Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

A Medieval Cartoon

A UK government educational website once had a webpage called "A Medieval Mystery."1 At the top of the page was this:

A medieval cartoon

This cartoon is from 1233. It is a detailed cartoon and it is a real mystery. It was found on an Exchequer Roll. A roll is not a sandwich but a government document recording various payments. This roll listed tax payments made by Jewish people. They were called rolls because that is how they were stored - rolled up.

There followed a series of questions (e.g., "What do you think these characters are supposed to be?"; "What do you think their role is within the cartoon?"),  and then this "Background Information":

Background Information

Unravel the Medieval Cartoon Mystery

Persecution of the Jews

The persecution (being picked on) of the Jews that the world witnessed during the Second World War (6 million were murdered) was not a new event. Although nothing had been seen on this scale before, the Jews have been persecuted throughout history - ever since Roman times. Their religion and their success in business has attracted hatred and jealousy at different times. Laws were sometimes passed against them, such as the 1215 ruling by the Catholic Church that Jewish men had to wear spiked hats to identify them. At other times they have been made to wear stars on their clothing and change their names. Britain in its past victimised the Jews to the point of expelling them from the country in 1290 and not letting them back in until 1655.

The cartoon is an example of the feelings some people had towards the Jews in the Middle Ages. The cartoon is about real people and their situation within medieval society. This is their story:

Isaac fil Jurnet

Isaac fil Jurnet was one of the richest Jews in England and certainly the richest Jew in Norwich where he lived. Isaac was much richer than many Christians living at the same time. Like many Jews, Isaac was a money-lender. By law Jews were allowed to charge a fee for borrowing money on loans whereas Christians were not.

Isaac was the chief money-lender to the Abbot and monks of Westminster. He took them to court to get interest on the money they had borrowed. As a result of this he became the target of opposition from Pandulf, the Bishop of Norwich, who wanted to see all Jews thrown out of the country to ‘beyond the seas’. Isaac was also a merchant and owned a dock in Norwich. The Abbot and monks were not the only ones in debt - whole districts of the city owed him money.

Mosse Mokke

Mosse Mokke worked for Isaac, collecting the money owed to him. Money in medieval England was made from precious metals, and was worth as much as it weighed. This caused problems because people would ‘clip’ pieces off the edge of coins and use these pieces to make another coin. The coins that had been clipped were hard to detect and were used to pay for goods despite being worth less than they appeared. Many people were tempted to clip coins but it was a crime - punishable by death. However, Mosse Mokke was a rather shady character. He had been charged for beating someone up in 1230 and in 1242 he was caught clipping coins and was executed.


Another character in medieval Norwich was Abigail, or Avegay, who some said was the wife of Mosse Mokke. She was known for usury - the collecting of very high interest on a loan. Unlike Christian women, Jewish women were much more frequently successful in business and could become quite rich.

The Jews in England were to suffer increasingly as the 13th Century continued. They were subjected to heavy taxes, had property confiscated, were attacked and finally were expelled in 1290. This anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) behaviour was mostly the result of jealousy of Jewish wealth and a misunderstanding of their religious practices.

The point of showing the cartoon is, of course, to ensure that kids are sensitized to what the UK government considers to be antisemitism. And that's likely the "lesson" most people will take away when reading the above: "Poor Jews! Always persecuted!" They'll focus on the Bishop wanting to throw the Jews out, the ideas that Christians were too stupid to understand the Jewish religion, and that Christians were jealous because they weren't as "successful" as Jews.

But read it again: It says over and over that the Jews were rich, and that they got their wealth through usury, which is a sin, which is ruinously destructive, which the Torah forbids, and which the Talmud forbids against other Jews. It says that the Jewish characters portrayed in the cartoon clipped money; beat people up; had entire districts of the city indebted to them; weren't simply richer than Christians, but were rich at the expense of Christians, etc. But then they go on about how persecuted the Jews were. Sounds to me as if it were the Christians who had it bad.
Then, after all that, the problem all those Christians had wasn't that they were being financially destroyed, ripped off, beaten, etc. (and the webpage says not a thing about Jewish treatment of and "misunderstandings" about the Christian religion); no, their problem was this: Christians were just stupid and jealous.
It really is incredible how people can't see what is right in front of their own eyes.

And as an aside, Jews were being thrown out of countries far earlier than "Roman times," and Christian women could and absolutely did successfully run businesses in the medieval era; they just couldn't get filthy-stinking rich by exploiting others through usury.


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