility:

On account of their unbelief and other insults which they heaped upon Jesus, the Jews will not only suffer more than others in the judgment which is believed to impend over the world, but have even already endured such sufferings. For what nation is in exile from their own metropolis, and from the place sacred to the worship of their fathers, save the Jews alone? And the calamities they have suffered because they were a most wicked nation, which although guilty of many other sins, yet has been punished so severely for none as for those that were committed against our Jesus.4

The Church, who was now Israel, had to discredit the other Israel. And it did so by making anti-Jewish theology an integral part of Christian apologetics. The Fathers turned out volumes of literature to prove that they were the true people of God, and that Judaism had only been a prelude to or in preparation for Christianity. Justin Martyr along with Hippolytus (170-236 C.E.) was obsessed with the belief that the Jews were receiving and would continue to receive God's punishment for having murdered Jesus. Hippolytus writes:

Now then, incline thine ear to me and hear my words, and give heed, thou Jew. Many a time does thou boast thyself, in that thou didst condemn Jesus of Nazareth to death, and didst give him vinegar and gall to drink; and thou dost vaunt thyself because of this.



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