Tolerance of the Jews

We must never forget that the history of European Jewry culminates in the horrors of the mid-20th century. The precursors to the industrialized slaughter of the Holocaust can be seen in the vicious and unprovoked pogroms as far back as the first crusade. When in 1095 Urban II preached liberation of the Holy Land, many in Germany took the opportunity the very next year to launch attacks on the wealthy Jewish populations of the Rhine valley. Several thousand perished.

But attitudes were not always so antagonistic. Jews in the eighth century were certainly tolerated, if not embraced. The overarching policy was ‘live and let live.’ The proof is in the laws, some stories, and a few tantalizing hints of acceptance at the highest levels of society.

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Pepin repays a favor, part 1

In November of the year 751 Pepin le Bref successfully completed a coup against the royal Merovingian family of Francia, a family that had ruled as kings for three centuries. Pepin did so in part with the support of Pope Zacharias, who sided with the Frank when Pepin sent emissaries to Rome in 749 to ask the famous question, who should be king, the one in name only, or the one who actually wields power? Once Zacharias answered in favor of Pepin, the Mayor of the Palace “was chosen king by all the Franks, consecrated by the bishops and received the homage of the great men.”1.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.33, p.102. Pepin was anointed and crowned by the foremost Christian in the land, the English monk and bishop Boniface.

Only a year later the papacy was in a jam. The Lombard king Aistulf was on the move, and had taken several cities that were under the ostensible jurisdiction of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople, and the papacy. Pope Stephen II recognized that he would need to keep all of his options open, and he appealed for help to Emperor Constantine V (later known as “the dung-named”, but that’s another story). In June of 752 Stephen also sent a messenger to Pepin, asking him to send an ambassador who could then escort the pope to the king’s presence.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.33, p.102.