Chapter 4 THE LAST HERO
“Next, taking him to a very high mountain, the devil showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all these, if you fall at my feet and do me homage.’ Then Jesus replied, ‘Away with you, Satan!’”Matthew 4:8–10
Jews, Greeks, and Romans
In 63 BCE, the general Pompeius annexed Syria to the Roman Empire. He took advantage of a rivalry between the two sons of the Hasmonean king John Hyrcan I to integrate Judea, Samaria, and Galilee into the province of Syria. Hyrcan II was maintained at the head of a reduced territory and downgraded from king to ethnarch, while his pro-Roman counselor, an Idumean (Edomite) by the name of Antipater, was accorded special powers. After the fall of Pompeius, Hyrcan II and Antipater pledged allegiance to Caesar. In 47, Antipater was made governor of all Judea.
Thus began the “century of Herod,” from the name of Antipater’s son who took the title of king of Judea in 37. Herod the Great, as he would be called, reigned for 40 years as a “friend”— that is, client—of Rome. He equipped the country with roads, ports, bridges, aqueducts, racetracks, and amphitheaters. But his biggest project was dedicated to the national religion: the construction of a gigantic temple, completed in 64 CE under his great-grandson and destroyed soon after by Titus’s army in 70. After Herod’s death in 4 CE, his sons Antipas and Aristobulus reigned in Galilee and Samaria, while the Romans placed Judea under the rule of a Roman governor, the position occupied by Pontius Pilate from 26 to 37.
Herod’s reign was a period of relative peace and prosperity. Roman authority and cultural influence in Judea were tolerated, as were Roman offerings to the Temple, aimed at making Yahweh favorable to the emperor. But at Herod’s death, the fundamentalist movement, which had been kept in check, regained momentum. Riots broke out whenever Roman paganism intruded into the Holy City, as when Pilate introduced military banners with the emperor’s effigies (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVIII.3).
Members of the priestly class (high priests and Sadducees), who already formed the core of the Hasmonean party and remained a powerful hereditary class under the Herodians, used their capacity to mobilize crowds in their power struggles. Many were ready to conspire for the restoration of a true theocracy independent from Rome. Under their leadership, the Sadducee Eleazar, son of the high priest who defied Roman power by opposing the daily sacrifices offered in the Temple in the name and at the expense of the emperor, launched an armed rebellion in 66. The war ended in 70 when Roman legions under the command of Titus besieged, plundered, and destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple, and then other strongholds of the insurgents. The last, Masada, fell in 73.
When the rebellion broke out against Rome, the Samaritans remained loyal to the Romans and provided support. Under the Hasmoneans, they had resisted circumcision and conversion to the Jerusalem-centered cult. After Herod’s death, open hostilities broke out again between Judeans and Samaritans. Galilean Jews who had to cross Samaria on their way to Jerusalem were in hostile territory, and many skirmishes resulted. However, Galilee itself was far fromcompletely submissive to religious centralism: in the middle of the first century CE, Jerusalemites still referred to it as “Galilee of the nations” (Matthew 4:15). Hellenistic cults flourished in the Galilean cities of Sepphoris and Magdala, where Jews were a minority.
The progressive degradation of the relationship between Rome and Jerusalem followed a parallel course in the rest of the empire. Under the Hasmoneans and until the end of Herod the Great’s reign, the Diaspora Jews were faithful allies of the Romans, and treated as such. In Alexandria as in Judea, Jews who had supported Caesar against the Greeks were rewarded with increased privileges. The same was true in all the Greek eastern cities that fell under Roman control. Jews enjoyed freedom of cult, judicial autonomy, discharge from any obligation on the Sabbath, exemption from military service, low taxation, and exemption from compulsory emperor worship (a mere civil formality as a token of loyalty). Moreover, they were allowed to collect funds and send them to the Jerusalem Temple bureaucracy.104 This situation inevitably fostered resentment from the Greeks who enjoyed none of these privileges, though they were recognized as Roman citizens. Many governors of Greek cities preferred facing penalties rather than implementing the imperial measures in favor of Jews. The famous lawyer Cicero gives us a glimpse of these tensions in his plea Pro Flaco (59 CE). His client, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, governor of Asia, had prevented the Jewish communities under his jurisdiction from sending their annual contributions to Jerusalem. These contributions had been seized in several cities, to the satisfaction of non-Jewish residents. Cicero defended Flaccus’s measure as economically wise.
In Alexandria, where the Jews composed up to one-third of the population, the Jews’ preferential treatment caused much unrest. Historian Michael Grant writes: “The Greeks nursed many long-standing grudges against the huge local Jewish community—religious, racial, economic and social alike. But what they objected to most of all was that the Jews collaborated so willingly with the Roman authorities. For the Greeks, disillusioned after half a century of Roman rule, had now produced a party of extreme anti-Roman nationalists. Being anti-Roman, they were strongly anti-Jewish as well—influenced still further in this direction by the native Egyptians, who were known to exceed all other peoples in the hatred they felt for the Jews.”105 Following anti-Jewish riots in 38, Jews and Greeks from Alexandria each sent a delegation to Rome to settle their differences. They were briefly received by Caligula, then by his successor Claudius. The Jewish delegation was headed by Philo, who gives his account in Legatio ad Gaium. Isidoros, representing the Alexandrian Greeks, stated about the Jews in front of the emperor Claudius: “I accuse them of trying to stir up the entire world.” Claudius was much better disposed toward Jews than Caligula, who had challenged Jewish separatism by ordering that his statue be erected in Jerusalem’s Temple, but had died before his order could be executed. For having insinuated that Claudius’s court was filled with Jews, Isidoros was condemned to death.106 Nevertheless, the edict issued by Claudius after the arbitration hearing concluded that, if Jews continued to sow dissent and “to agitate for more privileges than they formerly possessed, […] I will by all means take vengeance on them as fomenters of what is a general plague infecting the whole world.” This edict was followed by another addressed to all the Jewish communities of the empire, asking them not to “behave with contempt towards the gods of other peoples.”107 Finally, after more outbreaks of violence between Greeks and Jews, the Romans turned against the Jews, and, from 115 to 117, the Greeks themselves joined with their Roman conquerors in the violent repression that stamped out the Jewish community of Alexandria, of which no more is heard.
Jesus, Rome, and Jerusalem
For obvious reasons, the aforementioned context is crucial for understanding the birth of the “Jesus movement” in Palestine from the year 30, and its development in Syria and Egypt after70. If we are to believe the Gospels, Jesus was Galilean like most if not all of his early disciples, and it was in Galilee and neighboring Syrian towns that his reputation first spread. For that reason alone, his reception in Jerusalem was predictable. He was neither a Judean Jew nor an orthodox Jew, and was probably not even perceived as an ethnic Jew; he was a marginal Jew, to quote John Meier’s recent three-volume biography.108 Jesus was a former disciple of John the Baptist, whose movement was active in Samaria and Transjordania. Jesus’s harsh criticism of the Temple cult must also be considered as akin to the Samaritans’ politico-religious worldview. In the Gospel of John, the use of the term oi Ioudaioi (71 times) to designate Jesus’s enemies is generally regarded as meaning “Judeans.”109 By contrast, the same author puts Jesus in friendly contact with the Samaritans, although, normally, “Jews, of course, do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). When Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, she mentions the bone of contention between Samaritans and Judeans: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, though you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” In response, Jesus announces reconciliation: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. […] But the hour is coming—indeed is already here—when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (4:20–23). Hearing this, the Samaritans hail him as “the Savior of the world” (4:42). On the other hand, the Jerusalem authorities condemn him in these terms: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and possessed by a devil?” (8:48). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus challenges the Jerusalemites’ ethnic and religious chauvinism with his parable of the “good Samaritan” who acted more morally than a priest and a Levite (Luke 10:29–37). In brief, Jesus was not a Samaritan, but he was certainly reaching out to the Samaritans, and deeply critical of the Judeans’ hostility to them. In that sense, he was already a peacemaker.
What can be said about Jesus’s attitude toward the Romans? For two centuries, mainstream historians have depicted the tragic story of Jesus as an episode in the struggle between Jews and Romans. But their critical exegesis of the Gospels focused on the Jewishness of Jesus and on the responsibility of the Romans for his execution cannot change the fact that the four canonical Gospel writers present the Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Judeans in general) rather than the Romans as Jesus’s mortal enemies. The synoptic account is unambiguous. During the great Easter festival at Jerusalem, “the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death,” but they decided “it must not be during the festivities, or there will be a disturbance among the people” (Mark 14:1–2). They corrupted one of his followers, Judas Iscariot, who told them where to find him, and they had him arrested in the middle of the night by “a number of men armed with swords and clubs” (14:43). Then, “all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes assembled” (14:53) in order to find against him, by false testimonies, a chief accuser to report to the Romans, for they had no legal right to execute him themselves. Under the pretext that he had claimed to be “Messiah,” they delivered him, chained, to the Roman authorities, as a seditious would-be “king of the Jews.” Pontius Pilate found no basis in this accusation; although not known for his leniency, he was reluctant to condemn Jesus, “for he realized it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over” (Mark 15:10). When Pilate addressed “the crowd,” proposing to release him, it was “the chief priests” (members of the powerful priestly families) who “incited the crowd to demand that he should release Barabbas for them instead” (15:11).
So even though it is Pilate who, “after having Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified” (15:15), the Gospel narrative clearly defines the range of responsibilities. The Jewish elite wanted Jesus dead but, having no legal right to execute him, they incited the crowed against him and compelled Pilate to convict him. This justifies the shortcut used by Paul when he writes that the Jews “put the Lord Jesus to death” (1 Thessalonians 2:15), or when Peter speaks to the Sanhedrin of “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified” (Acts 4:10), or said to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem, “this man […] you took and had crucified and killed by men outside the Law” (2:23).
This New Testament narrative has been challenged by modern historical criticism. The evangelists, we are told, were eager to please Rome, and therefore portrayed their Christ as innocent of the crimes for which he was crucified, and blamed the Jews for having turned the Romans against him. For the same reason, these modern critics allege, the evangelists also cleared Pilate of the miscarriage of justice by inventing the scene in which he proposes to release Jesus and then washes his hands. According to this interpretation, the evangelists, and Paul even more so, founded Christian anti-Semitism on a historical lie. In Who Killed Jesus? for example, John Dominic Crossan writes for the purpose of “exposing the roots of anti-Semitism in the Gospel story of the death of Jesus.”110 The thesis is not entirely specious. It is undeniable that the Gospel narrative exonerates Jesus of all sedition against Rome, and in so doing also exonerates Pilate, perhaps excessively, from any hostility toward Jesus. (An apocryphal tradition expands on Matthew 27:19 to give Pilate the wife “Saint Procula” and claims that Pilate himself converted.) The scene where Pilate offers the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas is hardly credible to historians. One is tempted to explain it by the rewriting of an original narrative in which Jesus and Barabbas were one; indeed, Barabbas means “son of the Father” in Aramaic— Abba is the expression Jesus used to address his God, for example in Mark 14:36. Additionally, some manuscripts designate him as “Jesus Barabbas.”111 So according to a plausible hypothesis, the crowd really clamored in vain for the liberation of Jesus, but a secondary editor transformed the scene by duplicating “Jesus son of God” into Jesus and Barabbas. The same editor nevertheless absolved the “crowd” from responsibility by declaring that it was manipulated by the “high priests.” In any case, the main responsibility for the death of Jesus is still imputed to the priestly elites of Jerusalem. Matthew, it is true, incriminates the entire people, who together shoulder the whole responsibility for the murder of Christ: “Let his blood be on us and on our children” (27:25) ; and there is undoubtedly a clear Judeophobic trend in the Gospel of Mark—a trend that is all the more significant because Matthew deeply Judaized the message of Christ, as we shall see.
Historical-critical analysis of the Gospels is a perfectly legitimate field of scientific inquiry. It submits the Gospels to the same tests of credibility as any other historical source, with the added advantage of having four interdependent versions (three if we limit ourselves to the Synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew, and Luke), which enables us to separate the successive layers of redactions. It is clear that the Gospel of Mark is the oldest and has served as the basis of the two other Synoptic Gospels. But it is also believed that its lost first version (the hypothetical Urmarkus or Proto-Mark) has been revised in an attempt to harmonize it with Matthew.112 Given this complex redactional history of the Gospels, it is legitimate to question their historical reliability. The question, regarding Jesus’s crucifixion, is whether the evangelists’ story of a Jewish conspiracy against Jesus is basically true, or whether it is a cover-up of the Romans’ responsibility. We have to choose between two theories: a “conspiracy theory” today consideredanti-Semitic (though the evangelists were themselves Jewish), and a politically correct revisionist theory that shifts the blame entirely to the Romans—thereby implicitly admitting that Jesus was the seditious anti-Roman agitator that the Jerusalem priests said he was.
From a historical point of view, the evangelists’ narrative is perfectly plausible in its broad outlines. It offers no obvious reasons to turn it on its head. Neither the conspiracy of the local elite nor the treason of Judas are implausible; on the contrary, they seem quite realistic. Paul himself twice fell victim to the same methods. It was the Jews who, at Corinth, seized him and dragged him before the proconsul Gallion under the accusation: “This individual is trying to persuade people to worship God in a manner contrary to the Law.” Gallion washed his hands of the affair after the manner of Pilate, but did not yield to Jewish pressure: “Listen, you Jews. If this were a misdemeanour or a crime, it would be in order for me to listen to your plea; but if it is only quibbles about words and names, and about your own Law, then you must deal with it yourselves—I have no intention of making legal decisions about these things” (Acts 18:12–14).
An even closer approximation to Jesus’s situation took place when Paul arrived in Jerusalem after his third voyage in Asia: “Some Jews from Asia caught sight of him in the Temple and stirred up the crowd and seized him” (Acts 21:27). When the Roman tribune Claudius Lysias intervened, the crowd loudly demanded that Paul be put to death. But the tribune excused himself from the case and “gave orders for a meeting of the chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin; then he brought Paul down and set him in front of them” (22:30). He then withdrew Paul and surrounded him with Roman guards. But forty conspirators convinced the Sanhedrin to ask the tribune for the right to question Paul again, secretly intending to kill him. The tribune learned of their intention and had Paul escorted to Caesarea with a letter for the governor of Syria, Felix, in which he explained: “I found that the accusation concerned disputed points of their Law, but that there was no charge deserving death or imprisonment” (23:29).
The high priests also went to Caesarea with a lawyer named Tertullus to plead their cause against Paul: “We have found this man a perfect pest; he stirs up trouble among Jews the world over and is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect” (24:5). Felix dismissed them and “gave orders to the centurion that Paul should be kept under arrest but free from restriction, and that none of his own people should be prevented from seeing to his needs” (24:23). Paul, as a Roman citizen, “appealed to Caesar” (25:11), and Felix’s successor, Festus, granted him the right to be taken to Rome to plead before the emperor. He first gave Paul an opportunity to plead his case to King Agrippa II. After having heard it, Festus and Agrippa deliberated: “‘This man is doing nothing that deserves death or imprisonment.’ And Agrippa remarked to Festus, ‘The man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar’” (26:31–32). And so Paul was escorted to Rome, and the Acts of the Apostles tell us no more.
Not being a Roman citizen, Jesus did not receive the same consideration as Paul. Aside from this difference, the methods used against Paul and against Jesus were the same. Unless we challenge the credibility of Paul’s story, there is no reason to challenge that of Jesus. It is all the more credible that it corresponds to a situation that was often repeated in the first two centuries of our era. According to the testimonies of Tertullian, Justin, Origen, and Eusebius, it was the Jews who incited the Romans to persecute Christians, denouncing them with slanderous accusations, such as allegedly eating children slaughtered in nocturnal gatherings: “The Jews were behind all the persecutions of the Christians. They wandered through the country everywhere hating and undermining the Christian faith,” affirms Saint Justin around 116 CE. The Martyrdom of Polycarp (second century) underlines the importance of the Jewish participation in the persecution of the Christians of Smyrna.113 It seems therefore very likely that Jesus was avictim of the same methods.
Moreover, to suppose that the evangelists have falsified this aspect of the biography of Jesus obliges us to suppose that they have totally distorted the meaning of his message. For never, according to the Gospel stories, did Jesus attack the Romans or the authority of Rome. When the Pharisees and Herodians questioned him, hoping to trap him, on what he thought of the tax exacted by Rome, Jesus showed them the portrait of the emperor on a Roman coin and replied: “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar—and God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17), which was a way of distancing himself from the protest against Roman taxation. In this scene, it is actually the Jewish authorities who conspire against Jesus by searching for a pretext for denouncing him to the Romans. The scene is as credible as Jesus’s reply was memorable.
This episode may be profitably compared to another, also having money as its central theme: Jesus’s overthrowing the stalls of the money-changers and merchants of the Temple, accusing them of transforming the Temple “into a bandits’ den” (Mark 11:17). The money-changers’ business consisted of converting the various coins into the only coinage authorized to purchase the sacrificial animals and to pay the religious tax: the half-shekel. This highly lucrative financial traffic profited from money trading as well as usury, and gave rise to many abuses. Thus the only time Jesus behaved violently was not against the Romans and their taxes, but against the financial practices of the Jews. And it is again “the chief priests and the scribes” who, seeing this, “tried to find some way of doing away with him; they were afraid of him because the people were carried away by his teaching” (11:18).
To understand the context, one must know that the earliest safe-deposit banks known in history were religious temples, because they were well guarded and therefore safe. Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus whose brother Alexander was director of customs and banker of the king of Judea, evoked such a “temple deposit” in his book Against Flaccus.114 As the only authorized (and obligatory) place of religious sacrifice in Judea, the Jerusalem Temple had become, by the time of Jesus, a massive money magnet. But Yahweh’s vocation of amassing riches had begun long before that: “All the silver and all the gold, everything made of bronze or iron, will be consecrated to Yahweh and put in his treasury” (Joshua 6:19). In a very real sense, it is as much the bank as the Temple that symbolically destroys Jesus. His message was often directed against the love of money that festered in the Jewish society of his time: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23) ; “But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too” (Matthew 6:20– 21). The idea of “storing up treasures in heaven” is totally foreign to Yahwism, as is the idea of “saving one’s life while losing it” (Matthew 16:25).
The message of Jesus was also directed against the obsessive legalism of the Pharisees, the founding fathers of rabbinical Judaism. Jesus’s vision of the reign of God among men is the opposite of both the reign of money and the rule of law; it is the reign of the Spirit descended among men, and unconditionally welcomed by them. His disciples later explained that his death was necessary for him to send down the Holy Spirit (Paraclete), more or less confused with the risen Christ who had become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). But it is unlikely that Jesus would have rested this hope on his own sacrifice. The Holy Spirit was for him a reality blossoming in the hearts of men, to be realized socially in a conviviality that breaks down the barriers erected in the name of purity by the Law: “What goes into the mouth does not make anyone unclean; it is what comes out of the mouth that makes someone unclean” (Matthew 15:11).
To conclude, the number one enemy of Christ is Judaism, in its sacerdotal-financial, Pharisaical-Puritanical, and anti-Roman zealot components (in that order). An abundance of evidence concurs in confirming that Jesus was the victim of a conspiracy of the Jewish elites in Jerusalem, arranged through lying witnesses and quotations taken out of context (Matthew 26:59–61) to use the Romans to eliminate a pacifist opposed to anti-Roman and anti-Samaritan chauvinism (see Luke 10:29–37). In denouncing Jesus as an enemy of Rome, these Jewish elites implicitly pledged their loyalty to the Roman authorities with a Machiavellian hypocrisy. But at the same time, having the Romans crucify a beloved prophet of the people meant exacerbating the anti-Roman sentiment that Jesus had tried to appease. In their arrogant confidence in Yahweh, they would eventually draw upon themselves the destruction that Jesus foresaw. Two centuries of biased historical criticism cannot erase this Gospel truth.
Anastasis Christ is, in many ways, the culmination of the Greco-Roman heroic ideal: Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection are perfect manifestations of the heroic paradigm. And it is quite natural: the Gospels were written in Greek in one of the urban crossroads of Hellenistic civilization— Antioch, Rome, or Alexandria. And as we can imagine from the New Testament, the worship of Jesus instituted by his disciples “in remembrance of [him]” (Luke 22:19) is essentially a heroic cult of the Greek type. A generation of exegetes immersed themselves in the Hebrew tradition in search of antecedents for the idea of the salvific death of Christ; they found only the obscure “suffering servant” passage of Isaiah 53.115 The Greco-Roman antecedents, on the other hand, are legion: The sacrificial death of a man who then breaths his spirit into his community is the essential idea of heroic religiosity. Of the founding hero of Rome, Romulus, Livy tells us that after being put to death by the senators, the Romans “began to cheer Romulus, like a god born of a god, the king and the father of the city, imploring his protection, so that he should always protects its children with his benevolent favor.” The heroizing of Romulus was encouraged by his apparition to a certain Proculus Julius, to whom he said: “Go and tell the Romans that the gods of heaven desire my Rome to become the capital of the world.” (History of Rome I.16).
To compare the worship of Jesus with the cults of the Greco-Roman heroes is nothing new; the resemblance was obvious to the first Christians, as well as to their adversaries. Saint Justin, a Christian intellectual from a pagan family, conceded it: by saying that Jesus “was begotten without any carnal act, that he was crucified, that he died, and that after rising from the dead he ascended to heaven, we admit nothing stranger than the history of those beings whom you call sons of Zeus.” The difference, Justin insists, is that the story of Jesus is truthful, while those of the pagan demigods are lies invented by demons to “sow in the minds of men the suspicion that the things predicted of Christ were a fable like those related by the poets.”116 To set Jesus apart from the heroes by placing him above them, out of competition, was the main concern of the first apologists.
Jesus is not the only Christian hero, he is merely the first. The cults of the saints, which mobilized Christian devotion in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, represent the prolongation of the heroic culture of classical antiquity. Until the tenth century, their cults were mainly spontaneous local manifestations of popular piety, centered on tombs or martyrs’ relics. The cults of the Christian saints developed parallel to the declining vestiges of pagan heroic cults throughout late antiquity, as Christopher Jones shows in his masterful book on Greco-Roman heroic religiosity. Many of the venerated tombs were those of men who did not die for their Christian faith; some were described as brigands by the authorities. Augustine himself concededthat only an “ecclesiastical form of expression” prevented the holy martyrs from being described as heroes (The City of God X.21).117 More than a century ago, Stefan Czarnowski demonstrated that saints belong to the hero category: “They bring together, in fact, the essential features. They are glorified men, who by their acts or by their death have merited a privileged position between the elect. The faithful live in communion with them. They see in the saints their advocates with God.”118 The cult of the saints, being strongly attached to their shrines, allowed communities to preserve a certain autonomy in their religious life. With it, Christianity successfully subverted Yahwist monotheism, whose tribal-universal god demands above all the extermination of any religious particularism.
As for Christ himself, the title of “hero” is not applied to him in the Gospels. In Mark, Jesus is simply declared “son of God”: twice by a voice from heaven (1:11 and 9:7); twice by demons (3:11 and 5:7), who elsewhere called him “the Holy One of God” (1:24); and once by a centurion seeing Jesus expire (15:39). Mark gives the expression “son of God” an “adoptive” meaning: Jesus becomes the son of God by the descent of the Holy Spirit during his baptism. Mark knows nothing of any alleged virginal conception. The fact that Matthew and Luke reinforce the heroic pattern with their narratives of the Nativity, which give the term “son of God” a sense of “conception” (Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit descending on Mary), proves that they also understood the term “son of God” in Hellenic terms.
As for the motif of heroic immortality, it is also perfectly recognizable in the Gospel of Mark, although the notion of “resurrection” deserves some clarification. The Greek term anastasis, as we have already said, literally means “rising,” and opposes “lying down,” which is a metaphor for death. Anastasis is thus the awakening after the sleep of death. The term can be understood in the sense of a physical return to life, but this is not the meaning that comes to a Hellenized spirit like Paul of Tarsus, who, to answer the question “how are dead people raised,” distinguishes “celestial bodies” from “terrestrial bodies,” and explains: “What is sown is a natural body, and what is raised is a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:35–44). The New Testament use of anastasis implies a metaphorical conception of death as sleep, which forms the narrative framework of many myths and tales in all the folklores of the world. Subsequent Christian doctrine introduced the absurdity of physical resurrection, directly derived from Jewish materialism, and reinforced at the end of the Middle Ages by the iconography of decaying corpses emerging from tombs.
Jesus himself clearly expressed his conception of anastasis when he was questioned by Sadducees hoping to confront him with contradictions in the doctrine. They presented him with the theoretical case of seven brothers successively married to the same woman (Mark 12:18–27). The Sadducees, faithful to the Torah, did not believe in any form of life after death, and opposed the Pharisaic conception of resurrection, born of Maccabean literature. But Jesus refuted both Pharisees and Sadducees, clearly expressing a spiritualist conception of the resurrection conforming to the most common Hellenistic view: “For when they rise from the dead, […] they are like the angels in heaven.” Then he added a very personal exegesis of the Torah: “Now about the dead rising again, have you never read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him and said: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is God, not of the dead, but of the living. You are very much mistaken” (Mark 12:25– 27). The aphorism “Yahweh is a god of the living not the dead” usually expressed the Yahwist rejection of any form of worship of the dead. But Jesus reversed its meaning to support the idea that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive, that is, partaking of the angelic life that awaits man after death.
There is no reason to suppose that Jesus expected for himself any other type of resurrection than this. But what of his disciples? How did they understand and describe the anastasis of Jesus? Consider first how Paul, our oldest source, explains to the believers of Corinth: “The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received, was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; and later to the Twelve; and next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still with us, though some have fallen asleep; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles. Last of all he appeared to me too” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). Paul uses the Greek term ôphthê to “appear” or “to be seen,” here clearly referring to a supernatural vision. He makes no distinction between the apparitions of the risen Jesus to the disciples and his own experience, which is described in Acts 9:3 as “a light from heaven [that] shone all round him,” accompanied by a voice.
Things are more complex in the Gospels, where we must take into account the different editorial layers, using the most well-founded hypotheses of “source criticism,” which recognizes Mark’s priority and the existence of a proto-Mark. In its primitive version, the Gospel of Mark was probably content with this: “Having risen in the morning on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary of Magdala from whom he had cast out seven devils. She then went to those who had been his companions, and who were mourning and in tears, and told them. But they did not believe her when they heard her say that he was alive and that she had seen him. After this, he showed himself under another form to two of them as they were on their way into the country. These went back and told the others, who did not believe them either. Lastly, he showed himself to the Eleven themselves while they were at table. He reproached them for their incredulity and obstinacy, because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:9–14).
The preceding passage, Mark 16:1–8, gives a different account, actually borrowed and edited from Matthew 28:1–10: Mary Magdalene and one other woman (two in Mark) go to the tomb. “And suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow” (Matthew 28:2–3). The angel told them: “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and now he is going ahead of you to Galilee; that is where you will see him.’ Look! I have told you” (28:6–7). Then, as they left the tomb, they saw Jesus “coming to meet them,” and heard him tell them the very same message: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; there they will see me” (28:9–10). We detect within this narrative a duplication: An editor rewrote the scene to distinguish the “angel of the Lord” from Jesus, who were one in the original narrative, the angel of the Lord being none other than the ascended spirit of Christ. The angel is the encrypted form of the spirit of Christ, reminiscent of Jesus’s own statement that, when one rises from the dead, one is like “angels in heaven.” There is reason to believe that the motifs of the rolled stone and the empty tomb, which “materialize” an originally purely spiritual apparition, are motifs invented by Matthew and later added in Mark. Paul, whose epistles are older than the Gospels, makes no allusion to the empty tomb. This tendency to transform the supernatural appearances of Christ into a physical resurrection of his corpse was further strengthened by Luke, in which the resurrected Christ himself undertakes to combat what is now heresy: “See by my hands and my feet that it is I myself. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have”(Luke 24:39). Here the Maccabean conception of the resurrection of the martyrs has overcome the primitive spiritualist conception of proto-Mark and Paul.
This primitive conception, henceforth designated “Gnostic,” was fought by the faction that, after long controversies and with the support of imperial power, eventually determined the doctrinal basis of the Church of Rome and controlled its canon. The first Alexandrian church, in any case, was certainly Gnostic. (The only two Christians of Alexandria known before the end of the second century were the Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus.)119 It is now generally accepted, following Walter Bauer and Robert Moore, that heresy precedes orthodoxy on the historical timeline. Church orthodoxy is not a pure doctrine from which heresies deviate, but a construction completed in the fourth century on the ruins of those Christian currents it excluded by declaring them heresies.120 The oldest known Gnostic texts are the Coptic papyrus codices discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi in Egypt, dating from 350–400 but translating Greek texts probably going back to 140. One of them, the Letter of Peter to Philip, tells that after Jesus’s death, the disciples were praying on Mont Olive when “a great light appeared, so that the mountain shone from the sight of him who had appeared. And a voice called out to them saying ‘Listen … I am Jesus Christ, who is with you forever.’” In another Gnostic text, The Wisdom of Jesus Christ, the disciples were likewise gathered on a mountain after Jesus’s death, when “then there appeared to them the Redeemer, not in his original form but in the invisible spirit. But his appearance was the appearance of a great angel of light.”121 These accounts resemble those of the Transfiguration in Mark 9. Critical exegetes have long suspected that the Transfiguration was, in the primitive narrative (Proto-Mark), a scene of Resurrection, which was then shifted before the Crucifixion, perhaps in the context of the struggle against Gnosticism.122 According to this hypothesis, it was originally the risen Jesus (transfigured by death into dazzling whiteness) who appeared together with Moses and Elijah and disappeared with them. But in the version we now have, Peter, James, and John were praying with Jesus on a mountain, when “in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became brilliantly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus.” Peter addressed Jesus. “Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus” (Mark 9:2–8). A discussion follows in which Jesus asks the three apostles not to talk about their vision until he “rises from the dead.” Why this request? Is this an awkward way for the editor who shifted the narrative to hide his fraud and explain why no one had heard about the Transfiguration story before? In doing so, he betrays the fact that Transfiguration and Resurrection were initially one.
The hypothesis of a post-Easter apparition of the risen Christ shifted before Easter and applied to the earthly Jesus can also be applied to the brief narrative where the disciples saw Jesus walking on the waters and “thought it was a ghost and cried out” (Mark 6:49). The result is a story that, since time immemorial, offers itself to ridicule—less so in the version of Mark, it is true, than in the elaboration of Matthew (14:22–33), in which Peter imitates Jesus and takes a few steps on the waters himself, before sinking for lack of faith.
If I have dwelled on these points of critical exegesis, it is not for the pleasure of deconstructing the conventional Gospel narrative, but to show that the earliest legend of Jesus, which belonged to a Greek spiritualist and heroic paradigm, underwent a materialistic transformation or Judaization. Other cases will be examined later. The suppression of the so- called Gnostic faith, and the imposition of a creed affirming that Jesus physically exited his tomb, can hardly be considered a minor detail in the religious history of our civilization.
The Return of Osiris and IsisThe historian of religions cannot help but notice that the crucified and risen Christ is equivalent to Osiris dismembered and resurrected. This parallel, first made by Gerald Massey in The Natural Genesis (1883), in no way undermines the historical truth of Jesus’s life, since, as Carl Jung argued in Answer to Job, mythic patterns are embodied in real lives. The mythical equivalence of Christ and Osiris must be considered as a primordial factor in the success of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. Christianity’s encounter with the philosophical currents of Alexandria (especially Neo-Platonism) only accentuated this Osirian character. The cult of Osiris and Isis had spread throughout the Mediterranean basin since the beginning of the first millennium BCE, absorbing a large number of other cults on its way. Its encounter and fusion with Christian worship is therefore exceptional only in the fact that it was Christ who absorbed Osiris, and not the other way around.
Another remarkable case of a hero whose worship was superimposed on that of Osiris is that of Antinous, a young man beloved by the emperor Hadrian, who died in the Nile in the year 130 CE. His death was immediately interpreted as a sacrificial act to appease the Nile, whose catastrophic floods in the last two years were threatening Egypt with famine. Some also said that Antinous had cut short his life to prolong the life of the suffering emperor. The cult of Antinous, assimilated to a new avatar of Osiris, spread from Egypt throughout the empire with the encouragement of Hadrian, notwithstanding the horrified protests of the Christians. It involved mysteries, games, and oracles; and a tablet found in Antinopolis, the city founded in his honor, shows him as a “divinity of the dead” (nekyodaimon). Although it seems to have been welcomed with enthusiasm in the Near East, the cult of Antinous declined soon after the death of Hadrian. Historians have held that Antinous was the lover (eromenos) of Hadrian, and his worship the mere caprice of a grieving emperor. But this interpretation derives both from the Christian slanders and from the Historia Augusta, a Roman chronicle today considered a forgery. What is certain is that Antinous was perceived and honored as the incarnation of an ideal of human perfection; his face and his body, sculpted in thousands of copies, became the canon of youthful beauty in the Greco-Roman world.123
Christianity’s Osirian root is the best-kept secret of church historians. That Christ is, to some extent, the mythical double of Osiris, and that the overwhelming success of his cult is largely due to this resemblance, have always been embarrassing facts for the Church. For this reason, the importance of the cult of Osiris in the Greco-Roman world has long been underestimated. Yet, on the margins of clerical culture, there is evidence that the myth of Osiris and his kinship with the legend of Christ was still known in the Middle Ages. The proof is none other than Le Conte du Graal (or Roman de Perceval) by Chrétien de Troyes, a roman à clef with multiple levels of meaning written around 1180. One finds there the undeniable trace of the story of Osiris, Horus, and Seth, incarnated respectively by the Fisher King, Perceval, and Chevalier Vermeil.124 If Osiris gradually took on the features of Christ during the first centuries of our era, Isis, his sister-wife, continued her career in the form of the Virgin Mary, whose worship was sanctioned in the fourth century by the Council of Ephesus. Indeed, Isis had been called “the mother of god” (Theotokos) centuries before the term was applied to Mary in Egypt and Syria.125 During the Hellenistic period, Isis had in fact taken the ascendancy over Osiris. Already assimilated in the Near East to Ishtar, Asherah, or Astarte, she had been syncretically enriched by the attributes of Demeter, Artemis, and Aphrodite, to which the Romans added Diana and Venus. Numerous place names testify to her importance in Gaul; the very name of Paris could derive from Bar-Isis, namely the “Mount of Isis,” the old name of the Sainte-Geneviève hill.126 The cult of Isis is associated with that of Horus, known to the Greeks as Harpocrates (a transcription of the Egyptian Har pa khrad, “Horus the child”).
Horus is conceived miraculously (from a supernatural father) at the spring equinox, at the time of harvest and, like the baby Jesus, is born every year at the winter solstice, to revive the Light. The birth of the divine child is, in both cases, inscribed in a history of salvation, a victory over evil and death. Isis hid Horus to protect him from the evil uncle whom he was destined to overthrow, just as Mary hid Jesus—in Egypt precisely—to save him from King Herod, who was determined to get rid of “the infant king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). The birth of Horus announces the defeat of Seth, who reigned on earth since he killed Osiris. Isis is often represented in a majestic position holding the young Horus on her lap, sometimes suckling him, and her representations are difficult to distinguish from those of the Virgin suckling the infant Jesus in the first Christian art, which were modeled after them.127 Many representations of Isis were reassigned to the Virgin Mary and worshiped under her name during the Middle Ages. Such is the case with the famous Black Virgins produced between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries in the western Mediterranean basin. (There are nearly two hundred in the south of France).
The cult of Isis survived until the High Middle Ages, especially in the rural world (the term paganus means “peasant”). Only in the twelfth century was it totally supplanted by the cult of the Virgin Mary, who suddenly assumed an overwhelming place in Christian liturgy, as the mediator between Christ and his church. Bernard de Clairvaux (1090–1153) was the main promoter of this new piety, which served to Christianize all sanctuaries once dedicated to Isis, including innumerable holy wells. He coined the expression “Our Lady” (“Notre Dame”), or rather applied it to Mary for the first time, as well as other titles such as “Queen of Heaven.” All Cistercian monasteries founded under his tutelage were dedicated to Our Lady, and all the Gothic cathedrals from then on were consecrated to her.
Isis is above all the wife of Osiris, and the texts of her lamentations of mourning, which bring Osiris back to life, played an important part in the Isiac ceremonies: “O beautiful adolescent suddenly departed, vigorous young man for whom it was not the season, come back to us in your first form.”128 It is said that when Osiris died, Isis was so desperate that her flood of tears caused the Nile to flood, which is why the summer night when the warning signs of the flood appear is called the “Night of Tears.”129 Likewise, the Mary of late antiquity sheds tears as she clings to the foot of the cross. “I am overwhelmed by love, and cannot endure having to stay in the room, when you are on the wood of the cross,” writes Romanos the Melodist in a hymn to Mary in the sixth century. At the end of the Middle Ages, the theme of Mater Dolorosa and the Latin poem Stabat Mater expressed a widespread devotion to Mary, promoted in particular by the Franciscan order.
Mary is like the second Eve standing by the side of the second Adam, an idea illustrated on many church tympans where Mary and Jesus sit side by side. However, strictly speaking, the Virgin Mary is not the bride of Christ, and the conjugal love that binds Isis to Osiris is absent from Christian mythology. Not only is Mary’s virginity her most holy attribute, but the very idea that Jesus might have loved a woman in the flesh is anathema to Christian doctrine. Yet, isn’t it remarkable that, among the three temptations of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1–11), none is related to sexuality, which suggests that it had not yet been “demonized” at the time of the writing of the Gospels. The Gospel story shows Jesus surrounded by women who passionately admired him, and it is to Mary of Magdala, a follower of the first hour, that the resurrected Jesus first appeared (Mark 16:9). This is strangely reminiscent of the folktale motif of the departed young man appearing post-mortem to the love of his life—or, for that matter, of Osiris mourned, buried, and resurrected by his sister-lover Isis. Such tales are, of course, out of place in Christian tradition; they are the raw materials of medieval romance and courtly poetry, whose authors, as Denis de Rougemont has correctly observed (L’Amour et l’Occident, 1938), have sometimes self-consciously served an alternative religion.
The Return of Yahweh
Resurrectionism, in the sense of a material conception of anastasis (with body emerging from the grave) is of Maccabean and Pharisaical inspiration; it is contrary both to the preaching of Jesus and to the outlook of the first known author of his legend (proto-Mark), who adopted a Hellenistic vi\ew of life after death (“like angels in heaven”). Can we therefore call this doctrine, enshrined in dogma, a “Judaization” of the Gospel message? This might seem paradoxical, since Jesus was Jewish; we are used to seeing things in reverse. We hear about the “paganization” of primitive Christianity, when the community of “Jewish Christians” (Jews admitting the messiahship of Jesus) was gradually supplanted by the “pagan Christians” (pagans converted by Paul and his emulators). But the point of view I have adopted here is that the original message of Christ, although destined for the Jews, broke with institutional Judaism (Pharisee as well as Sadducee), and was closer to spiritualist conceptions widespread in the Hellenistic world, including among Hellenized Jews.
There is another fundamental element of the Christian imagination that deserves to be seen as a Judaization of the message of Christ: apocalypticism. The scholarly consensus today rejects the authenticity of the apocalyptic prophecies attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, because they are contradictory to the hope of the Reign of God that typifies Jesus’s message.130 Jesus even seems to have openly criticized apocalyptic expectations: “The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, ‘Look, it is here! Look, it is there!’ For look, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20–21). Jesus was aiming for a social transformation inspired by the Spirit of the Father and the radical ethics of his Sermon on the Mount, not a supernatural and cataclysmic mutation of the world. Nothing expresses better the gradual maturation of the Reign than the “organic” parables of Jesus in Mark, recognized as having the highest claim to authenticity: “What can we say that the kingdom is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which, at the time of its sowing, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth. Yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade” (Mark 4:30–32). These birds may be a metaphor for angels or celestial spirits that dwell among men when they live fraternally. This parable, and other similar images, are found in the Gospel of Thomas, a text preserved in a Coptic (Egyptian) version and today considered as old as the canonical Gospels, but rejected from the canon because of its “Gnosticizing” tendencies.
It was mainly Matthew, followed by Luke, who reintroduced the apocalyptic into the message of Jesus. (It is also in Matthew alone that Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” 15:24). Mark’s only apocalyptic passage in chapter 13 is a condensation of apocalyptic imagery from the books of Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, henceforth repeated in many Christian writings.131 This is the only time that Jesus uses such apocalyptic imagery, and the length of this logion contrasts with the usual brevity of the words of Jesus in Mark; the passage is therefore unanimously considered a late addition.
The most important apocalyptic text of the Christian tradition, known as the book of Revelation, is not only foreign to the message of the earthly Jesus, but is today regarded as of non-Christian origin, for its central part (from 4:1 to 22:15) refers neither to Jesus nor to any Christian theme evidenced elsewhere. Only the prologue (including the letters to the seven churches in Asia) and the epilogue are ostensibly Christian, and they are attached to the body of the text by easily identifiable editorial transitions (not to mention the double signature of “John” in 22:8 and “Jesus” in 22:16). The book of Revelation takes up in part the animal symbolism of Daniel (the two monstrous beasts and the dragon of chapter 13, followed by the lamb of chapter 14) and displays a ferocious hatred of Rome, as well as of those who sympathize with Hellenism: “To anyone who proves victorious, and keeps working for me until the end, I will give the authority over the nations which I myself have been given by my Father, to rule them with an iron scepter and shatter them like so many pots” (2:26–27).
We may therefore look at the apocalyptic current as the result of a re-Judaization of the Gospel message, under the influence of a turn of mind foreign to Jesus. This is a relevant observation for our time, for we shall see that apocalypticism has distorted so-called “evangelical” Christianity to the point of transforming it into an objective ally of American- Zionist militarism. How can we not think of an atomic war when reading, in Revelation 19:11– 20, how the angel “called Trustworthy and True,” with eyes like “flames of fire” and a cloak “soaked in blood,” will smite the earth? “From his mouth came a sharp sword with which to strike the nations”; he will then invite the birds to “eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of great generals and heroes, the flesh of horses and their riders and of all kinds of people, citizens and slaves, small and great alike” at “God’s great feast.” More important still in the evolution of Christianity was the adoption of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, into its canon. What has Christ to do with Yahweh? How can we think of Yahweh as the Father (Abba) that Jesus knew? How should we interpret the fundamentally anti-Jewish dimension of the Gospels, whose supreme expression is the accusation hurled by Jesus at the “Jews” (meaning the mob as well as the political and religious elite): “You are of the devil, your father, and it is the desires of your father you want to accomplish. He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Who is this diabolos who wants to murder Christ, if not Yahweh-Seth? Is not this Yahweh who promises his people, in exchange for their submission, domination over the nations of the world (Deuteronomy 28:1) the very Devil who offers Jesus the exact same bargain (Matthew 4:8-10)? The so-called Gnostic Christians were well aware of the problem. They held Yahweh as an evil demiurge who had enslaved men through terror and deceitful promises of material well-being, while the loving God of Christ came to liberate them through “knowledge” (gnosis, a term indicating a deeper transformation of the self than a mere intellectual understanding). Yahweh, they believed, is the Prince of this world, while Christos came from heaven to rescue them.
Unfortunately, radical Gnostics, while they recognized Yahweh as evil, did not contest his claim of having created the world; and so they held the physical world inherently evil. This paradoxical position led them to take the side of the serpent of Genesis, which was like vindicating Baal, but which has passed, in the Christian confusion, as the mark of Satanism. The Gnostic text The Testimony of Truth rewrites the story of the Garden of Eden from the point of view of the serpent, presented as the principle of divine wisdom. He convinces Adam and Eve to partake of knowledge (gnosis), while the Demiurge tries to keep them away from it by threatening them with death.132 A more moderate form of Gnosticism almost prevailed in Rome at the beginning of the second century under the authority of Marcion, a Christian of Stoic culture who had assembled the first Christian canon (limited to a short version of Luke’s Gospel without the Nativity, and ten epistles of Paul). “Marcion’s heretical tradition has invaded the whole world,” Tertullian warned in his book (Against Marcion V.19).133 It was in reaction to Marcion that the competing group, known today as the “Great Church,” created its own canon including the Hebrew Bible. In the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent declared the Old and New Testaments as being of equal divine authority and as part of a single book. In many ways, Christians today take the Old Testament more seriously than the Jews, who do not give it the status of a divine revelation. Unfortunately, by admitting the Old Testament into its canon, the Church has placed itself in a dilemma that would, in the long run, destroy its credibility: how to reconcile Yahweh and Christ, when they are opposites like Osiris and Seth? Having adopted and sanctified the Old Testament, the Church had to forbid the people from reading it, lest they grow ashamed of the God they are asked to worship. Its free access in vernacular languages in the fifteenth century marked the beginning of dechristianization.
The Old Testament was to become the Trojan horse of Yahwism within Christianity. By enhancing its status, the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries launched an irreversible return to Judaism. For this reason, some Catholics call Protestantism “Old Testamentism.” That is overly simplistic: it was the bishops of the first centuries who opted for the adoption of the Hebrew Bible into the canon. Later the “reforming” popes of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries relied heavily on it to mobilize the crusaders. Be that as it may, the Judaization of Christianity, to which Protestantism made a decisive but not exclusive contribution, paved the way for the anti-Christianism of the Enlightenment. Voltaire, for example, denigrated the Christian God by citing the Old Testament: “Never was common sense attacked with so much indecency and fury” (Sermon of the Fifty).
The purpose of this chapter is not to quarrel with the Christian canon or dogmas, but simply to understand the extent to which Christianity is the child of Yahwism. It must be noted, for example, that it carries within its genes an exclusivism that derives directly from the ideology of the jealous god: it was not enough that Jesus was a son of god, or even that he was the son of the only God; he had to be the only son of the only God. And since, according to Yahwist dogma, only God can be the object of a cult, it was finally necessary that Jesus be God. The Council of Constantinople, summoned by the emperor Theodosius in 381, proclaimed Jesus “the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all the centuries, a light born of the Light, true God born of the true God, begotten not created, consubstantial (homoousios) to the Father, by whom everything was created.”134 Thus exclusive monotheism, which had produced in Judaism the monstrous idea of a law-making God, produced in Christianity another poison: dogmatism, that is, the legal obligation to believe in absurdities. Contrary to common opinion, it is not by virtue of its Hellenistic heritage that Christian dogma came to declare the crucified Galilean and the Divine Creator nearly identical; for among the Greeks a hero has never been confounded with the supreme God. It is, rather, the exclusivist obsession inherited from Judaism that finally erased the distinction between the Son and the Father.
And yet, paradoxically, it was the deification of Jesus, not only in mythical and liturgical discourses but also in logical discourse, which allowed medieval Christianity to largely emancipate itself from Yahwism, at least until the printing press and the Reformation reintroduced the Old Testament. For it was only by becoming God himself that Jesus was able to eclipse Yahweh. But to eclipse Yahweh was not to destroy him. And if Christianity can be seen as a victory of Osirism over Yahwism, from another point of view it is a Judaized form of Osirism.
The Miracle of ConstantineWhat can explain the success of Christianity? Its merits, first of all. From the beginning, the cult of Christ was a popular religion, which quickly overflowed the narrow circle of a Jewish sect to arouse contagious enthusiasm among the non-Jewish subjects of the empire. This enthusiasm stemmed not only from the new cult’s powerful Osirian resonances, but also from its revolutionary dimension; not only from its links with tradition, but also its modernity. Christ was the hero of the oppressed of the Roman Empire. To the people subjected to the unprecedented physical violence of the empire, it brought the consolation of a spiritual victory: the promise of a kingdom that is not of this world, but one that the humble can experience in this life.
But the success of Christianity is also undoubtedly linked to its way of posing and responding to the “Jewish question” at a time when the influence of the Jews on the affairs of the empire was becoming a major concern. The Gospels denounce the corruption of Jewish society and religion by money, as well as the ability of Jewish elites to crush their enemies using political pressure, while controlling crowds. Christ is the heroic figure opposed to excessive Jewish power. These are the two major virtues of original Christianity: by sharing the passion of Christ, the Christian frees himself from the joint power of Rome and Jerusalem.
This popular enthusiasm for Eucharistic worship, however, does not explain the political triumph of the Church. The true “miracle” of Christianity, it has been said, was the “conversion” of the Roman emperor Constantine in 312. His favor granted to the Church transformed a persecuted sect into a powerful institution that soon began persecuting all competing cults. Why did one Roman emperor favor, and another (Theodosius in 395) elevate to the rank of state religion, a cult glorifying a man crucified by the Romans as a bandit, while forbidding its faithful to express their loyalty to the emperor through the customary civic worship? An explanation for this turning point is given by the authorized biographer of Constantine, Eusebius of Caesarea: Constantine supposedly received a vision, then a military victory under the sign of Christ. But it is hardly convincing. Historians doubt whether Constantine really became a Christian, for he maintained and renovated pagan religious traditions (including a cult of Sol Invictus) and retained the religious title of Pontifex Maximus (literally “the great bridge builder” between gods and men). So why did Constantine legalize Christianity? We must suppose that he saw in Christ a new version of Osiris, and in the cult of martyrs a new heroic, popular, and nonmartial religiosity.
But he may have had another motivation. Several sources attribute to him, before his support for Christianity, a virulent Judeophobia, and the opinion that “the Jews, who had spread everywhere, actually hoped to become masters of the Roman world.”135 His antipathy to “this disgraceful sect” is therefore more likely a cause than a consequence of his benevolence toward Christianity. Constantine was in this matter merely the heir of his predecessors—who all had to answer the grievances of their subjects against the Jews—before he even heard of Christianity. Tiberius (14–37) had expelled the Jews from Rome in 19 CE. Claudius (41–54) had renewed the operation (as mentioned in Acts 18:2). Hadrian (117–138), who had to suppress the revolt of Simon Bar Kokhba in Palestine, forbade circumcision and once again expelled the Jews. Only Nero and Trajan were favorable to the Jews. In the absence of another convincing explanation, it is therefore natural to suppose that by favoring Christianity, Emperor Constantine and his successors (with the exception of the ephemeral Julian the Apostate, Christianophobic and Judaeophile) hoped to solve the thorny “Jewish question” with which all empires from Babylon onward had been confronted. Did not the Church pretend to be the gate of salvation for the Jews, and had it not been so for thousands of Jews?For there to be a door, there must be a wall, and it was indeed at this time that Christianity and Judaism completed their separation. Constantine actually forbade Christians to go through the door in the other direction.
An edict of 329 punished every Christian who converted or reconverted to Judaism. Another, in 335, prohibited Jews from circumcising their Christian slaves. In 353, his son Constantius II decreed the expropriation of every Christian who had become a Jew. 136 For the Jews, the door became more and more narrow as the doctors of the Church, seized with dogmatic hubris, turned Jesus into God. Jews were asked to relinquish whatever common sense they had to convert to the Christian creed. To this must be added the Judeophobia of the Great Church under imperial protection. The Talmud was the Jews’ response to the appropriation by Christians of their heritage. It transformed rabbinic Judaism into a fundamentally anti- Christian religion. Christianity and Talmudism were both born from the ashes of the old biblical religion after the crises of the first two centuries CE, which saw the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and the expulsion of its Jewish population in 135. Both reached their discernible outlines only in the fourth century, and both pretended to reform ancient Judaism, but in opposite directions and in vicious competition: Talmudism, emerging from the Pharisaical current, exacerbated the purificationist, ritualistic, legalistic, and separatist tendencies; while Christianity opposed it and, under the inspiration of Paul, rejected circumcision and the Mosaic law as a whole. Christianity must be regarded as the elder of the two—as Osiris is the elder of Seth—insofar as it exercised more influence over its competitor than it received.
The great Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner goes so far as to write that “Judaism as we know it was born in the encounter with triumphant Christianity.”137 Rabbinic orthodoxy, which became the new cement holding the Jewish community together, hardened in the rejection of Christianity and its growing influence. At the beginning of the second century, a ritual prayer was introduced into synagogues to curse the mînim or “sectaries,” a term referring particularly to Christians.
The Levitical Vatican
One must bear in mind that, after the fourth century, the Roman Empire was centered in Constantinople, not Rome. The Italian city had plunged into irreversible decadence. It had ceased to be the imperial capital by 286, having been replaced by Milan, then by Ravenna. The common representation of the “Eastern Roman Empire” as the continuation of the empire founded in the Latium, whose capital had simply been transferred to the Bosphorus, is a misleading viewpoint inherited from Western historiography. Modern Byzantine studies rather insist on the essential differences between the Greek-speaking Byzantine civilization and that of imperial Rome, which was a vague and distant memory at the end of the first millennium CE. Scholars describe the Byzantine Empire (which actually called itself a kingdom, basileia, ruled by a king, basileus) as a commonwealth, that is, “the supra-national idea of an association of Christian peoples, to which the emperor and the ‘ecumenical patriarch’ of Constantinople provided a symbolic leadership—even if each of these peoples was fully independent politically and economically.”138 Unlike Rome, Constantinople was Christian by birth. Its foundation is inseparable from the adoption of Christianity by its founder Constantine the Great. The two major centers of outreach of the Christian faith were Antioch and Alexandria, but it was around Constantinople that the unity of the Church was forged, at the so-called “ecumenical” councils (the Œkumene meant the civilized world placed under the authority of the basileus), whose participants were exclusively oriental: no Latin bishop was present at the Council of Constantinople in 381. From the sixth century on, the patriarch of Constantinople was the keeper of orthodoxy, but the emperor was nevertheless the protector of all Christian communities within the commonwealth, many of which rejected the orthodox creed.
The emperor also maintained good relations with the Shiite Fatimid caliphate of Egypt, which had conquered Jerusalem and lower Syria from the Abbasids in the 960s. Many Christian churches operated freely on their territory, and there was a great Shiite mosque in Constantinople. Destabilization came from the common enemy of the Byzantines and Fatimids: the Seljuq Turks. But final destruction emerged, unexpectedly, from the West, in the form of the Frankish crusaders, a new species of mercenaries paid in spiritual currency and looting by the Roman church.
The global power of the Roman popes, and their amazing capacity to mobilize the Western warrior class, had grown in the tenth century when German king Otto I had made alliance with the local ruling family of the Latium, the counts of Tusculum, who had by then established a hereditary right on the bishopric of Rome, but who exerted no authority beyond the Latium. The Roman pope (from the Greek papa, a Greek word that had hitherto been applied respectfully to every bishop) and the German emperor thus cofounded the Holy Roman Empire, in imitation and as a challenge to the patriarch and the basileus of Constantinople. In the next two centuries, the power of the popes continued to grow, through constant struggle with the German emperors, especially those of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. The popes resorted to their newly invented psychological weapon of excommunication, which could be used to undermine any sovereign’s authority. In the middle of the eleventh century, triumphant popes developed a radical political vision of their own universal empire, best summarized by the Dictatus Papae, a series of 27 statements by Pope Gregory VII, which included the following claims: “1. That the Roman church was founded by God alone. 2. That the Roman pontiff alone can with right be called universal. 3. That he alone can depose or reinstate bishops. […] 8. That he alone may use the imperial insignia. 9. That of the pope alone all princes shall kiss the feet. 10. That his name alone shall be spoken in the churches. 11. That his title [Pope] is unique in the world. 12. That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors. […] 19. That he himself may be judged by no one. […] 22. That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness. 23. That the Roman pontiff, if he have been canonically ordained, is undoubtedly made holy by the merits of St. Peter. […] 27. That he may absolve subjects from their fealty to wicked men.” In their attempt to establish this new world order, the Gregorian reformers employed an army of legists who elaborated a new canonical legal system to supersede customary feudal laws. Almost all popes between 1100 and 1300 were jurists, and they transformed the papacy into a huge international judicial machine.139 The “Donation of Constantine,” a forgery made in a pontifical scriptorium, constitutes the centerpiece of the legal basis they needed for their formidable claims. By this document, the Emperor Constantine supposedly transferred his authority over the western regions of the empire to Pope Sylvester I, making the pope the supreme sovereign of all western kings.
The false donation also bestowed on the papacy “supremacy over the four principal sees, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople, as also over all the churches of God in the whole earth.” So it also served in the pope’s struggle with the patriarch of Constantinople, which ultimately led to the Great Schism of 1054. Other arguments used in support of the pope’s pretense at world supremacy included the claim to be sitting on the throne of Saint Peter, Christ’s first disciple, supposed to have been martyred in Rome. The origin of this tradition is disputed; the New Testament says nothing of Peter’s travel to Rome, and assumes that Peter simply remained the head of the Jerusalem church. And the earliest sources mentioning Peter’s presencein Rome, the writings of Peter’s supposed immediate successor Clement of Rome, are today recognized as forgeries.
There is something Levitical in the papal authoritarian legalism of the Gregorian Reform, its fraudulent international law, and its transformation of articles of faith into binding laws. The whole theocratic papal ideology appears to be directly inspired by the political project of the Deuteronomic school: a world order placed under the supreme authority of a caste of priests. The Roman church’s vision of sin, penance, and salvation is likewise legalistic, but also monetary in essence, in sharp contrast to the original conception of the Greek fathers that stressed man’s potential for deification (theosis), rather than his need to extirpate himself from sin.140 With his associates, Pope Gregory VII, a former financier (born Hildebrand, a family of bankers to this day) turned the Church into an institution of spiritual credit. Their accounting conception of sin would lead to the traffic of indulgences, which would later revolt Martin Luther and launch the Reformation.
The Schism of 1054 was the starting point of a geopolitical offensive that started with the pope’s support of the conquest of southern Italy and Sicily in 1061 by the troops of Norman warrior Robert Guiscard, and developed into the crusades. In the last decade of the eleventh century, Pope Urban II found an innovative method of colonizing the Near East: the militarized pilgrimage. The spiritual reward traditionally promised to the unarmed pilgrim was now granted to the heavily armed killer of heathens, in addition to the promise of plunder. The crusades were the direct outcome of the Gregorian Reform: by imposing himself as the sovereign of kings, who were therefore made his vassals, the pope claimed for himself the right to order them to make war under his supreme command. Thus the papal authority, after having repressed private wars in Western Europe in the tenth century under the movement of the “Peace of God,” started a world war that would last two centuries in the Holy Land and environs. After having proclaimed that even tournaments were a mortal sin, and that dying in the course of one of those festive chivalric jousts would send you straight to hell, the Vatican declared that dying in its allegedly holy wars would erase all your sins and propel you to heaven.
Until recently, it was believed that the crusades were a response to a desperate call for help from Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos, because this is how Western contemporary chroniclers such as Ekkehard of Aura and Bernold of St Blasien presented it. The emperor sent an embassy to Rome, writes Ekkehard, and “deplored his inability to defend the churches of the east. He beseeched the pope to call to his aid, if that were possible, the entire west.” This is today considered a grossly misleading picture of the tone and nature of Alexios’s request, backed by forgeries such as a doctored version of a letter to the count of Flanders, in which Alexios purportedly confessed his powerlessness against the Turks and humbly begged for rescue. In fact, the emperor was in no desperate situation, and his request was just for mercenaries to fight under his command; the Byzantines had always drawn in warriors from foreign nations to serve under their banner in return for imperial largesse. An army of crusaders under the order of a papal legate was never what Alexios had called for, and Byzantines were deeply worried and suspicious when they saw it coming. “Alexios and his advisers saw the approaching crusade not as the arrival of long-awaited allies but rather as a potential threat to the Oikoumene,” writes Jonathan Harris. They feared that the liberation of the Holy Sepulcher was a mere pretext for some sinister plot against Constantinople.141
The Holy City had recently been taken from the Egyptian Fatimids by the intolerant Seljuq Turks. The news of the Turks’ desecration of the tomb of Christ, and semi-imaginary stories of their cruel treatment of Christians, served to inflame the Western population, and masses set offtoward Jerusalem under the slogan “avenge Jesus.” Some realized along the way that they did not need to go to the Orient, “while we have right here, before our eyes, the Jews,” in the words of chronicler Raoul Glaber.142 When they reached Jerusalem, the Holy City had just been reconquered by the Fatimids, who immediately promised to restore the rights of Christians and offered to the crusaders’ leaders an alliance against the Seljuqs. The crusaders rejected the offer. Inspired by the biblical story of Jericho (Joshua 6), they started with a procession around the walls of Jerusalem, led by priests praying and singing at the top of their voices, before dashing forward against the walls, expecting a miracle. Then, resorting to their sophisticated siege machinery, they entered the city on July 15, 1099, and committed a mass slaughter. “In the temple and portico of Solomon [the al-Aqsa Mosque],” writes chronicler Raymond of Aguilers, “men rode in blood up to their knees and the bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God, that this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.”143 This unheard of massacre left a traumatic memory in the Muslim world, from which the Christian-Muslim relationship would never recover.144 The crusaders succeeded in establishing four new Christian states in Syria and Palestine, which formed the basis of a Western presence that was to endure until 1291: the kingdom of Jerusalem, ruled by Frankish knight Godfrey of Bouillon, then by his brother Baldwin of Boulogne, who took on the title of king; the principality of Antioch, seized by the Norman Bohemond of Tarento (son of the above mentioned Robert Guiscard) who refused to honor his promise to hand it over to the Byzantine emperor; the county of Edessa, formed by Baldwin of Boulogne; and the county of Tripoli, conquered by Raymond of Toulouse.
At the end of the twelfth century, Jerusalem having been recovered by Saladin (in conditions of humanity that contrast sharply with the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders in 1099), Pope Innocent III solemnly proclaimed a new crusade, the fourth in modern numbering. This time, the Byzantines’ fear of a hidden agenda proved fully justified. Instead of going to Jerusalem via Alexandria, as officially announced, the Frankish knights, financed by the Venetians, moved toward Constantinople. The huge army of the crusaders penetrated into the city in April 1204 and sacked it during three days. “Since the creation of this world, such great wealth had neither been seen nor conquered,” marveled the chronicler Robert de Clari.145 Palaces, churches, monasteries, and libraries were systematically pillaged. “Nuns were ravished in their convents. […] Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes of pillage and bloodshed continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles.”146 After having appropriated the best residences in the city, the conquerors elected and crowned as new emperor of Constantinople the Frank Baldwin of Flanders, and as new patriarch the Venetian Thomas Morosini, who imposed the exclusive religious authority of Rome. As for the great mosque of Constantinople, it was burnt down by the crusaders—and the fire spread to a third of the city. Innocent III immediately placed the new emperor under his protection, and commanded that the crusading army stay to protect Constantinople from any attempt by the Byzantines to retake the city, rather than fulfill their original vow to liberate Jerusalem. “Surely, this was done by the Lord and is wondrous in our eyes. This is truly a change done by the right hand of the Most High, in which the right hand of the Lord manifested power so that he might exalt the most holy Roman Church while He returns the daughter to the mother, the part to the whole and the member to the head.”147 The new Franco-Latin Empire built on the smoking ruins of Constantinople lasted only half a century. The Byzantines, entrenched in Nicaea (Iznik), slowly regained part of their ancient territory, and, in 1261, under the command of Michael VIII Palaiologos, chased the Franks andLatins from Constantinople. But the city they took back was but the shadow of its own past glory: the Greek population had been slaughtered or had fled, the churches and the monasteries had been profaned, the palaces were in ruins, and international trade had come to a stop.
Moreover, as soon as news arrived that Constantinople had “fallen,” Pope Urban IV ordered that a new crusade be preached throughout Europe to retake Constantinople, promising that those who joined the expedition would enjoy the same remission of sin granted to those who went to the Holy Land.148 There were few volunteers. But in 1281 again, Pope Martin IV encouraged the project of Charles of Anjou (brother of King Louis IX) to take back Constantinople and establish a new Catholic empire. It failed.
But Byzantine civilization had been fatally weakened. It collapsed a century and a half later, after one thousand years of existence, when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II took Constantinople in 1453. All specialists admit that the Fourth Crusade had inflicted on Byzantium a mortal wound, and exhausted its capacity to resist the Muslim expansion. The renowned medieval historian Steven Runciman wrote: “There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade. Not only did it cause the destruction or dispersal of all the treasures of the past that Byzantium had devotedly stored, and the mortal wounding of a civilization that was still active and great; but it was also an act of gigantic political folly. It brought no help to the Christians in Palestine. Instead it robbed them of potential helpers. And it upset the whole defense of Christendom.”149 The crusades had also contributed to the fall of the Shiite caliphate of Egypt, a prosperous and tolerant civilization that had been on friendly terms with Eastern Christians, ultimately furthering the domination of the Sunni Turks with their more radical brand of Islam.
However, for the West, and Italy in particular, the sack of Constantinople kicked off astounding economic growth, fed initially by the vast quantities of plundered gold. In the early thirteenth century the first gold coins appeared in the West, where only silver coinage had been previously issued (except in Sicily and Spain).150 The cultural benefits of the Fourth Crusade were also impressive: in subsequent years, whole libraries were pillaged, which Greek-speaking scholars would then start to translate into Latin. This was how most of the Ancient Greek heritage, which had been preserved by Constantinople, reached Europe—and not through the Arabs, as has been wrongly imagined.151 The rise of pre-Renaissance humanism and classical studies in Italy was a direct result of the Fourth Crusade.152 And when the last bearers of Constantinople’s high culture fled Ottoman rule in the fifteenth century, they contributed to the blooming of the Italian Renaissance. Throughout this period, the notion of Translatio Imperii promoted by the Roman church, that is, the claim of a translation of Roman civilization from West to East in Constantine’s time, disguised the very real translation of Byzantine culture from East to West that had started in the late twelfth century and lasted through the fifteenth century.
In the final analysis, there is something Sethian in the fratricide committed by Rome against Constantinople by the trickery of the crusades, and in Rome’s determination to erase the memory of her defrauded and murdered elder sister. Yet like Osiris, Byzantium has been resurrected. Her spirit moved to the far northeast, in the great plains of Russia. As John Meyendorff tells it in Byzantium and the Rise of Russia: “Since the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Kievan principality (988), the influence of Byzantine civilization upon Russia became the determining factor of Russian civilization.”153 At the end of the tenth century, Russian king Vladimir the Great received baptism and married a sister of Byzantine emperor Basil II, and his son Iaroslav made Orthodox Christianity the religion of his subjects. The Greek alphabet was adapted to the Slavic tongue by Byzantine monks. During the schism of 1054 and throughout thevanishing years of Byzantium, Russia remained faithful to Constantinople’s religious leadership, and to this day still carries its spiritual legacy, as symbolized by the Byzantine double-headed eagle on the Russian flag.
Chapter 5 THE WANDERING CRYPTO-JEW
“Rebekah took her elder son Esau’s best clothes, which she had at home, and dressed her younger son Jacob in them. […] Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your first-born.’”Genesis 27:15–19The Jews and Europe in the Middle AgesThe rise of European Jewish communities in the Middle Ages is shrouded in mystery, as are many other aspects of medieval civilization until the twelfth century. What emerges from the chronicles most clearly is the fact that, although excluded from Christian society, Jews had a virtual monopoly on the practice of lending at interest—an economic power that the Church denied Christians for moral reasons. By contrast, the practice of usury as a weapon of domination over “the nations” is promoted by the laws of Deuteronomy (15:6), by the “heroic” legends in the Hebrew Bible (Joseph in Egypt), by the Talmud, and even by Maimonides, now considered the greatest Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages.
The interest rates imposed on the rural poor generally were around 65 percent and could reach more than 150 percent. In France, they were legally capped at 43 percent in 1206. Under such conditions, usurious lending did not stimulate economic development. On the contrary, it led to the impoverishment of ordinary people and the enrichment of a financier class. Debt often put farmers in a desperate situation, forcing them to sell themselves into virtual slavery. Throughout medieval Europe, from France to Russia passing through Germany and Poland, the Jews were hated; they were perennial victims of popular anger for their ruthless usury, alongside their aggressive commercial practices such as client-hunting, predatory pricing, and other violations of the codes of the guilds and corporations from which they were excluded.154 Even the bourgeois would complain about these practices and petition or even pay princes to put an end to them.
Kings and princes, however, granted Jewish usurers protection whenever Judeophobia arose among the people. The tax on interest made Jews an important source of contributions to the royal treasury. Additionally, the kings and princes would themselves fall under the control of the moneylenders. Indeed, usury allowed Jews, operating in a network, to concentrate in their hands an ever-greater share of the money supply. Jews became the king’s creditors whenever he ran out of money, especially in wartime. It was these Jewish bankers, says Abraham Leon, who “allowed the kings to maintain the costly armies of mercenaries that begin to replace the undisciplined hordes of the nobility.”155 The powerful used Jews as intermediaries for collecting taxes, in kind and in cash. “Tax farming” and lending at interest are activities that combine into a formidable power, since it is often taxes that force producers into debt. Occupying powers have always been able to count on the collaboration of the Jews as an intermediate class to exploit, and force into submission, the population of the occupied country; such was already the case in Egypt under Persian rule in the fifth century BCE, and again under the Ptolemies. Jewish elites, it seems, felt no solidarity with oppressed people, but remained loyal to the monarch who granted them privileged status and protected them from the vengeful mob.
England offers a good illustration of this phenomenon. The first Jews, mostly from Rouen,arrived there with William the Conqueror in 1066.156 They were soon in all major cities of England, serving as intermediaries between the new elite and the Norman Anglo-Saxon population. The king and his barons, who had decimated and replaced the Anglo-Saxon nobility, granted the Jews a monopoly on tax collection, which at the time was a profession akin to racketeering under royal protection. According to historian Edward Freeman, a specialist in the Norman Conquest, “They came as the king’s special men, or more truly as his special chattels, strangers alike to the Church and the commonwealth, but strong in the protection of a master who commonly found it his interest to protect them against all others. Hated, feared, and loathed, but far too deeply feared to be scorned or oppressed, they stalked defiantly among the people of the land, on whose wants they throve, safe from harm or insult, save now and then, when popular wrath burst all bounds, when their proud mansions and fortified quarters could shelter them no longer from raging crowds who were eager to wash out their debts in the blood of their creditors.”157 Despite these violent episodes, the economic clout of the Jews quickly rose. The king became obliged to his Jewish bankers and made them his advisers. In the second half of the twelfth century, Henry II owed the Jewish financier Aaron of Lincoln alone a sum equivalent to the kingdom’s annual budget. Aaron died as the richest man in England, but the king then seized his property.
Sometimes popular resentment and the Church’s pressure reached a critical point, forcing the king to expel the Jews, not without demanding financial compensation from the bourgeois and/or confiscating some of the Jews’ money. The Jews were first expelled from the Kingdom of France (at the time hardly bigger than today’s Ile de France) in 1182, their property confiscated by Philip Augustus. Many took refuge in Flanders and Alsace. The latter, under Count Philippe, achieved such prosperity that the king grew jealous, to the point of recalling the Jews in 1198. The Jewish financiers were in fact weaving international networks; they knew how to make themselves indispensable by stoking princely rivalries.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church continued to condemn Jewish usury for its damage to the social fabric. The issue was central to the Fourth Lateran Council convened in 1215 by Innocent III. Five edicts issued by the council concerned the Jews, two of them condemning the usurers’ abusive practice of appropriating the properties of defaulting debtors. Decree 67 of the council said: “The more Christians are restrained from the practice of usury, the more are they oppressed in this manner by the treachery of the Jews, so that in a short time they exhaust the resources of the Christians. Wishing, therefore, in this matter to protect the Christians against cruel oppression by the Jews, we ordain in this decree that if in future, under any pretext, Jews extort from Christians oppressive and excessive interest, the society of Christians shall be denied them until they have made suitable satisfaction for their excesses.” The pope complained that the Jews extort “not only usury, but usury on the usury,” that is to say, compound interest (on a second loan contracted by a debtor to pay a first loan).
Of course, throughout the thirteenth century, some Christians were also in the moneylending business despite the religious prohibition. In his Divine Comedy (begun in 1306), the Italian poet Dante would reserve for them one of the spheres of the most infamous of the nine concentric regions of hell, alongside sodomites, because like them they do violence to “the natural order” through sterile activity.
The edict of Innocent III had only a limited immediate effect, but under the reign of the son of Philip Augustus, Louis VIII (1223–1226), and especially his grandson Louis IX, also knownas Saint Louis (1226–1270), the status of the Jews was marked by the growing influence of the Church—though the interests of the Crown were not forgotten. In 1223 a decree prohibited interest on loans made by Jews and asked the nobility to accept repayment of principal on behalf of the Jews. But this decree had to be republished in 1230, which proves that it was very imperfectly applied. Saint Louis was distinguished by his commitment to fully liberate France from Jewish usury, beginning by breaking the royal treasury’s dependence on the Jews. His contemporary and biographer William of Chartres depicts his concern “that the Jews should not oppress Christians by usury, and they shall not be authorized to engage, under the shelter of my protection, in such activities and infect my country by their poison.”158 In 1234, Louis IX freed his subjects from one-third of their debts to Jews, and ordered that the same share be returned to those who had already repaid their loans. Additionally, he prohibited imprisoning Christians or selling their property to pay off debts owed to Jews. In 1240, Jean I, duke of Brittany, expelled all Jews and released all his subjects from all debts, mortgages, or pledges contracted with them.
In 1306, Louis IX’s grandson Philip the Fair arrested and exiled the Jews, seizing their properties including the debts they held, without even doing the service to his subjects of freeing them from those debts. According to estimates, one hundred thousand Jews were exiled under harsh conditions. Philip had hitherto exploited the wealth of the Jews; he had imposed on them a new tax in 1292 and, three years later, seized their property, giving them eight days to redeem it. But in 1306, with his treasury empty, he decided to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs. Given that the kingdom had expanded since the first expulsion under Philip Augustus, the Jews were compelled to flee even further away. Many probably ended their journey in Poland, together with the German Yiddish-speaking Jews, called Ashkenaz (the Hebrew name for Germany). Since the thirteenth century, in fact, Poland constituted a Paradisus Judeorum and attracted several waves of Jews fleeing restrictions and persecutions. Beginning in 1264, the Statute on Jewish Liberties granted them the right to self-governance.
By the seventeenth century Poland, then the largest country in Europe, hosted the majority of the world’s Jews. Various theories have been put forward to explain the extraordinary population growth of this community. Some researchers cite a possible conversion of the Khazar kingdom (in present Kazakhstan) in the early ninth century,159 but the evidence is very thin, and the absence of any trace of Turkish influence in Yiddish makes this a risky hypothesis.160 In fact, it was after the Middle Ages that the Polish Jewish population seems to have exploded, thanks in large part to a widespread practice of early marriage. Between 1340 and 1772 the Jewish population of Poland grew 75 times larger, going from about 10 thousand to 750 thousand.161 In England, Edward I prohibited Jewish usury in 1275, then banished the Jews (about 16,000 people) from his kingdom in 1290 by his decree on The Statutes of Jewry: “Forasmuch as the King hath seen that divers evils and the disinheriting of good men of his land have happened by the usuries which the Jews have made in time past, and that divers sins have followed thereupon albeit that he and his ancestors have received much benefit from the Jewish people in all times past, nevertheless, for the honor of God and the common benefit of the people the King hath ordained and established, that from henceforth no Jew shall lend anything at usury either upon land, or upon rent or upon other thing.” Most of the expelled Jews emigrated to the big commercial capitals of Europe. To circumvent laws that restricted their commercial and political activity, many took the opportunity to nominally convert to Christianity. A significant number moved to Venice, which was already home to a large and prosperous Jewish colony, and became the banking capital of Europe. Some would return later to London in Christian disguise.
Truth be told, the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude toward moneylending and banking wasambivalent. The crusade spawned a huge increase in banking activity, since it required mortgages, interest-bearing loans, and bills of exchange at a scale previously unknown. Such activity became the specialty of the Knights Templar (the Poor Knights of Christ of the Order of the Temple of Solomon, by their full name), founded in the early twelfth century by nine soldier- monks from Troyes—a city with an influential Jewish community. Taking as their insignia the seal of Solomon (or Star of David) in the middle of the Cross Pattée (footed cross) the Templars were heavily influenced by the trade and finance of the Jews. In an 1139 bull, Pope Innocent II granted them exemption from paying tithes (church tax), full use of tithes they collected, and the right to keep any kind of booty seized in the Holy Land from conquered Saracens.
The Templars invented modern banking. They issued the check or money order called the “letter of credit” and their command posts served as safe-deposit boxes for kings and wealthy individuals. They provided transportation of funds secured by their reputation and warrior tradition. They also acted as officers to recover debts or safeguard property under litigation. The prohibition of usury was circumvented by “reciprocal gifts.” By seizing their debtors’ assets at death, they appropriated, in the middle of the thirteenth century, part of France’s territory and formed a state within the state. When French king Philip the Fair targeted the Jewish financial networks in 1306, he simultaneously attacked the Templars, who were an essential link in these networks.
The “Jewish question” became complicated in Europe when the Talmud became known to Christians. Written in Hebrew, it had been carefully concealed from public view, actually containing the statement: “The goyim who seek to discover the secrets of the Law of Israel commit a crime that calls for the death penalty” (Sanhedrin 59a). It was in 1236 that Nicolas Donin, a converted Jew who became a Dominican monk, gained an audience with Pope Gregory IX to convince him of the blasphemous character of the Talmud, which presents Christ as the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier and a prostitute (Sanhedrin 106a), capable of miracles only by sorcery, and not risen but “sent to hell, where he was punished by being boiled in excrement” (Gittin 56b).162 A disputatio (debate on the public square lasting sometimes several months) was organized in Paris in the presence of Blanche of Castile, between Donin and Rabbi Yehiel, during which the latter failed to convince his audience that the Talmud was talking about another Jesus and another Mary. Following these exchanges, Gregory IX publicly condemned the Talmud as “the first cause that keeps the Jews stubborn in their perfidy.” In 1242, more than 10,000 volumes were burned. Judaism stopped being perceived as the religion of the Old Testament, and began to be viewed as a threat to public order, since the Talmud preaches violence and deception against Christians.163 In the twelfth century, the prayer of Kol Nidre, solemnly declaimed three times the day before Yom Kippur, the holiday of forgiveness, was already in use in all Jewish communities, Sephardic as well as Ashkenazi: “All vows, obligations, oaths or anathemas, pledges of all names, which we shall have vowed, sworn, devoted or bound ourselves to, from this day of atonement (whose arrival we hope for in happiness) to the next, we repent, aforehand, of them all, they shall be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, void and made of no effect; they shall not be binding nor have any power; the vows shall not be reckoned vows, the obligations shall not be reckoned obligatory, nor the oaths considered as oaths.”164 For Jewish author Samuel Roth, this yearly ceremony in which every Jew, young and old, absolved himself before God of all his lies, perjuries, and betrayals of trust against Gentiles, has largely contributed to the Jews’ moral corruption for a millennium: “Can it be doubted what a fearful influence for evil this must exert on his character as a citizen and as a human being?” (Jews Must Live, 1934).165 This practicecreates, among other things, unlimited tolerance for apostasy, since it declares Christian baptism inoperative. With each wave of expulsions, many Jewish families chose conversion rather than exile, while continuing to “Judaize” discreetly or covertly. The fifth edict of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) concerns the problem of crypto-Jews, that is to say, insincere converts.
The situation of Jews in the Middle Ages cannot be understood simply by examining their relationships with Christians; that external aspect is secondary to the internal structure of the community itself, whose most salient characteristic was the oppression by the “doctors of the law” on the masses of Jews in order to preserve them from any outside influence. The Talmud, conceived as “a wall around the Torah,” allowed the rabbis to “stand guard over the guard itself,” according to the Talmudic expression.166 Though Moses Maimonides attempted to reconcile faith and Aristotelian science in the Guide for the Perplexed (Moreh Neboukhim), his effort was violently rejected at the time, and his disciples ostracized, by community elites. “In 1232, Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier hurled anathemas [complete exclusion from the community, often leading to death] against all those who would read the Moreh Neboukhim or engage in scientific and philosophical studies,” reports the Jewish historian Bernard Lazare, who gave a vivid portrayal of medieval Jewish communities. “These miserable Jews, whom the whole world tormented for their faith, persecuted their own coreligionists more fiercely, more bitterly, than they had ever been persecuted. Those accused of indifference were condemned to the worst tortures; blasphemers had their tongues cut off; Jewish women who had relations with Christians were condemned to be disfigured, and their noses were removed.” Rationalists resisted, but they were an isolated minority. “As for the mass of Jews, they had completely fallen under the yoke of the obscurantists. They were now separated from the world, every horizon closed, with nothing left to nourish their minds but futile talmudic commentaries, idle and mediocre discussions on the law; they were enclosed and stifled by ceremonial practices, like mummies swaddled by their bands: their directors and guides had locked them in the narrowest and most abominable of dungeons. From there emerged a fearful bewilderment, a terrible decay, a collapse of intellectualism, a compression of the brain that rendered them unfit to conceive any idea.”167Forced Conversions in Spain and PortugalWhile the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe were living in complete cultural isolation, Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula were preparing to exercise a decisive influence on European affairs. Documented from the fifth century onward, this community flourished under the rule of Muslims, whose conquest they facilitated during the eighth century. Muslim Andalusia was a highly cultured society with a relatively peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Many Jews exiled from France took refuge there between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, but Catholic Spain also received them. It is estimated that in the kingdom of Aragon in 1294, 22% of tax revenues were levied on the Jews, who made up only 3% of the population.
The situation of the Jews was particularly favorable in Castile during the reign of King Peter I (1350–1369), known as Peter the Cruel: “Don Pedro was, indeed, so surrounded by Jews, that his enemies reproached his court for its Jewish character,” writes Heinrich Graetz. The treasurer and advisor to the king, Samuel Ha-Levi, was a particularly powerful figure. Graetz relates his dubious role in the failure of Peter’s marriage with the very Catholic Blanche de Bourbon, a descendant of St. Louis, and in the civil war that followed. While his ministers were negotiating his marriage, the king fell in love with a certain Maria de Padilla. Samuel, and with him all the Jews of Spain, sided with Maria. “The reason assigned was that Blanche, having observed withdispleasure the influence possessed by Samuel and other Jews at her husband’s court, and the honors and distinctions enjoyed by them, had made the firm resolve, which she even commenced to put into execution, to compass the fall of the more prominent Jews, and obtain the banishment of the whole of the Jewish population from Spain. She made no secret of her aversion to the Jews, but, on the contrary, expressed it openly. For this reason, it is stated, the Jewish courtiers took up a position of antagonism to the queen, and, on their part, lost no opportunity of increasing Don Pedro’s dislike for her. If Blanche de Bourbon really fostered such anti-Jewish feelings, and circumstances certainly seem to bear out this view, then the Jews were compelled in self-defense to prevent the queen from acquiring any ascendency, declare themselves for the Padilla party, and support it with all the means in their power.” The scheme was successful. “Samuel Abulafia, by the wisdom of his counsels, his able financial administration, and his zeal for the cause of Maria de Padilla, continued to rise in the favor of the king. His power was greater than that of the grandees of the realm. His wealth was princely, and eighty black slaves served in his palace.” Peter would ultimately poison his wife Blanche, but only after putting Samuel to death and confiscating his fortune. He was excommunicated by the pope and perished in the civil war against his brother Henry of Trastamara, backed by the famous Bertrand du Guesclin.168 But the power of the Jews decreased only temporarily. In 1371, the citizens complained in a petition to the new king of Castile that they controlled the cities.
At the end of the fourteenth century, episodic clashes throughout Spain degenerated into massacres. On June 9, 1391, a crowd gripped by a frenzy of killing and looting invaded the vast Jewish district of Seville. Jews could only escape it by taking refuge in churches and undergoing baptism. Violence spread like wildfire in Castile, then under the authority of a weak king, and from there to the entire Iberian Peninsula. The estimated number of victims in one year amounted to approximately fifty thousand deaths and tens of thousands of converts.
In the early fifteenth century, tensions continued to mount. The years 1412–1415 were marked by a new round of collective conversions: many were forced, but some were voluntary, with motives ranging from opportunism to sincere religious conviction (due to the preaching of the Dominican monk Vincent Ferrer in particular).169 In a quarter century (1391–1415), pressures, threats, and sermons made over a hundred thousand converts. Although church and Spanish law prohibited forced baptisms in theory, it still held those forced conversions legally irreversible.
Freed from the restrictions imposed on Jews, these converts, called “New Christians,” conversos, or marranos, experienced a meteoric socio-economic ascension. In the words of historian of Marranism Yirmiyahu Yovel: “Conversos rushed into Christian society and infiltrated most of its interstices. After one or two generations, they were in the councils of Castile and Aragon, exercising the functions of royal counselors and administrators, commanding the army and navy, and occupying all ecclesiastical offices from parish priest to bishop and cardinal. Those who wanted to keep a secret Jewish aspect of their identity would sometimes seek refuge in Catholic monasteries. The conversos were priests and soldiers, politicians and professors, judges and theologians, writers, poets and legal advisors—and of course, as in the past, doctors, accountants and high-flying merchants. Some allied themselves by marriage to the greatest families of Spanish nobility [. . .] Their ascent and penetration in society were of astonishing magnitude and speed.”170 This rise of the New Christians naturally generated hostility among ethnic Christians (called by contrast “Old Christians”). The former group not only practiced strict endogamy for the most part, sometimes within blood ties prohibited by the Church (marriage between first cousins orbetween uncle and niece),171 but also continued to “Judaize”: “Many converts,” writes Yirmiyahu Yovel, “effectively tried to keep—in the privacy of their homes and their clandestine behavior— a form of Jewish identity. They secretly observed some Jewish rituals, refrained as much as possible from eating forbidden foods, practiced silent prayer, murmured old formulas and Jewish blessings, and taught their children that they would be saved by the Law of Moses and not by that of Christ; they considered themselves captives in the ‘land of idolatry’ and awaited their own Messiah.” Many met secretly and developed codes and verbal masks. The biblical figure of Esther, the clandestine Jew, was particularly popular among the Judaizers; subsequent generations of Marranos would pray to “Saint Esther.”172 Anti-Marrano violence erupted in Toledo from 1449 until the 1470s, and spread to Andalusia. To eradicate crypto-Judaism, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile established the Spanish Inquisition, whose first courts opened in 1480 in Seville. Not only did the Inquisition have no jurisdiction over the Jews, it sometimes received denunciations from Jews who despised or were jealous of conversos. Pedro de la Caballeria, the son of a convert who had attained high ecclesiastical office and had even negotiated the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand, was tried posthumously as a secret Jew; he had reportedly told a Jewish neighbor who reproached him about his conversion : “Silence, fool! Could I, as a Jew, ever have risen higher than a rabbinical post? But now, see, I am one of the chief councilors (jurado) of the city. For the sake of the little hanged man (Jesus), I am accorded every honor, and I issue orders and decrees to the whole city of Saragossa. Who hinders me—if I choose—from fasting on Yom Kippur and keeping your festivals and all the rest? When I was a Jew I dared not walk as far as this (i.e. beyond the prescribed limits of a Sabbath day’s walk) but now I do as I please.”173 Upon completion of the Reconquista in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella took drastic measures. With the Alhambra Decree, they ordered the final expulsion of Jews who refused to convert. The explicit motivation given for such drastic measures is the bad influence that Jews have on their converted brethren: “You well know that in our dominion, there are certain bad Christians that judaised and committed apostasy against our Holy Catholic faith, much of it the cause of communications between Jews and Christians. […] These Jews instruct these Christians in the ceremonies and observances of their Law, circumcising their children, […].” Believing that “the true remedy of such damages and difficulties lay in the severing of all communications between the said Jews,” the king and queen of Spain had first ordered, in 1480, “that the Jews be separated from the cities and towns of our domains and that they be given separate quarters.” That proved insufficient, and Jews have kept “trying by whatever manner to subvert our holy Catholic faith and trying to draw faithful Christians away from their beliefs.” The estimated number of Jews expelled from Spain varies among historians; Yovel sets the minimum figure at 120,000, out of a total of about 160,000 Spanish Jews of whom 40,000 chose baptism. Approximately 80,000 of the expelled accepted the paying offer of temporary asylum proffered by John II in Portugal, with the others settling in the south of France or Italy, Algeria or Morocco, Turkey or northern Germany (Hamburg), and in the Netherlands.
As in every episode of this type, the Jews who chose exile rather than apostasy were more committed to their faith and their community, and they took with them a deep resentment against Catholicism. The case of Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508) is emblematic: born in Lisbon to a rich and powerful family, he had derived great profits from his business ventures and became, thanks to his ability to lend huge amounts of money, the bagman of Ferdinand and Isabella. In 1492, he chose exile and took refuge in Italy, where he served the king of Naples and the Venetian Republic. The idea of Israel taking revenge against Edom/Esau (code names for Rome and theChurch) is central to the exegeses he published after leaving Spain. For example, the book of Daniel means, according to him, “that at the precise moment the Lord takes vengeance on the nations, Israel will then go from darkness to light and out of bondage,” and “nothing will survive of the house of Esau.” “Indeed, any deliverance promised Israel is associated with the fall of Edom.”174 The expulsion of Jews from Spain had tripled their number in Portugal, where they grew overnight from 4% to almost 12%, out of a total population of one million. The Jews quickly came to dominate economic life there. But in 1496, as part of a matrimonial alliance with Spain that would unify the peninsula, the king of Portugal Manuel I aligned with Spanish Jewish policy. He required a massive conversion of the Jews but—in an unheard-of move—prevented them from leaving the kingdom because he did not want to deprive himself of their financial manna. However, he guaranteed them that no investigation would be conducted into their religious life during a transitional period of twenty years (a guarantee renewed in 1512 and again in 1524). Portugal now had a population consisting of about 12% New Christians, concentrated in the cities where they represented as much as a quarter to a third of the population. Historian of the crypto-Jews Nathan Wachtel notes that “this was how, under a regime of relative tolerance, the New Christians in Portugal learned and perfected the art of leading a double life: apparently Christian on the outside, while privately given to observing (however imperfectly) the celebrations and rites of the Jewish religion.”175 In Portugal, as in Spain earlier, popular hostility was not slow to manifest itself in massacres like the one in Lisbon in 1506, which caused several hundreds or even thousands of deaths. Consequently, King Manuel eventually allowed the Marranos to leave the kingdom in 1507 and let them engage in international trade.
In 1540, the new Portuguese king João III introduced the Inquisition following the Spanish model. But the crypto-Judaism of the Portuguese Marranos was much more committed and durable than its nearly-extinct counterpart in Spain. There were three main reasons for this. First, the Portuguese Marranos descended mainly from Spanish Jews who had rejected the alternative of apostasy in 1492. Secondly, they had only converted under the threat of death, being denied the alternate possibility of leaving Portugal. And thirdly, by 1540, they had already Judaized for almost half a century with relative impunity.
The Portuguese Inquisition was horribly efficient, torturing and burning alive tens of thousands of Judaizers, tracking them down all over Europe and even in the colonies of the New World for harmless beliefs and practices. In light of these events, the papal bull of Clement VIII in 1593, Caeca et Obdurata, took on a sadly ironic dimension when it denounced “the blind and unfeeling perfidy of the Jews,” which “does not recognize the mercy toward them of the Church that patiently awaits their conversion.” Judaizing Marranos developed signs of mutual recognition. “Being Marrano means being affiliated with a vast secret society of protection and assistance,” wrote Léon Poliakow.176 The secret, explains Nathan Wachtel, “became an essential component of religious fervor itself,” and “definitively marked what we may call the Marrano lifestyle: secrecy exalted as a value in itself, a sign of eminent virtue.” The Marranos developed discrete signs for recognizing each other: “an allusion, an ambiguous expression, or just a word spoken in a certain way (such as ‘believer’ or ‘faithful’ or ‘good Christian’ meant to be understood ironically). A gesture, a smile, or a glance often sufficed.” By necessity, the Marranos did not reveal their true religion to their children until adolescence; teenagers were then stunned to learn that everything they had been taught before (Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Trinity, saints) was false, and that salvation was not found in the “law of Jesus” but in that of Moses. Thus did Marranism introduce a practice ofconverting Christians to crypto-Judaism.177 Among other negative effects, forced conversions and the Inquisition put a stop to sincere conversion. Voluntary converts were amalgamated with forced converts, and like them were considered suspect in the eyes of the Old Christians; if they maintained links with their Jewish relatives, or kept their aversion to pork, they risked torture, destruction, and death.
Why, under such circumstances, would anyone convert, considering that the Inquisition had no jurisdiction over the unconverted Jews? It is likely that without the Inquisition, Marranism would have influenced Judaism as well as Christianity and served as a bridge between the two. But syncretism, which is a form of religious miscegenation, was persecuted until the early eighteenth century. Accused at this time of Judaizing in Rio de Janeiro, Theresa Paes de Jesus, from a Marrano family, excused herself: “I thought Jesus Christ was the same person as Moses, [. . .] he was the king of the Jews worshiped by Jews and Christians.” For this confession she was burned at the stake. The Inquisition crystallized, among a core group of Marranos, a deeply internalized hatred of Catholicism, which led to such sacrilegious practices as the flagellation of Christ.178 This resentment, combined with a battle-hardened practice of concealment, infiltration, and secret intelligence networks, helped transform European Judaism into an ever-more- formidable anti-Christian force.
Throughout the sixteenth century, the Marranos migrated to nations with Jewish communities, but were not allowed to officially join them. Many, feeling as foreign to one religion as the other, lost their faith. But their rejection of Jewish religion was not a rejection of Jewishness. On the contrary: beginning in the fifteenth century, a heightened racial pride emerged among the New Christians, in direct contradiction to the Christian concept that, among the baptized, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). Having been forced to change their religion, the Marranos minimized the importance of religion and interpreted their Jewishness in racial terms, allowing them to view themselves as fundamentally Jewish, and only incidentally Christian. It was the Marranos who, inspired by the Talmud, disseminated the first racist theories: in 1655 Isaac La Peyrère, a Marrano from Bordeaux, claimed in his treatise Præadamitæ that Adam is the ancestor of the Jewish race, while other breeds are derived from a pre-Adamic humanity, devoid of soul. In an earlier book, Du rappel des Juifs (1643), La Peyrère had already evoked a fundamental difference in biological makeup between Jews and Gentiles, while conceding that the difference is less than that between the bodies of beasts and men’s bodies because only the latter are “capable of resurrection and immortality”; however, “the bodies of Jews are capable of more Grace and Glory than the bodies of the Gentiles.”179 Far from blending in with Christian society, New Christians socialized and married only among themselves, continued to practice usury, and still served as intermediaries between the elite and the masses of Old Christians, only with increased freedom and legitimacy. This behavior was the determining factor in the transformation of religiously based Judeophobia into the racial Judeophobia that would later be called “anti-Semitism”; the 1449 anti-Jewish revolt against the conversos of Toledo marked the turning point. Until then, both the Church and the people recognized that a Jewish convert to Christianity was not a Jew but a Christian. But conversion, which had reinforced the racial paradigm among New Christians, triggered a backlash among Spanish Old Christians: they too began to exalt their race. The ideology of “pure blood” became a central value of the hidalgo nobility, and resulted in the limpieza de sangre (purity of blood) statutes of 1449 denying the conversos access to certain occupations. According to historian Americo Castro, this Spanish purity-of-blood ideology was basically a reaction to, and a mirror image of, Jewish racism. Yet it was milder: one could hardly find among Spaniardsthe equivalent of this certificate established in 1300 by a rabbi, guaranteeing after investigation that two young candidates for marriage “were of pure descent, without any family taint, and that they could intermarry with the most honored families in Israel; for there had been no admixture of impure blood in the paternal or maternal antecedents and their collateral relatives.”180The Marrano DispersionPart of the Marrano community never left Portugal, and in the early twentieth century, ethnographers were able to document remnant Marrano communities that had maintained their secret customs for more than five centuries, oblivious to their specific historical ties with the Jews of the world. For example, the village of Belmonte, a Marrano community discovered around 1920, officially converted to Judaism in 1985, under the guidance of the American Rabbi Joshua Stampfer.181 But a larger number of Portuguese Marranos spread around the world beginning in 1507, when they were first allowed to trade internationally. Some crossed the Pyrenees to reach Bayonne and Bordeaux, others settled in Northern Europe or in the Mediterranean basin, while others sailed to Lima in South America, or Goa in India. “From the mid-seventeenth century onward,” summarizes Yovel, “the Marranos created a worldwide network of Spanish-Portuguese establishments, a kind of archipelago of islands where they interacted to some degree with their surroundings, bringing with them their languages, their cultures, their Iberian customs, their skills and trade networks along with the restlessness and split identity that was their own special characteristic.” The conversos quickly became first-class international businessmen, confidently exchanging bank notes and IOUs. They “created the first pre-modern, albeit fragmented, model of economic globalization” and “soon began to rise to the forefront of international trade, virtually monopolizing the market for certain commodities, such as sugar, to participate to a lesser degree in trading spices, rare woods, tea, coffee, and the transportation of slaves.”182 Their strength lay not only in their network of solidarity, but also in their great mobility, with wealthy families always ready to respond to constraints or opportunities by a new exile.
Fleeing the Inquisition, many Marranos took refuge in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the city of Thessaloniki, where they were free to practice their religion. They converted nominally to Islam in large numbers during the seventeenth century, following the example of Sabbatai Zevi, the Kabbalist and self-styled messiah, forming the Dönmeh community, whose numbers were assessed at more than one million in the early twentieth century. In 1550, the French King Henri II allowed “merchants and other Portuguese called New Christians” to settle in Bordeaux, granting them privileges that allowed them to acquire great wealth in maritime trade, including the slave trade.183 In Venice, Portuguese Marranos settled in the early sixteenth century. By the middle of the seventeenth century “they attained the hegemony in local affairs,” according to Cecil Roth.184 It is worth mentioning that the first edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Venice in 1520. From 1512 onward, an even larger Marrano community settled in the Netherlands, then under Spanish rule. Antwerp became their capital and emerged as a booming economic center. Calvinist uprisings led to the independence of the United Provinces in 1579. When, in 1585, Philip II of Spain temporarily retook Antwerp, Jews and Calvinists transferred their businesses to Amsterdam. In the seventeenth century, the Jewish community of Amsterdam, called the “New Jerusalem of the North,” was composed largely of conversos who had returned to Judaism. Ashkenazi Jews also flocked to Amsterdam after the pogroms in Poland and Ukraine in 1648. Many of these Jews and crypto-Jews eventually would join the “New Amsterdam,” later renamed New York.
When circumstances permitted, the Marranos returned to Judaism. But if it benefitted their affairs, they could also re-don the Christian mask when travelling back to Spain, Portugal, or in the Iberian colonies. Many made use of two names: a Hebrew name within the Jewish community, and a Spanish or Portuguese name in international affairs. A notable example is Moshe Curie, one of the wealthiest Marranos of Amsterdam, who signed his bills, powers, and IOUs with the name Jeronimo Nunes da Costa.185 Thus the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries “saw the return of Marrano emigrants to Judaism, a return that did not only occur in the Ottoman Empire, a traditional refuge for Jews, but also in European cities like Venice, Ferrara, Hamburg, Amsterdam and London. Jewish communities also reappeared, barely concealed, in prohibited areas such as Spanish Flanders and the Bordeaux region, where authorities had good business reasons to close their eyes. This led to the phenomenon of ‘New Jews,’ ex-New Christians who returned to the religion of their ancestors.”186 The distinction between Jew and crypto-Jew gradually became baseless. The term “Portuguese” came to designate the Sephardic Jews exiled in Christian masks, whether or not they retained the mask.“The same commercial network,” writes Yovel, “could contain secret Judaizers in Seville or Mexico, assimilated Catholics in Antwerp or Toulouse, officially declared Jews in London or Curacao, perhaps even a dissident converted to Calvinism, alongside all kinds of undecided Marranos, agnostics and freethinkers.”187 Nathan Wachtel adds: “Quasi- global dispersion, transcontinental and transoceanic solidarity: these huge networks linking New Christians in Lisbon, Antwerp or Mexico, and the Jews of Livorno, Amsterdam or Constantinople, had a remarkable character, something new at this dawn of modernity, which was to join together tens of thousands of people who did not officially profess the same religious faith, yet shared the feeling of belonging to the same community, designated by the lapidary phrase: the Nação.”188 It is significant that the term “nation,” which comes from the Latin natio, “birth,” was applied to the international community of Marranos before it came to designate any other “peoples.” It may be said that the idea of “nation” is a crypto-Jewish contribution to the Christian West.
Firmly established in all major European ports, the Marranos played the leading role in the commercial and colonial expansion of sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Europe. Their networks were not only the link between the maritime empires of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English, but also took on a global dimension, connecting Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. Portuguese Marranos mastered large-scale trade, on the routes to the East Indies as well as the newly opened sea routes to the “West Indies,” meaning the American continent. Christopher Columbus—who left Spain during the same month that the decree of expulsion of the Jews was declared—was himself Marrano, according to a thesis defended by several Jewish historians, including Cecil Roth, author of an authoritative history of Marranism: “That epoch-making expedition of 1492 was as a matter of fact very largely a Jewish, or rather a Marrano, enterprise. There are grounds for believing that Columbus was himself a member of a New Christian family.”189 Christopher Columbus, we may recall, was the author of a genocide-by-forced-labor of Caribbean populations, island after island. In 1495, he sent the first shipments of Indian slaves to Spain: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity, go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” he wrote. Others were enslaved in their own lands for the extraction of the gold that Columbus intended to send back to his sponsors. Each Haitian above the age of thirteen was required to bring in a quota of gold, and those who failed had their hands cut off. The hell imposed on these populations resulted in the first known mass suicides. The population was decimated in two generations. The unspeakable cruelty of Columbus and his men was documented by the priestBartolome de las Casas.
In the wake of Columbus, the Marranos became the main catalysts of the new spirit of colonial expansion, from Mexico to Peru and from the Caribbean to Brazil. Beginning in 1569, the Inquisition’s courts were introduced in the Americas to hunt Judaizing Marranos, who then found a relatively mild situation in Brazil, where inquisitorial activity remained moderate until the very end of the seventeenth century. They developed in particular the cultivation of sugar cane, as explained by Nathan Wachtel: “The cultivation of sugar cane and sugar manufacturing require complex technology, abundant capital and extensive trade networks: at every successive stage of the sugar trade, the New Christians played a prominent role.”190 The Marranos of Latin America, who formed an “underground America,” would also master the cultivation and commerce of cocoa, tobacco, and coffee—all addictive products that Europeans would grow heavily dependent upon in less than a century. The Inquisition of Lima in 1636 worried about the near monopoly of Portuguese Marranos in all branches of trade: “They achieved such mastery over trade that everything, from brocade to sackcloth, and from diamonds to cumin, passed through their hands.” And the Bishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox, wrote in 1641: “They have so much power, not only in this city but also inland, that they can threaten the security of the kingdom.”191 No international trade escaped them, and in time of war, they traded with enemy countries equally. Naturally, said Wachtel, “the traffic of African slaves [. . .] was virtually controlled at the end of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth, by the networks of the Marrano diaspora,” all beneficiaries of asientos (exclusive contracts granted by the Crown) being Portuguese businessmen. Some were at the same time priests, like Diego Lopez de Lisboa in the first decade of the seventeenth century.192 Note that, out of a little over nine million slaves imported to the Americas between 1519 and 1867, eight million were in Brazil and the Caribbean, where the traffic was in the hands of Marranos. The conditions were much harder there than in North America; the majority of slaves died young without founding families. Jewish justification of this traffic, inspired by the Hebrew Bible, was voiced by Jacob ben Isaac Achkenazi de Janow in his Commentary on the Torah in the early seventeenth century: Blacks were descended from Ham, the youngest son of Noah, who was cursed by the Lord with these words: “Accursed be Canaan, he shall be his brothers’ meanest slave” (Genesis 9:25).193 It is fair to mention that Pope Paul III proclaimed in 1537 his bull Sublimus Dei prohibiting slavery of American Indians and all other peoples, denouncing such practices as directly inspired by “the enemy of mankind.” In the nineteenth century, traces of the Marranos were gradually lost. After the annexation of half of Mexico by the United States in 1848,the crypto-Jews who became US citizens, now enjoying freedom of religion (Jews had been officially banned in Mexico until then), seldom opted for a return to Judaism. They preferred Presbyterianism, a compromise that allowed them access to the Old Testament. At least until the 1960s, some families in New Mexico and Texas still kept the memory of their secret Jewish heritage.194 Surveys have revealed isolated pockets of Marranos in Brazil until the end of the twentieth century, with some of them solemnly returning to Judaism. In May 1997, on the five-hundredth anniversary of the forced conversion of the Portuguese in 1497, the first “National Congress of Marrano Jews” was held in Recife, Brazil.
Marranos and the Church
Many Marranos were monks or priests, and some rose to important ecclesiastical positions in the Catholic Church. The question of their sincerity is often difficult to determine. From thesixteenth century, the monastic order of Saint Jerome, and especially the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, were known for attracting Judaizing Marranos. One prominent friar, Hernando de Talavera, was the confessor of Isabella the Catholic. Crypto-Jews were actually suspected of becoming the confessors of Old Christians in order to learn their secrets. Fray Vicente Rocamoro, confessor to Anne-Marie (daughter of Philip III of Spain and future empress) suddenly disappeared, then reappeared in 1643 in the Jewish community of Amsterdam under the name of Isaac de Rocamora.195 Conversely, there were unquestionably sincere converts among the Marranos, who found in Jesus the model of the Jew emancipated from Mosaic Law. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, came from a Marrano family. It was said that some of these sincere converts nonetheless brought into the Church a Jewish spirit: Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, was from a Marrano family, and many historians have noted that the Jesuit order owes much to the spirit of Jewish networking. The Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada and his assistant Diego Daza, the most cruel persecutors of the “false Christians,” were Marranos. In general, the question of sincerity is impossible to decide, as conversions may lead to virtual split personalities. We must also take into account that a Marrano could feel Christian by religion and Jewish by blood.
A good example is Solomon Halevi, chief rabbi of Burgos, who converted in 1390 or 1391, taking the name of Pablo de Santa Maria, becoming Bishop of Burgos in 1416. His sincerity seems beyond doubt, since he spoke harshly of the Jews, whom he accused of plotting to control Spain. As a bishop, he forced them to wear a badge to distinguish them from Christians. Yet he did not hesitate to proudly display his “Levitical” heritage.
After Halevi’s death in 1435, his son Alonso Cartagena succeeded him as bishop of Burgos. A prolific writer like his father, he strove to mitigate the breach between the Old and New Testaments: “The strength of the Gospel is in the Law, and the foundation of the Law is the principle of the Gospel.” The result, for Cartagena, was that the conversion of Jews to Christianity is not really a conversion, but simply a deeper understanding of their historical role: a converted Jew was a better Christian because he did not really convert but rather deepened his faith, while the Gentiles first had to get rid of their false pagan beliefs in coming to Christ. Alonso held Jewishness superior from the racial perspective: it was because of their superior genetic heritage that Jews were chosen, not only to give birth to Christ, but to be a natural aristocracy of humanity. The Jews embodied Israel in flesh and spirit at the same time; it was really the Jews, in a way, who were the “Old Christians.”196 About 270 years after Nicholas Donin had persuaded the pope to take action against the Talmud, another converted Jew, Joseph Pfefferkorn, embarked on a similar crusade. A native of Moravia who had converted (“withdrawn from the filthy and pestilential mire of the Jews”) in 1504 with his family, he abandoned the practice of usury and took the name of Johannes. He traveled through the German-speaking countries to preach conversion to the Jews, and wrote several books, including The Mirror of the Jews and The Enemy of the Jews, to “prevent the damage which the mangy dogs [Jews] do to Christian power in both the spiritual and worldly sphere.” He denounced, for example, the way Jews were ruining farmers through usury and expropriation of their lands, their efforts to morally corrupt Christians, and the revolutionary spirit of the Jews, who “pray for revenge against the whole Christian Church and especially against the Roman Empire, so that it should be broken and destroyed.” Supported by the Dominicans and the Franciscans, Pfefferkorn received from Emperor Maximilian I the right to confiscate Jewish books, examine them, and destroy those deemed hostile to the Christian faith. But a Jewish delegation successfully argued that the subject should first be discussed by acommittee.
Johannes Reuchlin, the greatest humanist scholar of his time after Erasmus, defended the Jews.197 Reuchlin immersed himself in Jewish writings and published in 1506 De rudimentis Hebraicis, the first Hebrew grammar by a non-Jew. He was interested in Kabbalah, which he combined with Neoplatonic magic in his book De verbo mirifico (The Magic Word). Kabbalah is an outgrowth of Talmudism particularly popular in Marrano circles. Its founding text, the Zohar (Book of Splendor), presents itself as having been written in the second century CE by Simeon bar Yochai Rabbi, hidden in a cave, and fortuitously rediscovered in the thirteenth century by Moses de Leon in a market of Spain. Needless to say, academic research ascribes authorship to Moses de Leon himself; the book’s antiquity is factitious. The basic principle of Kabbalah is the sacralization of the Hebrew language: since it is the language of God, by which God created the world, it follows that the knowledge of sacred words and their numeric meanings (associated with angelic powers) grants a demiurgic power to the kabbalist.
Reuchlin defended the Talmud and Kabbalah before the emperor, against the Dominicans. He considered these Jewish books “the speech and the most sacred words of God.” His erudition, aided by the corruption of certain officials, managed to overturn the imperial order to destroy Jewish books. The debate continued for more than a decade in the universities, motivating many books in both camps. In 1517, Reuchlin published De arte caballistica, dedicated to Pope Leo X. In 1533, Cornelius Agrippa, inspired by Reuchlin, published De occulta philosophia. Thus did kabbalistic occult inspiration take root in the Christian West. Humanist thinkers, opposed to the Christian foundations of their society, sided with Reuchlin and campaigned against the Dominicans. They counted among their ranks such Marranos as Fernando de Rojas, author of the famous Celestine (1499). Pope Leo X (1513–1521) took the side of Reuchlin, who dedicated his De arte caballistica to him in 1517. Leo X, whose real name was Giovanni Médici, came from the powerful Florentine family of the Medici, a “race of usurers” according to Machiavelli, owners of the most important bank in Europe, founded in 1397.198 The Medicis were closely linked to the Abravanel clan, and favored the immigration into Tuscany of Jews from Spain and the Balkans. Leo X made the papacy hated by his immoderate use of indulgences to fill the coffers of the Vatican.
Let us take a brief detour to discuss the Kabbalah, emphasizing its role in the birth of Zionism, through prophecies of the return of the Jews to Palestine, notably in the Zohar. Though the Kabbalah was born in Spain in the thirteenth century and spread, under a veil of secrecy, in Italy and Germany in the fourteenth century, it was at the end of the fifteenth century that it became an important part of Judaism, especially among crypto-Jews, who found in its occult dimension a resonance with their own hidden condition. The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 triggered a great craze for Kabbalah, while accentuating its double messianic-apocalyptic dimension.199
The Marranos found themselves better placed than the unconverted Jews to influence the Church with regard to kabbalistic prophecies. Thus, Solomon Molcho (1500–1532), born in Portugal to a Marrano family, rose to the post of royal secretary in the High Court of Justice, met the Pope, and tried to convince him to form an army of Marranos and attack the Ottoman Empire in order to liberate Palestine for the Jews. According to historian Youssef Hindi, Molcho “was the first to have concretely established Zionism’s political strategy towards Christians, with the aim of using them to bring the Jews back to the Holy Land [. . .] persuading them to embrace Jewish messianic designs as their own.”200The controversy of Reuchlin led to an unquestionable victory of Judaism over Christianity,and it was the starting point of the Reformation. According to Heinrich Graetz, “We can boldly assert that the war for and against the Talmud aroused German consciousness, and created a public opinion, without which the Reformation, like many other efforts, would have died in the hour of birth, or, perhaps, would never have been born at all.”201 Luther took the side of Reuchlin, joining the ranks of his continued struggle by writing Sola Scriptura, the pillar of his Reformation, and promoting the study of Hebrew. Most disciples of Reuchlin became Lutherans. Luther was initially very friendly toward Jews, publishing in 1523 a pamphlet titled That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. In it he blamed “the popes, bishops, sophists, and monks—the crude asses’ heads” for being unable to convert the Jews: “If I had been a Jew and had seen such dolts and blockheads govern and teach the Christian faith, I would sooner have become a hog than a Christian.” Hoping to do better, he wrote: “The Jews are of the lineage of Christ. We are aliens and in-laws; they are blood relatives, cousins, and brothers of our Lord. Therefore, if one is to boast of flesh and blood, the Jews are actually nearer to Christ than we are.” But after much disappointment, Luther had second thoughts. In On the Jews and Their Lies, written a few years before his death, he deemed them so corrupted by deadly sins as to be almost unredeemable, and especially resented their economic prosperity: “They are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury.” Luther recognized, in particular, the evil influence of the book of Esther, “which so well fits their bloodthirsty, vengeful, murderous greed and hope.”202 Luther’s turning against the Jews was also a turning against the spirit of the Old Testament, whose deleterious influence Luther had seen in the peasant revolt led by Thomas Muntzer, with whom he disengaged. Speaking to members of the Allstedt alliance in April 1525, Muntzer exhorted them to massacre: “Do not be merciful, even though Esau offers you good words [Genesis 33:4]. Pay no heed to the lamentations of the godless. They will bid you in a friendly manner, cry and plead like children. Do not let yourselves be merciful, as God commanded through Moses [Deuteronomy 7:1–5].” In 1538 Luther wrote a polemic charge Against the Sabbatarians, those Christians who insisted upon following the Old Testament command to worship on the Sabbath, and whom Luther suspected to be infiltrated by Jews.203 Since its appearance, the Protestant Reformation has been seen by Catholics as effecting a return to Judaism under the influence of Jews and Marranos. Its contempt for saints and destruction of the Marian cult, in particular, are an indirect attack against Christ. If the Jews shunned the Reformation, this was not the case for crypto-Jews, who saw it as a way to leave the Church and gain easier access to the Hebrew Bible.
The role of the Marranos was particularly important in the Calvinist movement, which not only brought back the God of the Old Testament, but also condoned moneymaking and usury. During his lifetime, Calvin was already suspected of having Marrano origin. His name, spelled Jehan Cauvin, plausibly derives from Cauin, a French version of Coen. Calvin wrote commentaries on the entire Old Testament and perfectly mastered Hebrew, which he learned from rabbis. He heaped praise on the Jewish people: pure knowledge of God comes from them, as did the Messiah. His obsession with the law, and his belief that idolatry should be eradicated by military force, have their roots in the Old Testament, as does his obsession with purity. Calvin writes in his commentary on Psalm 119: “Where did Our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles draw their doctrine, if not Moses? And when we peel off all the layers, we find that the Gospel is simply an exhibition of what Moses had already said.” The Covenant of God with the Jewish people is irrevocable because “no promise of God can be undone.” The new covenant is indistinguishable from the first: “The covenant made with the ancient Fathers, in its substance and truth, is so similar to ours, that we can callthem one. The only difference is the order in which they were given.” According to the famous thesis of Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), the Calvinists were the main architects of global capitalism. Werner Sombart opposed him, in The Jews and Modern Capitalism (1911), with the thesis that this role must be credited to the Jews. The history of Marranism, of which neither Weber nor Sombart had sufficient knowledge, reconciles both theses, since Calvinism is, in its origin and spirit, a form of crypto-Judaism.
Assimilation or Dissimulation?Crypto-Judaism as a form of resistance to exile and discrimination should logically have disappeared with the European reforms culminating in the Emancipation of the Jews in the second half of the eighteenth century. These reforms, which put an end to discrimination against Jews, began shortly before the French Revolution. They supported the aspiration of the Jews of Europe to participate in the European Enlightenment (Haskalah), following the example of Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786). By a decree of May 30, 1806, shortly after his coronation, Napoleon convened a meeting in Paris of representatives of the Jews of France, Italy, and Holland, and posed them twelve questions to test the compatibility of Jewish worship with French citizenship. In appearance, the operation was successful: the “Reform Judaism” that took shape shortly thereafter was defined as a religion alongside Catholicism or Protestantism. This assimilationist strategy offered an illusion to the Gentiles for about a century, but generated strong resistance within the Jewish community: by assimilating and becoming just another religion in a world won over to humanism, was Judaism not making itself vulnerable to the same forces of disintegration that were undermining Christianity? And above all, did not assimilation make inevitable the spread of mixed marriages that eventually could lead to the disappearance of the Jewish community? For many humanist Jews, who did not attend synagogue and abhorred the Talmud, Judaism had little appeal as a religion. Was not the logical outcome of assimilation the conversion to the majority religion of the host nation, whether Catholic or Protestant? Such reasoning led half of the Jews of Berlin to convert to Christianity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, according to the estimate of Heinrich Graetz. Very few of these conversions obeyed strictly religious motivations. Some seem to have had social integration as their main objective, as exemplified by those Jews who had their children baptized while remaining themselves Jews. Others may have been motivated by a sincere love of European culture. But in many cases these conversions were followed by disillusionment—and a reinforcement of the racial conception of Jewishness.
Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) is the most famous example. Converted to Lutheranism in 1825, he conceived of baptism as the “entrance ticket to European civilization.” But he complained of still being considered a Jew by the Germans (and so preferred living in France, where he was regarded as German). Just a few years after his conversion, his writings exhibited a very negative attitude toward Christianity, described as “a gloomy, sanguinary religion for criminals” that repressed sensuality. At the end of his life he regretted his baptism, which had brought him no benefit, and stated in his final book Romanzero: “I make no secret of my Judaism, to which I have not returned, because I have not left it.”204 It is therefore not surprising that in the eyes of many non- Jewish Europeans, these Jewish converts still appeared to be crypto-Jews; they continued to be called Taufjuden (“baptized Jews”) in Germany. Even the new strictly religious definition of “Jews” was seen as a subtleform of crypto-Judaism, because in practice, Jews retained a solidarity that went beyond that of Christians and seemed to outweigh their status as citizens of their host nation. Endogamy, in particular, remained very strong among the rich Jewish bourgeoisie, whose family bonds were intertwined with commercial ties. Judeophobia fed on this sociological reality, and, in a vicious circle of misunderstanding, reinforced the feeling among Jews that their efforts to assimilate were in vain.
To all these factors must be added the awakening of nationalism on the ruins of the Napoleonic empire. In the second half of the nineteenth century, religion tended to give way again to ethnicity (race, the people) in the definition of Jewishness. Moritz Hess, after twenty years of efforts to assimilate (and a marriage with a non-Jew) underwent a true conversion. He changed his name to Moses and published Rome and Jerusalem (1862). The assimilation that he had previously believed in now appeared to him as a way of lying to oneself, while reconnecting with his “Jewish nationality” meant rediscovering an unalterable truth: “A thought which I believed to be buried forever in my heart, has been revived in me anew. It is the thought of my nationality, which is inseparably connected with the ancestral heritage and the memories of the Holy Land, the Eternal City.” According to Hess, the efforts of the Jews to merge with a nationality other than their own are doomed to failure. “We shall always remain strangers among the nations,” and “the Jew in exile who denies his nationality will never earn the respect of the nations among whom he dwells.” For “the Jews are something more than mere ‘followers of a religion,’ namely, they are a race brotherhood, a nation.”205 Hess was influenced by Heinrich Graetz’s History of the Jews (published in German in 1853), and in turn influenced the Austro- Hungarian Theodor Herzl, whose Jewish State (1896) would become the Zionist manifesto. The movement in favor of a land for the Jews met the movement aimed at resurrecting the Hebrew language, led by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, which became the second pillar of the Zionist project.
Officially, the reformed rabbis were anti-Zionists. On the occasion of their 1885 Pittsburgh Conference, they issued the following statement: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religion community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor the restoration of a sacrificial worship under the Sons of Aaron, or of any of the laws concerning the Jewish State.”206 Yet this theoretical rejection of nationalism was largely eclipsed by a very widespread messianic theory in Reform Judaism, whose spokesman was the famous German-American rabbi Kaufmann Kohler. A star of the Pittsburgh Conference, Kohler argued that by renouncing the expectation of an individual Messiah, “Reform Judaism has thus accepted the belief that Israel, the suffering Messiah of the centuries, shall at the end of days become the triumphant Messiah of the nations.”207 One can see in this neo-messianism a form of super-nationalism through which Reform Judaism contributed, paradoxically, to the rise of the very Zionism that it claimed to disavow.
It must be emphasized that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of Jews living in Germany for many generations remained indifferent to the Zionist call, and that assimilation continued unabated. This is why one might think that the “Jewish question” would have been resolved, in the long run, by the complete assimilation of the majority of Western European Jews, had it not been for a great upheaval in this community: the emergence on the historical stage of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. Their immigration began in Germany and the Netherlands after the partition of Poland in 1772, expanded throughout the nineteenth century, and became massive in 1880. Until then, the Jews of Western Europe, of Hispanic descent (Sephardim) for the most part, were almost unaware of the existence of millions of Polish and Russian Jews. They found it difficult to adjust to the influx of these extremely poorJews of Talmudic culture, Yiddish-speaking, living in isolation, practicing backward customs, and so numerous that within a century, they would supplant the Sephardim. These Ashkenazi Jews from the shtetl of Eastern European Yiddishland had, for generations, been considered foreigners in their host nation, and even as a state within the state, subject to their own laws and representatives. It was these Ashkenazi immigrants who reversed assimilationism, stimulating a new movement of contraction toward ethnic-racial identity. After Herzl’s death in 1905 and even at the Zionist Congress in 1903, they took over the Zionist movement.
Chapter 6 THE IMPERIAL MATRIX
“Thus says Yahweh to his anointed one, to Cyrus whom, he says, I have grasped by his right hand, to make the nations bow before him and to disarm kings: […] It is for the sake of my servant Jacob and of Israel my chosen one, that I have called you by your name, have given you a title though you do not know me. […] Though you do not know me, I have armed you.”Isaiah 45:1–5The Two Sides of AlbionThe influence of the Marranos in England began under Henry VIII (1509–1547). It initially coincided with that of the Venetians, who, in the 1530s, gained the upper hand over the king’s government by heavily indebting it. The moneylenders also played a crucial role in Henry’s matrimonial life, favoring his divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. The rupture of the king’s marriage foreshadowed that of the Spain-England alliance he had sealed, as well as his schism with the Catholic Church. Francesco Zorzi, a Franciscan monk from Venice, conversant in Hebrew and a collector of rabbinical and kabbalistic works, advised Henry VIII in his request for a divorce between 1527 and 1533. Another influential advisor was Thomas Cromwell, an obscure adventurer who, after serving rich merchants in Venice, returned to England, managed important affairs for the Church, and was elected to Parliament in 1523, becoming “chief minister” in 1532. Having gained the confidence of Henry VIII, he encouraged him to become the new Constantine by founding the Anglican Church, then became his business agent for the confiscation of church property, which he largely diverted for his own profit. Thomas Cromwell was surely a creature of the Venetian Marranos, if he was not a Marrano himself.
Under Henry VIII, England became the stronghold of antipopeism, and its rivalry against powerful Catholic Spain was exacerbated. With his wife Isabella of Portugal, the king of Spain Charles I, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, governed a vast empire including the Netherlands, the kingdom of Naples, and the Habsburg possessions, as well as many colonies. When he was elected emperor of Germany in 1519 under the name of Charles V, he became the most powerful Christian monarch of the first half of the sixteenth century. His eldest son Philip II succeeded him (1556–1598). Raised in the fervor of the Spanish court, Philip II was the leader of the Counter-Reformation and dreamed of reconciling Christianity around the Roman church. Because of his marriage to the Catholic Marie Tudor (daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon), Philip became consort king of England when Mary ascended to the throne in 1554. Mary strove to restore Catholicism, but after only a four-year reign, she was decapitated and replaced by her half-sister Elizabeth. The latter opposed the Catholic Church and initiated a hostile policy toward Spain, encouraging piracy against Spanish shipping. In 1588, Philip II launched a disastrous war against England, which resulted in the rout of his “invincible Armada” and augured the end of Spanish hegemony.
England sought to undermine Spain’s control over its seventeen provinces in the Netherlands, including Belgium, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, and part of Picardy. It benefited from the support of many crypto-Jews converted to Calvinism. According to Jewish historian and journalist Lucien Wolf, “the Marranos in Antwerp had taken an active part in the Reformationmovement, and had given up their mask of Catholicism for a not less hollow pretense of Calvinism. […] The simulation of Calvinism brought them new friends, who, like them, were enemies of Rome, Spain and the Inquisition. […] Moreover, it was a form of Christianity which came nearer to their own simple Judaism.”208 Deeply involved in the development of printing in Antwerp and Amsterdam, these Calvinist Marranos actively contributed to the propaganda against Philip II, Spain, and Catholicism. In 1566 they triggered a revolt in Antwerp that spread to all the cities of Holland. In one year, 4,000 priests, monks, and nuns were killed, 12,000 nuns driven out of their convents, thousands of churches desecrated and ransacked, and countless monasteries destroyed with their libraries. Many Spanish contemporaries, like the poet Francisco de Quevedo (1580–1645), discerned a Jewish conspiracy at the source of these revolts and the concurrent decline of Spain.209 The revolts led to the independence of the United Provinces in 1579 (which Spain did not recognize until 1648). When Philip II temporarily took over Antwerp in 1585, Jews, Marranos, and Calvinists transferred their economic activity to Amsterdam. Many returned to Judaism, even bringing with them certain Calvinists of non-Jewish origin.
During the reign of Elizabeth (1558–1603), although the Jews remained officially banned in the kingdom, many of them penetrated into the higher spheres of the state under an (often perfunctory) Anglican or Calvinist disguise. Under the double Marrano/Puritan influence, the Hebrew vogue spread through the aristocracy. A Judeophilic climate prevailed in the court of Elizabeth. Jewish and Christian Hebraists were sought after, producing in 1611 the translation known as the King James Bible.
The Kabbalah, one of the Trojan horses of Judaism in European Christianity, also gained adherents among English nobles and intellectuals, and gave birth to a prolific literature. The Hebraist John Dee was the most important promoter of occultism in the Elizabethan period. When in 1558 Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne, Dee became her close personal adviser in science and astrology, to the point of fixing the date of her coronation. Dee may have inspired playwright Christopher Marlowe’s main character in his tragic story of Doctor Faustus, a man who sells his soul to the devil to satisfy his greed for knowledge.
Elizabethan theater, the flagship of the English Renaissance, reflects the hostility of the people and part of the aristocracy against the economic and cultural influence of the Jews. One alleged prototype for William Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice was the Calvinist Jew Rodrigo Lopez, a personal doctor of Queen Elizabeth who was hanged for attempting to poison her. Barabbas, the main character of The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, holds his colossal fortune as evidence of the superiority of Judaism over Christianity. After the governor of Malta confiscates his house and gives it to nuns, Barabbas persuades his daughter to become a nun, retrieve his money that is hidden in the house, and seize the opportunity to poison the nuns. Barabbas sometimes allies himself with the Christians, sometimes with the Turks, with the aim of destroying them both in the end: “Thus, loving neither, will I live with both, making a profit of my policy; And he from whom my most advantage comes shall be my friend. This is the life we Jews are used to lead” (V, 3).
Seth and Osiris, it seems, vied for the soul of Elizabethan England. While crypto-Jewish puritanism spread its grip, making its way down from the top thanks to its usurious power, British culture produced the masterpieces of Shakespeare, whose spirit is so little Protestant that he was suspected of being a crypto-Catholic, notably for his ideas on the afterlife.210 Shakespeare’s most cherished gift to European culture is undoubtedly his tragedy Romeo and Juliet, a work of youth that, despite some blunders, surpasses the novel of Tristan and Iseult as a mythic depiction of passionate love. The love that strikes Romeo and Juliet like a thunderbolt hasthe power of a mystical experience: it is a meeting of the divine in the other, which makes the lovers’ souls blossom and reveals them to themselves. Their love shatters family and social loyalties: “Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” Juliet asks, “And I’ll no longer be a Capulet” (II, 2).
Death becomes the only desirable alternative to the possibility of living this love in this life, for love contains in itself the certainty that it will triumph over death. The double suicide of the lovers is a heroic death, a “martyrdom” of true love, a redemptive sacrifice that triumphs over the social violence that incited it. Seeing the bodies of their children, the Capulets and Montagues decide to end their vendetta. Like Christians before the crucified Christ, they repent of having murdered the noblest of human creatures: man and woman united in true love. In the final scenes of the play, they promise to raise gilded statues of their children placed side by side in the (henceforth pacified) city of Verona.
Romeo and Juliet is the ultimate myth of exogamy, exalting the supernatural power of love that transcends the clan and abolishes war. Though fictitious, Romeo and Juliet has attained the status of a sacred, meta-Christian myth that reintroduces into the Western imagination a mythology of eros transcended by the underlying figure of Christ. It suffuses English Romanticism—which, not surprisingly, Moses Hess judges “decadent,” preferring Jewish novels, since “the Jews alone had the good sense to subordinate sexual to maternal love.”211The Triumph of PuritanismMany Marranos, after having transited through Holland, immigrated to England in the years 1630–1650, mixing in with the Calvinist refugees. At the beginning of the century there were about a hundred Marranos among the more prosperous families of London, and by 1650 they possessed a twelfth of all English commerce.212 These Marranos retained the Portuguese nationality and their rallying point was the home of the Portuguese ambassador, the Marrano Antonio De Souza. One of them was Fernandez Carvajal (1590–1659), whose commercial activities, extending from Brazil to the Levant (Near East), and from wine to gunpowder, brought an average 100,000 pounds per year back to England. Carvajal was the first Portuguese to obtain the status of “denizen,” which granted practically the same rights as citizenship. In 1650, when the war between England and Portugal erupted, his ships were exempted from seizure.
Cecil Roth explains: “The religious developments of the seventeenth century brought to its climax an unmistakable philo-semitic tendency in certain English circles. Puritanism represented above all a return to the Bible, and this automatically fostered a more favourable frame of mind towards the people of the Old Testament.” And so, “Though the Jews were still jealously excluded from England, there was no country in which the Hebraic spirit was so deeply rooted or so universally spread.”213 In other words, Puritanism was a kind of Judeo-Protestantism. Some Puritans went so far as to consider the Levitical laws as still in force; they circumcised their children and scrupulously respected the Sabbath. Under Charles I (1625–1649), writes Isaac d’Israeli, “it seemed that religion chiefly consisted of Sabbatarian rigours; and that a British senate had been transformed into a company of Hebrew Rabbins.”214 At the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia put an end to the Spanish dream of universal Catholic monarchy. The Counter-Reformation was contained, and the independence of the Netherlands recognized. The Jews could now practice their religion in broad daylight. At the same time, the antimonarchical revolution of the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell (kin to the Thomas Cromwell mentioned above), triumphed in England after a civilwar that the Puritans, bent on re-enacting the experience of the people of Israel, viewed as a holy war aimed at establishing a biblical type of theocracy on British soil. Cromwell enjoyed the support of many Marranos: Fernandez Carvajal, the main financier of the revolutionary army, put at Cromwell’s disposal his network of spies based in Holland. Antimonarchical propaganda in England was largely dependent on the Dutch press, from whence thousands of tracts clandestinely crossed the Channel. After signing the death warrant against King Charles I in 1649 (the act was drafted by a certain Isaac Dorislaus from Leiden), Cromwell rose to the summit of the ephemeral Commonwealth of England to reign as Lord Protector from 1653 until his death in 1658. He conquered Catholic Ireland in 1649 and engaged there in a quasi-genocidal repression.
The famous Dutch rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel (born in Madeira of Portuguese Marrano parents who returned to Judaism in Amsterdam) played a decisive role in the final stage of Judaization in England. He took the lead in lobbying for the readmission of Jews in England, that is, the liberation of the crypto-Jews from their pseudo-Christianity. A petition was presented to Parliament in 1648 (the Cartwright Petition). In December 1655, Ben Israel met Cromwell and, one year later, dedicated his book Justice for the Jews to him. In his earlier work The Hope of Israel, published both in Latin and English, he included among his arguments in favor of the return of the Jews to England the idea that their presence would fulfill the prophecy of Deuteronomy 28:64: “Yahweh will scatter you throughout every people, from one end of the earth to the other.” “I conceived,” writes Menasseh, “that by the end of the earth might be understood this Island.” In other words, the Last Days long awaited by the Puritans would not take place until the Jewish Diaspora reached England. Others supported this argument by asserting that “England” means “angel-land, angel of the earth.” Menasseh also asserted that the Last Days imply, among the prophecies to be fulfilled, the return of the Jews “into their own land.”215 Thus the opening of the frontiers of England to the Jews was conceived as a prelude to their reconquest of Palestine—an idea which had also made its way in England since the publication in 1621 of Sir Henry Finch’s The World’s Great Restauration, or Calling of the Jews.216 Due to strong resistance, the banishment of the Jews was not officially lifted before 1690, after the Second English Revolution, but from the early seventeenth century onward it was no longer applied. When England again entered into war with Spain in 1655, and declared her intention to seize on her territory all Spanish or Portuguese property, the Marrano merchants declared themselves to belong to the “Hebrew nation,” and placed themselves under the protection of Cromwell. Many Marranos openly returned to Judaism, while others preferred to maintain nominal Christianity, which had become less binding. Jewish and crypto-Jewish immigration (the distinction was by now insignificant) grew rapidly.217 During the next century, several waves of Ashkenazi immigration joined these Jews and Marranos of Sephardic origin.
During their civil war against the royalist Anglicans, the Puritans saw themselves as Israel exiled among the Egyptians, and used the image of the Exodus as a rallying cry. For them, Cromwell was not only Moses leading the people out of Egypt, but also Joshua exterminating the Canaanites.218 In reality, the Puritan revolution was more like that of the Maccabees (who had themselves rewritten the story of Moses and Joshua to their advantage). Puritan England was exalted as a new Israel, though this did not deprive the Jews of their privileged status. It was often asserted that the new Chosen People must help the old Chosen People return to their original homeland as a prelude to their conversion at the Second Coming of Christ. Jews enjoyed such prestige in seventeenth-century England that authors vied with each other to prove that theEnglish were the direct descendants of the Jews in general and the famous ten lost tribes of Israel in particular. This strange theory, called British Israelism or Anglo-Israelism, originated in The Rights of the Kingdom (1646), a plea for regicide written by John Sadler, private secretary of Oliver Cromwell, Hebraist and friend of Menasseh Ben Israel. This line of thought remained influential until the Victorian era. In the 1790s Richard Brothers planned to reveal their Jewishness to Jews “hidden” among the English and to lead them, like a new Moses, to their eternal promised land of Canaan.
Another Judeomaniacal theory was born at the time of Cromwell: a certain Antonio de Montezinos returned from America claiming to have identified descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel. The theory ran rampant in England thanks to a book by Thomas Thorowgood, Jews in America, or the Probability that the Indians are Jews (1648). Ben Israel made it his own in his 1650 book The Hope of Israel, and asked Lord Protector Cromwell for support in sending Jews to re-Judaize the Sioux and Comanches.219 Finally, Freemasonry, born in the British Isles at the beginning of the eighteenth century, was strongly influenced by the philo-Semitism that prevailed among the English aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Masonic jargon, symbolism, and mythology drew heavily from the Torah, the Talmud, and the Kabbalah. Other intellectual streams were, of course, involved in the birth of Freemasonry: philosophical clubs indebted to the humanists of the sixteenth century such as Erasmus, struggling to escape persecution and to promote religious peace by following the path of a “natural religion” emancipated from dogmas and revelations. The Irish John Toland played an important role with his posthumous Pantheisticon published in 1720. It describes the rules and rites of a society of enlightened thinkers who meet secretly to discuss philosophy and search for esoteric truths.220 Jewish lore was transplanted into this tradition in the Grand Lodge of England, which adopted in 1723 Anderson’s Constitution and its kabbalistic mumbo-jumbo. In 1730, initiation rites were enriched with the legend of Hiram, a character barely mentioned in the biblical story of the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:13), transformed by kabbalist- masonic imagination into the architect killed by three companions bent on stealing the secret password—a story that suspiciously resembles the Talmudic fable of Jesus entering the Holy of Holies to steal the sacred word. Against such evidence of Jewish influence on Freemasonry, some have objected that, until the end of the eighteenth century, Jews were officially excluded from the lodges. But not the Marranos. It is these crypto-Jews, who had a long experience in secret gatherings, secret means of recognition (handshakes, code words, etc.), and initiation ceremonies, who progressively infiltrated and Judaized Freemasonry.
We know, for example, of the influence of Portuguese kabbalist Martinez Paschalis, founder in 1754 of the Order of Cohens, later transformed by his disciples into the Martinist Order. Father Joseph Lémann, a converted Jew, saw in this Masonic order “the prefiguration of an actual liaison between Judaism and secret societies.”221 The influence of crypto-Jews explains in part why, according to the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in 1884, Freemasonry aims to “completely ruin the religious and social discipline that was born of Christian institutions.” From the time of Cromwell can also be traced the birth of a complex of anthropological and sociological ideas that reached maturity in the Victorian era and then radiated throughout the West. This trend was propelled by Thomas Hobbes, author of the famous Leviathan (1651). Hobbes was a Puritan, but his religious ideas are so typically Jewish that many have speculated on his Marrano origin. For example, Hobbes reduces the Christian faith to the assertion that “Jesus is the Messiah,” and defends a political vision of a Messiah who owes everything to the Old Testament. Like Maimonides, he sees the coming of the Messiah (in his case, the return ofChrist) as the coming of a new Moses. For Hobbes, “the Kingdom of God was first instituted by the ministry of Moses over the Jews,” since at that time, “God alone is king”; the misfortunes of Israel began with Samuel, the first king of the Hebrews, installed on the throne against the advice of Yahweh.222 Whether or not Hobbes was of crypto-Jewish origin, his philosophical materialism is compatible with Judaism and not with Christianity: “The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real.” Hobbes breaks with the political tradition inherited from Aristotle (and renewed by Thomas Aquinas), according to which man is a naturally political being. For Hobbes, man is sociable not by nature, but by necessity. Driven mainly by the instinct of self-preservation and living permanently in the anguished fear of violent death, “man is a wolf for man” in the state of nature, and human relations are summarized as “war of all against all.” In order to avoid extinction, mankind invents social order, which is a contract between individuals by which everyone transfers his natural rights to a sovereign. The political conception of Hobbes, and its anthropological underpinning, had an immense impact on later “contractualist” republican philosophers of the Enlightenment.
In the wake of Hobbes came Bernard Mandeville, born of Huguenot parents in Holland, and settled in London in 1693. In 1714, he published The Fable of the Bees, or : Private Vices, Publick Benefits, which argues that vice is the indispensable motive that produces a society of luxury, while virtue is of no use, and even detrimental to public prosperity.
After Hobbes and Mandeville came Adam Smith, the great theorist of mercantile liberalism. In The Wealth of Nations (1776)—a title strangely echoing Isaiah 61:6—Smith substituted the Market for the Sovereign of Hobbes. Postulating, like Hobbes, that the human being is motivated exclusively by his own profit, he wagered nevertheless that in a society of free competition, the sum of individual selfishness is enough to create a just society: “Every individual […] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” This “invisible hand” (an expression borrowed from Mandeville) is, in reality, that of the god Mammon reigning over a world totally subject to the mercantile spirit. Karl Marx, born in a converted Jewish family, and of English economic formation, well understood that the reign of money inaugurated by the liberalism of Smith represents the ultimate and hidden triumph of Judaism. “What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.” For Marx, money is the force of alienation par excellence: “Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.” Therefore, the only real emancipation of the Jews would be if Jews emancipated themselves from money. “The Jew has emancipated himself in a Jewish manner, not only because he has acquired financial power, but also because, through him and also apart from him, money has become a world power and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of the Christian nations. The Jews have emancipated themselves insofar as the Christians have become Jews. […] The Jew is perpetually created by civil society from its own entrails. […] The god of the Jews has become secularized and has become the god of the world.”223 In other words, Judaism had conquered Christianity from within.
Beginning in the seventeenth century, it was the Jews who made London the world’s foremost financial center, on the model of Amsterdam. The death of Cromwell in 1657 was followed by the restoration of Charles II, son of Charles I, who was succeeded by his brother James II, Catholic and pro-French, later overthrown by the Glorious Revolution (1688–89) that brought to power his son-in-law William III of Orange, with the help of the Huguenots of Amsterdam. William of Orange, responsible to his bankers, authorized them to found the Bankof England in 1694. He granted the Bank a monopoly on the issue of money, that is to say, on the public debt, ordering the British Treasury to borrow 1,250,000 pounds from his bankers.
The Bank of England is in essence a cartel of private bankers, who have the exclusive privilege of granting the government interest-bearing loans guaranteed by taxes. This institution was the first of its kind. (Napoleon created the Bank of France on the same model in 1800). The Bank of England laid the foundations for the financial domination of the world by the usurers of the City of London.
The Rothschild saga began in Germany, when Mayer Amschel Bauer (1744–1812) transformed his father’s pawn shop into a bank, adopted the name of Rothschild, and became the manager of the fortune of William I, elector of Hesse-Cassel. Rothschild sent each of his five sons to create or head a subsidiary of the family bank in London, Paris, Vienna, Naples, and Frankfurt. Inter-branch marriages enabled the family to maintain control, diversify its banking activities and increase its financial capacity by participating in the development of mining and railroads during the nineteenth century. Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777–1836), founder of the English branch, profited greatly by financing the English war against Napoleon. Through audacious manipulations during the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815, he multiplied his fortune by twenty in a few days by buying up for pennies on the dollar the same shares whose prices he had previously caused to collapse by falsely broadcasting indications that England had lost the battle, at a time when, with the exception of his agents, nobody knew the outcome. Thus did Nathan Rothschild gain control of the Bank of England.224
The influence of Puritanism on many aspects of British society, and in particular on its commercialism, naturally extended to the United States, which lacked any ingrained culture capable of stemming it. In American national mythology, everything began with the first colony founded by the Mayflower “Pilgrim Fathers” in 1620 in Massachusetts. They were Puritans who defined themselves as the new chosen people fleeing from Egypt (Anglican England) and settling in the Promised Land. Twenty thousand others followed them between 1629 and 1640. They multiplied at an impressive rate, doubling in each generation for two centuries: there were one hundred thousand in 1700, more than one million in 1800, six million in 1900, and more than sixteen million in 1988.225 Puritanism is the matrix that, through several transformations and mutations, produced American “evangelical” Christianity. One of its most curious emanations is the Mormon Church, which today has more than six million followers. Mormonism was founded in 1830 by a certain Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received from an angel an ancient book engraved on gold plates, written by prophets of Jewish origin who lived on the American continent between 600 BCE and 420 CE. The Book of Mormon takes up the Judeomaniacal theory of the Jewish origin of Native Americans.
The Disraeli EnigmaA few decades after the end of the Napoleonic wars, Europe once again entered a period of global conflict, from which it would not extricate itself for a century. In 1853 the Crimean War broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, the latter receiving the aid of France and the United Kingdom. The war ended in 1856 with the Treaty of Paris, which aimed at limiting Russian expansionism for the benefit of the Ottoman Empire. Twenty years later, in 1877, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, declaring himself protector of the Christians, went to war once more against the Ottomans, who had drowned the Serb uprising in the bloodbath of 1875, and likewise the Bulgarian uprising the following year. With the Russians at the gates of Constantinople, the Ottomans were forced to grant independence to many of the people they previously dominated.
By the Treaty of San Stefano, signed in 1878, the Tsar founded the autonomous principalities of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania, and amputated the Ottoman Empire of territories populated by Georgians and Armenians. The Sultan was also forced to commit to ensuring the safety of Christian subjects who remained under his authority.
This treaty, however, displeased Britain and Austria-Hungary, both hostile to the expansion of Russian influence. England was especially unhappy, since Alexander II undertook the conquest of territories in Central Asia, where the English owned many colonies. In 1878, England and Austria-Hungary convened the Congress of Berlin, which resulted in the Berlin Treaty, canceling that of San Stefano. The independence of the Christian states of the Balkans was replaced by a gradual and conditional emancipation. Russian conquests were relinquished and Armenia was returned, for the most part, to the Ottoman Empire. The independent principalities of the Balkans were fragmented into weak, rivalrous, and ethnically divided small states, and part of Bulgaria was put back under Ottoman vassalage. This territorial redistribution (the prototype of future “balkanizations”) elicited profound nationalist resentments that helped spark the First World War, as well as the Armenian genocide with its 1,200,000 victims.
The Treaty of Berlin’s main objective was to save what could be saved from a weakening Ottoman Empire in order to counter pan-Slavism and Russian influence. England, the first maritime power, wanted to prevent Russia from getting closer to the Bosphorus. The British obtained the right to use Cyprus as a naval base, while protecting the colonial roads and monitoring the Suez Canal. Thus was launched the so-called “Great Game” for colonial rule in Asia, which, for the British Empire, entailed containing Russian expansion, and leading in particular to the creation of Afghanistan as a buffer state. (The same policy would be promoted by Zbigniew Brzezinski 120 years later, this time on behalf of American hegemony.) There are several ways to interpret this historical episode that carries the seed of all the tragedies of the twentieth century, several possible viewpoints about the forces shaping history at this crucial time. But in the end, history is made by men, and it can be understood only if one identifies the main protagonists. One name stands out among the instigators of this pivotal era’s British imperial policy: Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), prime minister under Queen Victoria from 1868 to 1869, and again from 1874 to 1880. Disraeli was the man who made the takeover of the Suez Canal by England possible in 1875, through funding from his friend Lionel Rothschild, son of Nathan (in an operation that at the same time consolidated the Rothschilds’ control over the Bank of England).
Disraeli has been called the true inventor of British imperialism, since it was he who, by introducing the Royal Titles Act in 1876, had Queen Victoria proclaimed Empress of India by Parliament. What is more, Disraeli was the main inspiration for the 1884–1885 Berlin Congress, where the Europeans carved up Africa. Lastly, Disraeli can be considered one of the forerunners of Zionism. Well before Theodor Herzl, Disraeli tried to add the “restoration of Israel” to the Berlin Congress’s agenda, hoping to convince the Sultan to concede Palestine as an autonomous province. Zionism was for him an old dream: soon after a trip to the Middle East at the age of twenty-six, Disraeli published his first novel, The Wondrous Tale of Alroy, and made his hero, an influential Jew of the Middle Ages, say: “My wish is a national existence which we have not. My wish is the Land of Promise and Jerusalem and the Temple, all we forfeited, all we have yearned after, all for which we have fought, our beauteous country, our holy creed, our simple manners, and our ancient customs.” Disraeli wrote these lines even before the beginnings of biblical archeology; it was not until 1841, after a trip to Palestine, that Edward Robinson published his Biblical Researches inPalestine. The first excavations of the Palestine Exploration Fund sponsored by Queen Victoria began in 1867. However, wealthy British Jews had taken an interest in Palestine long before that. Disraeli’s interest was influenced by that of his neighbor and friend of forty years, Moses Montefiore, like him of Sephardic origin, and like him closely related to the Rothschilds. (Montefiore married Judith Cohen, the sister-in-law of Nathan Mayer Rothschild). After a trip to Palestine in 1827, Montefiore devoted his immense resources to helping his coreligionists in the Holy Land, notably by buying land and building housing.
Disraeli hailed from a family of Marranos (crypto-Jews of Portuguese origin) converted back to Judaism in Venice. His grandfather had moved to London in 1748. Benjamin was baptized at the age of thirteen, when his father, Isaac D’Israeli, converted to Anglican Christianity together with all his family. Isaac D’Israeli is the author of a book called The Genius of Judaism (in response to Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianity), in which he glorifies the unique qualities of the Jewish people, but blames Talmudic rabbis for “sealing up the national mind of their people” and “corrupting the simplicity of their antique creed.” As for many other Jews of the time, conversion for D’Israeli was above all opportunistic: until the beginning of the nineteenth century, administrative careers remained closed to the Jews. A law of 1740 had authorized their naturalization, but it had provoked popular riots and was repealed in 1753. Many influential Jews, such as City banker Sampson Gideon, then opted for nominal conversion for their children.226
Benjamin Disraeli received baptism almost at the same time as Heinrich Heine. Like Heine, Disraeli embodied the contradictions and drama of assimilated Jews in the late nineteenth century, who aspired to assimilation to the point that they wanted to personify all the virtues and values of European nations, but whose conversion to an already devitalized Christianity could only be a source of disappointment. Such conversions were often followed by an even stronger, more tormented attachment to their Jewishness, felt as a racial rather than a religious identity: Disraeli defined himself as “Anglican of Jewish race.” For Hannah Arendt, Disraeli is a “race fanatic” who, in his first novel Alroy (1833), “evolved a plan for a Jewish Empire in which Jews would rule as a strictly separated class.” In his other novel Coningsby (1844), he “unfolded a fantastic scheme according to which Jewish money dominates the rise and fall of courts and empires and rules supreme in diplomacy.” This idea “became the pivot of his political philosophy.”227 The character Sidonia, who appears in Coningsby and in his two later novels, Sybil (1845) and Tancred (1847), is a fictional avatar of his author, or rather, according to his biographer Robert Blake, “a cross between Lionel de Rothschild and Disraeli himself.”228 He is descended from a noble family of Aragon, whose eminent members included an archbishop and a grand inquisitor, who nevertheless secretly adhered to the Judaism of their ancestors.
The father of Sidonia, like Nathan the father of Lionel de Rothschild, “made a large fortune by military contracts, and supplying the commissariat of the different armies” during the Napoleonic wars. Then, having settled in London, he “staked all he was worth on the Waterloo loan; and the event made him one of the greatest capitalists in Europe.” Sidonia attended at the age of seventeen the princely courts of which he was the creditor, and became an expert in the arcana of power. “The secret history of the world was his pastime. His great pleasure was to contrast the hidden motive, with the public pretext, of transactions.” To his protégé Coningsby, he confided that everywhere he traveled he saw, behind the monarchs and heads of state, Jewish advisers, and concluded: “So you see, my dear Coningsby, the world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind thescenes.” Disraeli himself, according to Robert Blake, “was addicted to conspiracy.” Sidonia, like Disraeli, is passionate about his race: “The race is everything; There is no other truth.” He refuses to marry a non-Jewess because “No earthly consideration would ever induce him to impair that purity of race on which he prides himself.” The term “race” at the time had an imprecise meaning that sometimes extended to what is now called ethnicity. However, Disraeli insists in Endymion (1880), his last novel, on the idea that “language and religion do not make a race—there is only one thing that makes a race, and that is blood.” He also writes: “No man will treat with indifference the principle of race. It is the key of history.” In a nonfictional work (Lord George Bentinck: A Political Biography, 1852), Disraeli wrote that Jews “are a living and the most striking evidence of the falsity of that pernicious doctrine of modern times, the natural equality of man. […] the natural equality of man now in vogue, and taking the form of cosmopolitan fraternity, is a principle which, were it possible to act on it, would deteriorate the great races and destroy all the genius of the world. […] The native tendency of the Jewish race, who are justly proud of their blood, is against the doctrine of the equality of man.”229 Disraeli is clearly on the same wavelength as Moses Hess. His Jewish supremacism was complicated by discrimination between Jews, since Sephardim and Ashkenazim were “two races among the Hebrews,” the first being “the superior race” (an idea already expressed by his father in his Genius of Judaism).230
What was Disraeli’s motivation behind the foreign policy he imparted to the British Empire? Did he believe the fate of the British was to conquer the world? Or, remembering how Ezra and Nehemiah exploited Persian authority, did he see the British Empire as the instrument for the Jewish nation’s fulfillment of its destiny—in other words, as Zionism’s mule? In mooring the Suez Canal (dug between 1859 and 1869 by French Ferdinand de Lesseps) to British interests, does he simply seek to outdo the French, or is he laying the foundation for the future alliance between Israel and the Anglo-American Empire? Indeed, Disraeli could henceforth argue that a Jewish autonomous government in Palestine would be quite capable of defending British economic interests in the region. This would be Chaim Weizmann’s pitch to the British thirty years later: “Jewish Palestine would be a safeguard to England, in particular in respect to the Suez Canal.”231 Thus, Disraeli is truly the one who, with the help of Lionel Rothschild, laid the first stone of the new Jewish state. When in 1956 Israel invaded the Sinai to take control of the canal, she did it by again promising Britain to return the control of the canal that had been nationalized by Nasser. And what of Disraeli’s Russophobia, to which, some say, he converted Queen Victoria? Is it imperial geostrategy, or the old Jewish enmity against the last Christian kingdom, where 70 percent of the world’s Jews (recently emancipated by Alexander II, but victims of recurrent pogroms) still lived? No one can answer these questions with certainty; perhaps Disraeli could not himself. His contemporaries, however, pondered them. Disraeli’s open hostility to Russia and his defense of the Turks, whose massacres of the Serbs and Bulgarians were well known, gave rise to theories of a Jewish conspiracy. William Ewart Gladstone, a longtime opponent of Disraeli and himself prime minister several times (1868–1874, 1880–1885, 1886, and 1892–1894), declared that Disraeli “was holding British foreign policy hostage to his Jewish sympathies, and that he was more interested in relieving the anguish of Jews in Russia and Turkey than in any British interests.” The newspaper The Truth of November 22, 1877, alluding to the intimacy of Disraeli with the Rothschilds suspected “a tacit conspiracy […] on the part of a considerable number ofAnglo-Hebrews, to drag us into a war on behalf of the Turks.” It was remembered, moreover, that in a speech in the Commons gallery in 1847, Disraeli had demanded the admission of Jews to eligible functions, on the grounds that “the Jewish mind exercises a vast influence on the affairs of Europe.” Some complained about the influence of Disraeli on Queen Victoria— an influence he explained to a friend in these terms: “Everyone likes flattery, and when it comes to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”232
The queen, it must be said, was already, like much of the aristocracy, under the spell of a fashionable theory assigning an Israelite origin to the Anglo-Saxons. This theory appeared under Oliver Cromwell and was renewed in 1840 by Pastor John Wilson with his Lectures on Ancient Israel and the Israelitish Origin of the Modern Nations of Europe. Edward Hine brought it back in 1870 in The English Nation Identified with the Lost Israel, where he derives the word “Saxon” from “Isaac’s sons.” This theory offered biblical justification to British colonialism, and even to the genocide of colonized peoples (new Canaanites) by the British Empire (new Israel).233 Happy to believe that her noble lineage descended from King David, the queen had her sons circumcised, a custom that has continued to this day. There was some truth in the British elite’s sense of their Jewishness, for during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many matrimonial unions had united rich Jewish families with the old destitute landed aristocracy, to the extent that, according to Hilaire Belloc’s estimate, “with the opening of the twentieth century those of the great territorial English families in which there was no Jewish blood were the exception.”234 The Disraeli case is illuminating because the questions raised about him are the same as those that arise today on the relationship between the United States and the Zionist network— questions that divide even the most respected observers. Which, of the Anglo-American Empire and international Jewry, steers the other? Is Israel the bridgehead of the United States in the Middle East, or is the United States, as Zbigniew Brzezinski once insinuated, the “mule” of Israel?235 Is the dog wagging its tail, or the tail wagging the dog? Answering this question for the half century preceding the First World War helps answer the same question in contemporary times, because the symbiotic relationship between Israel and the empire grew up during that period.
The answer depends on one’s point of view. The Zionists naturally have an interest in promoting the view that Israel serves Anglo-American interests, rather than the reverse. Disraeli argued in front of the British Parliament that a Jewish Palestine would be in the interest of British colonialism. But this argument is deceptive. Jewish Zionists have always seen things from the other end of the telescope, and one can hardly believe that Disraeli did not secretly share their view. When the hero of his Tancred (1847), a Jew who has been promoted Lord Beaconsfield, glorifies the British Empire in these words: “We wish to conquer the world, led by angels, in order to bring man to happiness, under divine sovereignty,” who lies behind this ambiguous “we”? When a British Jew such as Disraeli says “we,” there is always a possible double sense. And the ambiguity is always strategic, for a large part of the Anglo-Saxon industrial, political, and cultural elite shared a common belief in the British Empire’s global mission to civilize the world. Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902), who gave his name to two African countries, Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), was an ardent propagandist for world government by the “British race.” According to Carroll Quigley, in 1891 Rhodes founded a secret society devoted to this cause, which was later developed by his friend Lord Alfred Milner, and known since 1909 as the Round Table or the Rhodes-Milner Group. Lord Salisbury, minister of foreign affairs in the Disraeli cabinet (1878–1880), then prime minister in 1885, was a member of thissecret society, according to Quigley, as was Lord Nathan Rothschild.236 Many other connections could be evoked to illustrate that, from the mid-nineteenth century onward, British imperialism and Zionism have been intimately intertwined. As historical movements, they seem to have been born simultaneously, like the twins Esau and Jacob. But meta-historical reflection on this question must take into account two important facts: first, the roots of the British Empire do not go back beyond the seventeenth century, whereas those of Zionism go back more than two millennia; and secondly, the British Empire declined after the First World War, whereas Zionism was launched toward continuing success. For these two reasons, the thesis that Zionism is a by-product of British imperialism seems to me unsustainable.
The question of the relationship between Albion and Zion is also related to that of the relationship between legal and occult power, and in particular the measure of the real power of the Rothschild dynasty over British policy. There is little question, for example, that without the Rothschilds, Great Britain would never have gained control of the Suez Canal, which was the cornerstone of the empire in the Middle East, and sealed its alliance with Zionism. The Rothschilds never sought political office, preferring the less visible but much greater financial power; there is no question that Disraeli’s power was really the Rothschilds’. Nevertheless, matrimonial alliances with the political elite could also be helpful: Lord Archibald Primrose, secretary of state for foreign affairs in 1886 and from 1892 to 1894, and prime minister in 1894– 1895, was Mayer Amschel de Rothschild’s son-in-law.
Concerning the relationship between the Rothschilds and Zionism, it is interesting to learn from Theodor Herzl’s diaries that the glorious founder of Zionism envisioned the future Jewish state as an “aristocratic republic” (“I am against democracy”) with, at its head, “the first Prince Rothschild.” Quoting from his long tirade exhorting the Rothschilds to redeem their evil power through the Zionist project: “I don’t know whether all governments already realize what an international menace your World House constitutes. Without you no wars can be waged, and if peace is to be concluded, people are all the more dependent on you. For the year 1895 the military expenses of the five Great Powers have been estimated at four billion francs, and their actual peacetime military strength at 2,800,000 men. And these military forces, which are unparalleled in history, you command financially, regardless of the conflicting desires of the nations. […] And your accursed wealth is still growing. Everywhere it increases more rapidly than the national wealth of the countries in which you reside. Therefore this increase takes place only at the expense of the national prosperity, even though you yourselves may be the most decent persons in the world. For that reason, the Jewish State from the outset will not tolerate your alarming wealth, which would stifle our economic and political freedom. […] But if you do go with us, we shall enrich you one last time more. And we shall make you big beyond the dreams of the modest founder of your House and even of his proudest grand-children. […] We shall make you big, because we shall take our first elected ruler from your House. That is the shining beacon which we shall place atop the finished Eiffel Tower of your fortune. In history it will seem as though that had been the object of the entire edifice.”237 As Richard Wagner once said (Judaism in Music, 1850), however, the Rothschilds preferred to remain “the Jews of the Kings” rather than “the Kings of the Jews”.
The Gestation of Zionism
Disraeli was not the inventor of Zionism. The idea of a return of the Jews to Palestine was already circulating before he came to power. An article in the London Times of August 17, 1840,shortly before the Crimean War, already suggested: “The minds of Jews have been earnestly directed towards Palestine, and that in anticipation of a reconstruction of the Jewish state many are prepared to avail themselves of the facilities which events may afford to return to the land of their fathers.” And: “It is for the Christian philanthropists and enlightened statesmen of Europe to consider whether this remarkable people does not present materials which, when collected and brought into fusion under national institutions might not be advantageously employed for the interests of civilization in the East.”238 Nevertheless, it was Disraeli who gave the first concrete impulse to the historical movement that was to culminate, less than a century later, in the creation of Israel. Through his policy and his access to Rothschild money, Disraeli undoubtedly sowed the seeds of what later became the Zionist project of colonization of Palestine by the Jews. If it was too soon to make this project an openly avowed issue, this was primarily because the population destined to populate the new country was not yet available. Russian Jews were no more attracted to Palestine than European Jews; indeed, they hardly knew where it was.
Emancipated since 1855 by Tsar Alexander II, who had given them free access to the university, Russian Jews aspired only to migrate to Europe and the United States. Pogroms, including the one in Odessa that lasted three days in 1871, did not convince them of the necessity to establish their own state. It was only after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 that the increased violence against them made some sensitive to the call of Leon Pinsker in his booklet Auto-Emancipation: An Appeal to his People by a Russian Jew published in 1882. As a precursor of Herzl, Pinsker called for “the national regeneration of the Jews,” “the creation of a Jewish nationality, of a people living upon its own soil, the auto- emancipation of the Jews; their return to the ranks of the nations by the acquisition of a Jewish homeland.”239 It was also in 1881, the year of Disraeli’s death, that Baron Edmond de Rothschild, from the Parisian branch, started to buy land in Palestine and funded the installation of Jewish settlers, especially in Tel Aviv. More than twelve thousand acres of land were bought, and more than forty colonies were founded under the aegis of his Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA). His son James later continued this philanthropic investment. Yesterday hailed as “the Father of the Yishuv,” Edmond is honored on Israeli currency today.
Furthermore, in his efforts to influence world affairs, proto-Zionist Disraeli did not yet have at his disposal a sufficiently tightly knit international network that would act in concert. The international Jewish organizations such as B’nai B’rith (Hebrew for “the sons of the Alliance”) founded in New York in 1843, or the Universal Israelite Alliance, founded in France in 1860 by Isaac Moses Aaron (also known as Adolphe) Crémieux, felt that Israel was doing very well as a diasporic nation. At this point they had no designs on Palestine.
It was the Austro-Hungarian Jew Theodor Herzl who is regarded as the historical founder of Zionism, not only by his book The Jewish State (1896), but also by his indefatigable public relations work, which helped win a large number of influential Jewish personalities to the Zionist cause. Far more than a manifesto, his book is a program, almost a manual. Like Disraeli, Herzl first turned to the Ottoman Empire for help: “If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”240 Herzl approached Sultan Abdul Hamid with this offer through emissaries (as reported in his journal, June 9, 1896): “Let the Sultan give us that piece of land, and in return we shall set his house in order, straighten out his finances, and influence public opinion all over the world in his favor.” In other words, he promised to devote to the service of Ottoman Turkey thetwo Jewish weapons par excellence: the bank and the press. The Sultan categorically and repeatedly rejected all offers, saying, as reported in Herzl’s journal, June 19: “I cannot sell even a foot of land, for it does not belong to me, but to my people. […] Let the Jews save their billions. […] When my Empire is partitioned, they may get Palestine for nothing. But only our corpse will be divided. I will not agree to vivisection.” As he had already done at the Berlin Congress, the Sultan opposed any Jewish mass immigration to Palestine. Four years later, after many more attempts, Herzl concluded (June 4, 1900): “At present I can see only one more plan: See to it that Turkey’s difficulties increase; wage a personal campaign against the Sultan, possibly seek contact with the exiled princes and the Young Turks; and, at the same time, by intensifying Jewish Socialist activities stir up the desire among the European governments to exert pressure on Turkey to take in the Jews.”241 Yet Herzl still managed to obtain a personal audience with the Sultan in May 1901.
Although nothing emerged from this interview, Herzl used the diplomatic coup as a stepping stone for his negotiations in Europe. Pulling out all the stops, he went to St. Petersburg in 1903 (soon after the first pogrom of Kishinev) and was received by the finance and interior ministers, to whom he hawked Zionism as a solution to the problem of revolutionary subversion. Undoubtedly armed with the same argument, Herzl met Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898, presenting Zionism as a means of diverting the Jews from communism. However, Herzl already understood that “The center of gravity has shifted to England,” as he noted during a trip to England in November 1895.242 In the second sentence quoted above from The Jewish State, Herzl implicitly referred to Russia’s containment policy when he presented his future Jewish state in Palestine as “an element of the wall against Asia.” It was a call directed at England. Like Disraeli, Herzl sold his project to the British as an integral part of their colonial-imperial policy. That is why in 1903, having established close contact with Joseph Chamberlain, secretary of state for the colonies, Herzl received from the British government an offer to facilitate a large Jewish settlement, with autonomous government, in present-day Uganda. The offer was presented to the sixth Zionist Congress in Basel in 1903, and rejected at the seventh congress in 1906. (Herzl died between the two).
A quarter century after Disraeli had saved the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan’s opposition stymied all hope of acquiring Palestine; it was thus necessary that the Ottoman Empire disappear and the cards be redistributed. Herzl understood that “the division of Turkey means a world war.”243 His partner Max Nordau, a speaker with incomparable prophetic talent, made before the 1903 Zionist Congress a famous prophecy of the upcoming war whence “a free and Jewish Palestine” would emerge. (In the 1911 congress, he would make another prophecy: that the European governments were preparing the “complete annihilation for six million [Jewish] people.”244) Writing in 1938, Jewish historian Benzion Netanyahu (father of the later prime minister) summarized the feverish anticipation of this great cataclysm in the Zionist community. As is always the case in Jewish historiography, all eyes were fixed on the fate of the chosen people with complete indifference to the collateral victims: “The great moment came, as he prophesied, bound together with the storm of a world war, and bearing in its wings an exterminating attack on world Jewry, which began with the massacre of the Jews of Ukraine (during the Russian Civil War) and continues to spread to the present day. Herzl’s political activity resulted in the fact that the Jews, whom he had united in a political organization, were recognized as a political entity, and that their aspirations […] became part of the international political system. Indeed, due to the war, those aspirations had become so important that the major powers turned to the Zionists.”245 Shortly before the outbreak of the World War, in 1908, the sultanate itself would be destroyed from within by the secular revolution of the Young Turks, a movement described byT. E. Lawrence as “50% crypto-Jewish and 95% freemasonic,” and, according to Rabbi Joachim Prinz, led by “ardent ‘doennmehs’,” that is, crypto-Jews who, though nominally Muslims, “had as their real prophet Shabtai Zvi, the Messiah of Smyrna” (The Secret Jews, 1973).246 After having attracted Armenians to their revolution with the promise of political autonomy, the Young Turks, once in power, suppressed their nationalist aspirations by the extermination in 1915–16 of 1,200,000 of this ancient and vibrant people whom rabbinic tradition assimilated to the Amalekites of the Bible.247 There is no consensus on the main causes of the Great War, which killed eight million soldiers and left twenty million disabled, while killing and wounding even larger numbers of civilians. The decision of Kaiser Wilhelm II to build a military fleet capable of defying British naval supremacy is often cited as the major factor. However, as historian Patrick Buchanan has clearly shown, this decision was merely the result of a deterioration in the relationship between England and Germany, a diplomatic breakdown for which England was primarily responsible. The German Kaiser, the grandson of Queen Victoria and therefore the nephew of King Edward VII, was deeply attached to this relationship, and his foreign policy was animated by a vision that he summed up at the funeral of his grandmother in 1901: “I believe that the two Teutonic nations will, bit by bit, learn to know each other better, and that they will stand together to help in keeping the peace of the world. We ought to form an Anglo-Germanic alliance, you to keep the seas, while we would be responsible for the land; with such an alliance not a mouse could stir in Europe without our permission.” The Kaiser was particularly anxious not to impinge on England’s colonial ambitions. But he was repeatedly humiliated by his uncle and the British government, who never understood the interest of a strong and friendly Germany. From this point of view, the deep causes of the First World War were intimately linked with the cultural and political developments in England that we have just described: Puritan Judeomania on the one hand, and imperial hubris on the other. The first undoubtedly caused the British elite to lose any sense of ethnic and civilizational solidarity with the Germanic nation, while the latter made it blind to the interest of maintaining a balance with Germany.
Since history is written by the victors, the vanquished are always wrong, and blamed for starting the war. However, a growing number of revisionist historians believe that Great Britain carried the heaviest responsibility for triggering this mechanized butchery.248 The British press played its part with anti-German propaganda, no newspaper more so than the Times, the most influential press organ with the ruling class, which made its owner Lord Northcliffe, according to some, the most powerful man of his time. Under pressure from him, a Ministry of Ammunition was created in 1915 and entrusted to David Lloyd George, the same Lloyd George who became prime minister in 1917 and named Northcliffe director of propaganda. Lloyd George and Northcliffe were both members of the Rhodes-Milner Group vaunting the grandiose vision of British “race” and empire. Lord Balfour was also the nephew of Lord Salisbury, from whom he inherited the post of prime minister in 1902.249 In the United States, the same anti-German propaganda was relayed by The New York Times, as this article by Rudyard Kipling, published on May 14, 1916, illustrates: “One thing that we must get into our thick heads is that wherever the German—man or woman—gets a suitable culture to thrive in he or she means death and loss to civilized people, precisely as germs of any disease suffered to multiply mean death or loss to mankind. [. . .] As far as we are concerned the German is typhoid or plague—Pestis Teutonicus,if you like.”250The Balfour-Rothschild DeclarationThe Zionists were divided, according to their country of residence, on which side to support during the war. The most active current was led by Chaim Weizmann, Jew of Belarusian origin who became a British citizen in 1910, and who envisioned a British victory. Weizmann was elected president of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain in 1917, then president of the World Zionist Organization (founded by Herzl) in 1920, ending his career as Israel’s first president from 1948 until his death in 1952. During the war Weizmann was a chemist known for his contribution to the war effort, and simultaneously the most influential Zionist lobbyist, with direct access to Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1916 to 1922) and his foreign minister Arthur Balfour, who had already received him in 1906.
On the same side were the Jews of the new Yishuv (the community of Jewish settlers since 1882), who organized resistance against the Ottoman Empire. In 1917, Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, a Jew from Odessa, succeeded in convincing the British to form three Jewish battalions to fight the Turks in the Jordan Valley. This “Jewish Legion” was officially dissolved in 1919, but in reality was recycled in the underground Haganah (Tzva Haganah le-Yisra’el, or “Defense Forces of Israel”), which in 1948 formed the embryo of the regular Israeli army.
In October 1916, England was on the brink of defeat. The submarines invented by the Germans had given them a decisive advantage, wreaking considerable havoc on the supplies of the Allies. Germany proposed a just peace, based on a return to pre-war conditions without compensation or redress. It was then that anti-Zionist Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was dismissed from power following a press campaign and replaced by David Lloyd George, who appointed Arthur Balfour as foreign minister. Lloyd George and Balfour were Christians influenced by dispensationalism in favor of Zionism.
Arthur Balfour signed a letter dated November 2, 1917, addressed to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, president of the Zionist Federation (and grandson of Baron Lionel de Rothschild, financier of the Suez Canal under the influence of Disraeli) stating that his government would “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.” The letter went on to say that it is “clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Note that the “political rights” of Palestinian Arabs (who comprised 92 percent of the population) were not taken into consideration, unlike those of Jews all over the world. Six weeks after the Balfour Declaration, the newspapers reported the triumphal entry of General Edmund Allenby into Jerusalem; the credit for the conquest was almost wholly due to the assistance of the Arabs, over a hundred thousand strong, to whom the promise of autonomy had been made by England in 1915.
It is now known that this “Balfour Declaration,” the first official decree offered to Zionism, was the result of long negotiations. The first version proposed that “Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people.” The final version was deliberately ambiguous, which allowed Lloyd George to claim in 1938 that “National Home” simply meant “some form of British, American or other protectorate to give Jews a real center of national culture.” According to a report of the Palestine Royal Commission of 1937, Lloyd George explained the deal in those terms: “Zionist leaders gave us a definite promise that, if the Allies committed themselves to giving facilities for the establishment of a national home for the Jews inPalestine, they would do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world to the Allied cause. They kept their word.”251 Churchill himself declared during the House of Commons debate on the Palestine Mandate, on July 4, 1922: “Pledges and promises were made during the War, and they were made not only on the merits, though I think the merits are considerable. They were made because it was considered they would be of value to us in our struggle to win the War. It was considered that the support which the Jews could give us all over the world, and particularly in the United States, and also in Russia, would be a definite palpable advantage.” When on March 12, 1937, Churchill was called before the Palestine Royal Commission, he repeated the argument: “I insist upon loyalty and upon the good faith of England to the Jews, to which I attach the most enormous importance, because we gained great advantages in the War. We did not adopt Zionism entirely out of altruistic love of starting a Zionist colony: It was a matter of great importance to this country. It was a potent factor on public opinion in America and we are bound by honour…”252 The United States had proclaimed its neutrality in August 1914, the day of Great Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on the slogan “He saved us from the war” and the promise to continue in that direction. On April 2, 1917, he declared to Congress that the United States was in a state of war and announced that the objective of the war was “to establish a new international order.” Why did Wilson reverse course and renege on his promises? At the approach of the war, a little more than thirty years after Disraeli’s death, an extremely efficient Zionist network had been set up across the two sides of the Atlantic. Nahum Sokolow, a stakeholder in these deep politics, testifies to this in his History of Zionism: “Between London, New York, and Washington there was constant communication, either by telegraph, or by personal visit, and as a result there was perfect unity among the Zionists of both hemispheres.” Among the architects of the secret diplomacy leading to the Balfour Declaration, Nahum Sokolow praises very specifically “the beneficent personal influence of the Honorable Louis D. Brandeis, Judge of the Supreme Court.”253 Louis Brandeis (1856–1941), descended from a Frankist family (adepts of kabbalist Jacob Frank), had been appointed to the highest level of the judiciary in 1916 by President Wilson, at the demand of Wall Street lawyer Samuel Untermeyer who, as rumor has it, blackmailed Wilson with letters to his mistress Mrs. Mary Allen Peck.254 Untermeyer would become president of the Keren Hayesod (Hebrew for “The Foundation Fund”), a fundraising organization established at the London World Zionist Conference in 1920, to provide resources for the Zionist movement. Brandeis was, with Untermeyer, one of the most powerful Zionist schemers, exercising an unparalleled influence on the White House. Brandeis established a formidable tandem with his protégé Felix Frankfurter, who would be his successor in exerting influence on Roosevelt. “Working together over a period of 25 years, they placed a network of disciples in positions of influence, and labored diligently for the enactment of their desired programs,” writes Bruce Allen Murphy in The Brandeis/Frankfurter Connection.255 Brandeis and Frankfurter belonged to a secret society dedicated to the Zionist cause and named the Parushim (Hebrew for “Pharisees” or “Separated”). Sarah Schmidt, professor of Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, described the society as “a secret underground guerilla force determined to influence the course of events in a quiet, anonymous way.” At the initiation ceremony, each new member received for instructions: “Until our purpose shall be accomplished, you will be fellow of a brotherhood whose bond you will regard as greater than any other in your life—dearer than that of family, of school, of nation. By entering this brotherhood, you become a self-dedicated soldier in the army of Zion.” The insiderresponded by vowing: “Before this council, in the name of all that I hold dear and holy, I hereby vow myself, my life, my fortune, and my honor to the restoration of the Jewish nation. […] I pledge myself utterly to guard and to obey and to keep secret the laws and the labor of the fellowship, its existence and its aims. Amen.”256 The influence of Judge Brandeis on Wilson was only one element of a complex system of influence. One of its transmission belts was the closest advisor to the President, Edward Mandell House, known as Colonel House even though he never served in the army. According to his biographer, House said of Brandeis: “His mind and mine agree on most of the questions.” Wilson declared: “Mr. House is my second personality. He is my self. His thoughts and mine are one.” Colonel House’s second name was taken from a Jewish merchant from Houston, one of the most intimate friends of his father, who was of Dutch descent and changed his name from Huis to House upon emigrating to the United States. His brother-in-law, Dr. Sidney Mezes, was Jewish. House perhaps belonged to those descendants of the Marranos who maintained a secret attachment to Judaism.
Be that as it may, House’s role in favor of the hidden powers was decisive on more than one occasion, including the ratification of the Federal Reserve Act (discreetly passed by Congress on December 23, 1913), which placed the American currency under the control of a bankers’ cartel: “The Schiff, Warburg, Kahn, Rockefeller and Morgan families placed their trust in House. When the Federal Reserve legislation finally took definitive form, House was the intermediary between the White House and the financiers.” House published an anonymous novel in 1912 entitled Philip Dru: Administrator, whose hero Selwyn is the avatar of the author (he resides at Mandell House). He is assisted by a “high priest of finance” named John Thor, whose “influence in all commercial America was absolute.” Thor reads backwards Roth (which makes one think of the Rothschilds), but the banker who in reality weighed most on the presidency of Wilson, in concert with House, was Bernard Baruch, who was appointed in 1916 to the head of the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, then chairman of the War Industries Board, and was the key man in the American mobilization for war. He did not exaggerate when he declared before a select congressional committee, “I probably had more power than perhaps any other man did in the war.”257 It is easy to imagine how President Wilson, an idealistic and naive scholar, was manipulated to drag America into war. But the hidden counselors’ grip on the president is only one aspect of the power that Zionism began to acquire over American foreign and military policy. Another important aspect is the manipulation of public opinion. It should be emphasized that while the overwhelming majority of Americans were opposed to entry into the war until 1917, American Jews who had been integrated for several generations were no exception. Among them, Zionism had only very limited and discreet support. They believed that Israel was doing very well in the form of a nation scattered throughout the world; they feared that the creation of a Jewish state would attract a suspicion of “double loyalty” to their community; and they had no desire to emigrate to Palestine. Reform Judaism, the most visible current in the United States, had not officially denied its status as a religion or affirmed any nationalist aspiration. Chaim Weizmann explains in his autobiography that in order to obtain financial contributions from certain wealthy Jews, it was necessary to deceive them by evoking a “Jewish cultural home” (a university) in Palestine rather than a state: “To them the university-to-be in Jerusalem was philanthropy, which did not compromise them; to us it was nationalist renaissance. They would give—with disclaimers; we would accept—with reservations.”258 Moreover, the majority of American Jews from the old German and Dutch immigrants were rather favorable to Germany in the Europeanconflict.
The entry of the United States into the war was the result of a series of coordinated actions behind the scenes by a highly structured and powerful transatlantic network, including a core of bankers (some linked to the Rothschilds) and some influential newspaper directors, with those of The New York Times and The Washington Post playing major roles. One key player was Walter Lippmann, one of the most influential American journalists until after the Second World War. Lippmann was one of the craftsmen of the Committee on Public Information, the government agency charged in April 1917 with responsibility for war propaganda. Another leading thinker of the committee was Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew (both by his father and mother), considered the first propaganda theorist with his book Propaganda (1928), which begins as follows: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. […] Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.” Militant Zionism was widespread among the recent Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe: between 1881 and 1920, nearly three million of them entered the United States legally (one million between 1897 and 1915). Established mainly in the large cities of the East, mostly poor but resourceful, they formed, from the beginning of the First World War, the majority of American Jews. Their influence on American society was still weak but would grow rapidly, thanks to their strong investment in the press and later in the cinema. At the beginning of the century, they had a hundred publications in English, Yiddish, and other languages. The Zionists could count on a large part of this press to mobilize the Jewish population in favor of war.
The Treaty of Versailles
After the defeat of Germany, the great powers met in Paris for the peace conference that began in January 1919 and closed in August 1920. The Treaty of Versailles, under the headline of “Minority Treaties,” placed Palestine under the provisional authority of the British, whose “mandate” included the terms of the Balfour Declaration, namely the creation of a “Jewish national home.” Making clear to the world that this was only the first stone of a much more ambitious edifice, Chaim Weizmann declared before the conference: “The Bible is our mandate.” Emile Joseph Dillon, author of The Inside Story of the Peace Conference (1920) wrote: “Of all the collectivities whose interests were furthered at the Conference, the Jews had perhaps the most resourceful and certainly the most influential exponents. There were Jews from Palestine, from Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, Rumania, Greece, Britain, Holland, and Belgium; but the largest and most brilliant contingent was sent by the United States.”259 Among the many Jewish advisers representing the United States was Bernard Baruch, a member of the Supreme Economic Council. Another was Lucien Wolf, of whom Israel Zangwill wrote: “The Minority Treaties were the touchstone of the League of Nations, that essentially Jewish aspiration. And the man behind the Minority Treaties was Lucien Wolf.”260 The British government appointed Herbert Samuel, a Jew, as high commissioner for Palestine. The British mandate over Palestine was rightly perceived as a betrayal by the Arabs, who had revolted against the Turks in 1916 at the instigation of the British, weighing decisively on the outcome of the war. After holding a General National Syrian Congress in Damascus on July 2, 1919, they voted in favor of a United Syria with a constitutional monarchy that would include the territories currently occupied by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. But when the decisions of the conference concerning the partition of the lands of the Ottoman Empire weremade public, Syria was divided into three spheres of influence, while the future of Palestine remained suspended, vulnerable to Zionist ambitions. In his classic book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence, the famous British officer who had organized the Arab forces, acknowledged that the Arabs were betrayed, having revolted against the Turks based “on false hopes.” “If I had been an honorable adviser, I would have sent my men [Arabs] home and not let them risk their lives for such stuff.”261 President Wilson had been persuaded to lead his country into war by the prospect of establishing, atop the heaps of corpses, a new world order of lasting peace based on the general disarmament of nations. His dream was enshrined in the Covenant of the League of Nations, signed June 28, 1919, and placed in the preamble of the Treaty of Versailles. The charter emphasized the need for general disarmament and provided for its implementation by a Disarmament Council in article 8: “The members of the Society recognize that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the minimum compatible with national security and with the implementation of international obligations imposed by a joint action. The Council, taking into account the geographical situation and the special conditions of each State, shall prepare the plans for such reduction, in the light of the examination and decision of the various governments.” It was in this international perspective that “in order to make possible the preparation of a general limitation of armaments of all nations,” the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to rearm. The American Senate refused to ratify the US accession to the very League of Nations that had been Wilson’s fondest wish, and no country chose to set an example by reducing its armaments.
Another problem, highlighted by Niall Ferguson in The Pity of War, is that “the League of Nations was not simply to guarantee the territorial integrity of its member states but could accommodate future territorial adjustments ‘pursuant to the principle of self-determination.’” But the Treaty of Versailles had excluded from the Reich about twenty million Germans, who now found themselves Polish—not counting the Germans in Alsace-Lorraine and the Soviet Union.262 When, taking note of this double hypocrisy, Hitler withdrew from the Conference of Disarmament and the League of Nations in October 1933 and committed to the remilitarization of Germany, his action was approved by ninety-five percent of Germans in a plebiscite.
In 1914, Germany had the most flourishing culture in Europe and the most competitive industry in the world, qualitatively and quantitatively. The Treaty of Versailles imposed on it an astronomical debt of 132 billion gold marks, the catastrophic consequences of which were foreseeable. Renowned economist John Maynard Keynes warned against such an attempt at “reducing Germany to servitude for a generation”: “If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long that final civil war between the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsions of Revolution, before which the horrors of the late German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is victor, the civilization and the progress of our generation.”263 In the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire was the enemy of the British, Russia was allied with the United Kingdom and France through a complex set of alliances (the Triple Entente). But the Tsar had to face major revolutionary movements. In February 1917, he was forced to abdicate before the provisional government of Aleksandr Kerensky. Kerensky yielded to British intimidation and decided to keep Russia in the war, an unpopular decision that seriously weakened him. That is when, on April 16, 1917, to get Russia out of the war, the Germans sent back home thirty-two exiled Bolsheviks including Lenin, soon joined by two hundred Mensheviks, and financed their propaganda organ, Pravda, in exchange for theirpromise to withdraw from the war if they seized power. A year later, they signed with Leon Trotsky (Bronstein by his real name) the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ended the Eastern Front. Thus, while the English were bringing America into war by supporting a Jewish movement (Zionism), the Germans managed to get Russia out of the war by supporting another Jewish movement (Bolshevism). Robert Wilton, the Times correspondent in Russia until 1920, writes in The Last Days of the Romanovs: “The Germans knew what they were doing when they sent Lenin’s pack of Jews into Russia. They chose them as agents of destruction. Why? Because the Jews were not Russians and to them the destruction of Russia was all in the way of business, revolutionary or financial. The whole record of Bolshevism in Russia is indelibly impressed with the stamp of alien invasion.” The Bolshevik regime was predominantly Jewish from its inception. The Central Committee, which exercised supreme power, consisted of nine Jews and three Russians (Lenin was counted among the Russians, although his maternal grandfather, born Srul [Israel], was Jewish). Among the names of 556 high officials of the Bolshevik stateofficially published in 1918–1919, 458 were identifiable as Jews, according to Robert Wilton.264