SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



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Index of names


Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

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Solomon ibn Gabirol and The Fountain of Life

(4809 AM - 1049 CE)

The Great Schism
(4814 AM - 1054 CE)

The Norman conquest of England
(4826 AM - 1066 CE)

The massacre of Granada
(4827 AM - 1066 CE)

The Jews of Fes
(4828 AM - 1068 CE)

Rashi of Troyes
(4830 AM - 1070 CE)

The Saljuks conquer Jerusalem
(4833 AM - 1073 CE)

The massacres of the First Crusade
(4856 AM - 1096 CE)

The conquest of Jerusalem in 1099
(4859 AM - 1099 CE)

The Kinnot
(4860 AM - 1100 CE)

Petrus Alphonsi
(4870 AM - 1110 CE)

Abraham bar Hiyya and the Sefer ha-Hibbur
(4882 AM - 1122 CE)

Judah Halevi and The Kuzari
(4900 AM - 1140 CE)

William of Norwich
The accusation of blood libel
(4904 AM - 1144 CE)

Aaron of Lincoln
(4910 AM - 1150 CE)

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Hebrew years 4800 to 4920 (1040 - 1160 CE)
The new millennium (CE) brought a lot of disappointment in Christiandom. Many scholars had predicted the return of Jesus Christ in year 1000, assuming roughly one millennium after his birth. As nothing happened in 1000 CE, the next expectation was around 1030-1035 CE, as a return from the date of is death. But nothing happened either. All the predictions proved wrong. Then the Pope expressed the opinion that the Messiah failed to return because Jerusalem was at the hands of the Muslims... Even worse, the Holy Sepulchre had been destroyed a first time in 1009, by orders of the Fatimid Caliph Abu -el-Hakim.

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Year 4809 – 1049 CE – Solomon ibn Gabirol writes The Fountain of Life

At the age of 28, Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote his most famous book, Mekor Chayim (Origin of Life), which became very popular even among the non-Jewish world because of its philosophical content. The book was originally written in Arabic, the language of Al-Andalus, but was translated in Latin as Fons Vitae (Fountain of Life) about 100 years later.[1] To the Christian world, because of this translation in Latin, he was known under the name of Avicebron, and the readers didn't know that it was Ibn Gabirol, a Jewish writer... The identification of Avicebron as Ibn Gabirol only dates from 1846.

The book used the model of the school of Socrates, as a dialogue between a master and his disciple, to discuss the origins of life. The dialogue model was copied by later authors in books such The Kuzari (see next generation).

Solomon ibn Gabirol was killed in Valencia about 1058 by a Muslim poet who was jealous of his skills. He died at the age of about 37, although the representations of him show an old scholar.

Solomon ibn Gabirol
Solomon ibn Gabirol
(statue in Caesaria, Israel)

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Year 4814 – 1054 CE – The Great Schism

The relations between Rome and Constantinople had been embittered by the dispute about which church would be more important than the other. There were also differences in the religious practices over a long time. In 1054, the leader of each church excommunicated the other, and the two churches decided to split. The schism resulted is what became know as the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. 

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Year 4826 – 1066 CE – The Norman conquest of England

Following a succession crisis in England, William the Duke of Normandy crossed the Channel and conquered England after defeating his adversary Harold in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In the months and years that followed, William asked Jews to come to England and this represented the first arrival of Jews to the British Isles.

The conquest of England in 1066
The conquest of England in 1066 - in Bayeux Tapestry
(the Halley comet is depicted in the work) 

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Year 4827 – 1066 CE – The massacre of Granada

Joseph, the son of Samuel ibn Naghrillah (or Naghrela), succeeded his father as head of the Jewish community of Granada and vizier to the Berber king in 1056. Although Joseph had been educated by his righteous father, and was himself a learned person, he had been rised in the luxury of the royal palace and was later accused of spying over the king and his court and of other acts.[5] Maybe most of it was rumours, but the position of vizier was already a difficult one for a Jew to hold in Muslim dominions. The situation drew the anger of the Muslim mob who decided to get rid of him. They stormed the palace and crucified him. They then fell upon the Jewish population and killed between 1500 and 4000 of them (according to different sources) in the same day of 30 December 1066 (3 Tevet 4827).

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Year 4828 – 1068 CE – The Jews of Fes

Al-Bakri, a Muslim geographer from Al-Andalus, wrote an important book in 1068 about the people living in Northern Africa which was frequently quoted by subsequent writers and historians. One of the cities he described was the city of Fes, in Morocco. Al-Bakri mentioned that there was a saying in his times: Fas bled bla nas, which means Fes is a city with no [Muslim] man. Indeed Fes was in these times entirely Jewish and, as described by Al-Bakri, composed of two communities of Jewish refugees: Jews from Cairouan and Jews from Al-Andalus. He stated that both communities settled there around 800 CE.[6]

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Year 4830 – 1070 CE – Rashi of Troyes

Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac) was born in Troyes in Champagne, France, in 1040. He came from a family of scholars from Worms in Germany, and this circumstance saved him from the massacre of these communities a few years later (see below). He opened a yeshiva in Troyes in year 1070 and started to attract numerous students.

Rashi is known for his famous commentaries of the Talmud and of the Tanakh. They have been included in every printed edition of these works since the first publications. Rashi died in Troyes in 1105 at the age of 65. He had three daughters who married scholars. They themselves gave birth to famous scholars who became Tosafist, such as Rashbam (1085-1158), Rivam (1090-1130), and Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171) author of the Sefer Ha-Yashar.

Rabbi Solomon - Rashi
(source Wikipedia)

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Year 4833 – 1073 CE – The Saljuks conquer Jerusalem

The Saljuks were Muslim Turks who rebelled against the Abbasid rule. They were Mongols of origin and had been slaves to the Muslim conquerors in the past centuries. They were enrolled by one of the Abbasid ruler in his army, and later rebelled against his heir. A series of natural catastrophies (draughts, floods, earthquakes) gave the start to rebellious movements across the entire Abbasis empire: Fatimid (Berber Shia) invaded Egypt, and Suljuk Turks took away parts of the Abbasid empire over the course of years.

Then, in 1071, the Saljuk army gave a severe blow to the Byzantine empire and conquered Anatolia (Asia Minor). They then conquered the Holy Land from the hands of the Fatimid and established a regional capital in Jerusalem (while all previous Muslim rulers used the Muslim city of Ramle as their capital but this city was utterly destroyed by an earthquake in 1068).

By fear that his own empire would soon be attacked by the Saljuks, the Emperor in Constantinople finally overcame his differences with Rome and took the historical decision to call for help from the Pope and the rest of Christiandom. This came very timely for the Pope who saw an opportunity to reconquer Jerusalem and free the Christian holy sites. This opened the era of the Crusades...

The Saljuks lost control of Jerusalem in 1098, when the Fatimids started to regain from Egypt some of their lost dominion.

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Year 4856 – 1096 CE – The massacres of the First Crusade

After rumours that Christian pilgrims were no longer allowed to visit the religious places in the Holy Land (but more really that the Eastern Empire was under the threat of Muslim attacks), Pope Urban II called in November 1095 for a Crusade to reconquer Jerusalem from Muslim control. Tens of thousands of people, from all classes of society, marched throughout Europe in direction of Constantinople to board on ships for this conquest. On their way, the masses often attacked Jews, especially in France and Germany. In 1096, Jewish communities were entirely destroyed in the Rhine Valley, such as in Cologne, Mainz and Worms.

Massacre of the Jews in Metz
Massacre of the Jews in Metz -- by Auguste Migette, 19th century
(source: Wikipedia)

A lot has been said and written about the Crusades and the assumption that the massacres of Jews were nothing else than mobs attacking Jews randomly on their way to a holy mission. But the passion of the mob had been fuelled by powers, political and religious, who had keen interest in getting rid of their Jews because of greed and money debts. The leader of the First Crusade himself, Godfrey of Bouillon, swore "to go on this journey only after avenging the blood of the crucified one by shedding Jewish blood and completely eradicating any trace of those bearing the name 'Jew,' thus assuaging his own burning wrath.
[2a] But he welcomed the bribe paid by the Jews of Mainz and Cologne to spare their communities. He received the money but the massacre happened nonetheless.

The head of some Jewish communities, such as Kalonymus ben Meshullam, the rabbi of Mainz, even wrote to Emperor Henry IV about his worries of the passing of the crusaders in their town. The Emperor issued a prohibition against attacking the Jews but this had no effect whatsoever. On 27 May 1096, Kalonymus with the rest of his community put themselves to death rather than falling in the crusaders' hands. This Kalonymus was the composer of the liturgical prayer called Unetanneh Tokef, principally read during the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur services among Ashkenazi Jewry. The song had been inspired by the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who had refused to convert to Christianity and died as a martyr because of the reprisal of the Bishop of Mainz:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die; who in his time, and who before his time; who by fire and who by water; who by sword and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by storm and who by plague; who by choking and who by stoning... Who shall rest, and who shall wander; who shall be tranquil and who shall be harassed; who shall be at peace and who shall suffer; who shall become poor, and who shall become rich; who shall fall and who shall rise... But repentance, prayer and charity revoke the evil decree!
--- extract from Unetanneh Tokef (to read the full text, click here)
The killing of the Jews, as non-believers in the Christian faith, was really not discouraged by the Church in general, even if official orders to prevent them existed on paper. In the field, it was different, and how could be it not be so when illustrations as the one below clearly depicted the execution of Jews, easily identificable on the right with their pointed hat:

Execution of the unfaithful
Execution of the faithful - illustration in "Bible Moralisée", 1250
(source: Gallica, BNF)

It is from the time of the Crusades that Jews from the Rhine Valley (Eastern France and Western Germany) started to flee the persecutions and moved East, for example to Morevia and Silesia and then Poland which was welcoming them from the reign of Casimir I and his immediate successors who wanted to restore their country with a status of kingdom.

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Year 4859 – 1099 CE – The conquest of Jerusalem

The Crusaders conquered Jerusalem on 15 July 1099 (Shabbat 17 Tammuz) and massacred almost all its inhabitants, Muslims and Jews alike. A play written by Torquado Tasso in 1581 is an echo to the river of blood that the Crusaders turned the city into:

The conquerors at once now entered all,
The walls were won, the gates were opened wide,
Now bruised, broken down, destroyed fall
The ports and towers that battery durst abide;
Rageth the sword, death murdereth great and small,
And proud 'twixt woe and horror sad doth ride.
Here runs the blood, in ponds there stands the gore,
And drowns the knights in whom it lived before.
--- Tasso, Torquada, Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), Book 18, stanza CV, to read the play on line, click here

The English translation of the last two sentences mentions the death of knights in the ponds of blood. Maybe suggesting that many Crusaders (the knights) had died in the assault. But this is not what the original text says. Instead the text stresses the number of dead, more alluding to the result of the Crusader assault:

Ristagna il sangue in gorghi, e corre in rivi,
Pieni di corpi estinti e di mal vivi.

Which means:
The blood stands in pools, and runs in streams
Filled with the dead and with the dying.

The taking of Jerusalem in 1099
The taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099 -- by Emile Signol, 1847 (Musée de Versailles)

The victors established the "Kingdom of Jerusalem" and a new monastic and military order, the Templars, with the task to protect pilgrims on their way to the holy sites. This conquest meant that, for the first time in 461 years, Jerusalem passed once more under Christian control.

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Year 4860 – 1100 CE – The Kinnot

The Kinnot are poems that are recited by Jewish communities on the day of Tisha B'Av (the 9th of month Av), which is the commemoration of the destruction of the two Temples and other catastrophies that fell on the Jews throughout the ages.[2b] The first of these texts is obviously the Book of Lamentations, written by Jeremiah after the destruction of the First Temple, a text which is part of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh). But the Crusade was such an shock to the Jewish communities in Catholic Europe that many new Kinnot were written in the years that follow and were added to the religious service. More recently, Kinnot were added to commemorate the Holocaust.

The following Kina 31 was written in the time of the First Crusade. It was composed with 23 stanzas, 22 to echo all the letters of the alphabet, which is equivalent to call upon witness all the Creation, and an additional use of the first letter aleph, which is equivalent to call upon God to be witness. This is echoed by the actual text of the first stanza:

1. A fire burns within me as I recall, when I left Egypt.
I will invoke lamentations so that I will remember, when I left Jerusalem.

Each stanza of the Kina contrasts the joy of the Exodus in the first sentence with the tragedy caused by the situation of Exile in the next sentence. The first sentence praises the previous bonds that existed between God and His people, while the next sentence laments the separation between the two:

8. Festivals and Sabbaths and signs and wonders, when I left Egypt.
Fast days and mourning and vain pursuits, when I left Jerusalem.
70. Burnt-offerings and peace-offerings and flagrant fiery sacrifices, when I left Egypt.
Stabbed by the sword were the precious sons of Zion , when I left Jerusalem.

This Kina and other echoe the profound distress in which the Jewish communities were in the times of the Crusades.

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Year 4870 – 1110 CE – Petrus Alphonsi

Moses Sephardi, a learned Jew from Al-Andalus, converted to Christianity in 1106 and changed his name to Petrus Alphonsi in honour of Saint Peter and of King Alphonso of Spain. Similarly to other Jews who converted to Christianity in these times, he wanted to prove his new allegiance by condemning his former brethren. To do so, he published a book, Dialogi contra Iudaes (Dialogue against the Jews), in which he tried to demonstrate that Judaism was wrong and that Christian faith was right. This work played a major role despite the logics that disproving Judaism, from which Christianity originated, somehow invalidated Christian faith as well. The main issue is that Christianity had never defined itself as a seperate religion, as Islam did, but sought restlessly over many centuries to prove Judaism wrong: in essence this attempt is flawed because Jews had no reason to believe that the commandments that God Himself gave them had suddenly become void just because people like Paul the Apostle and others had declared this to be the case. In his Dialogue, Petrus argues fictiously with his former self, Moses, about faith and the obvious result is that Peter wins !

Dialogue of Petrus Alphonsi
Self-dialogue between Petrus Alphonsi and his former self, Moses

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Year 4882 – 1122 CE – Abraham bar Hiyya and the Sefer ha-Hibbur

Abraham bar Hiyya was born in Barcelona but later moved to Narbonne, a city of southern France which attracted many Jews who escaped the persecutions in Christian Spain of this time. He was a scholar focused on mathematical calculations who wrote Hibbur ha-meshihah ve-ha-tishboret ("Treatise on measurement and on calculation"): this work contains the first comprehesive resolution of the generic quadratic equations of the form x2 - ax + b = 0. This greatly helped subsequent mathematicians.

On the
Jewish calendar, he wrote the Sefer ha-Hibbur ("Book of Intercalation") which extensively explains the Hebrew calendar. For example, he divided the Hebrew cycle of 19 solar years in 6939 days and 18 hours, equivalent to 235 lunar cycles (lunations). The book was published in 1122 and was key for later scholar Maimonides (born in 1135 in Cordoba) to give further calculations on the Hebrew calendar.

19 years cycle in Hebrew calendar
19 years cycle in Hebrew calendar

His books were written in Hebrew, unlike Jewish scholars from Al-Andalus who wrote in Arabic.
He died in Narbonne in 1145.

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Year 4900 – 1140 CE – Judah Halevi and the Kuzari

The Kuzari is a book written in Muslim Spain by Rabbi Judah Halevi in Arabic. Its original title Kitab al Khazari means Book of the Khazar. It is built upon the imaginary discussion that took place between the king of Khazaria and the Jewish emissary who was called to discuss Judaism with the king before he made his decision to adopt a state religion.[3a] This book was so popular that it was translated in many languages from the early ages. It also generated volumes of commentaries over the years.[3b] The date of composition is known from the text itself where the author mentioned that the Hebrew year was 4900 (Kuzari I-45), which means 1140 CE; this year was obviously the year of composition of the work and not of the year of the conversion which took place some 350 years earlier. The book gained immense success among the Jewish communities and reinforced their faith because the dialogue between the king and the Rabbi echoed their doubts about their faith in these difficult times, in the midst of massacres and other ordeals caused by the Crusades:

I-12. Al Khazari: I had not intended to ask any Jew, because I am aware of their reduced condition and narrow-minded views, as their misery left them nothing commendable. Now should you, O Jew, not have said that you believe in the Creator of the world, its Governor and Guide, and in Him who created and keeps you, and such attributes which serve as evidence for every believer, and for the sake of which he pursues justice in order to resemble the Creator in His wisdom and justice?
I-13. The Rabbi: That which you do express is religion based on speculation and system, the research of thought, but open to many doubts. Now ask the philosophers, and you will find that they do not agree on one action or one principle, since some doctrines can be established by arguments, which are only partially satisfactory, and still much less capable of being proved.
--- Yehuda Halevi, The Book of Al-Khazari, Translated by Hartwig Hirschfeld, 1905 

In another discussion, the miracle of the existence of the Jewish people, even in dispersion and under persecutions, is noted:

II-32. The Rabbi: The 'dead' nations which desire to be held equal to the 'living' people can obtain nothing more than an external resemblance. They built houses for God, but no trace of Him was visible therein. They turned hermits and ascetics in order to secure inspiration, but it came not. They, then, deteriorated, became disobedient, and wicked; yet no fire fell down from heaven upon them, nor rapid pestilence, as a manifest punishment from God for their disobedience. Their heart, I mean the house in which they used to meet, was destroyed, but otherwise their status was not affected. This could only take place in accordance with the largeness or smallness of their number, with their strength or weakness, disunion or unity, following upon natural or accidental causes. We, however, since our heart, I mean the Holy House, was destroyed, were lost with it. If it be restored, we, too, will be restored, be we few or many, or in whichever way this may happen. For our master is the living God, our King, Who keeps us in this our present condition in dispersion and exile.
II-33. Al Khazari: Certainly. A similar dispersion is not imaginable in any other people, unless it became absorbed by another, especially after so long a period. Many nations which arose after you have perished without leaving a memory, as Edom, Moab, Ammōn, Aran, the Philistines, Chaldaeans, Medians, Persians, and Javan [Greece], the Brahmans [India], Sabaeans, and many others.
--- Yehuda Halevi, ibid.

The discussion also tackled the issue of the Karaism which was gaining some support in the Muslim dominions. The Rabbi's answer to the Karaites is that Tradition (Oral Law) cannot be dissociated from Torah:

III-34. Al Khazari: This is exactly what the Karaites say. But as they have the complete Tōrāh, they consider the tradition superfluous.
III-35. The Rabbi: Far from it. If the consonantic text of the Mosaic Book requires so many traditional classes of vowel signs, accents, divisions of sentences and masoretic signs for the correct pronunciation of words, how much more is this the case for the comprehension of the same? The meaning of a word is more comprehensive than its pronunciation. When God revealed the verse: 'This month shall be unto you the beginning of months' (Exodus 12:2), there was no doubt whether He meant the calendar of the Copts --or rather the Egyptians-- among whom they lived, or that of the Chaldæans who were Abraham's people in Ur-Kasdim; or solar [or lunar months], or lunar years, which are made to agree with solar years, as is done in embolismic years. I wish the Karaites could give me a satisfactory answer to questions of this kind. I would not hesitate to adopt their view, as it pleases me to be enlightened. I further wish to be instructed on the question as to what makes an animal lawful for food; whether 'slaughtering' means cutting its throat or any other mode of killing; why killing by gentiles makes the flesh unlawful; what is the difference between slaughtering, skinning, and the rest of it. I should desire an explanation of the forbidden fat, seeing that it lies in the stomach and entrails close to the lawful fat, as well as of the rules of cleansing the meat. Let them draw me the line between the fat which is lawful and that which is not, inasmuch as there is no difference visible. Let them explain to me where the tail of the sheep, which they declare unlawful, ends. One of them may possibly forbid the end of the tail alone, another the whole hind part. I desire an explanation of the lawful and unlawful birds, excepting the common ones, such as the pigeon and turtle dove. How do they know that the hen, goose, duck, and partridge are not unclean birds? I further desire an explanation of the words: 'Let no man go out of his place [on the seventh day]' (Exodus 16:29). Does this refer to the house or precincts, estate--where he can have many houses--territory, district, or country. For the word place can refer to all of these.
--- Yehuda Halevi, ibid.

The importance of the land of Israel is also reflected in this discussion:

II-22. The Rabbi: One sentence is: All roads lead up to Palestine, but none from it. Concerning a woman who refuses to go there with her husband, they decreed that she is divorced, and forfeits her marriage settlement. On the other hand, if the husband refuses to accompany his wife to Palestine, he is bound to divorce her and pay her settlement. They further say: It is better to dwell in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by heathens, than abroad in a town chiefly peopled by Israelites; for he who dwells in the Holy Land is compared to him who has a God, whilst he who dwells abroad is compared to him who has no God [Talmud, Kethuboth, 110b]. Thus says David: 'For they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods' (I Samuel 26:19), which means that he who dwells abroad is as if he served strange gods. To Egypt they ascribed a certain superiority over other countries on the basis of a syllogism in the following way: If Egypt, with regard to which a covenant was made, is a forbidden land, other countries are still more so. Another saying is: To be buried in Palestine is as if buried beneath the altar [Talmud, Kethuboth, 111].  
--- Yehuda Halevi, ibid.

In the Kuzari, the Rabbi takes the decision to emigrate to Israel. Halevi also emigrated and arrived there in the year 1141, but died shortly after.

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Year 4904 – 1144 CE – William of Norwich

The first accusation of blood libel against Jews in Europe was apparently done in Norwich after a boy called William was found dead with stab wounds on 22 March 1144, one week before the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover). The reason for this accusation to have started in England may be rooted to the conquest by the Normands in 1066. The local population, which was anglo-saxon, resented against these new masters and, with them, had come the Jews to their English cities. The first Jewish community who settled in Norwich only came some 9 years before the accusation of blood libel. The Jewish community of Norwich had suffered death following this event, because a recent discovery of skeletons in 2004 proved that 17 people who have been killed and thrown into a well in that period of the time were Jews.[4]

Instead of being kept local, the murder of William of Norwich was turned into a cult, and the boy was even made "Saint William". This helped fuelled the hatred of the English population against Jews, and other instances of this accusation occured in several cities across England in the years that followed, especially in Norfolk (King's Lynn, Bury St Edmunds, etc.). 
The accusation also spread into the continent with a first such instance in Blois in 1171. Jews were finally expelled from England in 1290 and would not return until the time of Cromwell in 1655.

Despite these troubles, the Jewish communities of England continued to prosper, even in Norwich where one of the Jewish member became very rich and a kender to the English king.

The Jews of Norwich
Satan and the Jews of Norwich, from an Exchequer Roll, 1233

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Year 4910 – 1150 CE – Aaron of Lincoln

In 1150, the city of Lincoln was one of the wealthiest in England. Jews came to the city soon after the Normands decided to rebuild it after their conquest of 1066. By 1150, one of the wealthiest men of England was a Jewish banker of Lincoln called Aaron. In 116, his name appeared in official documents as being creditor to Henry II Plantagenet. The Normand kings had big plans of constructions throughout the country, and Aaron found the money for their plans. His specialty? The financing of the building of churches, abbeys and monasteries ! Of course, his money built the cathedral of his own home town, Lincoln, even though one stain glass represented a Jew, recognizable with his pointed hat, advising Theophilus to sell his soul to the Devil.

Theophilus selling his soul
Theophilus is advised by a Jew to sell his soul to the Devil
(Lincoln Cathedral, England)

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[1] To read some extracts from The Fountain of Life, click here

[2a] Geary, Patrick J., Readings in Medieval History, Broadview Press, Toronto, 2003, cited in Wikipedia

[2b] See for example Talmud, Taanit, chapter IV, Mishna, 26a-26b

[3a] See related article in Generation 39

[3b] For an online translation in English, click here

[4] To read more on this discovery, click here

[5] To read more on this story, click here

[6] Source: Al-Bakri, Description de l'Afrique septentrionale, de Slane, 1913, section "description de la ville de Fes", p.226

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