Finished the book recently and I must say that in certain aspects it's a real eye-opener and at the same time very tragic. Here are some interesting quotes.
The Theoclastic God
The Prince Of This World
The Last Hero
The Wandering Crypto-Jew
To be continued.
The Theoclastic God
For the Egyptians, gods are social beings, who collaborate in the management of the cosmos. The harmony of this world, including human affairs, depends on good cooperation between the gods. Hebrew theology, on the other hand, promotes the war of one god against all others.
Yahweh, however, could not be matched up with any other god, and his priests forbade doing so. “Whereas polytheism, or rather ‘cosmotheism,’ rendered different cultures mutually transparent and compatible, the new counter-religion [Yahwism] blocked intercultural translatability.” And when the Lord directs his people, “You will make no pact with them or with their gods” (Exodus 23: 32), or “Do not utter the names of their gods, do not swear by them, do not serve them and do not bow down to them” (Joshua 23: 7), he is in effect preventing any relationship of trust with the neighboring peoples.
It perfectly illustrates how, to arrive at monotheism, Yahwism takes the diametrically opposite path from other cultures of the same period: Rather than reaching philosophically the notion of the unity of all gods under a universal Godhead, the Yahwists pursued the outright negation of other gods and the extermination of their priests.
There is no trace in the Torah of a cosmic struggle between two principles, as in the myth of Osiris or in Persian Zoroastrianism. The fundamental tension is not between good and evil, but between Yahweh and the other gods.
The Yahwist priests stripped man of this fundamental responsibility, in order to deify law and history. According to the great Jewish thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz, “The Torah does not recognize moral imperatives stemming from knowledge of natural reality or from awareness of man’s duty to his fellow man. All it recognizes are Mitzvot, divine imperatives.” The hundreds of mitzvot (“ commandments”) are an end in themselves, not a way to a higher moral consciousness. In fact, according to Gilad Atzmon, Jewish legalism stifles genuine ethical judgment, for “ethical people don’t need ‘commandments’ to know that murder or theft are wrong.”
Neither is there is any trace in Yahwist metaphysics of gender complementarity. According to the Bible, Yahweh needed no female deity to create the world... Yahweh is a god without history, without genealogy, without wife or mother or children; and therefore without mythology.
And so, even while claiming to be the Creator of the universe and humanity, Yahweh remains a national, chauvinist god; that is the basis for the dissonance between tribalism and universalism that has brought up the “Jewish question” throughout the ages. In fact, the Jewish conception of Yahweh parallels the historical process, for in the development of Yahwism, it is not the Creator of the Universe who became the god of Israel, but rather the god of Israel who became the Creator of the Universe. And so for the Jews, Yahweh is primarily the god of Jews, and secondarily the Creator of the Universe; whereas Christians, deceived by the biblical narrative, see things the other way around.
The overarching theme of the Bible is the relationship between Yahweh and his people. But according to a critical reading, the Bible is actually the history of the relationship between the priestly elite speaking for Yahweh and the Jewish people, who are sometimes submissive, and sometimes rebellious to authority. The Bible itself shows that it is the priests that prevented the Jewish people from establishing any form of alliance with the surrounding peoples, and pushed them to genocidal violence against their neighbors.
The Yahwist lesson is always the same. Each time the Hebrews begin to sympathize with other nations to the point of mingling with their religious life (social life being inseparable from worship), Yahweh punishes them by sending against them … other nations. The hand of friendship held out by others is a death trap. He whose friendship you seek is your worst enemy. This principle in Yahwist ideology encloses the Jewish people in a cognitive vicious circle, preventing them from learning the only sensible lesson from their experience: that contacts promote cultural understanding between peoples, while refusal of contact generates hostility. According to the Bible, the chosen people have obligations only toward Yahweh, never toward their neighbors.
For two thousand years, Jews have been constantly reminded by their elites that the persecutions they suffer are not the result of offensive behavior against Gentiles, but rather their efforts to live with them in harmony— efforts that amount to infidelity to God and to their vocation as “a people apart.”
The Prince Of This World
Unlike the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, or Roman traditions, the Hebrew religion is hostile to any imaginary form of the hereafter. In the Hebrew Bible, one would search in vain for the idea that the dying man will meet his Creator: the life of each of the patriarchs ends simply by mentioning their place of burial. About Jacob, it is said that, “breathing his last, he was gathered to his people” (Genesis 49: 33), but nothing suggests here anything more than a conventional euphemism. Jacob, in any case, does not join Yahweh. In fact, Yahweh does not seem to reside in any other place than the earthly Jerusalem Temple. Reflecting a Sethian vision of life and death, the Judaic tradition knows nothing of the funerary myths so popular in other cultures, whose heroes explore the Other World.
In conclusion, the biblical scribes strongly disliked the heroic ideology that grants the noble dead a blessed immortality and a role in enhancing the welfare of their community. Yahwist religion erased this ideology from ancient legends, but not to the point of making it undetectable by historical criticism. Contrary to a widespread idea, the denial of the individual soul in the Hebrew Bible is not an archaism dating back to a stage when men had not yet developed this concept. On the contrary, it is a revolutionary ideology, aggressively set against a universal belief that is probably as old as humanity, judging by funerary archeology. Critical analysis of the biblical legends proves that the Yahwist editors deliberately eliminated every notion of heroic immortality from the traditions that they appropriated from the ancient kingdom of Israel.
The Last Hero
According to the testimonies of Tertullian, Justin, Origen, and Eusebius, it was the Jews who incited the Romans to persecute Christians, denouncing them with slanderous accusations, such as allegedly eating children slaughtered in nocturnal gatherings: “The Jews were behind all the persecutions of the Christians. They wandered through the country everywhere hating and undermining the Christian faith,” affirms Saint Justin around 116 CE. The Martyrdom of Polycarp (second century) underlines the importance of the Jewish participation in the persecution of the Christians of Smyrna. It seems therefore very likely that Jesus was a victim of the same methods.
The most important apocalyptic text of the Christian tradition, known as the book of Revelation, is not only foreign to the message of the earthly Jesus, but is today regarded as of non-Christian origin, for its central part (from 4: 1 to 22: 15) refers neither to Jesus nor to any Christian theme evidenced elsewhere. Only the prologue (including the letters to the seven churches in Asia) and the epilogue are ostensibly Christian, and they are attached to the body of the text by easily identifiable editorial transitions (not to mention the double signature of “John” in 22: 8 and “Jesus” in 22: 16).
We may therefore look at the apocalyptic current as the result of a re-Judaization of the Gospel message, under the influence of a turn of mind foreign to Jesus. This is a relevant observation for our time, for we shall see that apocalypticism has distorted so-called “evangelical” Christianity to the point of transforming it into an objective ally of American-Zionist militarism.
More important still in the evolution of Christianity was the adoption of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, into its canon. What has Christ to do with Yahweh? How can we think of Yahweh as the Father (Abba) that Jesus knew? How should we interpret the fundamentally anti-Jewish dimension of the Gospels, whose supreme expression is the accusation hurled by Jesus at the “Jews” (meaning the mob as well as the political and religious elite): “You are of the devil, your father, and it is the desires of your father you want to accomplish. He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8: 44).
Who is this diabolos who wants to murder Christ, if not Yahweh-Seth? Is not this Yahweh who promises his people, in exchange for their submission, domination over the nations of the world (Deuteronomy 28: 1) the very Devil who offers Jesus the exact same bargain (Matthew 4: 8-10)? The so-called Gnostic Christians were well aware of the problem. They held Yahweh as an evil demiurge who had enslaved men through terror and deceitful promises of material well-being, while the loving God of Christ came to liberate them through “knowledge” (gnosis, a term indicating a deeper transformation of the self than a mere intellectual understanding). Yahweh, they believed, is the Prince of this world, while Christos came from heaven to rescue them.
The Old Testament was to become the Trojan horse of Yahwism within Christianity. By enhancing its status, the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries launched an irreversible return to Judaism. For this reason, some Catholics call Protestantism “Old Testamentism.” That is overly simplistic: it was the bishops of the first centuries who opted for the adoption of the Hebrew Bible into the canon. Later the “reforming” popes of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries relied heavily on it to mobilize the crusaders. Be that as it may, the Judaization of Christianity, to which Protestantism made a decisive but not exclusive contribution, paved the way for the anti-Christianism of the Enlightenment.
The Talmud was the Jews’ response to the appropriation by Christians of their heritage. It transformed rabbinic Judaism into a fundamentally anti-Christian religion. Christianity and Talmudism were both born from the ashes of the old biblical religion after the crises of the first two centuries CE, which saw the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and the expulsion of its Jewish population in 135. Both reached their discernible outlines only in the fourth century, and both pretended to reform ancient Judaism, but in opposite directions and in vicious competition: Talmudism, emerging from the Pharisaical current, exacerbated the purificationist, ritualistic, legalistic, and separatist tendencies; while Christianity opposed it and, under the inspiration of Paul, rejected circumcision and the Mosaic law as a whole.
The Wandering Crypto-Jew
The rise of European Jewish communities in the Middle Ages is shrouded in mystery, as are many other aspects of medieval civilization until the twelfth century. What emerges from the chronicles most clearly is the fact that, although excluded from Christian society, Jews had a virtual monopoly on the practice of lending at interest— an economic power that the Church denied Christians for moral reasons. By contrast, the practice of usury as a weapon of domination over “the nations” is promoted by the laws of Deuteronomy (15: 6), by the “heroic” legends in the Hebrew Bible (Joseph in Egypt), by the Talmud, and even by Maimonides, now considered the greatest Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages.
Throughout medieval Europe, from France to Russia passing through Germany and Poland, the Jews were hated; they were perennial victims of popular anger for their ruthless usury, alongside their aggressive commercial practices such as client-hunting, predatory pricing, and other violations of the codes of the guilds and corporations from which they were excluded. Even the bourgeois would complain about these practices and petition or even pay princes to put an end to them. Kings and princes, however, granted Jewish usurers protection whenever Judeophobia arose among the people. The tax on interest made Jews an important source of contributions to the royal treasury. Additionally, the kings and princes would themselves fall under the control of the moneylenders. Indeed, usury allowed Jews, operating in a network, to concentrate in their hands an ever-greater share of the money supply. Jews became the king’s creditors whenever he ran out of money, especially in wartime. It was these Jewish bankers, says Abraham Leon, who “allowed the kings to maintain the costly armies of mercenaries that begin to replace the undisciplined hordes of the nobility.”
The powerful used Jews as intermediaries for collecting taxes, in kind and in cash. “Tax farming” and lending at interest are activities that combine into a formidable power, since it is often taxes that force producers into debt. Occupying powers have always been able to count on the collaboration of the Jews as an intermediate class to exploit, and force into submission, the population of the occupied country; such was already the case in Egypt under Persian rule in the fifth century BCE, and again under the Ptolemies. Jewish elites, it seems, felt no solidarity with oppressed people, but remained loyal to the monarch who granted them privileged status and protected them from the vengeful mob.
England offers a good illustration of this phenomenon. The first Jews, mostly from Rouen, arrived there with William the Conqueror in 1066.156 They were soon in all major cities of England, serving as intermediaries between the new elite and the Norman Anglo-Saxon population. The king and his barons, who had decimated and replaced the Anglo-Saxon nobility, granted the Jews a monopoly on tax collection, which at the time was a profession akin to racketeering under royal protection. According to historian Edward Freeman, a specialist in the Norman Conquest, “They came as the king’s special men, or more truly as his special chattels, strangers alike to the Church and the commonwealth, but strong in the protection of a master who commonly found it his interest to protect them against all others. Hated, feared, and loathed, but far too deeply feared to be scorned or oppressed, they stalked defiantly among the people of the land, on whose wants they throve, safe from harm or insult, save now and then, when popular wrath burst all bounds, when their proud mansions and fortified quarters could shelter them no longer from raging crowds who were eager to wash out their debts in the blood of their creditors.”
Despite these violent episodes, the economic clout of the Jews quickly rose. The king became obliged to his Jewish bankers and made them his advisers. In the second half of the twelfth century, Henry II owed the Jewish financier Aaron of Lincoln alone a sum equivalent to the kingdom’s annual budget. Aaron died as the richest man in England, but the king then seized his property.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church continued to condemn Jewish usury for its damage to the social fabric. The issue was central to the Fourth Lateran Council convened in 1215 by Innocent III. Five edicts issued by the council concerned the Jews, two of them condemning the usurers’ abusive practice of appropriating the properties of defaulting debtors.
Truth be told, the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude toward moneylending and banking was ambivalent. The crusade spawned a huge increase in banking activity, since it required mortgages, interest-bearing loans, and bills of exchange at a scale previously unknown. Such activity became the specialty of the Knights Templar (the Poor Knights of Christ of the Order of the Temple of Solomon, by their full name), founded in the early twelfth century by nine soldier-monks from Troyes— a city with an influential Jewish community. Taking as their insignia the seal of Solomon (or Star of David) in the middle of the Cross Pattée (footed cross) the Templars were heavily influenced by the trade and finance of the Jews. In an 1139 bull, Pope Innocent II granted them exemption from paying tithes (church tax), full use of tithes they collected, and the right to keep any kind of booty seized in the Holy Land from conquered Saracens.
The Templars invented modern banking. They issued the check or money order called the “letter of credit” and their command posts served as safe-deposit boxes for kings and wealthy individuals. They provided transportation of funds secured by their reputation and warrior tradition. They also acted as officers to recover debts or safeguard property under litigation. The prohibition of usury was circumvented by “reciprocal gifts.” By seizing their debtors’ assets at death, they appropriated, in the middle of the thirteenth century, part of France’s territory and formed a state within the state. When French king Philip the Fair targeted the Jewish financial networks in 1306, he simultaneously attacked the Templars, who were an essential link in these networks.
The “Jewish question” became complicated in Europe when the Talmud became known to Christians. Written in Hebrew, it had been carefully concealed from public view, actually containing the statement: “The goyim who seek to discover the secrets of the Law of Israel commit a crime that calls for the death penalty” (Sanhedrin 59a). It was in 1236 that Nicolas Donin, a converted Jew who became a Dominican monk, gained an audience with Pope Gregory IX to convince him of the blasphemous character of the Talmud, which presents Christ as the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier and a prostitute (Sanhedrin 106a), capable of miracles only by sorcery, and not risen but “sent to hell, where he was punished by being boiled in excrement” (Gittin 56b).
Throughout the sixteenth century, the Marranos migrated to nations with Jewish communities, but were not allowed to officially join them. Many, feeling as foreign to one religion as the other, lost their faith. But their rejection of Jewish religion was not a rejection of Jewishness. On the contrary: beginning in the fifteenth century, a heightened racial pride emerged among the New Christians, in direct contradiction to the Christian concept that, among the baptized, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3: 28). Having been forced to change their religion, the Marranos minimized the importance of religion and interpreted their Jewishness in racial terms, allowing them to view themselves as fundamentally Jewish, and only incidentally Christian. It was the Marranos who, inspired by the Talmud, disseminated the first racist theories...
Far from blending in with Christian society, New Christians socialized and married only among themselves, continued to practice usury, and still served as intermediaries between the elite and the masses of Old Christians, only with increased freedom and legitimacy. This behavior was the determining factor in the transformation of religiously based Judeophobia into the racial Judeophobia that would later be called “anti-Semitism”...
Part of the Marrano community never left Portugal, and in the early twentieth century, ethnographers were able to document remnant Marrano communities that had maintained their secret customs for more than five centuries, oblivious to their specific historical ties with the Jews of the world...
But a larger number of Portuguese Marranos spread around the world beginning in 1507, when they were first allowed to trade internationally. Some crossed the Pyrenees to reach Bayonne and Bordeaux, others settled in Northern Europe or in the Mediterranean basin, while others sailed to Lima in South America, or Goa in India. “From the mid-seventeenth century onward,” summarizes Yovel, “the Marranos created a worldwide network of Spanish-Portuguese establishments, a kind of archipelago of islands where they interacted to some degree with their surroundings, bringing with them their languages, their cultures, their Iberian customs, their skills and trade networks along with the restlessness and split identity that was their own special characteristic.” The conversos quickly became first-class international businessmen, confidently exchanging bank notes and IOUs. They “created the first pre-modern, albeit fragmented, model of economic globalization” and “soon began to rise to the forefront of international trade, virtually monopolizing the market for certain commodities, such as sugar, to participate to a lesser degree in trading spices, rare woods, tea, coffee, and the transportation of slaves.” Their strength lay not only in their network of solidarity, but also in their great mobility, with wealthy families always ready to respond to constraints or opportunities by a new exile.
Fleeing the Inquisition, many Marranos took refuge in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the city of Thessaloniki, where they were free to practice their religion. They converted nominally to Islam in large numbers during the seventeenth century, following the example of Sabbatai Zevi, the Kabbalist and self-styled messiah, forming the Dönmeh community, whose numbers were assessed at more than one million in the early twentieth century. In 1550, the French King Henri II allowed “merchants and other Portuguese called New Christians” to settle in Bordeaux, granting them privileges that allowed them to acquire great wealth in maritime trade, including the slave trade. In Venice, Portuguese Marranos settled in the early sixteenth century. By the middle of the seventeenth century “they attained the hegemony in local affairs,” according to Cecil Roth. It is worth mentioning that the first edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Venice in 1520. From 1512 onward, an even larger Marrano community settled in the Netherlands, then under Spanish rule. Antwerp became their capital and emerged as a booming economic center. Calvinist uprisings led to the independence of the United Provinces in 1579. When, in 1585, Philip II of Spain temporarily retook Antwerp, Jews and Calvinists transferred their businesses to Amsterdam. In the seventeenth century, the Jewish community of Amsterdam, called the “New Jerusalem of the North,” was composed largely of conversos who had returned to Judaism. Ashkenazi Jews also flocked to Amsterdam after the pogroms in Poland and Ukraine in 1648. Many of these Jews and crypto-Jews eventually would join the “New Amsterdam,” later renamed New York.
When circumstances permitted, the Marranos returned to Judaism. But if it benefitted their affairs, they could also re-don the Christian mask when travelling back to Spain, Portugal, or in the Iberian colonies. Many made use of two names: a Hebrew name within the Jewish community, and a Spanish or Portuguese name in international affairs.
Firmly established in all major European ports, the Marranos played the leading role in the commercial and colonial expansion of sixteenth- to eighteenth-century Europe. Their networks were not only the link between the maritime empires of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English, but also took on a global dimension, connecting Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. Portuguese Marranos mastered large-scale trade, on the routes to the East Indies as well as the newly opened sea routes to the “West Indies,” meaning the American continent.
Christopher Columbus— who left Spain during the same month that the decree of expulsion of the Jews was declared— was himself Marrano, according to a thesis defended by several Jewish historians, including Cecil Roth, author of an authoritative history of Marranism: “That epoch-making expedition of 1492 was as a matter of fact very largely a Jewish, or rather a Marrano, enterprise. There are grounds for believing that Columbus was himself a member of a New Christian family.” Christopher Columbus, we may recall, was the author of a genocide-by-forced-labor of Caribbean populations, island after island. In 1495, he sent the first shipments of Indian slaves to Spain: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity, go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” he wrote. Others were enslaved in their own lands for the extraction of the gold that Columbus intended to send back to his sponsors. Each Haitian above the age of thirteen was required to bring in a quota of gold, and those who failed had their hands cut off. The hell imposed on these populations resulted in the first known mass suicides. The population was decimated in two generations. The unspeakable cruelty of Columbus and his men was documented by the priest Bartolome de las Casas.
In the wake of Columbus, the Marranos became the main catalysts of the new spirit of colonial expansion, from Mexico to Peru and from the Caribbean to Brazil.
No international trade escaped them, and in time of war, they traded with enemy countries equally. Naturally, said Wachtel, “the traffic of African slaves [. . .] was virtually controlled at the end of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth, by the networks of the Marrano diaspora,” all beneficiaries of asientos (exclusive contracts granted by the Crown) being Portuguese businessmen. Some were at the same time priests, like Diego Lopez de Lisboa in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Note that, out of a little over nine million slaves imported to the Americas between 1519 and 1867, eight million were in Brazil and the Caribbean, where the traffic was in the hands of Marranos. The conditions were much harder there than in North America; the majority of slaves died young without founding families. Jewish justification of this traffic, inspired by the Hebrew Bible, was voiced by Jacob ben Isaac Achkenazi de Janow in his Commentary on the Torah in the early seventeenth century: Blacks were descended from Ham, the youngest son of Noah, who was cursed by the Lord with these words: “Accursed be Canaan, he shall be his brothers’ meanest slave” (Genesis 9: 25). 193 It is fair to mention that Pope Paul III proclaimed in 1537 his bull Sublimus Dei prohibiting slavery of American Indians and all other peoples, denouncing such practices as directly inspired by “the enemy of mankind.”
The controversy of Reuchlin led to an unquestionable victory of Judaism over Christianity, and it was the starting point of the Reformation. According to Heinrich Graetz, “We can boldly assert that the war for and against the Talmud aroused German consciousness, and created a public opinion, without which the Reformation, like many other efforts, would have died in the hour of birth, or, perhaps, would never have been born at all.”
Since its appearance, the Protestant Reformation has been seen by Catholics as effecting a return to Judaism under the influence of Jews and Marranos. Its contempt for saints and destruction of the Marian cult, in particular, are an indirect attack against Christ. If the Jews shunned the Reformation, this was not the case for crypto-Jews, who saw it as a way to leave the Church and gain easier access to the Hebrew Bible. The role of the Marranos was particularly important in the Calvinist movement, which not only brought back the God of the Old Testament, but also condoned moneymaking and usury. During his lifetime, Calvin was already suspected of having Marrano origin. His name, spelled Jehan Cauvin, plausibly derives from Cauin, a French version of Coen. Calvin wrote commentaries on the entire Old Testament and perfectly mastered Hebrew, which he learned from rabbis. He heaped praise on the Jewish people: pure knowledge of God comes from them, as did the Messiah. His obsession with the law, and his belief that idolatry should be eradicated by military force, have their roots in the Old Testament, as does his obsession with purity.
To be continued.