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Justinian I

Justinian I, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, 527–565, a virulent and consistent persecutor of all non-Orthodox Christians, heretics, pagans, and also of Jews and Judaism. Justinian's famous Corpus Juris Civilis and his novellae (imperial instructions on specific subjects) included legislation on the Jews which confirmed or amended that of *Theodosius II (408–450) and virtually fixed the status of the Jew in Byzantine society for the next 700 years (see *Byzantine Empire). Adding to the restrictions and disabilities imposed by Theodosius, Justinian declared that Jews could not retain heretical and pagan slaves who converted to Orthodox Christianity, and that they could give evidence only for (not against) Orthodox Christians, while they could testify either for or against heretics. Justinian's novellae concerning the Jews are the following:

NOVELLA 37 (535 C.E.), forbidding Jews and heretics in the newly conquered province of North Africa to practice their religious rites. Synagogues and the meeting places of heretics were to be confiscated and, suitably consecrated, put to ecclesiastical use. Contrary to the prevailing Christian attitude, this novella attempted to view Judaism as a heresy and may have been motivated by suspicion of Jewish support for the Vandal regime overthrown by Justinian and the belief, prevalent in North Africa, in the alleged Jewish role in spreading heresy. Although it is known that the ancient synagogue in the city of Borion was transformed into a church and the local Jewish population was forced to accept Christianity, the novella was not put into effect. However, it was a dangerous precedent, symptomatic of the deterioration of the attitude toward the Jews under Justinian.

NOVELLA 45 (537 C.E.), prohibiting Jews, Samaritans, and heretics any exemption from service on local municipal bodies (the decurionate), a service which entailed heavy financial burdens. Previously, Jews as well as gentiles could claim exemption on the grounds of holding a religious office in their own community. The few privileges enjoyed by the decurions, such as immunity from corporal punishment or exile, would not apply to Jewish decurions. It was stated that "Jews must never enjoy the fruits of office but only suffer its pains and penalties." If a Jew was found holding a higher office than a Christian, he had to pay a fine. This novella affected the western provinces for a short time.

NOVELLA 131 (545 C.E.), prohibiting sales of ecclesiastical property to Jews, Samaritans, pagans, and heretics, and declaring synagogues built on land subsequently shown to be ecclesiastical property subject to confiscation.

NOVELLA 146 (553 C.E.), supposedly in response to a Jewish request, forbids the insistence that the readings from the Pentateuch be exclusively in Hebrew from the Scrolls of the Law (Torah). They could be in Greek, Latin, or any other tongue, and the Greek could be either that of the Septuagint or the translation of *Aquila, which had rabbinic sanction. Secondly, the use of the deuterosis, the Mishnah, for exegesis was forbidden. Justinian argued that the deuterosis was not divinely inspired and could only mislead men. Rabbinic interpretations spread errors such as a denial of the existence of angels and the Last Judgment (probably a confusion with earlier *Samaritan beliefs). Just as the Byzantine emperor was the arbiter of Christian practice, Justinian also saw him as the arbiter of the only other legal religion in his dominions. The extent of Justinian's interference in the service of the synagogue is open to question, but it attempted to impose a Christian interpretation of what Judaism and its holy texts should be.

Besides the novellae, Justinian allegedly prohibited the celebration of Passover if its date fell before the date of Easter. Ereẓ Israel was the scene of several outbursts against the empire, mainly on the part of the Samaritans, whose efforts to form their own kingdom were brutally suppressed in 529. In 556 Jews joined Samaritans in an anti-Christian riot in Caesarea in which several churches were burned down. Imperial troops were eventually dispatched to subdue the rebels.


W.G. Holmes, Age of Justinian and Theodora, 2 vols. (19122); F. Schulz, History of Roman Legal Science (19532); D.M. Nicol, in: History Today, 9 (1959), 513–21; R. Schoell and W. Kroll (eds.), Corpus Juris Civilis, 3 (1954), 244–5, 277–9, 663, 714–7; J. Parkes, Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1934), 245–56; Juster, Juifs, 1 (1914), 167ff., 237–8; 2 (1914), 91–92, 103–4; P. Browe, in: Analecta Gregoriana, 8 (1935), 101–46; G. Ferrari dalle Spade, in: Muenchener Beitraege zur Papyrusforschung und antiken Rechtsgeschichte, 35 (1945), 102–17 (Italian); J.A. Montgomery, The Samaritans (1968), 113f.; Baron, Social2, 3 (1957), 4–15; M. Avi-Yonah, Bi-Ymei Roma u-Bizantiyyon (1952), 177–85; Hirschberg, Afrikah, 1 (1965), 31–32; H.H. Ben-Sasson (ed.), Toledot Am Yisrael, 2 (1969), index; B. Biondi, Giustiniano Primo, principe e legislatore cattolico (1936); idem, II diritto romano cristiano, 3 vols. (1952–54); V. Colorni, Gli ebrei nel sistema del diritto comune fino alla prima emancipazione (1956); idem, in: Labeo, 12 (1966), 140ff.; M. Simon, Verus Israel (Fr., 19642); P. Kahle, Cairo Geniza (1959), 39, 315; J.H. Lewy, Olamot Nifgashim (1960), 255ff.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.