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Jewish History Sourcebook:
The Jews of Spain and the Visigothic Code, 654-681 CE

THE Visigothic Code, originally in Latin, includes the laws of a number of Catholic kings who ruled Spain from 586 to 71 1. Reccared (586-601), the first Visigothic King to become a Catholic, was also the first king to pursue an active anti-Jewish policy. Some of his successors in the seventh century went farther and allowed the Jews only the alternatives of baptism or exile. Many Jews thus became unwilling converts and secretly practiced Judaism. These were the "Judaizing Christians." In order to stamp out this secret Judaism some kings resorted to most drastic punishments. These actions were prompted both by religious bigotry and the desire for a standardized Catholicism of all citizens. In addition the prospect of gain through confiscation of Jewish property probably lured some of them. Fortunately for the Jews this legislation was not always carried into effect, for the royal authority met with opposition in many parts of Spain.

The first document reproduced below from this famous Latin code is a sort of declaration of faith presented by the Judaizing Christians of Toledo to King Recceswinth (649-672). The second, issued by King Erwig(680-687), offers those Jews, who had for some reason or other not yet become Catholics, the alternatives of expulsion or baptism. Though the Visigothic state was overthrown by the Arabs in 711, this seventh-century code continued to influence Catholic Spain all through the Middle Ages. The Spanish Inquisition of the i5th century shows traces of this influence.


I. Memorial Of The Jews Presented To The King, 654 CE

To our most pious and noble lord and master, King Recceswinth: We, Jews of the city of Toledo, who have hereto attached our signatures or seals, call yur attention to the fact that formerly we were compelled to present a memorial to King Chintila, of holy memory by which we bound ourselves to uphold the Catholic faith, as, in like manner, we do now. [uder Chintila, 637, the secret-Jews had promised to be good Christians.]

But, whereas the perfidy born of our obstinacy and the antipathy resulting from our ancestral errors influenced us to such an extent that we did not then truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and did not sincerely embrace the Catholic faith, therefore now, freely and voluntarily, we promise Your Majesty for ourselves, our wives, and our children, by this, our memorial, that henceforth we will observe no Jewish customs or rites whatever, and will not associate, or have ,my intercourse with any unbaptized Jews. [he secret-Jews offered this petition to protect themselves from punishment of expulsion. The actual text was probably dictated by a priest.]

Nor will we marry any person related to us by blood, within the sixth degree, which union has been declared to be incestuous and wicked. [Catholic law then objected to the marriage even of distant cousins.] Nor will we, or our children, or any of our posterity, at any time hereafter, contract marriage outside our sect [Christianity]; and both sexes shall hereafter be united in marriage according to Christian rites. We will not practice the operation of circumcision. We will not celebrate the Passover, Sabbath, and other festival days, as enjoined by the Jewish ritual. We will not make any distinction in food, according to our ancient usages. We will not observe, in any way, ceremonies prescribed by the abominable practices and habits of the Hebrews.

But, with sincere faith, grateful hearts, and perfect devotion, we believe that Christ is the son of the living God, as declared by ecclesiastical and evangelical tradition; and we hereby acknowledge Him to be such, and venerate Him accordingly. Moreover, all the ceremonies enjoined by the Christian religion-whether said ceremonies relate to festivals, or to marriage and food-we will truly and exactly observe; and we will maintain the same with sincerity, without any objection or opposition thereto; and without any subterfuge on our part, by means of which we might hereafter deny our acts, return to what has been prohibited, or not completely fulfill all that we have promised.

With regard to the flesh of animals which we consider unclean, if we should be unable to eat the same on account of our ancient prejudices, nevertheless, when it is cooked along with other food, we hereby promise to partake of the latter with no manifestation of disgust or horror. [They cannot, however, promise to eat pork except when cooked with other foods.]

And if, at any time, we should be found to have transgressed, and to have violated any of the promises hereinbefore specified; or should presume to act contrary to the doctrines of the Christian faith; or if we should, in word or deed, neglect to fulfill the obligations to which we have bound ourselves, as being acceptable to the Catholic religion; we hereby swear by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who form one God in the Trinity, that, in case a single transgressor should be found among our people, he shall be burned, or stoned to death, either by ourselves, or by our sons. And should Your Majesty graciously grant such culprit his life, he shall at once be deprived of his freedom, so that Your Majesty may deliver him to be forever a slave to anyone whom Your Majesty may select; and Your Majesty shall have full authority to make whatever disposition of him and his property as may seem expedient; not only on account of the power attached to your royal office, but also by the authority granted by this our memorial. Made in the name of God, at Toledo, on the Kalends of March, in the sixth year of Your Majesty's happy reign [March 1, 654].


II. Jews Shall Not Remove Themselves Or Their Children Or Slaves From The Blessing Of Baptism, 681 CE

Since truth itself [Matthew 7:7] teaches us to seek, to investigate, to knock [at the door of heaven and it will be opened], admonishing us that [Matthew 11: 12] "ardent men inherit the kingdom of heaven," there is no doubt that he falls short of the reward of divine favor who does not exert himself to gain that favor. [Christians must make every effort to convert Jews.]

Therefore, if any Jew-of those, naturally, who are as yet not baptized or who have postponed their own or their children's baptism-should prevent his slaves from being baptized in the presence of the priest, or should withhold himself and his family from baptism, or if any one of them should exceed the duration of one year after the promulgation of this law without being baptized, the transgressor of these [conditions], whoever he may be, shall have his head shaved, receive a hundred lashes, and pay the required penalty of exile. His property shall pass over into the power of the king; it shall remain perpetually in the possession of him to whom the king wishes to bestow it, inasmuch as the stubborn life Eof the Jew] shows him to be incorrigible.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

REFERENCES TO TEXTBOOKS
Golub, J. S., Medieval Jewish History, Sec. III, "Spain."

READINGS FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS
Graetz, III, pp. 41-52, 101-110; Graetz-Rhine, II, pp. 479-487; 111, pp. 14-20; Margolis and Marx, pp. 303-307-

Katz, S., The Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms of Spain and Gaul (Mediaeval Academy monograph no. 12). The best presentation of the subject in English.

Milman, H. H., The History of the Jews, II, Book xxii, pp. 250-263

Ziegler, A. K., Church and State in Visigothic Spain. A detailed study of the relation of the State to the Church. The Jewish problem is treated on pp. 186-199. The author holds the State, not the Church, responsible, primarily, for mistreatment of the Jews.

JE, "Spain."

ADDITIONAL SOURCE MATERIALS IN ENGLISH
Lindo, E. H., The History of the Jews of Spain and Portugal. This work contains: translations and a discussion of many of the laws concerning Jews enacted during the Visigothic period.

Scott, S. P., The Visigothic Code. Contains practically all the laws of the period touching the Jews.


Source

Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 20-23
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that the copyright was renewed)


This text is part of the Internet Jewish History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

© Paul Halsall, July1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu