- (483–565)Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperor 527–65. On becoming emperor in the East, Justinian was determined to reunite the divided empire by conquering the West. Fearing his repressive policies towards non- conforming religious groups, the Jews of the West (Naples in particular) fought stoutly to resist the advance of Belisarius, Justinian’s general. The wisdom of their attempt at resistance was illustrated by events in the newly-conquered province of Africa, where a novella (edict) of the emperor’s, promulgated in 535, prohibited the practise of pagan, heretical and Jewish rites throughout the province. All synagogues were confiscated.In 529 Justinian promulgated the most important legal code of antiquity, the Corpus Juris Civilis. In it the emperor defined the status of the Jews in the Byzantine Empire for the next 700 years. Along with the general procedures of Roman law, these statutes were later taken into the legislation of European states and fixed the status of Jews as inferior citizens with limited protection right up to the 19 century.The new elements relating to the Jews in Justinian’s code concerned the economically vital question of the ownership of slaves, and the position of the Jews in the law courts. It was established that a Jew could not keep a slave who converted to Orthodox Christianity. In court a Jew could give evidence only on behalf of an Orthodox Christian and not against him. Conversion of a Christian to Judaism was severely punished, but not by death as was later to be the case in the West. Baptism with the consent of one Jewish parent was valid, and the inheritance rights of Jewish apostates to Christianity were protected by law. Of far more serious import was Novella 146 of the year 553, in which the emperor interfered with the religious autonomy of the Jewish communities. Taking the opportunity of a disagreement between the Jews of Constantinople over the language of the weekly lesson, which the elders insisted must be only in Hebrew, Justinian ordered: ‘Wherever there is a Hebrew Congregation those who wish it may, in their synagogues, read the sacred books to those who are present in Greek, or even Latin, or in any other tongue.’ Permitted Greek versions were the Septuagint and that of Aquila. The Novella went on to say: ‘But the Mishnah… we prohibit entirely. For it is not…handed down by divine inspiration…but the handiwork of man…having nothing of the divine in it.’ He was firmly opposed to rabbinic interpretations, believing them responsible for the spread of error. In fact, those ‘errors’ he enumerates as punishable by death (denial of the existence of angels and of the last judgement) indicate that he confused Jewish with Samaritan beliefs. Though it is doubtful to what extent this novella was put into effect, the attempt to define by law the practice and content of the Jewish faith was a gloomy augury.
Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. Joan Comay . 2012.
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Justinian I. — Justinian I., Mosaikdetail aus der Kirche San Vitale in Ravenna … Deutsch Wikipedia
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