Friday, May 16, 2008
"THE EARLY JEWS OF FRANCE, 700-1200 C.E."
is the title of Chapter 5 of WHEN SCOTLAND WAS JEWISH by Hirschman and Yates.
The primary source used for this chapter is the work of Jewish historian Esther Benbassa's THE JEWS OF FRANCE (1999). The authors write:
During the fifth century, just as Columba was converting the Irish and Scottish Celts to a Christianity that closely followed Jewish practice, Benbassa writes that Jews in France "lacking the Talmud, adhered closely to the text of the Bible and to certain oral traditions. There existed a religious confusion between Judaism and Christianity, both with regard to prescriptions and to worship"...(p. 80)
Thus we have a loose compatibility between two monotheistic faiths--Christianity and Judaism--and persons moving back and forth between them up until the early 600s....With the establishment of the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne in 800 C.E., the Jews of France were well treated and socially mobile. Especially in their community of Narbonne, they enjoyed self-governance and moved into the highest political and economic advisory positions.
Together with the Byzantines and Syrians, Jews in France and elsewhere established international overland and maritime trading routes, controlling the bulk of Mediterranean commerce.
In 1306, for a variety of political, religious and economic reasons, the Jews were expelled from France. (And not coincidentally, we see families such as the "Black" Douglases arriving in Scotland.) The expulsion followed close on the heels of Edward I's banishment of Jews from England and Gascony in 1290, and there were smaller banishings of Jews from cities in Germany and Italy....
...we present various texts regarding the Babylonian scholar Makhir/Machar and the principality of Narbonne in France during the period 700-900 C.E. It was this Davidic descendant of the Hebrew tribes, carried into captivity by the Babylonians in Biblical times, we suggest, who traveled to Scotland, where he became known as "St." Machar, and likely pioneered the way for some of the earliest Jews to make their way to the northeastern part of Scotland. (p. 81-82)
The first Jewish ruler of the House of David in Narbonne was called Machir. Machir and his sons were probably practising Jews, but most (though not all) of his family quickly assimilated and became Christians...Machir gave his sister to Pepin and took the sister of Pepin as one of his wives....William (the son of Machir) ruled over the area of Septimania [an area in southern France where Narbonne is located]. He was made Duke of Aquitaine and is referred to as "King of the Goths," since the area of southern France was a place of Gothic settlement. At one stage many Goths converted to Judaism and the terms "Goth" and "Jew" in southern France were used synonymously... (p. 82)
In closing this chapter the authors write:
It was...within the Carolingian lineage that the Lion of Judah heraldic device came to be adopted by French, Flemish and Norman nobles. They carried the device to Scotland (for instance, William the Lyon, the Bruces, the Stewarts) and reintroduced it to England with the Plantagenets. We do not infer any genuine genealogical support for the presumption among the Bruces, Stewarts and Plantagenets that they were biological descendants of David, nor has DNA testing conducted to date shown any evidence of this. A more feasible conclusion is that among their ancestors during the years between 750 and 900 C.E. were converts to Judaism who instilled in family members a commitment to the mitzvot of the faith along with the (erroneous) belief that they were of Davidic descent.(p. 87)
Wikipedia has an entry for St. Machar that indicates he is thought to have been one of the 12 who accompanied St.Columba into exile on Iona in 561 where they established a monastery that became the center of Scottish missionary work. However, as the article indicates, the source for this information was written centuries later and may not be accurate.