Chronicle of Le Mans

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Jewish- Christian Relations
10.24.11

Evolving Tensions: The Effects of Heightened Animosity Between Jews and Christians

The Chronicle of Le Mans depicts events that took place in the French town of Le Mans toward the late 10th century. The document tells primarily of the evil acts of Sehok ben Esther Israeli, a former Jew who has converted to Christianity, and how he strove against the Jewish community in Le Mans. By examining this text, we can glimpse the beginnings of Jewish animosity toward converts; the events of the text purportedly took place in 992 CE, which, if true, situate the text in the beginning of Christian missionizing efforts and the glorification of martyrdom that Jews took on in place of converting. However, the text also shows reflections of 13th-century tensions between Jews and Christians. For example, the text alludes to how the Jewish were seen as having knowingly killed Christ, a Christian viewpoint that gained prevalence in the late medieval ages. The Chronicle of Le Mans therefore not only depicts the Jewish-Christian tensions of the 10th century, but also how tensions evolved and heightened into the 13th century. By examining The Chronicle of Le Mans, we can observe the path leading to the state of Jewish animosity toward converts in the 13th century. Before examining how the document depicts converts to Christianity, we must first establish Sehok ben Esther Israeli’s status as a convert as well as the negative association that results from this status. In The Chronicle of Le Mans, Sehok’s conversion is made clear in the text when it states, “This Sehok left the Lord’s Torah and the law and statues which He had commanded His servant Moses. Instead he served the Gentiles’ god, the idols of the Christians, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.” The text goes on to damn Sehok’s conversion, declaring, “He was more fully evil than anyone before him.”1 Clearly, the authors of the text looked down upon Sehok’s newfound religious convictions. Sehok’s evil nature against Jews is further established when he leads the Count of Le Mans to suspect the Jews are conspiring against him. This later leads to anti-Jewish violence, where the Christian mob declares, “The time has come to destroy all the Jews and to remove them totally from the land,” because the Jews have supposedly desecrated the image of God. Sehok’s status as a convert is also evident in his name as he is described as the “son of” Esther Israeli. This name therefore links Sehok to the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible, in which Esther, the Jewish Queen of Persia, prevents the genocide of the Jewish people by the King’s conniving prime minister, Haman. By making Sehok the son of Esther, a prominent Jewish figure, it is clear that Sehok was originally a Jew. However, “Sehok” in Hebrew means “laughter” and can also be pronounced as “Shahuk,” meaning “pulverized” or “blotted out.” Therefore, Sehok has left Judaism and is now something to be “pulverized,” a stain to be forgotten. Sehok is “evil” and “wicked,” preying on the Jews who “had pity upon him and supported him as is their custom, in whatever town he visited.”1 Sehok’s conversion seems inextricably linked with his new status as a Christian. The relationship between The Chronicle of Le Mans and the Book of Esther also establishes a relationship between Haman and Sehok. Haman tries to trick King Ahasue’rus into believing that all the Jews ought to be killed by saying, “Their laws are diverse of all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them.” Esther manages to prevent Haman’s trickery from succeeding, but in The Chronicle of Le Mans, the Jews are not so lucky. Similarly to Haman, Sehok attempts the destruction of the Jewish community of Le Mans by convincing the Count that the Jews had desecrated the image of God. Sehok placed a wax figure, described with an appearance similar to that of the crucified Christ—“Its hands...
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