Enter the parabalini, sometime stretcher-bearers, sometime assassins, who viciously flayed alive the brilliant Alexandrian mathematician and pagan philosopher Hypatia. Debate — philosophically and physiologically — makes us human, whereas dogma cauterizes our potential as a species.
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Through the sharing of new ideas the ancients identified the atom, measured the circumference of the earth, grasped the environmental benefits of vegetarianism. To be sure, Christians would not have a monopoly on orthodoxy, or indeed on suppression: The history of the ancient world typically makes for stomach-churning reading. Pagan philosophers too who flew in the face of religious consensus risked persecution; Socrates, we must not forget, was condemned to death on a religious charge.
But Christians did fetishize dogma. The doctrinal opinions of one of the most celebrated early church fathers, St. Actions were extreme because paganism was considered not just a psychological but a physical miasma.
Christianity appeared on a planet that had been, for at least 70, years, animist. Asking the women and men of antiquity whether they believed in spirits, nymphs, djinns would have been as odd as asking them whether they believed in the sea. But for Christians, the food that pagans produced, the bathwater they washed in, their very breaths were thought to be infected by demons. Pollution was said to make its way into the lungs of bystanders during animal sacrifice. And once Christianity became championed by Rome, one of the most militaristic civilizations the world has known, philosophical discussions on the nature of good and evil became martial instructions for purges and pugilism.
Still, contrary to Nixey, there was not utter but rather partial destruction of the classical world. The vigorous debates in Byzantine cultures about whether, for example, magical texts were demonic suggest that these works continued to have influence in Christian Europe. In Constantinople, the spiritual headquarters of Eastern Christendom, the seventh-century church was still frantically trying to ban the Bacchanalian festivities that legitimized cross-dressing, mask-wearing and Bacchic adulation.
I read this book while tracing the historical footprint of the Bacchic cult. It seems that off the page there was a little more continuity than Christian authorities would like to admit. But the spittle-flecked diatribes and enraging accounts of gruesome martyrdoms and persecution by pagans were what the church chose to preserve and promote. Christian dominance of academic institutions and archives until the late 19th century ensured a messianic slant for Western education despite the fact that many pagan intellectuals were disparaging about the boorish, ungrammatical nature of early Christian works like the Gospels.
As Nixey puts it, the triumph of Christianity heralded the subjugation of the other. And so she opens her book with a potent description of black-robed zealots from 16 centuries ago taking iron bars to the beautiful statue of Athena in the sanctuary of Palmyra, located in modern-day Syria.
Muller has correctly observed:. The [Christian] victims of the Roman Empire were a few thousand in number. Israel cannot number or name its million of martyrs. The papacy had reached the summit of its power; the Holy See sought, often successfully, to impose its will upon all monarchs and princes as well as their subjects. Innocent III, who wore the tiara from to , dominated Europe with an iron hand during his papacy.
For the triumph of the Church wreaked more hardship upon the Jews of Europe than upon any other groups. This Pope, with a host of papal legates and a legion of secular and monastic clergy at his command, was the creator of an ecclesiastical policy that more and more narrowed down the possibility for Jews to survive. As a consequence of that policy the Jews were degraded to the lowest class in society, debased to a pariah group within the Christian order. At the beginning of his reign Innocent, like his predecessors, while clearly not favoring the Jews, took them under his protection.
But even the opening phrases of the bull undermined the total effect and contrasted strongly with the phraseology of all his predecessors. The initial formula since Gregory the Great had been:. In his messages addressed to bishops and secular rulers, a stem policy toward the Jews emerged more and more clearly. Wrongly do those Christian rulers act who admit the Jews into their cities and villages and avail themselves of their usurious services to extract money from the Christian populace.
The Pope protested indignantly that church goods were pawned to Jews and that the Jews were permitted to employ Christian servants and workmen. The Crusade in southern France against the Albigensians, who rejected the papacy and the Catholic Church, also smote the Jewish communities. Legate Arnold, a Cistercian monk, wrote to Innocent,.
After the great slaughter the city was pillaged and burned, and divine vengeance raged within it in wondrous wise. Even orthodox Catholics had not been spared. Certainly Jews could expect little mercy in these circumstances.
Two hundred of them, their own chronicle relates, were killed; many were led into captivity. For three decades the holy war against the heretics raged. A ban was placed upon philosophical writings from Spain; among them were the works of Gabirol. Ancient canons of the Church that applied to the Jews, some of them dating back to the time of the Merovingians, were revived in at the Council of Avignon.
From Spain to England the Jews felt the heavy hand of the Pope. And worse was in the offing. Jews remembered only too well the Lateran Council of It had accused the Jews of co-operating with the heretical Albigensians and had revived the ancient anti-Jewish laws of the Early Christian Church, which had fallen into desuetude for seven centuries. These prohibitions extended even to midwives and nurses for the sick.
The fears of the Jews proved justified—the new Council went much farther than its predecessor. It forbade Jews to practice Christian occupations—thus forcing them into total isolation from Christian society. One canon prescribed that Jews,. In November, , a papal bull gave these decisions of the Council the force of canon law. England chose a badge depicting two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. In France , St.
Germany instituted the rotella, a patch of yellow cloth in the shape of a wheel or an O. In some places it was regarded as the privilege of the rabble to pelt the Jews with stones at Easter; in other places, representatives of the Jewish community were made to accept blows or slaps in public at this season. In Crete Jewish houses, too, had their special mark. Jewish communities were frequently expected to provide a man for the ugly task of public executioner; the Jewish cemetery often became the site of the gallows.
In September , after the German invasion of Poland , the Nazis decreed that Jewish stores should be branded with a distinctive mark. Soon after, the head of the Generalgouvernement, Hans Frank, ordered that the Jews themselves be marked: all Jews over the age of 12 were to don white armbands, at least four inches wide, inscribed with a blue Star of David. From then on the idea spread to all territory held by the Nazis though with varying success. Thanks to techniques brought from their homeland in the Orient, they had made important contributions to European agriculture in the cultivation of the vine and the olive, in methods of irrigation.
They had introduced Far Eastern spices and Chinese silks to Europe and had demonstrated new ways of bleaching and dyeing cloth. Their ships had imported sugar and rice, grain and fine woods. They had, as we have seen, enriched European culture by their own works and by their translations.
But all these contributions now counted for nothing. Christian society no longer had any place for them. No Jew could henceforth practice a Christian occupation. That meant the end of all previous ways by which Jews had earned their livelihood. A profound social upheaval began for Jewry. As occupation after occupation was closed to the Jews, as they were more and more excluded from Christian society, there remained to them only one activity, which Christianity theoretically despised, regarding it as wicked and sinful: the lending of money at interest.
The Council threatened every Christian who dared to lend money at interest with refusal of Christian burial. Irrespective of the interest rate, all such lending was condemned as ' usury'. Only non-Christians could skirt the consequences of this condemnation.
Henceforth Jews took over the functions of supplying credit, which even the most primitive society or economy requires. For the Jews, in their hopeless predicament, the lending of money offered a broad field of activity, although one that was new to them. European trade and a mercantile economy were expanding in the wake of the Crusades, and the Jews began to fulfil a function of tremendous importance for the time, and for the future.
Thus the Jews in late medieval Europe became the founders of the banking system. Nevertheless, even though they had thus shifted course, the same fate awaited them. After the Jews had transformed such dealings from the despised and disgraceful doings of the 'usurer' to a regular profession that filled an important role in the economy, and.