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Antisemitism Through the Ages

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In recent years, antisemitism is thought to be a relatively new phenomenon. However, its roots are found much deeper in history: back to Roman times.  The collection is based chronologically to follow Antisemitism from its source leading up until the 21st century A.D. My expectation is that these collections will serve as a means to deepen the understanding of Antisemitism found within the Christian culture.

In the first century B.C.E. Cicero (Lawyer, writer and orator) wrote his Pro L. Flacco in defense of his client L. Valerius Flaccus. In defending his client (the governor of Asia), who was accused of embezzlement as well as corruption, Cicero accuses the Jews as the foundations for the conspiracies against his client. Cicero claims that Jews are the "variance" and go directly against the pietas (family, gods and state) Roman culture embraced. Cicero further back up his claim by stating that Roman gods don't even care for them or else the Jews city of Jerusalem would not have been conquered by the Romans and made tribute. In his work Pro L. Flacco he coined the phrase "barbara superstitio." The insult was meant to directly oppose the meaning of pietas; to oppose Rome itself.  It wasn't until a century later, when Rome laid siege to Judea, that his anti-Jewish beliefs would take root. 

Nearly a hundred years after Cicero first wrote his poisonous anti-Jewish work did Judea rebel against Rome. Emperor Vespasian's son Titus, constructed an army that brutally attacked the city of Jerusalem. There are several explicit records that denote Titus' relentless starvation of Jews, burning of synagogues (while Jews remained inside), outright slaughter of Jews (approximately 600,000 to 1.1 million Jews), and the remainder were sold into slavery. The sacking of Judea was extremely important to the Romans, because it signified their dominance. In celebration of this monumental event, the Arch of Titus was created to depict the sacking of Judea. In the relief, the menorah that Titus took from the Second Temple is displayed as the focus of the sculpture. 

During the time of the rebellion, Tacitus constructed his Historiae (70 C.E.) where he demonized Jews for their sacrilegious views of Roman gods. Tacitus created the four pillars that formed the anti-Semitic beliefs. He stated that Jews were affluent, perverted, "out-breeding," and sacrilegious. The way in which Tacitus illuminated the Jews caused the creation of a "mythology". This anti-Jewish mythology deemed Jews as tempting people from their families, religions, and patriotism (all pietas of Roman culture) as a way of destroying all who were not Jewish.  

In addition to the Arch of Titus, commemorative coins were also issued as part of the celebration. The coins depict a Roman soldier hovering over a Jewish woman. The anti-Jewish propaganda (the Arch and the coins, among others) allowed this perpetual violence to become palatable among Romans. 

In light of the growing anti-Semitic violence, Titus Flavius Josephus, a Jewish scholar during the 1st century A.D., wrote his work Contra Apionem , where he attempted to combat the anti-Jewish propaganda being spewed by the Romans. Much of Josephus argument was founded on past rebellions by Jews (like that in Egypt) and combating agitated Greek philosophers (regarding the spread of Judaism). 

In the following century after the conquest of Rome, Jews revolted to take back Judea. Just as the Romans created commemorative coins, so did the Jews. The rebellion was led by Simon Bar Kokhba. However, the Jews took Roman coins and filled them down before being over-struck with their own rebellious images. 

Our journey of Antisemitism during the Medieval period starts with the First Crusade in 1095 through 1099. During the First Crusade Christians attacked the Jew's sacred city, Jerusalem, taking the city as theirs. The First Crusade began to recall (if it ever went away) the Roman pillars against Jews. Until the year 1100 Jews were indistinguishable from Christians in artwork. In the early 1100's Jews were given pointed hats to differentiate them in paintings. 

The hatred of Jews began to rise in England with the mutilated dead body of William of Norwich in 1144. The crazy rumors surrounding his mutilation formed the myth known as Blood Libel. The myth of the blood libel was seen as the slaughter of young Christian children, where Jews used their blood for religious rites. Not long after, starting in 1150, Jews were demonized in art as well. 

The fear of Jews ran rampant throughout Europe. Christians even began to publicly display their hatred on the churches themselves. In 1240, the construction of Notre Dame included statues of Synogoga and Ecclesia, latin for Synagogue and Church. The two women represented more than just the names, they also represented the Christians view on the Jewish religion. Synogoga is depicted as wearing a helmet that covers her eyes (for her inability to "see" the truth), slouching, holding a broken spear (represent the death of Christ; blaming Jews for Christ's death), and the Torah (which she is barely hanging on to). In contrast, Ecclesia is standing straight with a crown (assuming the Christians are now the ones with the royal blood line), a cross staff, as well as a grail or chalice. The grail or chalice is perhaps in representation of the Holy Grail, the vessel believed to catch the blood of Christ during his Crucifixion. 

In 1267 two church councils order Jews to wear the pointed hats (as they did in paintings). Around the same time Jews were beginning to be depicted with abnormally large noses as well as with beards. This change of style is easily noted in the illuminated manuscript produced in 1275, called "Jesus before Caiaphas," Jesus (although a Jew) is not pictured with the Jewish nose as the four other men in the illumination are. Also note the two men in the front with the pointed hats. 

Churches continued the theme of degradation of Jews in their facades. However, in 1305 they reached an all time low, the Judensau was born. The Judensau is the depiction of Jews suckling a pig. According to Jewish law, pigs are considered to be unclean (not for consumption) and furthers the insult, comparing Jews to swine and claiming they are dirty and unclean peoples. 

As the style of art transitioned into the High Renaissance style, the depictions of Jews became further demonized. A late Renaissance painting by Albrecht Durer called "Christ Among the Doctors" notes this demonetization. The Jews are easily noticeable by their horrid appearance.  

The persecution of Jews continued across the continent. In Bildchronik of Diebold Schiling illuminated manuscript page, Jews are wearing the pointy hats as well as yellow identifying badges on their clothing while being burned alive at the stakes. One of the many reasons that this hatred was so easily accessible was the invention of the printing press. In a printing from 1596 we can see the reproduction of Martin Luther's 1543 Judensau article, which he pinned on his church door in Wittenberg, Germany. 

Jews were being "attacked" by rumors of blood libel, portrayed as wicked in art, portrayed as blind/dumb and unclean on church facades, as well as literature being spread against them, all over the span of 500 years. 

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Cicero Pro L. Flacco

World of Books

Arch of Titus

Public Medievalist

Commemorative Coin

The Public Medievalist

Bust of Josephus

The Public Medievalist

Notre Dame Ecclesia and Synagoga

Saint Joseph's University

Jesus Before Caiaphas

British Library

Judensau

The Jerusalem Post

Bildchronik of Diebold Schiling

The Public Medievalist

Blood Libel

My Jewish Learning

Christ Among Doctors

Huffington Post