The yellow badge Jews were forced to wear can be seen in this marginal illustration from an English manuscript.
Summer is almost over as we enter the Labor Day holiday weekend here in the USA. May Day, the world wide labor struggle holiday, which started in honor of American Anarchists in Chicago, is alienated from its radical history here. But the people have struggled to have their voices heard despite the constant media barrage to discourage action and to induce a sense of fear and helplessness.
We can see how people the world over took to the streets when Israel attacked Gaza, especially in Europe, not so strangely the dictatorships in the Arab world remained largely silent, not wanting to encourage more signs of resistance like the Arab Spring. The USA, as leader of the cabal of elite rulers around the world, has rocked the boat when Obama made his seemingly foolish speech in Cairo when he was first elected. It must be attributed to his relative political naïveté in international affairs. He perhaps wanted to distinguish himself from Bush’s administration with its heavy handed interventionist policies. The elites in Saudi Arabia never forgave him for letting Mubarak go. They insisted on returning the military to power and now are busily working with proxies such as the U.A.E. to destroy the independent resistance in Libya and did their best to turn Syria into a quagmire.
The Obama administration, with their desire to turn focus to deal with a rising China, and create an East Asian NATO, has now found itself being out-foxed by the combined efforts of Iran, Russia and China. But I digress into speculation on politics based on my own reading and experience in various domestic anti-imperialist political campaigns.
Little Gaza is a lynchpin irritant; it is the sore that keeps the Islamic world rallying against the presence of Israel. It is such a blatant injustice, that when Islamic regimes give silent aid to Israel, they fuel the forces of Islamic radicalism. It was the Palestinian question and the placement of US bases in Saudi Arabia allowed Osama Bin Laden to inspire so many young Saudi’s and others to such an implacable resistance to the US machinations leading to 9/11.
What to do about Israel? I can admire the Jewish people and their resilience in the face of prejudice, especially on the part of Christians that goes back to at least medieval times. The Greek-Jewish hostility dating back to the Greek Selucid occupation of the Jewish homeland in the Hellenistic period, extended into the Roman times. Witness the riots in Roman occupied Alexandria between Greeks and Jews and the records of delegations to Rome during the time of Caligula, to resolve these conflicts in Philo. The degeneration of relations between Rome and the Jews from the days when Herod was a welcome celebrity in Rome, to the time of the destruction of the second temple by Vespasian and Titus, a subject that I would like to dig into sometime because it would be interesting to see how Jews became Shylocks in the western tradition and a persecuted minority.
I am providing a link to a fairly good article from Wikipedia on the subject of the early split between Judaism and Christianity, which resulted in official oppression of Jews once the Christians became part of the government after Constantine. The earlier Roman oppression of the Jews had more to do with Roman practice against rebels than any specific anti-Semitism. Later the attitude of Hadrian, whose Hellenophile enthusiasm, may have influenced his repression of the Jews and renaming Jerusalem as pagan Aelia Capitolina. What has the Greek and Jewish conflict played in the emergence of anti-Semitism is a subject I intend to write about more. As it is I am diverging again.
The Jewish people deserve to feel safe in their place in the world. Yet they must not do so by developing their own version of South African Apartheid on a much smaller and more intensive scale.
This entire discourse was inspired by my reading of Plautus’s play The Mostellaria, reading his rants against moneylenders. His language seems right out of the Biblical Jesus’s excoriation of the money changers. It got me thinking about when were Jews first associated with the reviled loan sharks. Plautus has his hero, the mischievous slave Tranio, say in an aside to the audience “By Pollux, you won’t find a fouler class of/men/Or men less lawful than the moneylending breed!” (Plautus 657-659). He spends a goodly section of the play railing against loans at interest and one gets the impression that this may have been a relatively recent development in Roman culture. Banking with the concept of interest had been criticized by Aristotle and Roman law limited interest to 8 1/3%. Yet in the play the money lender is asking for 10%.
Also in the war with the Carthaginians, the second Punic war, which would have been going on during much of Plautus’s adulthood, the Roman Republic took out many loans and taxed women for their jewel and gold inherited from dead spouses called the Oppian Laws. After the war in 195 BC when the war was long over, the Oppian law was still in effect and the women protested when the Senate was voting on repeal and the tribunes were about to veto repeal. This occurred a decade or so before Plautus died and presumably when he was a well-known playwright.
So I was thinking about how usury was unpopular among the aristocracy of the day. There had been a crisis in Athens earlier when many farmers had become enslaved for non-payment of debt. Solon famously did much to eliminate that debt and legislated against it. The Greeks famously used their temples as banks. Pawnbrokers and money changing are considered to be Greek innovations. Perhaps the outrage of Jesus was outrage at the Hellenistic practice in the Jewish temple. This would give a nationalist twist to his opposition, or who ever made up the story. The transformation of the payment in interest in grain, where agricultural products naturally created more abundance, as opposed to the innovation of charging interest on money and metals which had no natural increase which caused serious problems in ancient society. But how the Jews, became associated with moneylending had much to do with medieval taxation and land ownership restrictions on Jews and their lack of a natural land base after the diaspora. I am again getting beyond my area of even limited expertise, so I am going to leave it at that.
I am leaving this off with more questions than answers. I am going to have to read more on the original Greek and Jewish interaction. Perhaps in my Pagan Culture class I will write a paper on this and post it. Meanwhile it is now August 31st and I have not even touched on the issues of migration and police shootings of minorities. I will write more at a later time. Meantime I would love some commentary and addition of some factual information.
Some good sources that I happen to have in my personal library and have read over the years:
Andreau, Jean. Banking and Business in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press. 1999. Print.
Finnley, M. I. The Ancient Economy. Berkeley: U. of CA. Press. 1999. Print.
Lee, A. D. Pagans & Christians in Late Antiquity. London: Routledge. 2000. Print.
Plautus, Titus Maccius. Four Comedies. Trans. Erich Segal. Oxford: Oxford U. Press. 1996. Print.
Tcherikover, Victor. Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews. New York: Atheneum. 1979. Print.