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An Inquiry Into the First Settlement of Jews in England

By the Rev. Abraham De Sola

(Continued from page 211.)

7. So much as regards the genuineness of this law. The fact of their being thus early established in England, as we have before said, is not at all affected by the above inquiry, be it determined which way it may, since, we have historical testimony to their being settles in that country more than two centuries before Edward the Confessor, and nearly two centuries and a half before the Conquest. This we learn from Ingulphus, in his History of Croyland Abbey, where he informs us that Whitgaff, King of the Mercians, fleeing from Egbert, sought and found protection and assistance in this Abbey, and in token of his gratitude, granted to its inmates a charter, which contained the following clause:*  
“I also confirm to the said monastery, all land, tenements, possessions, valuables, and all other gifts, which my predecessors, the Kings of Mercia, as also their nobles, or other faithful Christians, or Jews, may have given to the said monastery.” Charter granted by Whitglaff to Croyland Abbey, 833.

* “Confirmo etiam dicto monasterio, omnes terras at tenementa, possessiones, et earum peculia et omnia alia donaria, quae praedecessores mei reges Merciorum, et eorum proceres, vel alii fideles Christiani, vel Judaei dictis monachis dederunt, vendiderunt, vel invadiaverunt aut aliquo alio modo, in perpetuam possessionem tra diderunt.”

Although this charter gives us no information as to the numbers, wealth, rights, or disabilities of the Jews resident at this time in England; although we <<295>>cannot learn from it, whether the gifts presented by them to the monks of Croyland, were gifts of lands, as Tovey and Jost think,* or whether they consisted of other things, (peculia et alia donaria?) as Blunt justly hints they were most likely to have been, this much, at all events, it shows us, that there must have been Jews settled in England some considerable time before the year 833, when this charter was granted. And that it was more than a century before, we have from the Canonical Exceptions of Echright, Archbishop of York, published in the year 750, which declare that Christians shall not Judaize, or be present at Jewish festivals and that they shall not presume to eat with a Jew.†  
Canonical Exceptions of Echbright, 750.

* Jost says, “Already, in the reign of King Louis the Pious, the Jews of England presented some lands to the monks of Croyland, which gift was confirmed by Whitglaff, King of Mercia.” Perhaps this present was made by Jews who returned to France, (whence he thinks the early Jews of England came,) and could no longer make use of the lands, or that they did so, in expectation of receiving recommendatory letters from the monks, the greatest part of whom were French.<

† An ordinance of rather extraordinary purport to us of the present day, especially when there exists no such great distaste for Jewish fare.

8. Hence we learn that the Jews had already formed a community in England in the middle of the eighth century, and we may consequently infer, that they were settled there at least, half a century before; especially, as this ordinance, showing, as it evidently does, that they had already excited the uneasiness of British ecclesiastics, would warrant us in assuming that they were both numerous and powerful. But be this as it may, in the mention made of them by this charter, we have the earliest notice taken of them in English annals, and indeed in any English author previous to the year 750, so that here ceases all the information to be derived from these sources. It is true, that one English writer hints at the possibility of the Jews having found their way into England while that country was a dependency of Rome; but he does not proceed to adduce those proofs in support of his opinion which we think exist in sufficient abundance, and which we shall presently cite. But first, let us make the reader acquainted with the circumstance which led to the adoption of this opinion, to do which, we shall quote from a letter contained in the first <<296>>volume of Leland’s “Collectanea.”*—In speaking upon the antiquities of London, the writer† says: “And now, I shall take notice of a very great curiosity found in Mark Land, more properly Mart Lane, it being a place where the Romans, and not improbably, the ancient Britons, used to barter their commodities, as tin, lead, &c., with other nations, it may be with the Greeks, who often came into this island to purchase the like goods. Whence I am apt to conjecture that the name of the lane hath been continued ever since the time of the Romans, and that the names of some other lands and streets, as Cornhill, Grace (church) Street, the Querne, Wetting Street, and perhaps, Old Fish Street, are of equal antiquity, and were so called from the same kind of accidents.  

* Ed. 1774; Lond. cum. Thom. Mearnii Praefatione, notis, etc.
† Mr. John Bagsford.

“The curiosity I am speaking of is a brick, found about forty years since, twenty-eight feet deep below the pavement, by Mr. Stockley, as he was digging the foundation of an house that he built for Mr. Walley. Near to this place, were dug up many quarters of wheat, burnt very black, but yet sound; which were conjectured to have lain buried ever since the burning of this city, about 800 years before. This brick is of a Roman make, and was a key brick to the arch where the corn was found. It is made of a curious red clay, and in bas-relief; on the front hath the figure of Samson putting fire to the foxes’ tails, and driving them into a field of corn. It seems to be the same story that is mentioned in Scripture, of (Samson) destroying the Philistines’ corn, whence came the fable of Hercules to be the guardian of the corn stores, or granaries, as they had their peculiar deities for all domestic affairs in, or near, their houses and camps, as Priapus was the protector of their gardens, &c., not to mention many other household gods of several names and uses. This brick is at this time (the latter end of the eighteenth century) preserved in the [British] Museum, belonging to the Royal Society, in Fleet Street, from whence I have caused an accurate draft‡ of it to be sent you, at the same time not forgetting to ac<<297>>quaint you, that the late ingenious Richard Waller, Esq., (whose death is much lamented by the virtuosos of this place) communicated to me the following account of the measure of it, as exactly taken, viz.: Roman brick found in Mark Land.

On the picture, or largest face, 4 inches broad, 5.1 long
On the other, or reverse side, 3.7 inches broad, 5.1 long
Its thickness is 2.4

‡ A copy thereof may be found in Leland’s Collectanea, in the edition before quoted.

“At the same time, Mr. Waller observed to me in his letter, that the proportions of the bas-relief are so very find, that it is plain from thence, that it cannot be a work of the bas-entire; ‘but then,’ says he, ‘how the story of Samson should be known to the Romans, much less to the Britons, so early after the time of the propagation of the gospel,* seems to be a great doubt, except it should be said, that some Jews, after the final destruction of Jerusalem, should wander into Britain, and London being, even in Caesar's time, a port or trading city, they might settle here, and in the arch of their own granary, record the famous story of their delivery from captivity under the Philistines.’ Be that as it will, the thing is very curious, and it is plain by the impressions, that it was made by a mould or stamp, so that doubtless there were many of the same mode.”  

* Joseph of Arimathea is said to have preached the gospel in Britain, A.D. 35.

9. “This conjecture,” says Dr. Tovey, “is indeed something plausible.”† And if we consider the light and use afforded by such things in antiquarian researches, we shall not altogether regard with contempt the evidence which this brick affords of there having been Jews settled in England when imperial Rome ruled it over that country.  
It is not our intention, however, to enlarge upon the value of such testimony now; as it would be plainly unnecessary to do so, if more direct and satisfactory evidence exists for our purpose. And this evidence does exist. A modern chronologist, and one of no mean authority too, has roundly asserted, that there were Jews in England during the reign of the second Roman emperor. Value of the Roman Brick as testimony.

† Ang. Jud., p. 4.

Rabbi David Gans, the author to whom we allude, is his צמח דוד under the year <<298>>3775 of the creation, and 15 of the Christian era, has the following remarks:*  
“The Emperor Augustus was a pious God-fearing man. He executed justice and righteousness with Israel, and was a great friend to them. Therefore the author of the ‘Sceptre of Judah,’ who writes that this emperor promoted a great slaughter of Israelites, is surely deceived.† I, on the contrary, have never met with the least allusion to any such slaughter, and in any historical work with which I have ever met, but both in gentile historians, as also in Josephus, (chapter 15,) we find that the was a true friend to Israel; and further Josephus writes in his 46th chapter, that the emperor sent letters of franchise to all the Jews throughout the countries under his dominion, eastwardly beyond the Indian ocean, and westwardly throughout the island of Britain, that is the province of England.‡” Decree of the Emperor Augustus

* הקיסר אגושטי היה איש חסיד וירא אלהים והיה עושה משפט וצדקה ואוהב ישראל ומה שכתב בראש ספר שבט יהודה שקיסר אגושטי עשה הרג ביהודים הלא המגיד כיחשילו כי לא מצאתי מזה רמז בכל הקרוניקוס שראיתי מימי אדרבא בכל ספרי זכרנותיהם גם ביוסיפון פרק ט״ו כתב שהיה אוהב נאמן לישראל׃ גם בפרק מ״ו כתב שהקיסר הזה שלח כתב חרות ליהודים מכל ארצות ממשלתו למזרח עד מערב לים הודו ולמערב עד מעבר ארץ ברטאניאה היא מדינת אנגיל״טירה הנקרא בל״א ענגל״לאנד׃ ימות עולם לאלף הרביעי דף י״ג׃

† Ben Virga, in his שבט יהודה (p. 22,) does certainly tell us that Mark Antony having “put away his wife, the sister of Octavius Caesar, in order to espouse Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt,” Octavius having been persuaded that the Jews had incited Antony to this insult, first made war against Antony, and then, continues the Sceptre of Judah, הפך פניו נגד היהודים והתחזקו במלחמתם והפילו חומות ירושלים ושללו ממנה שלל רב It is true that there are many points of difference between this narrative, as related by Ben Virga, and those generally received as authentic, e. g. in the former, Augustus is made to kill Cleopatra, in the latter she kills herself. Yet the author of the Sceptre of Judah, in his instance, scarcely deserves that the term כיחש should be applied to him, and probably Gans would not have used it, had he recollected that at the end of this narrative Ben Virga tells us, כך כתב בדברי הימים למלכי ארגן.

‡ It is worthy of remark, that the Rabbi uses here the word מדינה, a province in the same sense as in Esther, 1:1, evidently adopting the opinions of those who consider Britain to have been a dependency of Rome immediately after its invasion, by Caesar. The moderns believe, however, that it was not until the reign of Claudius, that the Britons were subdued, by the expedition under Plautius (43, C. Era.)

(To be Continued.)