Resistance to Christianity

Chapter 2: Diaspora and Anti-Semitism

While the Hebrew word galout (exile) was used in a theological perspective and implied an eschatology of uprooting and return, the Greek term diaspora referred to an historical phenomenon: the dispersion of the Jews across the world.

In the beginning, the Jews of Judea and Samaria were chased from Palestine by a conspiracy of violence and political constraints. In 722 [B.C.E.], Israel, the Kingdom of the North, fell to the power of Babylon; in 586 [B.C.E.], the Kingdom of Judea succumbed in its turn.

A part of the population submitted to deportation, drawing from its unhappiness the hope of a return under the leadership of a hero chosen by God in order to help his people, sanctified by ordeals.

The realities of the situation, however, took the upper hand over the tortuous designs of providence. Many exiled Jews – little concerned with regaining their homeland because they held comfortable places, despite their transplantation – created communities, practiced their worship, instaurated a politics of mutual assistance amongst themselves, with the affluent supporting the poorest.

Thus the first Diaspora began as a movement of voluntary dispersion. It was accentuated after Alexander’s conquest, when Palestine – inserted into the Greek world – participated in its intense commercial activity. The Jews thus propagated themselves in regions that were subjected to Ptolemy and the Seleucids, of whom they were the subjects.

To the longstanding communities in Egypt and Babylon were added those of Syria, Asia Minor, and, soon after, the entire Greco-Roman Empire.

A second Diaspora extended from the Second Century before the Christian era [B.C.E.] to the beginning of 135 [C.E.], when Hadrian’s crushing of the revolt by Bar Kokhba marked the beginning of a third, dramatic exodus. The flame of persecution, revived by the return of Judaism in the Greco-Roman Christianity of the Second Century and the Catholicism of the Fourth Century, would consume the Jews all the way to the Twentieth Century.

In the course of the Second Century before the Christian era, the Asmonean dynasty built diplomatic relations with Rome, where Jewish communities were multiplying.

“One cannot easily find,” wrote Strabo, who lived from 58(?) to 25(?) B.C.E., “a spot on the inhabited world that hasn’t given asylum to this people and that isn’t mastered by them.” And Agrippa, in a letter to Caligula, wrote: “Jerusalem is the metropolis not only of the country of Judea, but of many others due to the colonies that it has sent out, according to the occasion, in neighboring countries, [including] Egypt, Phoenicia, many parts of Asia, as far away as Bithynia, equally in Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia and Macedonia.”[1]

As in the majority of the great towns of South Gaul, there were Jews in Lyon, where, mixed with Christians of the New Prophecy, they were the victims of the pogroms of 177.

The statuettes in baked earth that caricatured Jews with circumcised phalluses – which attest to the presence in Treves, around 275, of a quite ancient community – were intended to stir up anti-Semitism.

The Jewish settlements in the towns explains the urban character of Judeo-Christianity and the Hellenized and de-Judaicized Christianities that succeeded them. Thus the insulting qualification goyim, which designated non-Jews (non-believers), would appear among the anti-Semitic Christians of the Second Century (because of the towns’ scorn for the conservatism of the countryside) in their use of terms such as pagani, “peasants,” “hicks,” “bumpkins,” and, in French, pagans. (Without scruple, historians have adopted the scorn that monotheism nourished with respect to polytheism, by speaking of “pagans” and “paganism.”)

Among the population of the Roman Empire, Jews constituted 7 to 10 percent of the total, [which was] around six million people, a number that exceeded the number of inhabitants in Judea.

In the First Century of the Christian era, the Jewish colony in Rome numbered between 40,000 and 50,000 people; it possessed fifteen synagogues in which there often grew rival sects: Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Nazarenes, Ebionites, Naasenes, Sethians and converts to Judaism from all nationalities, a diversity in which the Zealot movement and its terroristic struggle against the Romans would introduce trouble.

For six centuries, the propagation of Judaism appeared to be a form of conquest. Unlike future epochs, which were headed for a decrease [in it], a very active proselytism multiplied the adepts among the dominant classes as well as in the disadvantaged milieus. Excited by monotheistic intransigence and incessant nationalistic and extremist revolts, the hostility of the State was accentuated under Tiberius and culminated in the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 and the annihilation of the Jewish nation in 135.

Nevertheless, four centuries later, the political principle of monotheism – “One God, One State, One Nation” – would seduce Roman power at the end of a long evolution that would see the Jews robbed of their sacred texts by the Greco-Roman Christianities, which were themselves for the most part excluded from the Roman and Byzantine Churches, whose reign began in Nicaea in 325 .

Jewish Proselytism and Anti-Semitism

The Bible of the Seventy, the Greek version of the sacred texts, formed the iron lance of Jewish proselytism in the Greco-Roman Empire. It responded to a will to open up to the world of the goyim; the Pharisees expressed it first, before pitting itself against the modernism of certain Judeo-Christian sects that, not content to reject the sacrifices and priests of the Temple (as Essenism did), put into question the meticulous rituals of Mosaic law, especially circumcision, which was a major obstacle to obtaining conversions.

Jewish orthodoxy wasn’t deceived; it held the Greek translation to be a betrayal of the spirit and the letter [of the law].

With the Bible of the Seventy, a civilization dominated by commercial capitalism seized hold of an agrarian civilization, which was walled up in its immobility and its mythic thought. Here began the plundering of the Jewish nation’s sacred writings. Did not the apologist Justin affirm around 160 that these texts had ceased to belong to the Jews because they no longer understood them? For the first time, Adonai became kyrios, the Savior; Joshua was transformed into Jesus; and messiah became christos, Christ.

To the extent that Hellenized Judaism distanced itself from the Judean tradition – a tendency that anti-Judean Essenism clearly prepared – the Pharisees, the only orthodox Jewish sect that survived the disaster of 70, fell back on the traditional Biblical corpus, the Talmud. Attacked from all sides, the Pharisee community took refuge in a defensive attitude; it surrounded itself with dogmatic ramparts, but not without opening on the cosmic visions of Gnosticism the great window of Kabala.

Hellenized Judaism easily took root in Samaria, where the old refusal of YHWH still smoldered. From the Kingdom of the North radiated the Baptist Dunstan/Dositheos, Nazarenism, Essenism, and the philosophy of Simon, the “father of all heresies.”

Alexandria, the incubator of scholars and curious spirits, possessed an important Jewish colony. Greek anti-Semitism occasionally released upon it ferocious pogroms. It was a crucible in which the most diverse opinions mixed and clashed. There gushed from Alexandria – alongside a powerful Hermetic current that cultivated the mysteries of Egypt – apologetic texts such as the Letter from Atisteas, the Fourth Book of the Maccabees, Flavius Joseph’s Against Apion, and the works of Philo (who lived around 20 [B.C.E.] to 50 [C.E.]), in which Judaic faith absorbed Greek wisdom and was absorbed by it.

Even if Philo kept to the heart of Jerusalem, a metropolis and spiritual homeland, his conception and language were Greek. A philosopher of the Diaspora, he threw the seeds of Judaism on foreign soils where the stones of anti-Semitism abounded and where anti-Judean Essenism had already been confused with Judeo-Christianity.

From the beginning of the First Century, the idea of a renewed Judaism that renewed Mosaic law coincided with the dynamism of a market in full expansion, where the commercialism [l’affairisme] of the Diaspora assisted and by turns competed with the places of Greek and Roman business.

“For a merchant,” Josy Eisenberg writes, “to be or become Jewish was the assurance of easily establishing business-relations in a number of countries, of benefiting from a warm welcome and great hospitality. For the poor, belonging to Judaism could represent the guarantee of assistance and regular aid [...]. In Alexandria, there were ship-owners and bankers who possessed great Jewish fortunes. But, to consider the entirety of the Empire, the majority of the Jewish population were people of small means. There were slaves among them. In Rome, neither the Trastevere neighborhood, nor those of the Porte Capere or Subure, could pass for distinguished. What one most often reproached the Jews for was not being sewn from gold, but, rather, being dressed in tatters and sordid.”[2]

Around the beginning of the Third Century, the historian Dion Cassius (155-235) asked himself about the phenomenon of Jewish expansion. “From whence comes this denomination? I do not know; yet among all men, even those issued from other peoples, there are those who follow the law of the Jews. This species even exists among the Romans. Many times repressed, they have always mended their forces and ended up conquering the right to freely practice their customs.” For Dion Cassius – and this is two hundred years after the supposed birth of Christianity – no notable difference existed between the Pharisees and the Marcionite Christians, the Christians of the New Prophecy, the Valentinian Christians, the Naassenes, the Sethians and Gnostics of all types.

The discredit that affected many of the ancient and modern forms of worship that were practiced in the Empire; the honors rendered to a God [and] to despots who offered the spectacle of their degeneration and flavored with bloody caprices their usual powerlessness to impose a coherent politics on the State; an insignificance that contrasted strongly with their protestations of austerity and patriotic grandeur – all [of this] incited nostalgia for a unity in which religious faith assisted the fervor of the citizenry, matched the charm of mystery with calculating reason, ordered a new marriage of the heavens and earth, and united audacious and mercantile modernity with the prudent virtues of agrarian conservatism.

Jewish monotheism exactly proposed the principle of a unity founded on a community practice dominated by solidarity. The businessmen as well as the poor classes of the towns discovered a communal interest. After having favored emigration from Palestine, the high birthrate – justified by the fact that not having children “diminishes the image of God” – worked in favor of the rapid demographic growth of the Jewish colonies, whose social and economic power grew.

“Even in the masses,” Flavius Joseph noted in the First Century, “there has long been a vivid desire for our religion, and there isn’t a single Greek or barbarian town into which has not penetrated the practice of the Seventh Day [the Sabbath], during which one rests and observes the practice of fasting and the usage of candles, and many of our alimentary prescriptions.”[3]

Nevertheless, it was on the reef of complex rituals that the proselytism of the Jews would run aground. Their intransigence proceeded from a conservatism that was irreconcilable with the Greco-Roman mentality. The history of Judeo-Christian and early Christian sects was articulated in accordance with the incessant revision of Jewish monotheism and Messianism, as dictated by the nostalgia for a nationalized God, strong from obedience from the nations.

Attractive due to its unitary doctrine, the Jewish religion was also irritating due to its intolerance and fanaticism. The destruction of the monuments of other cults in the name of YHWH’s disapproval of idolatry caused scandal and kindled the racial hatred of the pogroms.

From the First Century onwards, everywhere that Jewish communities settled, incidents and conflicts eventually (sooner than later) exploded.

In 19, Tiberius, who reigned from 14 to 38, took as pretext the troubles in Rome caused by “three extravagant devoted Jews and a great woman converted to Judaism” to prohibit the Judaic cult in Rome and the entirety of Italy. According to Mommsen, “those who did not consent to publicly repudiate their faith and throw their sacred vessels into the fire were chased from Italy, at least those whom one did not judge suitable for military service; these Jews were incorporated into the disciplined companies, but their religious scruples led a great number of them [to be brought] before the war counsels.”[4]

Rome, which had up to 19 observed with respect to Judaism the tolerance that it applied to other religions, suddenly used anti-Semitism as a distraction from the real or imaginary menace that the frequency of rebellions in Palestine represented in the Latium [central Italy]. No doubt the repression inaugurated by Tiberius was not unrelated to the decision of the evangelic novelists to situate the historical existence of Jesus under his reign.

When Gaius, Tiberius’ successor, stirred up the great pogrom in Alexandria in 38, Philo did not hesitate, in his In Flaccum, to castigate the passivity of Flaccus and Roman power, which had favored the Greek party, superior in numbers to the Jews.

In a letter dated 41, Emperor Claudius threatened the Jews of Alexandria with punishment if they did not renounce their subversive schemes. He accused them of “fomenting a communal nuisance to the entire universe.”

In 49, this same Claudius chased the Jews from Rome because they had provoked trouble there. In 64, taking the burning of Rome as a pretext, Nero organized a pogrom that official Catholic history would later present as the first persecution of the Christians.

Hatred for the Jews grew even more after the insurrection in Palestine, which, between 66 and 70, ended in the long guerrilla war of the Zealots. “In the neighboring Greek towns – Damascus, Caesarea, Ashkelon, Skytopolis, Nippos and Gadava – the Greeks massacred the Jews. In Damascus [alone], between 10,500 and 18,000 Jews were put to death.”[5]

Other pogroms took place in Alexandria, Antiochus and Pella. All of the persecutions of the First Century, which the Catholics recorded in their martyrology with a view towards substantiating their own long history, were in fact pogroms. The refusal to make “sacrifices to idols,” so frequently recalled in hagiographical legends, properly belonged to Jewish religious obstinacy. In 38, Philo of Alexandria interceded with the Emperor in favor of the Jews who refused to render homage to his statue. Up to the end of the Third Century, the catacombs served as the sepulcher and refuge for Jews and several (probably Naasean) Gnostics, whom the imperial power hunted down without making any distinctions.

The reproaches addressed to the Jews by Roman moralists most frequently emphasized their impiety, which was alleged due to the absence of priests, and their immorality, a traditional accusation with respect to mystical communities that were poorly known or had escaped from the control of the State. Celsus left no doubt in his True Discourse: “The people who have neither priests nor altars are identical to the atheists; living in closed communities, they have, one supposes, dissolute morals.” Celsus also referred to the “orgiastics,” persecuted in 42 [B.C.E.] by the Empire, in which they constituted secret groups and revived the traditions of the Dionysian cults. The same argument would later serve the Church many times in its condemnations of heretics.”[6]

Furthermore, the Zealots’ guerrilla war contributed to the popularization of the image of “the Jew with a knife between his teeth,” which the anti-Semitism of the Twentieth Century would regurgitate, unaware that it originated with the Pharisee Jew Flavius Joseph, friend of the Romans, for whom the Zealots were lestoi, bandits, hired killers or “knife-wielding killers.”

The stupidity of Greco-Roman anti-Semitism did not pale in comparison with the ignominy of its modern resurgence (this isn’t surprising). The poet Horace (65-8) was irritated by seeing his friend Fuscus convert to Judaism, observe the Sabbath and refuse to “laugh at circumcised Jews.”

Petronius (10-66) ridiculed the Jews by assuring his readers that they adored a Pig-God and gave thanks to the head of an ass.[7] If the idea of a Pig-God ironically mocks the prohibition on [eating] pork, the mention of a God with the head of an ass doesn’t lack interest: such a representation appeared on a number of Sethian magical amulets and confirms the presence in Rome – in the Jewish milieu of the 50s – of a group for which the Messiah was Seth, Son of Man, that is to say, the Son of Adam.[8]

For Pliny the Elder (28-79), “the Jews are a nation famous for their scorn for divinities,” and, according to Lysimachus of Alexandria, “Moses exhorted them to not be kind to anyone.” Martial (ca. 40 – ca. 104) had recourse to the leitmotif of fantastical frustration, which provided racism with the violence of relief: “You can not even avoid making love with circumcised Jews,” he said indignantly, conscious of the peril hanging over Roman virility.

Around 120, Tacitus denounced the decline of the Empire and the corruption of ancestral virtues in his frequent conversations about Judaism with the members of the Roman aristocracy, nay, the familiars of the imperial court. He indicated there was active commiseration for the Jews that contrasted with “the implacable hatred that they have for the rest of mankind.” He speaks of their “execrable superstition” and believes them “less guilty of having burned Rome than hating humanity.”

After the crushing of Bar Kokhba by Hadrian and the end of the Jewish nation, the anti-Judaism of the Judeo-Christians changed into anti-Semitism among the Hellenized Christians, as much under the influence of Marcion, the inventor of Saul/Paul, as under that of the Anti-Marcionites, such as Justin, who would attempt to approach Rome by alleging his hostility to all forms of Judaism.

“Judaism,” writes David Rokeah, “gives way to a replacement product that pursues the conquest of the pagan world. After the Second Century, the activity of the Christian ‘mission’ would intensify.”[9]

When Philostratus affirmed around 230 that “this people has for a long time been in revolt, not only against the Romans, but also against humanity in its entirety. The men who have imagined an unsociable life, which they do not share with their fellow creatures at the table, while making libations or offering sacrifices, are further from us than Susa or Bactra,”[10] his remarks could have been countersigned by those who would later accuse the Jews of deicide, namely, the fathers of ecclesiastic anti-Semitism: John Chrysostom, Jerome, Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo.[11]

Judaism maintained such a morbid propensity to hold itself responsible for the ordeals of a “just God” that it attracted, in the manner that the masochist solicits the sadist, the donkey’s kick that would be delivered to it, after the definitive loss of 135, by a movement that came from its own heart [Christianity] and that, over the centuries, would martyr the Jews in the name of the love of Christ and a good God. A double abuse of authority presided over the birth of Christianity: the plundering of the Jews’ sacred texts and the legend of a crucified Messiah whose blood would fall upon them. The bloody irony of what Deschner calls the “criminal history of Christianity” is that Catholicism only ratified the incessant rewriting of Jewish texts by the prophets, the Essenes, the Christian Jews and their midrashim, and the hatred of the Esseno-Baptists for Jerusalem, whose priests executed their Master of Justice.

[1] J. Eisenberg, Histoire du peuple juif, Paris, 1974, p. 174.

[2] Ibid., p. 163.

[3] Ibid., p. 165.

[4] Th. Mommsen, Histoire romaine, Paris, 1863-1872.

[5] K. Deschner, Kriminalgeschicte des Christentums, Hamburg, 1986. I, p. 125.

[6] M. Simon, Recherches d’histoire judéo-chretienne, Paris, 1962; ID., La Polémique antijuive in Mélanges Cumont.

[7] Petronius, Satyricon, fr. 371.

[8] Whittaker, Jews and Christians, Cambridge, 1984, p. 82.

[9] D. Rokeah, Jews, Pagans, and Christians in Conflict, Jerusalem-Leiden, 1982.

[10] J. Eisenberg, op. cit., p. 179.

[11] K. Deschner, op. cit., pp. 117 sq.

(Published by Editions Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2013. All footnotes by the author.)

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