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Us and Them. The Jewish Other and Christian Identity in Middle-Byzantine Hagiography

Basil I receiving the senators (from the Madrid Skylitzes), public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In the ninth century the emperor Basil I orderd that Jews within the Byzantine Empire be converted to Christianity, in defiance of canonical law, which prohibits unvoluntary conversion. To accomplish this goal the Emperor attempted persuasion, bribery and force. His successors of the Macedonian Dynasty alternated between ending or continuing his anti-Jewish policies.

The Macedonian persecutions are a unicum in the history of Byzantium. Usually Jews were tolerated, despite severe limitations on their religious practices. Previous persecutions under the emperors Heraclius and Leo III had been short and violent outburst, in contrast to the prolonged and systematic efforts of the Macedonian emperors. The Macedonian persecutions clearly were a part of the imperial ideology of the new dynasty and its emperors.

To better understand the Macedonin persecutions this project researches the role that Jews and Judaism played as the Other, in opposition ot which the Christian Byzantine majority constructed its identity. The ideal corpus for this kind of research is the hagiographical corpus of the Middle Byzantine period. Hagiography was by far the most read genre of this period, and hagiographical texts were only surpassed by the Bible in popularity.