Cultivated Pagans and Ancient Anti-Semitism

N. W. Goldstein, Cultivated Pagans and Ancient Anti-Semitism, The Journal of Religion, 19.4 (1939) 346-364:

Hecateus of Abdera characterized the Jews as a grossly superstitious lot. Cicero designated Judaism as a barbarian superstition, against which it is praiseworthy to proceed. Seneca counts the Jewish ceremonies among the superstitions of the world and, with nounced disgust, turns away from the «wicked» nation that ginated and maintained them. Tacitus, throughout his lengthy narrative about the Jews, repeatedly nails Judaism as a superstition and refers to its customs and institutions as revolting the rest of the nations. Horace holds the Jews to be so densely credulous as to be vulnerable to any nonsense. Ridiculing a certain pagan belief as the of superstition, he exclaims: «Credat Iudaeus Apella, ego»-Apella to be understood as the generic representative of all the dupes in Jewry. Quintilian laconically dismisses Jews as a superstitious and pernicious pack. Dio of the superstitious terror which their God inspires in the Jews. Celsus describes Judaism as a system of vulgar deceits with which Moses had deluded the credulous herdsmen and shep- herds who followed him implicitly. And Plutarch, Apuleius, and Strabo have nothing but scorn and contempt for the superstitious Jews. But what was, perhaps, the most withering blast of all, came from the pen of Rutilius Namatianus, high Roman functionary, aristocrat, and poet-and curiously enough in the fifth century C.E., amidst the dying gasps of pagan […] the main thesis of which is that Judaism is a religion of blockheads and yokels, to whose beliefs even babes in the woods would not subscribe. […] hand. What could be more natural than to assume that this grand sorcerer had embodied his occult wisdom in his book-the book Juvenal in his ignorance had described as mystic -and that Judaism was essentially a set of incantations, soothsaying formulas, etc? Celsus stresses this connection when he reproaches the Jews with prac- ticing sorcery, which Moses had imparted to them. According to Diogenes Laertius, there were opinions current that the Jews were the descendants of the Magi. Posidonius, the Stoic philosopher, credits the Jews with such redoubtable powers in this realm that, according to him, the Palestinians solidified the asphalt taken from the Dead Sea, among other means, by incantations. And Pliny the elder tells of another sect, «highly skilful in the supernatural science,» which descends from the Jews, Moses, Jannes, and Lotapea (or Lotapes). […] When a man named Caecilius, a freedman who was suspected of being a convert to Judaism, wanted to inject himself into a certain trial in which Verres, praetor of Sicily, was charged with malfeasance, Cicero asked: «What has a Jew to do with a pig?» verres meaning in Latin, a boar. And Juvenal scoffed at that tender-heartedness of the Jews, which guarantees long life to swine. «I remember,» says Plutarch, «my old grandfather, who used to say in derision of the Jews, that they abstained from most lawful flesh. […] Historians like Tacitus and Cassius actually identified themselves with the belief in omens and portents they recorded. Their gullibility for sorts of supernatural belief is so great that one literally to see where the line is to be drawn between their mentality and that of the rude populace […] Celsus, who railed against the humbuggery of Mosaism the Jewish sorcerers, was himself a believer in miracles. Plutarch meticulously adhered to all the mumbo jumbo pagan worship. Even the haruspices, which represented stition in its most revolting form, were for centuries upheld the educated classes. And most of the Stoics, with all talk about reason and purity in religion, steadfastly clung to augural system. The very products of oriental magic astrology which flooded the Greco-Roman world were current commodities among the cultivated […] Evidence of such squeamish resentment against this peculiar Judeo-Greek is found in Cleomedes, who tells of Epicurus he was believed to have picked up his diction-among other and foul sources-«from the very midst of the synagogue» or «from the beggar-folk that throng around it,» and winds with the declaration that «it is a Jewish jargon, of a monstrous alloy, immeasurably inferior to anything that creeps upon earth.» […] Apparently the first to deliver this new sort of attack was Apollonius Molo, professor of rhetoric at Rhodes, and teacher of Cicero and Caesar. In a special book against the Jews, in which he branded Moses as a quack and charlatan, whose system of laws contained nothing but iniquity, he specifically charged the Jews with being the most inept and futile of the barbarians, who have never made a single worth-while contribution to civilization. And the emperor Julian annihilates the presumptuousness of the Jews with similar arguments. Did they boast of the prowess displayed by Samson and David? The emperor told them that these two heroes were mere apprentices in comparison with the Greek and Egyptian warriors. Did they point to any other great men in their past? None of them, of course, could hold a candle to Alexander the Great and to Julius Caesar. And so far as the arts, medicine, political wisdom, and civilization generally are concerned, the emperor finds the Jews on an infinitely lower plane than the heathen peoples.

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