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The Jews in Spain Under the Visigoths

(Concluded from p. 424.)

By Dr. Julius Fürst

Tulga (640-641), Chinthila’s son, made no alterations, because he could sustain himself but one year on the throne in the war which he had to wage against his opponent, Chindeswinth, who became his successor.

Chindeswinth (641-650). Under this king, who resisted both the nobles and clergy, the Jews had rest, because he had to direct his se­verity against more important enemies than the Jews were, that is to say, against the clergy, who formerly governed the ostensible occupants of the throne. The synod, therefore, held at Toledo in 646, had other contests to settle.

Reckeswinth (650-672), the son of the preceding, and who was co-regent as early as 649, was nominated by his father himself to be his successor. The Jews had now again to suffer from the power of the clergy. So long as the old Chindeswinth lived, and before the clergy regained their power, at the eighth synod at Toledo (653), they were not thought of to the same degree as formerly, although a canon law was passed at that time* that each newly-elected king should swear that he would protect the Church against the perfidy of the Jews. Nevertheless the severe resolves of the Council of Toledo, under Sisebut, were confirmed.† The oppression must have been fearful at a later period, and even the baptized Jews seem to have endured a hard fate; since among the documents of the eighth synod, there is a petition of the baptized Jews to King Reckeswinth,‡ in which they solemnly pro­mise to be in future Christians in earnest, to renounce Jewish customs and institutions, and they bind themselves to stone or burn every one of their number who should again relapse into Judaism. It must have been a terrible persecution which could have called forth this cry of anguish.

* Canon x., ibid. p. 1219. † Canon xii., ibid.  ‡ Ib. p. 1229.

Wamba (672-680). This king reorganized the Spanish Church,  repressed the undue power of the clergy, and Jews had rest. His eight-years’ reign was devoted to active measures of another kind, and under him the bloody laws of the councils fell into oblivion.

Erwig (680-087). This king, who became Wamba’s successor through an act of treachery, called together a general synod as early <<509>>as 681, at which all the bloody decrees of the councils, which had ever been hitherto passed against the Jews, were again placed in full force.* Under the government of this king, the highest dignity in the Church was possessed by Julian, Archbishop of Toledo, through whose instrumentality Erwig (Erviga) was made king, and he was at the same time the most important man of his age in Spain. Julian was the son of parents who had been compelled to embrace Christianity, as is proved by Isidore, of Badajoz (Colonia Pacensis), in the middle of the eighth century. He was also an author of ecclesiastical works. This Julian, the soul of the government of Erwig, a descendant from Jews as he was, was compelled, probably against his will, to compose a work against the Jews. Notwithstanding the forcible conversions, the Jews had the courage to make objections against the Messiahship of Jesus. They offered many reasons why Jesus could not have been the Messiah, and among these was also one which maintained that according to Scripture the Messiah should not come before the sixth millennium; and as it was then only from 4440 to ’47, they argued that Jesus could not be the Messiah. The Jewish reasons must at that time have appeared quite cogent, since, according to Julian’s work, many believing Christians had been induced thereby to renounce their faith. The king, Erwig, summoned his favourite, the archbishop Julian, to refute the points insisted on by the Jews, which he also did in a work called, “Proof of the sixth era of the world, and of the advent of Christ, against the Jews.”†

* Ib. p. 1051.

† This work bears the title: Demonstratio sextae aetatis, sivo de Christi adventu adversus Judaeos, libri tres, and is printed in the Patres Toletani ii. p. 92, et seq.

In the first book he proves that this mode of computation was first carried into the Scriptures by the Rabbins, and then follow the usual Christian arguments. In the second book the proofs from the New Testament are drawn forth. In the third book Julian labours hard to become in contradiction with himself, in attempting to prove that Christ should actually have been born in the sixth millennium. In this book he maintains, that the Jews had falsified the Hebrew text of the Bible, that the Septuagint alone could be relied on as the true source of biblical chronology, whence then he laboriously educes the six eras, and asserts that Jesus was born about the year 5200 after the creation of the world. By degrees Julian became a persecutor of the Jews.‡

‡ Nothing very wonderful this, as it is the usual course of apostates. It is certainly curious that the old refuted proofs against Judaism are constantly revived. The world will not be taught the truth.—Ed. Oc.

(687-701). This king was originally not inimical to the Jews; and he had likewise to contend against a conspiracy of the clergy, immediately after Julian’s death (690). At the sixteenth general synod, held in 693, the first canon passed* ordains that Jews who join the church shall enjoy exemption from taxation, and shall be participants in the rights of the nobility. This at least lets us conclude that a milder sentiment was prevalent. But the Jews had been so much subjected to cruelty and maltreatment for a period of more than a hundred wars, that a passing ray of kindness was not able to reconcile them. The Jews at last came to the resolution, encouraged by the frequent insurrections which had taken place in latter years, to shake off the yoke of the Visigothic tyrants with weapons in their hands; and they therefore entered into a correspondence with the Arabs in Africa, who were to cross over the straits of Gibraltar and lend them a helping hand. Although the plan was shrouded in the deepest mystery, the king was nevertheless notified of it before its execution could be accomplished, and he summoned a general diet hastily in November, 694. Excited as he was to anger, the most terrible resolves were determined on. All the adults were to be made slaves, to he deprived of their property, and distributed among the Christian population, that in future all opposition should be impossible. All children over seven years old were to be snatched from their Jewish parents and transferred to Christians for their education. As soon as they were fit to be married, then should Jewish youth be married to Christian girls, and in the reverse, also, Jewish girls should be given to Christian young men in marriage, in order that the Jews might cease to be.† Fortunately this bloody law was not literally enforced; and the irruption of the Arabs was frustrated by Theodemir, the captain of the. Gothic fleet, through the discovery of the Jewish conspiracy.

* Manso. xii. 69. † Ibid. xii. 101 et seq.

Wittiza (701-710). The son of Egiza, already co-regent in 698, was compelled to contend already in the beginning of his reign against the conspiracy of both clergy and nobles, which induced him to humble them in the most signal manner. He had at first no time to devote to the Jews, and then he employed them as his confederates against the clergy. At the eighteenth synod of Toledo, he carried a decree through that all the laws promulgated against the Jews should be repealed, and that those who had already emigrated should be permitted to return to Spain. In the year 710, Wittiza was driven from the throne by Roderic, and he died.

Roderic (710-711) who was now king, had to maintain a fear<<511>>ful war with Eba and Sisebut, the sons of Wittiza. The civil war raged violently, and Count Julian, an adherent of Wittiza’s sons, entered into negotiations with the Saracens, against Roderic. Taric, who was at that time the bravest general of the African governor Musa, under the Calif Walid I., landed and pitched his camp on a high rock on the European side of the straits; this elevation has been called Gebl el Tarik (Gibraltar), and Jews in masses hastened to his standard. Near Xerez de la Frontera, and not far from Cadiz, a derisive battle was fought on the 19th of July, 711, which lasted till the 27th. The king, and the flower of the Gothic nobility and people were left dead on the field, and the Visigothic kingdom was at an end.

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Fortunately the bloody laws of the councils and the kings were not always put into execution. The counts and dukes who were to see them carried into effect, were often content to let the Jews escape with a mere heavy fine and forced contribution, through which they were often enabled to maintain undiminished their power of resistance. In the same spirit we are told by Luke, Bishop of Tay (in the thirteenth century), in his chronicle, which is derived from old sources,* that Hilderic, Count of Nismes, who was a rebel against Wamba, had favoured the Jews in opposition to the laws of the kingdom.

* A. Schott, Hispania Illustrata, vol. iv. 59, near the end.