Dialogika

Texts from the History of the Relationship

ROMAN IMPERIAL LAWS concerning Jews (329-553)

[Selected and adapted from Amon Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation (Wayne State Univ. Pr., 1987).]

 

1. Prohibition of Persecuting Jewish Converts and of Proselytism by Jews

Emperor Constantine Augustus October 18, 329

We want the Jews, their principals, and their patriarchs informed, that if anyone-once this law has been given-dare attack by stoning or by other kind of fury one escaping from their deadly group and raising his eyes to God's cult [Christianity], which as we have learned is being done now, he shall be delivered immediately to the flames and burnt with his associates. But if one of the people [a Christian] shall approach their nefarious sect and join himself to their conventicles [synagogues], he shall suffer with them the deserved punishments.

 

2. Exemption of Religious Leaders from Community Service

Emperor Constantine November 29, 330

Those who dedicated themselves with complete devotion to the synagogues of the Jews, to the patriarchs, or to the Sanhedrin, while living in the above-mentioned group, it is they who preside over the law, shall continue to be exempt from all liturgies [community services], personal as well as civil; in such a way that those that happen to be decurions [city council members] already shall not be designated to transportations* of any kind, for it would be appropriate that people such as these shall not be compelled for whatever reason to depart for the places in which they are. Those however, who are definitely not decurions, shall enjoy perpetual exemption from the decurionate [i.e., such persons are partially exempt from community service].

[* transportation service could be, for example, the duty to transport food for the army.]

 

3. Prohibition of Circumcising Non-Jewish Slaves and of Harassing Jewish Converts

Emperor Constantine October 21, 335

If one of the Jews shall buy and circumcise a Christian slave (or of any other sect), he shall on no account retain the circumcised in slavery, but he who suffered this shall acquire the privileges of liberty. ...

COMMENTARY

If one of the Jews shall buy and circumcise a Christian slave (or of any other sect), he shall be raised up from that Jew's power and remain in liberty.

...It shall not be permitted that Jews harass or attack in any kind of injury him who became Christian from Jew. The insult should be punished according to the nature of the crime committed.

 

4. Confiscation of the Properties of Christian Converts to Judaism

Emperor Constantius II, July 3, 353

If someone shall become Jew from Christian and shall be joined to sacrilegious assemblies, we decree that his property shall be vindicated to the fisc's [state treasury's] dominion once the accusation has been proven.

 

5. Public Declaration by the Emperor Julian, March 1, 363

To the Community of the Jews:

The worst burden of the yoke of slavery imposed on you in the past has been that you were subjected to unpublished taxes and obliged to bring in to the Accounts Department of the Treasury an ineffable quantity of gold. Much of these I have seen myself, and much more I learnt when I discovered the tax-lists kept against you. Furthermore, I prevented that a tax be imposed again on you, caused the impiety derived from such infamy to be stopped, and put to fire the lists laid up against you in my offices, so that no more could one throw against you such an ill-fame of godlessness.

My brother Constantius, worthy of remembrance, is not as guilty of these things against you as are those barbarians in mind and godless in spirit who ate at his table, whom I seized with my hands, threw into a pit, and exterminated, so that not even a memory of their extermination shall remain with us in the future.

Wishing you to fare even better, I have recommended to my brother Julus, the most reverent [Jewish] Patriarch, that that which is called among you the apostle-tax* be abolished, and that in the future no one could harm your multitudes by exacting such taxes, so that you shall have freedom from care in every way during my reign and enjoying peace, you shall make even greater supplication for my reign to God, the mightiest of all, the creator, who found me worthy to be crowned with his immaculate right hand.

For it is natural that those who are visited with some care are preoccupied and do not have even the courage to raise their hands in prayer, while those that are entirely free from any care-rejoicing with their whole heart-perform the supplication-service for my Imperial authority to the Greatest, in whose power it is to direct my reign for the best, according to my purpose. This you must do, in order that I myself, once I have terminated well the war with the Persians, shall rebuild and settle on my expense Jerusalem the holy city, which you have longed for many years to see settled, and in her I shall honor the Greatest with you.

[* The apostle-tax financed the Jewish Patriarch, his establishment, and the sages in Palestine.]

 

6. Exemption of Synagogues from Hospitality Duty (for the imperial court and army)

Emperors Valentinian I and Valens, May 6, 368 (or 370 or 373)

You shall order those who invade a synagogue of the Jewish law as though on right of hospitality to evacuate it, for they ought to come to houses of private persons, not places of religion, on right of habitation.

 

7. Repeal of the Exemption of Jewish Religious Leaders from Community Service

Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius I, April 18 or 19, 383

The order with which the men of Jewish law delude themselves, and in virtue of which they are given immunity from curial liturgies [service to the community], shall be rescinded, for not even clerics are free to subject themselves to the divine ministry before they pay in full all their duties to their motherland. Therefore, anyone who is genuinely consecrated to God should provide another man with his property and establish him to perform the liturgies in his place.

 

8. Prohibition of Christians from Participating in Pagan, Jewish, and Manichaean Cults

Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius I, May 21, 383

We punish the crime of Christians passing over to altars and temples by abrogating their power to bequeath in testament. Also those who despised the dignity of the Christian religion and name and polluted themselves with the Jewish contagions shall be punished for their disgraceful acts. Those, however, who preferred, at any time, to frequent the Manichaeans' execrable hideouts and their abominable retreats, shall be visited always and perpetually by the punishment established by our father Valentinian in his divine decision, and decreed not less frequently in our verdicts. Indeed, the instigators of this persuasion, who misled slipping minds to their peculiar fellowship, shall be visited by the same punishment as those guilty of such a deviation, moreover, we order that the nefarious perpetrators of this crime shall suffer generally harsher penalties than usual, according to the decision of the judges and to the nature of the crime. We establish, however, a time limit for trials such as this, in order that the deceased shall not be disturbed by the perpetual injury of an accusation, and that inheritance trials definitely settled with the passage of time shall not be revived into eternally inflamed conflicts. If someone shall accuse a deceased person of a desecration and desertion of the Christian religion and maintain that he passed over to the sacrileges of the temples or to the Jewish rites or to the Manichaeans' infamy, and claim that on these grounds he was on no account capable of bequeathing in testament, he shall prefer private charges and obtain the opening of the future trial of this kind within five consecutive years, as is established in cases of 'dereliction of duty'. On condition that it should be demonstrated-he shall testify in public and prove his accusation-that during the lifetime of the person whose transgression is the cause for accusation he was present of this crime and offence; and let him not accuse for this transgression as though he was ignorant of it, he who tacitly acquiesced, in the supreme name, with perfidy" and treacherously consented to crimes.

 

9. Prohibition of the Possession and Conversion of Christian Slaves by Jews

Emperors Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius I, September 384

On no account shall a Jew buy a Christian slave, neither shall he contaminate him with Jewish sacraments and convert him from Christian to Jew. If it shall be revealed in a public investigation that this was done, the slaves must be taken away and such owners should suffer a punishment commensurate and appropriate to the crime. Furthermore, if slaves who are still Christian, or Christian slaves who have become Jews, shall be discovered in possession of Jews, they shall be redeemed from a shameful slavery through the payment by Christians of the right price.

COMMENTARY

It behooves to take care, above all, that no Jew shall be permitted to have a Christian slave, and certainly he shall on no account dare to presume to convert a Christian slave, if he shall have one, to his own law. If he shall do this, he should know that he shall suffer a punishment commensurate with such a crime and his salves shall be taken away; for it had been decreed before this law was given, that he shall be paid by Christians the price he had given for a Christian slave, if that slave was contaminated by the Jewish pollution, in order that the slave shall abide in the Christian law.

 

10. Prohibition on Intermarriage

Emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I, and Arcadius, March 14, 388

No Jew shall take a Christian woman in marriage, neither shall a Christian marry a Jewess. Indeed, if anyone shall commit something of the kind, his crime shall be considered as adultery, with the right to accuse allowed the general public.

COMMENTARY

It is prohibited by this law's severity that a Jew shall have a Christian woman in matrimony, and that a Christian man shall take a Jewish wife. If any persons shall intermingle in such an intercourse against our interdiction, let them know that they shall be punished by the punishments inflicted on those condemned for adultery, and that accusation of this crime is allowed not only to relatives but also to all.

 

11. On the Authority of the Jewish Religious Leaders

Emperors Theodosius I, Arcadius, and Honorius [sic], April 17, 392

In the complaints of the Jews it was affirmed, that some people received in their sect on the authority of the judges, against the opposition of the Primates of their Law, who had cast them out by their judgment and will. We order that this injury should be utterly removed, and that a tenacious group in their superstition shall not earn aid for their undue readmission through the authority of judges or of ill-gotten rescript, against the will of their Primates, who are manifestly authorized to pass judgment concerning their religion, under the authority of the Most Renowned and Illustrious Patriarchs.

 

12. Prohibition of the Destruction and Spoliation of Synagogues

Emperors Theodosius I, Arcadius, and Honorius, September 29, 393

It is sufficiently established that the sect of the Jews is prohibited by no law. We are therefore gravely disturbed by the interdiction imposed in some places on their assemblies. Your Sublime Magnitude [the Master of the Soldiers in the East] shall, upon reception of this order, repress with due severity the excess of those who presume to commit illegal acts under the name of the Christian religion and attempt to destroy and despoil synagogues.

 

13. Prohibition of Non-Jews Establishing Prices for Merchandise of Jews

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, February 28, 396

To the Jews: No outsider to the religion of the Jews shall set prices for the Jews when merchandise is offered for sale: for it is just to assign to each man what is his own. Province-governors shall not allow, therefore, that a controller or a supervisor be appointed over you. But if someone shall dare to seize this office, except you and your leaders, then they shall hasten to repress him with the penalty imposed on a usurper of another's property.

 

14. Protection to Jews and Synagogues

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, June 17, 397

Your excellent authority [the Praefectus Praetorio of Illyricum] shall order the governors to assemble, in order that they shall learn and know, that it is necessary to repel the assaults of those who attack Jews, and that their synagogues should remain in their accustomed peace.

 

15. On Jewish Converts Seeking Asylum in Christian Churches

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, June 17, 397

Jews, who are oppressed by some legal charge or by debts and pretend they wish to join the Christian Law in order to avoid their crimes or the burden of their debts by fleeing to churches shall be kept off and shall be received before they have paid up all their debts or have been acquitted and proven innocent.

16. Confirmation of the Exemption of Jewish Religious Leaders from Community Service

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, July 1, 397

The Jews shall be bound by their rites, while we shall imitate the ancients in conserving their privileges, for it was established in their laws and confirmed by our divinity, that those who are subject to the rule of the Illustrious Patriarchs, that is the Archsynagogues, the patriarchs, the elders, and others who are occupied in the rite of that religion, shall persevere in keeping the same privileges that are reverently bestowed on the first clerics of the venerable Christian Law. For this was decreed in divine order also by the divine Emperors Constantine and Constantius, Valentinian and Valens. Let them therefore be exempt even from the curial liturgies, and obey their laws.

 

17. On the Judicial Powers of Jewish Authorities

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, February 3, 398

The Jews, who live under Roman common law, shall address the courts in the usual way in those cases which do not concern so much their superstition as court, laws and rights, and all of them shall bring actions and defend themselves under the Roman laws; in conclusion, they shall be under our laws. Certainly, if some shall deem it necessary to litigate before the Jews or the patriarchs through mutual agreement, in the manner of arbitration, with the consent of both parties and in civil matters only, they shall not be prohibited by public law from accepting their verdict; the governors of the provinces shall even execute their sentences as if they were appointed arbiters through a judge's award.

COMMENTARY

All the Jews, who are known to be Romans, shall litigate before the Heads of their religion only on what concerns the discipline of their religion, so that they shall observe among themselves what was established by the Hebrew laws. All the other matters, however, which are covered by our laws and pertain to the court, shall be determined by the governor of the province according to the common law. Certainly, if the two parties shall consent and wish to litigate before the Heads of their law, in civil matters only, and the process shall be terminated by an arbitration award based on a mutual agreement, the award shall be recognized as if it was established by a judge's order.

 

18. Repeal of the Exemption of the Jews from Community Service

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, September 13 (or February 13), 398

We learn that many city-curias [city councils] totter throughout Apulia and Calabria because they belong to the Jewish superstition and consider that they should be exempt from the necessity of undergoing liturgies [community service] on the strength of some law passed in the regions of the East. We order in this authority, therefore, that that law, if it does exist, is to be abrogated, for it is evidently harmful to our regions, and that all who are obliged in any way to serve legally in the curia, no matter of whatever superstition they may be, shall be obliged to perform the liturgies of their cities.

 

19. The Privileges Granted to the Jewish Patriarchs and Their Appointees

Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, February 3, 404

We order that all the privileges granted by our father, of divine memory, and by the emperors before him, to the excellent Patriarchs, and to those set by them over others, shall retain their force.

 

20. Prohibition to Mock Christianity on Purim

Emperors Theodosius II and Honorius, May 29, 408

The governors of the provinces shall prohibit the Jews from setting fire to Haman in memory [effigy] of his past punishment, in a certain ceremony of their festival, and from burning with sacrilegious intent a form made to resemble the holy cross in contempt of the Christian faith, lest they mingle the sign of our faith with their jests, and they shall restrain their rites from ridiculing the Christian Law, for they are bound to lose what had been permitted them till now unless they abstain from those matters which are forbidden.

 

21. Against God-fearers and Conversion to Judaism

Honorius and Theodosius II, April 1, 409

A new crime of superstition shall obtain the unheard name of Heaven-Fearers [God-fearers]. Let them know, that unless they return within a year to the cult of God and to the Christian veneration, they too shall be affected by those laws which we have ordered to be imposed on the heretics. For it is certain, that whatever differs from the faith of the Christians is obviously contrary to the Christian Law. Some people, moreover, oblivious of their and their position, dare to transgress the Law to such an extent, that they force some to cease being Christian and adopt the abominable and vile name of the Jews. Although those that have committed this crime shall be legally condemned under the laws of the ancient emperors, still it does not bother us to admonish repeatedly, that those imbued in the Christian mysteries shall not be forced to adopt Jewish perversity, which is alien to the Roman Empire, and abjure Christianity. And if someone should believe that this be willfully attempted, we order that the instigators of the deed with their accomplices shall sugger the punishment decreed in the former laws, for it is graver than death and crueler than massacre when someone abjures the Christian faith and becomes polluted with the Jewish incredulity. We order, therefore, that [...] and legislate in a decree devoted to God, namely under this instruction, that if someone shall attempt to rise against this law, let him know that he shall be punished for high treason.

 

22. Protection of Synagogues and the Jewish Sabbath

Honorius with Theodosius II, July 26, 412

No one shall dare to violate or seize and occupy what are known the names of synagogues and are assuredly frequented by the conventicles of the Jews, for all must retain what is theirs with unmolested right and without harm to religion and cult. Furthermore, since the ancient custom and usage preserved the day of the Sabbath, sacred to the said people of the Jews, we decree that this too must be avoided, that no summons shall constrain a man of the said custom under the pretext of public or private business, for it would seem that all the remaining time suffices for the public laws, and it would be most worthy of the government of our time that former privileges shall not be violated; although it would seem that enough had been legislated on this matter in general constitutions by past Emperors.

 

23. Demotion of Patriarch Gamaliel VI and Restriction of His Authority

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, October 25, 415

Since [Jewish Patriarch] Gamaliel supposed that he could transgress the law with impunity all the more because he was elevated to the pinnacle of dignities, Your Illustrious Authority [Aurelius, Praefectus Praetorio of the East] shall know that Our Serenity has directed orders to the Illustrious Master of the Offices, that the appointment documents to the honorary prefecture shall be taken from him, so that he shall remain in the honor that was his before he was granted the prefecture, and henceforth he shall cause no synagogues to be founded, and if there are any in deserted places, he shall see to it that they are destroyed, if it can be done without sedition. He shall no power to judge Christians; if any contention shall arise between them and the Jews it shall be settled by the governors of the province. If he himself, or one of the Jews, shall attempt to defile a Christian or a member of any sect whatsoever, slave and freeman alike, with the Jewish mark of infamy, he shall be subjected to the laws' severity. If he holds slaves who partake of the Christian sanctity, they shall be handed over to the Church according to the law of Constantine.

[Note: In 425 Theodosius II order the execution of Patriarch Gamaliel VI after he ignored the above edict and approved the building of new synagogues. By forbidding the appointment of a successor, Theodosius effectively abolished the office of the Jewish Patriarchate.]

 

24. Allowing Jewish Converts to Christianity to Return to Judaism

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, September 24, 416

It had been ordained, in the old laws as well as in ours, that, since we have learned that convicts of the Jewish religion want to join the community of the Church in order to escape their crimes and out of various necessities, this is done not from devotion to the Faith, but as a false simulation. Let the judges of the provinces in which such crimes are said to have been committed know, therefore, that our laws are to be obeyed in such a way that those people whom they shall observe as not adhering to this cult in the constancy of their religious profession, nor to be imbued with the faith and mysteries of the venerable baptism, are to be allowed to return to their own law, for it is of greater benefit to Christianity.

 

25. The Possession of Christian Slaves by Jews

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, April 10, 417

A Jew should not buy a Christian slave nor acquire him in gift. If anyone should not observe this, he shall forfeit the ownership impudently acquired, while the slave shall be granted liberty as reward, if he should willingly cause the deed to be publicly known. The others, however, who partake in the right religion and are held under the rule of the nefarious superstition, which appears to have acquired them in the past, or should acquire them hereafter, in inheritance or in fideicommissum [inheritance through a third party], shall be possessed by it on the condition, that it shall not corrupt them with the filth of its proper sect, to their will or against their will. If this rule should be violated, therefore, the instigators of such a crime shall be punished with capital punishment and in addition by confiscation.

 

26. Exclusion of Jews from Public Service

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, March 10, 418

The entrance to State Service shall be closed from now on to those living in the Jewish superstition who attempt to enter it. We concede therefore to all those who took the oath of the Service, either among the Executive Agents or among the Palatins [executives in the financial departments], the opportunity to terminate their service on its statutory term, suffering the deed rather than encouraging it, though what we wish to be alleviated at present to a few shall not be permitted in the future. As for those, however, who are subject to the perversity of this [Jewish] nation and are proven to have entered the Military Service, we decree that their military belt shall be undone without any hesitation, and that they shall not derive any help or protection from their former merits. Nevertheless, we do not exclude Jews educated in the liberal studies from the freedom of practicing as advocates [lawyers], and we permit them to enjoy the honor of the curial liturgies [civil community service duties], which they possess by right of their birth's prerogative and their family's splendor. Since they ought to be satisfied with these, they should not consider the interdiction concerning the State Service as a mark of infamy.

 

27. Policy on Synagogues

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, February 15, 423

It seems right that in the future none of the synagogues of the Jews shall either be indiscriminately seized or put on fire. If there are some synagogues that were seized or vindicated to churches or indeed consecrated to the venerable mysteries in a recent undertaking and after the law was passed, they shall be given in exchange new places, on which they could build, that is, to the measure of the synagogues taken. Votive offerings as well, if they are in fact seized, shall be returned to them provided that they have not yet been dedicated to the sacred mysteries; but if a venerable consecration does not permit their restitution, they shall be given the exact price for them. No synagogue shall be constructed from now on, and the old ones shall remain in their state.

 

28. Policy toward Jews, Heretics, and Pagans

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, April 9, 423

Known and divulged to all are our decrees and those of our ancestors, in which we suppressed the arrogance and the audacity of the abominable pagans, as well as of the Jews and the heretics. We want the Jews to know, however, that we take with pleasure the occasion of the repetition of the law, and in answer to their pitiable supplications we have but legislated that those who usually commit wrong unadvisedly under cover of the venerable Christianity, shall abstain from injuring and persecuting them, and that from now on no one shall occupy their synagogues, and no one shall set them on fire. However, these Jews shall be condemned to confiscation of property as well as to perpetual exile, If it shall be established that they have circumcised a man of our Faith or ordered him to be circumcised.

 

29. Confirmation of Policy toward Jews, Pagans, and Heretics

Emperors Honorius and Theodosius II, June 8, 423

What we legislated recently concerning the Jews and their synagogues shall remain in force, namely, that they shall never be permitted to build new synagogues, neither shall they dread that the old ones shall be seized from them. Let them know, indeed, that the other prohibitions should be observed in the future in the manner declared by the text of the law recently passed. ...

We particularly enjoin on the Christians, genuine as well as false, that they shall not dare to raise their hands, abusing the authority of religion, against peaceful Jews and pagans who are not attempting anything seditious or unlawful. For if they shall act violently against peaceful people, or plunder their property, they shall be convicted and compelled to restitute not only what they had plundered, but twice the value of their plunder. Let the governors of the provinces, their offices and principals knows, they if they themselves do not punish such deeds and even permit them to be done by the populace, they shall be punished like the perpetrators.

 

30. Expulsion of Jews and Pagans from the Imperial Administration and the Legal Profession

Emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III, July 9, 425 [addressed to the Praefectus Praetorio of Gaul]

... [S]ince it behooves that the religious populace shall not be depraved by any superstition, we order that the Manichaeans, all the heretics or schismatics and astrologers, and every sect hostile to the Catholics must be expelled from the very sight of the various cities, so that they shall not be defiled even by the contagious presence of the criminal. We also deny to the Jews, and to the pagans, the right to practice law and to serve in the State service; we do not wish people of the Christian law to serve them, lest they substitute, because of this superior position, the venerable religion by a sect. We command, therefore, that all persons holding an unpropitious error be excluded, unless they are succored by a timely reform [of their erroneous views].

 

31. Inheritance Laws concerning Jewish Converts to Christianity

Emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III, April 7 or 8, 426

If a son, a daughter, or a grandson, one or many, of a Jew or of a Samaritan, shall cross over in a better judgment from the darkness of their proper superstition to the light of the Christian religion, their parents, namely father and mother, grandfather or grandmother, shall not be permitted to disinherit them or pass them over in their will, or leave them anything less than they could obtain if they were called to inherit to an intestate. If it shall so happen, we order that the will shall be rescinded and that he shall inherit an intestatcy, while the manumissions grated in that will shall retain their validity, provided that they are within the legal number. ,,,.

 

32. Transfer of the Crown Tax Previously Paid to the Jewish Patriarch to the Imperial Treasury

Theodosius II and Valentinian III, May 30, 429

The Primates of the Jews, who are nominated in the Synhedriis [provincial authorities] of either of the provinces of Palestine or stay in other provinces, shall be forced to pay all that they had received as tax since the cessation of the patriarchs. In the future, however, an annual payment shall be demanded fom all synagogues, on the Primates' responsibility and under the supervision of the Palatins [treasury officials], in the same way that the patriarchs used in the past to demand under the name of Crown Gold; examine in a skillful investigation its amount; and what was used to be transmitted from the Western regions to the patriarchs should be entered into our Largesses [treasuries].

 

33. Policy in Regard to Jews, Samaritans, Pagans, and Heretics

Theodosius II and Valentinian III, January 31, 438

COMMENTARY

This law orders in particular that no Jew and no Samaritan shall attain any honor of State government or administration, and that on no account shall they receive the office of Protector, nor by prison guards, lest perchance they dare molest Christians, or even priests, under pretext of any office, and lest the above mentioned who are enemies of our law, presume to condemn people or judge them under our laws. They shall not dare to construct anew any synagogue. For if they shall do so they shall know that this building shall benefit the Catholic Church and the builders of that building shall be fined fifty in gold weight. But let them know that this is allowed them, that they should repair the ruins of their synagogues. This, however, is particularly comprehended in this law, that no Jew shall dare to transfer to his law a Christian, slave or freeborn, by any persuasion whatsoever or be punished by death and loss of property.

 

34. Against the Public Debate of Christian Dogma after the Council of Chalcedon

Emperors Marcian and Valentinian III, February 7, 452

At long last was accomplished what we have commenced with the utmost prayer and zeal, and the contention concerning the law of orthodox Christians was removed away. At long last were found the remedies for the blameworthy error, and the discordant thought of the populace brought into one consent and unity. For devout bishops assembled together from different provinces in the city of the Chalcedonians by our command and they taught clearly in a decision what must be carefully observed in religion. The unholy quarrel shall henceforth cease, therefore, For he who leaves anything to his private judgment after the decision of so many bishops is truly a profanator and a desecrator, for it is clearly utter madness to look for a false light in midday. He who continues to search after the truth had been discovered searches for falsehood. No one, therefore, be he cleric, public official or of whatever other rank, shall dare in the future to assemble attentive crowds to lecture them in public on the faith of the Christians, looking thus for pretexts for tumult and heresy. He who strives to reopen and publicly debate in a lecture what have been judged once for all and rightly settled is committing injury against the verdict of the holy council, as the decisions reached now about the faith of the Christians are known to accord with the expositions of the Apostles, with the teaching of the Three Hundred and Eighteen holy fathers [the Council of Nicea in 325], and with the decisions of the Hundred and Fifty [the Council of Constantinople in 381).

Punishment against those violating this law shall not be lacking, because they not only go against the well established faith, but also uncover the august mysteries in from of Jews and pagans through such a controversy. If he who dares to debate about religion in public shall be a cleric, he shall be removed from the list of clerics. If adorned by an office, he shall be deprived of his belt [of office]. All the others, however, who are guilty of this charge shall be driven out of this Imperial city [Constantinople] by the verdict of the courts and suffer the appropriate penalties. For it is evident that the beginnings of the heretics' madness and its firewood are furnished by such men, who lecture and debate in public.

All must therefore scrupulously observe from now on all that the holy council determined in Chalcedon, casting doubt on nothing. For this reason, and keeping in mind our Serenity's command, avoid sacrilegious words and further inquiry of the divine matters as you avoid prohibited things, particularly because this sin shall be punished not only in God's judgment, as we believe, but it shall also be chastised by the authority of the laws and the judges.

 

35. The Legal Status of Jews and Samaritans and Pagans

Emperors Justin and Justinian, Between April and July 527

... As for the other heretics, of whatever error or name they might be (for we call heretic everyone who is not devoted to the Catholic Church and to our Orthodox and holy faith), as well as the pagans who try to introduce polytheism, the Jews and the Samaritans, we intend not only that what was already laid down in the laws shall be recalled and made firmer through this present law, but also that more shall be declared through which greater security, also honor and esteem shall envelope those sharing in our faith. It shall then be possible for all to perceive, as we said, that even what pertains to human advantages is withheld from those who do not worship God rightly.

We order, therefore, that none of the above-mentioned shall share in any honor whatsoever, nor shall put on an official belt, neither civil nor military, nor belong to any office ....

Indeed, we order that those who are heretics, and above all the pagans, Jews, Samaritans, and those similar to them, if they take part in any of all those we have already recalled, having obtained an honor, inscribed in the advocates' list, taken an office or put on an official belt, they shall be thrown out on the spot from participating in these. For we want all the above-mentioned to be purged from association with such as these now and forever, not only in this glorious city [Constantinople], but in practically every province and every place.

There is absolutely nothing new in this, for at least the Divine belt-documents given for most of the offices contain the specification that the recipient should be Orthodox. Unless this shall be seen as ours, which we have restored and did not neglect as it was before, when it was unheeded by some and barely survived save in documents alone. For things are not to be considered to be as peculiar to their first discoverers as to those who use in the best way what has already been discovered. And if some wrong shall be done in violation of what we have decreed, we proclaim that not only shall the seized forbidden office be of no profit out of seizure, and utterly forbid him to partake of the office, but we also punish hum with a fine of thirty gold pounds. Those, however, whose duty it is to inscribe and register such as these in the public register, if they have known about the error of his belief but nevertheless ratified, did not oppose nor expel him, we inflict on them a fine of eight gold pounds. Neither do we let the magistrates scot-free if they shall know these men to be of those excluded by us yet allow them to be inscribed in their proper services ... and we fine them too to the amount of fifty gold pounds. ....

Seeing, furthermore, that differences of opinion frequently arise between Orthodox and non-Orthodox parents, when a father or a mother wants to bring their common children to the faith of the Orthodox but the other parent opposes it, we decree that the opinion of the parent who leads the children to the Orthodox faith is the stronger and certainly the more predominant. He shall take part, therefore, in his turn in his parents' opinion and venture to win the better things.

We come to the aid of those children hated by parents who do not share our own faith, and while the parents cannot accuse them of any transgression concerning those things prohibited by the laws, still, because they perceive their parents' error, yet share our pure faith, we order in the Divine pragmatic law that a father shall provide sustenance to such as these according to the measure of his own property and to that of the need of the other many of life; furthermore he shall not abandon them to starve and be in want of life's necessities, so that they shall be forced by indigence-and one hates even to mention it-to return to their former error, just as if he was seeking to punish them for having remedied their souls. Moreover, they shall give dowry in any way whatsoever to daughters distressed by this, and prenuptial gifts to men, to those that cannot be charged with anything save those matters prohibited by the laws exactly as the value of their property shall permit, and give their daughters to men, and their sons to women, according to the law, indeed to persons who are Orthodox and worthy of the transaction. It is indeed terrible and utterly impious, that those who are cherished by their children in all the other things, become angry with them for such a reason as this, while they could have been better by emulating them in this, not by punishing them. ...

 

36. Exemption from the Performance of Personal Liturgies [Community Service] on Holidays

Emperor Justinian? Date uncertain

The Mightiest governor of the province shall see to it that you [Jews shall not be harassed by personal liturgies [civic work duties] on a day of worship, in which you are accustomed to do no work.

 

37. Orthodox Children and Their Inheritances from Non-Orthodox Parents

Emperor Justinian, between 527 and 528

The Orthodox children of heretics, who have not sinned against them, shall receive undiminished what is due them in intestacy; a last will done in violation of this shall be invalidated, with the except of the manumissions, if they are not prevented by any law. If they shall sin in anything against their parents, they shall be charged and punished. Even those who have sinned shall have a quarter of their property, contrary to the testaments. The same also in regard to Jews and Samaritans.

 

38. Prohibition against Non-Christians Owning Christian Slaves

Emperor Justinian, between 527 and 534

A pagan, Jew, Samaritan, and any who is not Orthodox, is unable to possess a Christian slave, for that slave shall be manumitted and he who had possessed him shall give thirty gold pounds to the Private Properties [Imperial Treasury].

 

39. Disqualification of Jews and Heretics as Witness against Orthodox Christians

Emperor Justinian, July 28, 531

Since many judges in course of determining litigation addressed us, needing our oracle in order that it will be revealed to them what must be decided about heretic witnesses, whether their testimonies should be accepted or rejected, we determine that there should be no participation of a heretic, or even of those who practice the Jewish superstition, in testimonies against Orthodox litigants, whether one party to the trial is Orthodox or the other. We grant, however, to the heretics and to the Jews, that whenever they shall deem fit to have litigation among themselves they shall have mixed agreement and even witnesses worthy of the litigants ....

 

40. Church Property and Non-Christians

From the Code of Justinian, Chapter XIV, March 18, 545

We order that no heretic shall receive real estate from any holiest church or another venerable place in rent, emphyteusis [the heritable right to use real estate on the conditioning of maintenance, payment of taxes, and possibly rent] or purchase or in any other way. And if such a sin shall be committed, the heretic shall lost what he shall pay for this, and such properties shall be vindicated to the venerable place out of which they were originally given, while the property manager of that house who gave this property to the heretic shall be removed from all property management, through into a monastery and excluded from holy communion for one year, as one who had surrendered Christians to heretics.

If an Orthodox who possesses a property with a church in it shall alienate it forever, give it an emphyteusis, or in a lease, on in any other way of management to a Jew, Samaritan, pagan, Montanist, Arian, or any other heretic, the holiest church of that village shall vindicate the ownership of this property. If any one of the heretics ... shall dare to build a cave [derogatory term for a religious site] of his impiety, or if the Jews shall dare to build a new synagogue, the holy church of the place shall vindicate the buildings to its ownership. If a man gave his property in emphyteusis or in lease or in any other way of administration to such a person, and if he knew that he transfers it to heretic, the church of the town which has jurisdiction over the property shall vindicate all the revenues accrued during the duration of the agreement. If the own did not know that the person receiving the property was a heretic, ther own shall be exempt from punishment by reason of his ignorance, while the heretic shall be excluded from the property, and his own property shall be confiscated to the treasury, in both cases.

 

41. Permission to Use All Languages in Synagogues; Prohibition of Certain Ideas and of the Mishnah.

Emperor Justinian, February 8, 553


Preamble

It was right and proper that the Hebrews, when listening to the Holy Books, should not adhere to the literal writings but look for the prophecies contained in them, through which they announce the Great God and the Savior of the human race, Jesus Christ. However, although they have erred from the right doctrine till today, given as they are to senseless interpretations, when we learnt that they dispute among themselves we could not bear to leave them with an unresolved controversy. We have learnt from their petitions, which they have addressed to us, that while some maintain the Hebrew language only and want to use it in reading the Holy Books others consider it right to admit Greek as well, and they have already been quarreling among themselves about this for a long time. Having therefore studied this matter we decided that the better case is that of those who want to use also Greek in reading the Holy Books, and generally in any language that is the more suited and the better known to the hearers in each locality.

Chapter 1.
We decree, therefore, that it shall be permitted to those Hebrews who want it to read the Holy Books in their synagogues and, in general, in any place where there are Hebrews, in the Greek language before those assembled and comprehending, or possibly in our ancestral language (we speak of the Italian language), or simply in all the other languages, changing language and reading according to the different places; and that through this reading the matters read shall become clear to all those assembled and comprehending, and that they shall live and act according to them. We also order that there shall be no license to the commentators they have, who employ the Hebrew language to falsify it at their will, covering their own malignity by the ignorance of the many. Furthermore, those who read in Greek shall use the Septuagint tradition, which is more accurate than all the others, and is preferable to the others particularly in reason of what happened while the translation was made, that although they divided by twos, and though they translated in different places, nevertheless they presented one version. Apart from these, who will not be amazed by this thing about these men, who lived a long time before the saving revelation of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ yet carried out the translation of the Holy Books as if they saw that this revelation was to happen in future, and as if illuminated by a prophetic grace? Let all use mainly this translation; but in order that we shall not appear to prohibit them all the other translations, we give permission to use also Akilas' translation, although he was gentile and in some readings differs not a little from the Septuagint.

What they call Mishnah, on the other hand, we prohibit entirely, for it is not included among the Holy Books, nor was it handed down from above by the prophets, but it is an invention of men in their chatter, exclusively of earthly origin and having in it nothing of the divine. Let them read the holy words themselves, therefore, in unfolding these Holy Books for reading, but without hiding what is said in them, on the one hand, and without accepting extraneous and unwritten nonsense they themselves had contrived to the perdition of the more simple minded, on the other hand. In consequence of this permission granted by us, those who adopt the Greek language and the other languages shall not be subjected to any penalty at all, neither shall they be hindered by any person, nor shall those who are called among them Archipherekitae [office now of uncertain authority], or possibly Presbyters [elders] or Didascaloi [teachers], have the license to hinder them from this by any deceits or excommunications, unless they would wish to be chastened for these deeds by corporal punishments as well as by loss of property, and obey us-who desire and command deeds better and more pleasing to God-against their will.

Chapter 2.
And if there are some people among them who shall attempt to introduce ungodly nonsense, denying either the resurrection or the last judgment or that the angels exist as God's work and creation, we want these people expelled from all places, and that no word of blasphemy of this kind and absolutely erring from that knowledge of God shall be spoken. We impose the harshest punishments on those attempting to utter such a nonsense, completely purifying in this way the nation of the Hebrews from the error introduced into it.

Chapter 3.
We pray that they shall avoid the evil of the commentators when they hear the Holy Books in one language or another, and that they shall not turn to the naked letter but perceive the reality and grasp the more divine sense, in order that they shall study better what is more beautiful and cease at some time to err and to sin in what is vital above anything else, we speak about the hope in God. For this reason we opened before them all the languages to read the Holy Books, that when all shall acquire knowledge of them they shall become readier to learn the better matters. It is commonly agreed, that one raised up on the Holy Books is far readier to discern and to choose what is better-and but little is wanting for his amendment-than he who does not understand a thing in them but clings to only the name of religion as though held by holy anchors and believes that God's doctrine is but the name of heresy.

(Epilogue)
Your Glory, and the service obedient to you, shall entirely observe the matters conceived by us and promulgated in this divine law, and it shall be observed by him who will be appointed in time to this office, and he shall absolutely not allow the Hebrews to act against these matters, but impose on those resisting them or attempting to prevent them altogether firstly corporal punishments and confiscation of property, and then he shall force them to live in banishment, lest they defy in this matter God and Empire. He shall also promulgate in proclamations to the governors of provinces, imposing on them our law, in order that they too shall study it and promulgate it in every city, knowing that it is necessary to observe these matters fully, and fearing our vexation.