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January 31: Theodosian Code

Lawrence Bush
January 31, 2010

Theodosius_II_Louvre_Ma1036On this day in 439 CE, the Code of Theodosius II was established in the Byzantine Empire. It was the third of four compilations of law — beginning with Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion of Rome in 312 — that progressively stripped Jews of citizenship rights and repressed Judaism as a religion. Constantine had forbidden Jews from proselytizing; Constantius (337-361) had outlawed intermarriage and forbade Jews from owning or dealing in slaves; Theodosius II forbade the building of new synagogues, prohibited Jews from holding lucrative public positions and imposed on them offices whose holders “are obligated to employ their wealth and to make public gifts as part of their burdensome and diverse official and military duties”; Justinian (527-565) disqualified Jews as witnesses against Christians in courts of law. In the course of three centuries Jews thus had become second-class citizens, a status that became entrenched in Europe for more than a thousand years under the power of the Church.

[I]n order that these dangerous sects which are unmindful of our times may not spread into life the more freely, in indiscriminate disorder as it were, we ordain by this law to be valid for all time . . .” —Code of Theodosius II

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.