Legislation Affecting the Jews from 300 to 800 CE
The compilation which follows is from the appendices of James Parkes: The
Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism, (New
York: JPS, 1934). The reference C.T. refers to the Code Theodosianus; C.J. refers to the Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian. Both these
codes compiled earlier laws, and it is from the texts of these compilations that the
earlier legal history can be established.
LAWS OF THE UNDIVIDED EMPIRE
Laws of Constantine r. 311-337
C.T., 16.8.1; to Evagrius, 18.x.315.
On converts to Judaism and to Christianity.
C.T., 16.8 .3; to the Officials at Cologne, I I xii .321.
With certain exceptions Jews are to be called to the Decurionate.
C.T., 16.8.2; to Ablavius the Pretorian Prefect, 29.xi.330
On the relation of Jews to the Decurionate.
C.T., 16.8.4; to the Jewish Priests, Rabbis, Elders and other authorities, I xii.331.
Immunities of synagogue authorities.
C.T., 16.8.5; to Felix, P.P., 22.x.335
On molesting Jewish converts to Christianity.
C.T., 16.9.1; to Felix, P.P., 22.x.335.
Circumcision of non-Jewish slaves.
Laws of Constantius [I r. 305-311, II r. 340-361]
C.T., 16.9.2; to Evagrius, 13.viii.339
Purchase and circumcision of non-Jewish or Christian slaves.
C.T., 16.8.6; to Evagrius, 13.viii.339.
Marriage between Jews and members of the imperial factories.
C.T., 16.8.7; to Thalassius, P.P., 3.vii.352 or 357
Apostasy to Judaism.
Laws of Valentinian [I r. 364-375, II r. 375-392]
C.T., 7.8.2; to Remigius Mag. Off., 6.v.368, 370 or 373.
Violation of synagogues.
Laws of Gratian r. 375-378
C.T., 12.1.99; to Hypatius, P.P., 18.iv.383.
On the relation of Jews to the Decurionate.
C.T., 16.7.3; to Hypatius, P.P., 21.v.383
Intestability for apostates to Judaism.
C.T., 3.1.5; to Cynegius, P.P., 22.ix.384.
Possession or purchase of Christian slaves.
Laws of Theodosius I "the Great" r. 378-395
C.T., 3.7.2 or 9.7.5; to Cynegius, P.P., 14.iii.388.
Intermarriage between Jews and Christians.
C.T., 13.5.18; to Alexander, Prefect of Egypt, I8.ii.390
Questions of maritime transport.
C.T., 16.8.8; to Tatianus, P.P., 17.iv.392.
Jewish right of excommunication.
C.T., 16.8.9; to Addeus, Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Command, 29.ix.393.
Judaism is a lawful sect.
C.J., 1.9.7; to Infantius, Governor ofthe Eastern Provinces, 30.xii.393.
Jews may only marry according to Christian table of affinity.
[The text of this law is not to be found in the Codex
LAWS OF THE WESTERN PROVINCES OF THE EMPIRE
Laws of Honorius r. 395-423
C.T., 12.1.157; to Theodorus, P.P., 13.ii Or ix.398.
Jewish duty in the Decurionate.
C.T., 12.1.158; ditto.
C.T., 16.8.14; to Messala, P.P., I I iv.399.
Confiscation of the aurum coronarium.
C.T., 16.8.16; to Romulianus, P.P., 22.iv.404.
Exclusion of Jews from military and court functions.
C.T., 16.8.17; to Hadrian, P.P., 25.vii.404.
Permission to send aurum
C.T., 16.5.44; to Donatus (in Africa), 24.xi.408.
Jews and heretics must not disturb sacraments.
C.T., 16.5.46; to Theodore, P.P., 15.v.409.
Laws against Jews and heretics to be strictly enforced.
C.T., 16.8.19; to Jovius, P.P., 15.iv.409.
The ' Caelicoli ' are to be suppressed.
C.T., 8.8.8 or 2.8.26; to Johannes, P.P., 26.vii.409 or 412.
Jews to be left undisturbed on Sabbaths and Feast Days.
C.T., 16.8.20; to Johannes, P.P., 26.vii.412.
Synagogues and Sabbaths to be left undisturbed.
C.T., 16.9.3; to Annatus Didascalus and the Elders of the Jews, 6.xi.415.
Jews may own Christian servants if they do not convert them.
C.T., 16.8.23; to Annatus Didascalusand the Eldersof the Jews, 24.ix.416.
Jewish converts to Christianity may revert to Judaism.
C.T., 16.8.24; to Palladius, P.P., 10.iii.418.
Jews may not enter government service or army. They may follow
law, liberal professions and decurionate.
Laws of Valentinian III r. 425-455
Const. Sirm. 6 fin. to Amatius, Governor of Gaul, 9.vii.425.
Jews to be excluded from government service.
C.T., 16.8.28; to Bassus, P.P., 8.iv.426.
Converted children of Jews to inherit from their parents.
LAWS OF THE EASTERN PROVINCES OF THE
EMPIRE UP TO THE PUBLICATION OF
THE THEODOSIAN CODE
Laws of Arcadius r. 395-408
C.T., 16.8.10; to the Jews, 27.ii.396.
Jews to fix their own prices.
C.T., 16.8.11; to Claudianus, Governor of the Eastern Provinces, 24.iv.396.
The Patriarch not to be insulted.
C.T., 9.45.2; to Archelaus, Prefect of Egypt, 17.vi.397.
Jews not to become Christians from economic motives.
C.T., 16.8.12; to Anatolius, Prefect of Illyricum, 17.vi.397.
Jews and their synagogues are to be protected.
C.T., 16.8.13; to Caesarius, P.P., I.vii.397.
Jewish clergy to have the same privileges as Christian clergy.
C.T., 2.1.10; to Eutychianus, P.P., 3.ii.398.
Jews to follow Roman Law except on religious questions.
C.T., 12.1.165; to Eutychianus, P.P., 30.xii.399.
Jews to serve in Decurionate.
C.T., 16.8.15; to Eutychianus, P.P., 3.ii.404.
The Patriarch to retain his privileges.
Laws of Theodosius II r. 408-450
C.T., 16.8.18; to Anthemius, P.P., 29.v.408.
Jews not to mock the Cross at Purim.
C.T., 16.8.22; to Aurelian, P.P., 20.x.415.
Degradation of the Patriarch.
C.T., 16.9.4; to Monaxius, P.P., 10.iv.417.
Various regulations on the possession of Christian slaves.
C.T., 16.8.21; to Philip, Governor of Illyricum, 6.viii.412.
Jews are not to be attacked or synagogues burnt, but
they must not outrage Christianity.
C.T., 16.8.25; to Asclepiodotus, P.P., 15.ii.423.
Synagogues not to be pulled down or confiscated.
New ones not to be built.
C.T., 16.8.26; to Asclepiodotus, P.P., 9.iv.423,
Laws to be enforced, synagogues not to be pulled
down, Jews to be exiled for circumcising non-Jews.
C.T., 16.9.5; to Asclepiodotus, P.P., 9.iv.423.
Jews not to purchase Christian slaves.
C.T., 16.8.27; to Asclepiodotus, P.P., 8.vi.423.
New synagogues not to be built, old ones not to be confiscated.
C.T., 16.10.24; to Asclepiodotus, P.P., 8.vi.423.
Peaceable Jews not to be offended.
C.T., 15.5.5; to Asclepiodotus, P.P., I.ii.425.
Jews to observe seasons of fast and feast.
C.T., x6.8.29; to John, Count of the Sacred Largesse, 30.v.420.
All special Jewish taxes to be confiscated to Charity Fund.
Novella 3; to Florentius, P.P., 31.i.438.
No Jew to hold office; new synagogues not to be built;
proselytising to be punished with death; new synagogues
to be confiscated; burdensome public office to be
undertaken; Jewish law to be followed in private cases only.
COUNCILS OF THE EMPIRE UP TO THE TIME
OF THE PUBLICATION OF
THE THEODOSIAN CODE
Elvira (Spain), c. 300
Canon 16. Intermarriage with Jews.
Canon 49. Blessing of fields by Jews.
Canon 50. Sharing feasts with Jews.
Canon 78. Adultery with Jewesses.
Canon I. Eating Passover with the Jews.
Canon 16. Gospels to be read on Saturday.
Canon 29. Christians to work on Sabbath.
Canon 37. Gifts for feasts from Jews, and sharing feasts with Jews, prohibited.
Canon 38. Unleavened bread not to be accepted from Jews, and Jewish feasts to be avoided.
The Apostolic Canons
Canon 61. Denying Christianity through fear of Jews.
Canon 63. Entering a synagogue prohibited.
Canon 69. Feasting or fasting with Jews prohibited.
Canon 70. Oil not to be taken into synagogue for feasts.
BARBARIAN RECENSIONS OF THE THEODOSIAN CODE
The Breviary of Alaric
2.1.10=C.T., 2.1.10; Jews to use Roman courts except on religious questions or by
2.8.3 = C.T., 2.8.26; Sabbath not to be disturbed.
3.1.5=C.T., 3.1.5; Jews not to possess Christian slaves.
3.7.2 and 9.4.4=C.T., 3.7.2 and 9.7.5; intermarriage.
16.2.1 = C.T., 16.7.3; apostates to be punished with intestability.
16.3.1 = C.T., 16.8.5; converts to Christianity not to be molested.
16.3.2 = C.T., 16.8.7; apostates to Judaism.
16.4.1=C.T., 16.9.1; circumcised slaves.
16.4.2=C.T., 16.9.4; possession of Christian slaves.
Novella 3 = Novella 3, public office, building of synagogues, perversion of Christians.
Roman Law of the Burgundians
Law of Gondebaud, 19.4. Intermarriage.
Roman Law of the Franks
Clothaire II, Constitutio Generalis 4. Lawsuits between Romans to be conducted
according to Roman Law.
Roman Law of the Ostrogoths
Theodoric, Cap. 143. Jews to retain privileges allowed by Law.
Lex Romana Raetica Curiensis
2.1.8; extent and limitations of judicial autonomy.
3.1.5; purchase of Christian slaves.
Law of the Lombards
2.56.1; Roman citizens to live according to Roman Law.
LEGISLATION OF THE WESTERN KINGDOMS: THE VISIGOTHS
Laws of Reccared I of 588
12.2.12. Purchase, possession and circumcision of non-Jewish slaves.
Laws of Sisebut of 612
12.2.13. Christian slaves of Jews to be freed; converts to Christianity to inherit;
other legislation affecting slaves.
12.2.14. Liberation of Christian slaves; mixed marriages; irrevocability of this law.
Laws of Chindaswinth of between 641 and 652
12.2.16. Christians Judaising.
Laws of Recceswinth of c. 652
12.2.2. Christian doctrine not to be criticised.
12.2.3. Laws are to be considered irrevocable and strictly enforced.
12.2.4. Apostasy not to be permitted.
12.2.5. Passover and Jewish feasts not to be observed.
12.2.6. Marriage only by Christian tables of affinity.
12.2.7. Circumcision prohibited.
12.2.8. Distinctions of foods prohibited.
12.2.9. Actions or evidence against Christians prohibited.
12.2.10. Evidence against Christians prohibited.
12.2.11. Lawbreakers to be stoned or enslaved.
12.2.15. Jews on no account to be protected by clergy.
Laws of Erwig of c 680
12.3.1. Owing to Jewish evasions all laws to be re-enacted,
except those concerning manumission and capital punishment.
12.3.2. Blasphemy against Christian doctrine to be punished."
12.3.3. All Jews to submit to baptism.
12.3.4. Practice of Jewish customs to be punished.
12.3.5. Celebration of Jewish feasts to be punished.
12.3.6. Work on Sunday to be punished, and special feasts to be
12.3.7. Distinctions of meats prohibited, except for those
physically unable to eat pork.
12.3.8. Marriage to be according to Christian customs.
12.3.9. Blasphemers and apostates to be punished.
12.3.10. Jewish bribes not to be accepted.
12.3.11. Jewish books and teaching to be suppressed.
12.3.12. Jews not to own Christian slaves.
12.3.13. Jews to sell their Christian slaves or prove their own orthodoxy.
12.3.16. Treatment of apostate slaves.
12.3.17. No Jew to exercise authority over Christians.
12.3.18. Slaves desiring to become Christians to be free to do so.
12.3.19. No Jew to be appointed bailiff of Christian property.
12.3.20. Regulations affecting Jewish travellers.
12.3.21. Feast days to be spent in presence of bishop, or suitable Christian.
12.3.22. Jewish employees to be obliged to obey regulations.
13.3.23. Clergy to see to carrying out of these laws.
12.3.24. Penalties for corruption or laxity.
12.3.25. Lay judges not to act without ecclesiastical supervision.
12.3.26. Local religious authorities responsible for strict enforcement.
12.3.27. Limitation of royal prerogative of pardon.
12.3.28. Method of publication of this legislation.
Laws of Egica of c. 690
12.2.18 Regulations of Jewish traders, Jewish taxes, and Jewish
leases of Christian property.
COUNCILS OF THE VISIGOTHS
[The first two councils were held by the Catholics (i.e. Roman
citizens) at a time when their Visigothic masters were Arians.]
Canon 12. Fasting in Lent on Saturdays.
Canon 34. Special conditions for Jewish catechumens.
Canon 40.Clergy and laity to avoid Jewish feasts.
Canon 16. Jews, heretics and pagans to be allowed in church up to the missa
Toledo III, 589
Capit. 14 . Intermarriage; Christian slaves; children of mixed marriages; public
office; proselytising, and circumcision.
Canon 4. Jews not to work on Sunday.
Canon 9. Psalms not to be sung during Jewish funerals.
Canon 14. Jewish fortune-tellers not to be consulted.
Toledo IV, 633
Canon 57. Jews not to be compelled to be baptised.
Canon 58. Jewish bribes not to be accepted by Christians.
Canon 59. Apostates to be punished.
Canon 60. Children of Jews to be brought up by Christians.
Canon 61. Children of apostates to inherit.
Canon 62. No communication to be allowed between baptised and unbaptised Jews.
Canon 63. In mixed marriages unconverted partner must be baptised and children brought up
Canon 64. Apostates not to be allowed as witnesses.
Canon 65. Jews and Jewish Christians to be excluded from public office.
Canon 66. Jews not to own Christian slaves.
Toledo VI, 638
Canon 3. Jews remaining in Spain must be baptised.
Toledo VIII, 653
King's Speech (Recceswinth). Denunciation of apostates.
Canon 10. Future sovereigns must be orthodox.
Canon 12. Jews remaining in Spain must be baptised.
Toledo IX, 655
Canon 17. Jews to pass Jewish and Christian festivals in presence of ecclesiastical
Toledo X, 656
Capit. i. Easter must be celebrated uniformly.
Capit 7. Christian slaves not to be sold to Jews.
Toledo XII, 681
King's Speech (Erwig). Implores action on Jewish apostasy and delinquency.
Canon 9. Confirmation of the Laws of Erwig. (See above.)
Toledo XVI, 693
King's Speech (Egica). Appeal for confirmation of all previous laws, together with
prohibition of unconverted Jews trading, and converted Jews being taxed specially.
Capit. i. Confirmation of King's Speech.
Toledo XVII, 694
King's Speech (Egica). Jewish plot against Spanish security. All Jews except those of
Septimania to be reduced to slavery.
Canon 8. Confirms King's request.
LEGISLATION OF THE WESTERN KINGDOMS:
Law 102. Punishment of Jewish assault on Christians.
Council of Epaone, 517
Canon 15. Attendance at Jewish banquets prohibited.
LEGISLATION OF THE WESTERN KINGDOMS:
Childebert, c. 554
Letter to clergy and people. Jews not allowed in street between Holy Thursday and
Clothaire II, 614
Edict. Jews not to hold office.
Cap. Acquisgran. 15 (= Laodicea, Canon 29) 789.
Christians to work on Sabbath.
Cap. Acquisgran. 45 (=Carthage IV, Canon 196) 789.
Jews not to give evidence.
Cap. dup. ad Niumagen, 806.
Clergy not to allow sale of church plate to Jews or others.
Cap. de Jud. 1, 814.
Jews not to receive Church property in pledge.
Cap. de Jud. 2, 814.
Christians not to be taken in pledge.
Cap. de Jud. 3, 814.
Jews not to mint or trade privately.
Cap. de Jud. 814.
4a. Oath to be taken by Jew in giving evidence.
4b. Oath to be taken in pleading not guilty.
COUNCILS OF THE FRANKS
Canon 12. Clergy to avoid Jewish feasts.
Orleans II, 533
Canon 19. Intermarriage.
Canon 6. Intercourse between Christian and Jew.
Canon 9. Jewish judges.
Orleans III, 538
Canon 13. Regulations for Christian servants of Jews; intermarriage; attending Jewish
Canon 28. Sunday not to be observed in Jewish fashion.
Canon 30. Jews not to mix with Christians between Holy Thursday and Easter.
Orleans IV, 541
Canon 30. Christian slaves of Jews to be redeemed on request.
Canon 31. Conversion of servants to Judaism prohibited.
Orleans V, 548
Canon 22. Conditions to be observed when slaves take refuge in churches.
Canon 2. Jewish conversation with nuns.
Canon 13. Jews not to be judges or tax collectors.
Canon 14. Jews not to mix with Christians between Holy Thursday and Easter.
Canon 15. Christians not to take part in Jewish festivities.
Canon 16. Christian slaves to be redeemed.
Canon 17. Attempted conversion of slave to Judaism to be punished.
Canon 15. Jews seeking positions of authority to be baptised.
Canon I I. Christians not to be sold to Jews; Jews not to hold office. Jewish slanders
against Christianity to be refuted.
[This last may be a scribe's error for: 'Jewish banquets not to be
attended', reading' convivia 'for'convicia '. It is so given in Concilium Clippiacense]
Chalons sur Saone, 650
Canon 9. Slaves not to be sold beyond frontiers, so as not to fall into hands of Jews.
Canons of Carthage ', or' of the African Church
Canon 84. Jews, heathen and heretics to be allowed into church up to the
Canon 89. Judaising to be suppressed.
Canon 196. Jews and others not to give evidence.
COUNCILS OF THE PAPACY
Canon 10. Intermarriage.
LEGISLATION OF THE EASTERN EMPIRE
The Code of Justinian contained certain laws from the Code of Theodosius. These are
marked with an asterisk. Except where noted, they were unchanged.
*Laws of Constantine
C.T., 16.8.1 = C.J., 1.9.3.
*Laws of Constantius
C.T., 16.8.7 = C.J., 1.7.1.
C.T., 16.8.6 is combined with 16.9.1 (of Constantine), 16.9.2 (of Constantius) and
16.9.4 (of Theodosius 11) and ascribed to Constantius, as C.J., 1.10.1 in M.G.H. quarto,
Conc. I, p. 19q.
*Laws of Valentinian
C.T., 7.8.2 = C.J., 1 .9.4.
*Laws of Gratian
C.T., 12.I.99 = C.J., 1.9.5.
C.T., 16.7.3 = C.J., 1.7.2.
*Laws of Theodosius the Great
C.T., 3.7.2 = CT, 1.9.6.
C.J, 11.9.7 has no counterpart in the Theodosian Code.
*Laws of Honorius
C.T., 12.1.157 = C.J., 10.32.49.
C.T., 16.8.19 = C.J., 1.9.12.
C.T., 8.8.8 = C.J., 1.9.13, adding that on Jewish feasts Jews shall not be entitled to
*Laws of Arcadius
C.T., 16.8.10 = C.J., 1.9.9.
C.T., 9.45.2 = C.J., 1.12.1.
C.T., 2.1.10 = C.J., 1.9.8.
C.T., 12.1.165= C.J., 1.9.10.
*Laws of Theodosius II
C.T., 16.8.18 = C.J., 1.19.11
C.T., 16.8.22 = C.J., 1.9.15, including only the paragraph dealing with Jewish juridical
C.T., 16.9.4 = C.J, 1.10.I.
C.T., 16.8.21 = C.J., 1 .9.14.
C.T., 16.8.26 = C.J., 1.9.16.
C.T., 16.10.24 = C.J., I.11.6.
C.T., 15.5.5 = C .J., 3.12.6.
C.T., 16.8.29 = C.J., 1.9.17
Novella 3 = C.J., 1.5.7, 1.7.5, and 1.9.18
Laws of Marcian
C.J., 1.1.4; to Palladius, P.P., 7.ii.452.
Christianity not to be discussed in public.
Laws of Justin and Justinian
C.J., 1.5.12 of 527
' Heretics are all such as do not belong to the Catholic faith including Jews. They
are not to hold any office; or follow profession of law. Heavy penalties for connivance
Laws ofJustinian, r 527-565
C.J., 1,5.13, no date or address.
Orthodox children not to be disinherited by Jewish parents.
C.J, 1.5.17, no date or address.
Complete destruction of Samaritan synagogues ordered.
C.J, 1.3.54, no date or address.
No Jew to possess Christian slaves, or slaves desiring to become
C.J., 1.10.2, no date or address.
No Jew to own a Christian slave.
C.J., 1.9.2, no date, (?) addressed to the Jews.
Sabbath not to be disturbed.
C.J., 1.5.21, to Johannes, P.P., 28.vii.531
Jews may not give evidence against orthodox, but may do so against
each other. They may witness documents.
Nov. 37, to Salomon, Governor of Africa, I.viii.535.
Jews not to be allowed to attend church services; or to own
Christian slaves. Their synagogues are to be turned into churches.
Nov. 45, to Johannes, P.P., I.ix.537.
Jews are to perform decurionate without its honours; may, in
a suit involving orthodox persons, only give evidence for
them or for the state.
Nov. 131, to Peter, P.P., 545.
Jews may not lease orthodox property; they may not build
Nov. 146, to Areobindus, P.P., 8.ii.553.
(Owing to its importance the text is given in full below)
Laws of Leo the Isaurian, r. 717-741
Ecloga, App. 4.6.
Jews to hold no public office.
Ecloga, App. 4.7.
Either Jewish parent may desire the children to be educated as
Ecloga, App. 4.13.
Samaritan synagogues to be destroyed.
Ecloga, App. 4.16.
Apostasy to Judaism to be punished.
Ecloga, App. 4.24.
Proselytising to Judaism to be punished.
Ecloga, App. 6.26.
Jews neither to possess nor circumcise Christian slaves.
Ecloga, App. 6.27.
No Jew to possess Christian slave.
Ecloga, App. 6.28.
Slave of Jew desiring to become Christian to be freed.
Ecloga, App. 6.30.
Circumcision of Christian to be punished.
COUNCILS OF THE EASTERN EMPIRE
Canon 14. Marriageable members of clergy not to wed Jew.
Canon II. No Christian to eat unleavened bread with Jew, use them as doctors or bathe
Nicaea II, 787
Canon 8. Baptised Jews who lapse are to be treated as Jews.
'Forged' Canons of Nicaea
Canon 52 (56). Clergy are not to eat or have business associations with Jews.
APPENDIX: NOVELLA 146 OF JUSTINIAN
8.ii.553. Nov.146. Justinian to Areobindas, P.P.
A Permission granted to the Hebrews to read the Sacred Scriptures according to
Tradition, in Greek, Latin or any other Language, and an Order to expel from their
community those who do not believe in the judgment, the Resurrection, and the Creation of
Necessity dictates that when the Hebrews listen to their sacred texts they should not
confine themselves to the meaning of the letter, but should also devote their attention to
those sacred prophecies which are hidden from them, and which announce the mighty Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ. And though, by surrendering themselves to senseless interpretations,
they still err from the true doctrine, yet, learning that they disagree among themselves,
we have not permitted this disagreement to continue without a ruling on our part. From
their own complaints which have been brought to us, we have understood that some only
speak Hebrew, and wish to use it for the sacred books, and others think that a Greek
translation should be added, and that they have been disputing about this for a long time.
Being apprised of the matter at issue, we give judgment in favour of those who wish to use
Greek also for the reading of the sacred scriptures, or any other tongue which in any
district allows the hearers better to understand the text.
We therefore sanction that, wherever there is a Hebrew congregation, those who wish it
may, in their synagogues, read the sacred books to those who are present in Greek, or even
Latin, or any other tongue. For the language changes in different places, and the reading
changes with it, so that all present may understand, and live and act according to what
they hear. Thus there shall be no opportunity for their interpreters, who make use only of
the Hebrew, to corrupt it in any way they like, since the ignorance of the public conceals
their depravity. We make this proviso that those who use Greek shall use the text of the
seventy interpreters, which is the most accurate translation, and the one most highly
approved, since it happened that the translators, divided into two groups, and working in
different places, all produced exactly the same text.
i. Moreover who can fail to admire those men, who, writing long before the saving
revelation of our mighty Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, yet as though they saw its coming
with their eyes completed the translation of the sacred books as if the prophetic grace
was illuminating them. This therefore they shall primarily use, but that we may not seem
to be forbidding all other texts we allow the use of that of Aquila, though he was not of
their people, and his translation differs not slightly from that of the Septuagint.
ii. But the Mishnah, or as they call it the second tradition, we prohibit entirely. For
it is not part of the sacred books, nor is it handed down by divine inspiration through
the prophets, but the handiwork of man, speaking only of earthly things, and having
nothing of the divine in it. But let them read the holy words themselves, rejecting the
commentaries, and not concealing what is said in the sacred writings, and disregarding the
vain writings which do not form a part of them, which have been devised by them themselves
for the destruction of the simple. By these instructions we ensure that no one shall be
penalised or prohibited who reads the Greek or any other language. And their elders,
Archiphericitae and presbyters, and those called magistrates, shall not by any
machinations or anathemas have power to refuse this right, unless by chance they wish to
suffer corporal punishment and the confiscation of their goods, before they yield to our
will and to the commands which are better and clearer to God which we enjoin.
If any among them seek to introduce impious vanities, denying the resurrection or the
judgment, or the work of God, or that angels are part of creation, we require them
everywhere to be expelled forthwith; that no backslider raise his impious voice to
contradict the evident purpose of God. Those who utter such sentiments shall be put to
death, and thereby the Jewish people shall be purged of the errors which they introduced.
We pray that when they hear the reading of the books in one or the other language, they
may guard themselves against the depravity of the interpreters, and, not clinging to the
literal words, come to the point of the matter, and perceive their diviner meaning, so
that they may start afresh to learn the better way, and may cease to stray vainly, and to
err in that which is most essential, we mean hope in God. For this reason we have opened
the door for the reading of the scriptures in every language, that all may henceforth
receive its teaching, and become fitter for learning better things. For it is acknowledged
that he, who is nourished upon the sacred scriptures and has little need of direction, is
much readier to discern the truth, and to choose the better path, than he who understands
nothing of them, but clings to the name of his faith alone, and is held by it as by a
sacred anchor, and believes that what can be called heresy in its purest form is divine
This is our sacred will and pleasure, and your Excellency and your present colleague
and your staff shall see that it is carried out, and shall not allow the Hebrews to
contravene it. Those who resist it or try to put any obstruction in its way, shall first
suffer corporal punishment, and then be compelled to live in exile, forfeiting also their
property, that they flaunt not their impudence against God and the empire. You shall also
circulate our law to the provincial governors, that they learning its contents may enforce
it in their several cities, knowing that it is to be strictly carried out under pain of
from James Parkes: The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in
the Origins of Antisemitism, (New York: JPS, 1934), 379-388, 392-393
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998