730 AD to 750 AD, Psalm 84: The valley of weeping

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valle rhin shutterstock_132699578This generation is that of the 730s and 740s

For Byzantium, this generation begins with the continuation of the reign of Leo III (717-741). The rise of Islam and the influence of Judaism despite all present, presumably influences the latter in the birth of Iconoclasm (the destruction of images):
  • In 725 [1], he (Leo III) pronounced a series of sermons in which he emphasized the most flagrant excesses of the iconolaters, as the worshipers of the images were called, whom he considered to be transgressors of the law of Moses explained in the second testament.

IrenekirkenIn 726 he took action by destroying an icon in Saint Sophia. But it is in 730 that he decrees that all images (pious) must be destroyed, taking the risk of opposing the papacy.

This crisis marks the beginning of the division between the Eastern Church and the Western Church.
It is Constantine Copronymus who succeeds Leo III in 741 for a long reign that will end in 775, if we except the attempt to seize power of Artavasde (his brother-in-law who took power for sixteen months in 742).
On the side of Islam, it is the last generation of the Umayyad dynasty, the first dynasty of Islam.
The last successive caliphs are Hisham (724-743), Walid II (743-744), Yazid III (744), Ibrahim (744) and Marwan II (744-750). The Umayyad dynasty disappears in favor of the Abbasid dynasty. This end of the dynasty is the sign of the end of the conquests and the consolidation of the territories conquered by the Arab armies.
While awaiting the advent of the Abbasid dynasty, the Jewish life is reorganized within the Arab empire and in particular in the land of Israel.
The capture of the area of the temple by Islam allows Jerusalem to find a place of choice in the Arab world and indirectly to be more accessible to Jewish populations:
  • From the time  [2] of the first caliphs, the change of legal status of the Jews and their demographic growth contributed to the embellishment and prosperity of Jerusalem, favored by the Umayyads. Both recognized special authority over the Jewish leaders of Eretz Israel, established before the Arab conquest at Tiberias, and who now seated their authority in Jerusalem. Many of its inhabitants were Jews who could not pay per capita tax in their hometowns – in Jerusalem capitation was collectively regulated and not imposed on heads of households. Jewish leaders of Eretz Israel were now in a new world, centered in Damascus. Their voice could be heard internationally: Jerusalem was also a pilgrim city for Muslims and, in any case, it was on the road traveled by caravans of merchants in certain seasons. Security on the access roads was thus ensured by the Muslim power. Relations with Jewish communities in the rest of the world and with some Umayyad caliphs were easy – which was not the case before – because of the knowledge of Arabic.

Stones of the wailing wall in Jerusalem

The Jews can now lament in Jerusalem on the glory passed on the threshold of the new Muslim mosques enthroned on the former site of Solomon’s temple.
This is the object of the beginning of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 84 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 5 )

  • For the conductor, on the gittith, of the sons of Korah, a song.
  • How beloved are Your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts!
  • My soul yearns, yea, it pines for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh pray fervently to the living God.
  • Even a bird found a house and a swallow her nest, where she placed her chicks upon Your altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.
  • Fortunate are those who stay in Your house; they will continually praise You forever.
The Arab internal struggles lead to the change of dynasty but will also result in the freezing of Muslim expansion.

conquete arabe 750

The Berbers who conquered Spain in the name of Islam are being turned away from fertile lands by « real » Arabs, which likely explains their attempt to conquer new lands further north. But they collide with the Franks who stop their push.

Pope_Gregory_IIPope_Gregory_III_Illustration

To this defeat of the Muslim armies in Franc territory is grafted an ideological struggle between Christians of the East and Christians of the West, a religious fracture of too much:
  • The history [3] of the division between Rome and Constantinople is already old when the seventh century begins, since it goes back far to the division of the Roman Empire. Sources of litigation abound: rivalries about the title of Ecumenical Patriarch, interventions by the Byzantine emperors in theological debates, differences in the interpretation of the Christian tradition, haughty contempt for a rude West on one side and misunderstanding before « Byzantine » quarrels on the other. […]
  • Even more serious are the consequences of the long iconoclastic crisis that began under the pontificates of Gregory II (715-731) and Gregory III (731-741) and continued until the denouement of 843. Westerners have a point on the subject which can be described as moderate: they admit images for pedagogical reasons but are defiant of the iconodoule, just like iconoclasm.
  • The reciprocal mistrust is accentuated by the political conjuncture: the military weakening of the Byzantine Empire leads the papacy to seek from the side of the Franks the protection it needs against the Lombards. This alliance sealed by the coronations of Pepin Le Bref (the Short) (751) and by the imperial coronation of Charlemagne in the year 800, appears as a political operation directed against the Byzantine emperor, devalued, and finally dispossessed of the imperial monopoly.
The ideological independence of the papacy towards the Eastern Church, associated with the emergence of the Frankish kingdom as a leading force, makes this generation the birth of the West, of Europe.
The center of the world that hovered between Persia, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean rim is slowly moving north.
The Jews, by their particular situation, neither Muslim nor Christian, play a preponderant role in the commercial exchanges between these two worlds: the Muslim East and the Christian Europe.
The Muslim empire also serves as gateway to the Far East: China and India, where many Jewish communities are being created since that time. The Christian Europe centered on the Frankish kingdom opens trade routes to the east: the future Germanic and Hungarian empires.

Empires_voies_commerciales annote

The presence of Jewish communities in Europe’s lands predates this generation, but the new development of Europe creates new opportunities for Jews.

On these new trade routes of Europe many Jewish communities are created for the better and for the worse, because Europe will be for the Jews at the same time a land of intellectual blooming but also a vast cemetery – the valley of weeping – for Jews who will suffer more and more terrible massacres through generations to come.
At the threshold of this new world that opens to the Jews, the following of the psalm evokes this future of hope but also of tears that are not enough to break the confidence of the Jewish people towards their God:

(extract of the psalm 84 associated to this generation, verses 6 to 10 )

 

  • Fortunate is the man who has strength in You, in whose heart are the highways.
  • Transgressors in the valley of weeping make it into a fountain; also with blessings they enwrap [their] Teacher.
  • They go from host to host; he will appear to God in Zion.
  • O Lord, God of Hosts, hearken to my prayer; bend Your ear, O God of Jacob, forever.
  • See our shield, O God, and look at the face of Your anointed.

 

It is the reaffirmation of the covenant that the psalm of this generation concludes:

(extract of the psalm 84 associated to this generation, verses 11 to 13 )

  • For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand; …  
    • What does it matter if the Jewish people are denied sovereignty over Jerusalem through the generations of exile? What matters is the conclusion of exile and the definitive return to Sion.
  • … I chose to sit on the threshold of the house of My God rather than dwell in tents of wickedness.
    • This patience is preferable to the temptation to submit to the victors of the moment. Indeed conversion to Islam is tempting and would easily allow Jews to return to pray (as a Muslim) on the historic site of Solomon’s Temple. But it is better to keep one’s faith and confidence (« to sit on the threshold of the house of My God » ) than to be persuaded to seemingly penetrate deeper because the newly built mosques (« tents of wickedness ») do not replace the destroyed temple. .
  • For a sun and a shield is the Lord God; the Lord will give grace and glory; He will not withhold good from those who go with sincerity.
  • O Lord of Hosts, fortunate is the man who trusts in You.
    • The psalmist renews a new faith his confidence.

 

 

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[1] John Julius Norwich: « History of Byzantium ». Chapter 9: « The Iconoclasm ». (French: « Histoire de Byzance ». Chapitre 9 : « L’Iconoclasme ». (p. 137) ).

[2] Shmuel Trigano: « The Sephardic world: I History ». Chapter: « History of the Jews under the Moslem domination: The time of the conquest (632-750) ». (French: « Le monde Sépharade : I Histoire ». Chapitre : « Histoire des Juifs sous la domination musulmane : L’époque de la conquête (632-750) ». (p. 48/49) ).

[3] Jean Pierre Moisset: « History of Catholicism ». Chapter: « One Church, Two Cultures: East and West. (French: « Histoire du catholicisme ». Chapitre : « Une église, deux cultures : Orient et Occident » (p. 172-173) ).