Terrible Outbreak of Antisemitism

Dan Graves, MSL

Terrible Outbreak of Antisemitism

Tension developed early between Jew and Christian. Christianity was at first a Judaic sect. Christ was a Jew and so were the apostles. The first converts were also Jews. But Peter, Paul, and other apostles extended the gospel to Gentiles. The willingness of Christians to accept Gentiles without requiring them to obey the Mosaic laws infuriated Jews, who were also jealous of the Christians' growing numbers.

Early on, the Jews persecuted Christians. Paul, one of the persecutors, became a convert to the new faith and its greatest spokesman. His decision to take the gospel to Gentiles was received with bitterness in Jerusalem. Paul was subsequently often arrested and imprisoned. The gap between Christian and Jew widened when Christian Jews refused to support rebellion against Rome; Christians were seen as unpatriotic. Truly Christ's words were fulfilled. "I have not come to bring peace but a sword," for division widened. Christians for their part, increasingly saw the Jews as hostile to and deliberately rejecting God's light.

After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in the late 4th century, Jews were discriminated against. Church and state alike deprived this Semitic people of their rights. Increasingly, as the Middle Ages progressed, Jews were harassed. Anti-Semitism became overt. Jews were accused of murdering Christian children. Isolated incidents such as the sixth century massacre of 20,000 Yemeni Christians in a fire-pit by the Jew Dzu Nuwas did nothing to ease tensions. Christians maligned Jews as Christ-killers. Some of their customs rankled their Christian neighbors. Despite a few papal bulls that spoke out against anti-Semitism, persecution against the Jews erupted again and again.

One of the worst outbreaks occurred at the time of the First Crusade. Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the crusade, announced his determination to either convert or wipe out all Jews in Europe. He marched into the Rhine Valley where Jews were numerous, pious, and prosperous and began a butchery not without economic incentives. Many Jews consented to conversion; those who refused were executed. A few brave Jewish women killed their children and themselves rather than violate their consciences.

This day, May 27, 1096, may have witnessed the worst atrocities. Archbishop Ruthard of Mainz, unwilling to be a party to a massacre of the descendants of Jacob, hid 1,300 of them in his cellars. The mob learned of it, broke in, and killed over a thousand. The archbishop saved the rest by taking them into his cathedral.

One Christian who raised his voice against mistreatment of Jews was Bernard of Clairvaux. He was not completely alone. A few other Christians showed Christ-like love toward their Jewish neighbors. This was especially true in Cologne where the common folk hid them in their homes or helped them into the countryside. Unfortunately, the marauders went seeking their victims in the villages and killed hundreds more. 1096 was a bitter year for Jews.


  1. Beit, Andreas Ludwig. Mainzer Domberren. Kirkheim, 1924. Source of the image.
  2. Various histories of antisemitism and of Jews.
  3. Various histories of the Crusades.
  4. Various encyclopedia and internet articles on Ruthard and Mainz.

Last updated April, 2007.

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