So now let’s see what googling ‘Religious Atrocities’ and focusing-in on our own western hemisphere’s Judeo-Christian tradition bring us:
According to the Bible’s Book of Exodus, Chapters 24:12 through 32:28, after Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and subsequently climbed rugged, 7,000′ Mt. Sinai alone, where he’d ultimately receive the first ten laws of the new Israelite nation from God—and as it happened, remain gone for more than a month, leaving his younger brother Aaron in charge below—some awaiting his return began to worry that something had happened to him and that (gulp) they might never see him again.
And so they dared to approach Aaron—described in the Bible as a ‘prophet’ who was soon to become Israel’s first High Priest—and ask him to take over the leadership role of his missing brother.
We’d best let the Bible itself take it from there—save for a few verses that we’ll skip, since they just have to do with a threat by God to wipe out the Israelites and a subsequent plea by Moses for him to relent.
“Aaron replied to them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’
“So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.
“He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then he said, ‘This is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
“When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.’
“So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
(aforementioned verses skipped here)
“Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
“When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
“He said to Aaron, ‘What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?’
“‘Do not be angry, my lord,’ Aaron answered. ‘You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, Make us a god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him. So I told them, Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off. Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’
“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.’ And all the Levites rallied to him.
“Then he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’
“The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people were slain.” (Exodus 32:5-28)
Really? Moses—revered in three different religions as not only the author, or at least editor of the Jewish Torah or first five books of the Old Testament known in Christianity as the Pentateuch, but the most important leader of fledgling Judaism and its first lecturer on the subject of social right and wrong—a mass-murderer? An ancient, genocidal meshuggener who killed in the name of his new nation’s mere religious purity? Or is that somehow to be excused—because if so, it has to be excused in all of the similar exterminations and attempted exterminations that have occurred down through history.
* * *
Back when Christianity was a mere sixty-four years old, a colossal fire broke out in Rome that burned for six straight days and wound up destroying most of the city before it could be contained; and afterward, it was widely rumored to have been started by the Emperor Nero himself, who wanted to raze and rebuild the city center, but just a week or so before had been refused permission to do so by the Roman Senate.
So he sought to deflect attention from that accusation by declaring that the city’s Christians—a steadily growing, but generally despised, pacifist group—should be rounded up and killed. Some were subsequently put to the sword. Others were torn apart by dogs while unsympathetic citizens gambled on how much longer that they might manage to remain alive. And still others were set afire as human torches.
* * *
In response to complaints by the priests and priestesses of the traditional Roman gods that Christianity was seriously encroaching on their respective domains, costing them a considerable amount of support, later emperors issued a series of edicts banning Christian practices outright, ordering the imprisonment of all Christian clergy, and finally, commanding that all Christians either sacrifice to the Roman gods—that is, bring their priests suitable offerings—or face immediate execution.
* * *
After the decriminalization of Christianity in 315 by Constantine I—who’d famously go on to become the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, albeit twenty-two years later on his deathbed—emboldened Christian mobs soon abandoned their pacifistic ways and began killing off the old, ‘pagan’ priests and destroying their temples; according to historians, eventually murdering several thousand.
* * *
In 356, Constantine II bent to the will of the newly empowered Christians by making the conducting of pagan services punishable by death.
* * *
Shortly before he died, Constantine had the distinguished Greek philosopher Sopatros of Apamea executed, purportedly for practicing magic, on demand of Christian authorities.
* * *
Later in that century, Emperor Theodosius—a devout Christian described by Catholic chroniclers as having “meticulously followed all Christian teachings…”, and since canonized, or sainted for having made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380—reportedly had children executed just for playing with the remains of pagan statues.
* * *
In 372, Christianity began a determined campaign to stamp out Manichaeism—at the time, Christianity’s main rival for replacing classical paganism. Millions of Manichaeans were killed before the severely weakened religion finally gave up the ghost more than a thousand years later in faraway Asia.
* * *
In 381, at the request of the Christians the Roman emperor Theodosius I stripped the Manichaeans of their civil rights.
* * *
In 382, responding to Christian urging, Theodosius issued a decree of death for all Manichaean monks.
* * *
In 385, Bishop Pricillian of Ávila, Spain and five of his followers were accused by some rival churchmen of sorcery—a capital offense—and after being forced to confess that they’d studied obscene doctrines, held nocturnal meetings with shameful women, and prayed while naked, were convicted and beheaded.
* * *
In 388, a Jewish synagogue along the upper Euphrates River in Asia Minor was ordered destroyed by the Bishop of Kallinikon.
As the first recorded attack on Judaism by Christianity, it might have gone more or less unnoticed by historians, except that it was closely followed by the fiery takedown of another synagogue in northern Italy at the command of Bishop Innocentius of Dertona.
* * *
In 393, Theodosius issued a law that specifically prohibited the public observance of any non-Christian religious custom.
* * *
In 415, world famous female philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer Hypatia of Alexandria, a self-described pagan but good friend of Christianity, was cut to pieces with shards of broken glass in an Alexandrian church by an hysterical Christian mob egged on by their official ‘Reader of Scripture for the Benefit of the Illiterate’.
* * *
During the sixth century, Christianity declared all pagans devoid of ordinary civil rights.
* * *
In 694, the Seventeenth Council of Toledo in the Roman province that would eventually become Spain issued eight ‘canons’, or official Church Rulings, the last of which decreed that all Jews living under the rule of the local king—who’d called for the council, and now presided over it—were to immediately turn all of their property over to their Christian slaves; thereafter become forever enslaved themselves to Christian masters, chosen by the king and contractually prevented from allowing the Jews to ever again practice their own religion; and agree to give up their children at age seven, to be raised as Christians and subsequently married off to Christians.
* * *
Late in the eighth century, the new Frankish king Charles I, perhaps better known today as Charles the Great, Charles the Magnificent, or as the French would put that last, Charlemagne—a staunch Roman Catholic whose forebears had a long history of supporting the papacy—quickly served notice that he intended to follow in their footsteps by removing the troublesome Lombard family from power in northern Italy; leading a Catholic incursion into Muslim Spain; converting his own eastern neighbors the Saxons to Catholicism under penalty of death, and in the process, unceremoniously beheading some 4,500 who refused that.
Then, on Christmas Day of the year that began the following century, this proponent of conversion by the sword was in Rome, ostensibly having accepted an invitation to attend Pope Leo III’s midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica; however, after kneeling briefly before that Pope, he left bearing a new crown: that of the first Holy Roman Emperor, or secular ruler of what was by then rapidly becoming known as the ‘Holy Roman Empire’.
* * *
On the 18th of November in the 1,095th year of the Christian Era, Pope Urban II and some three hundred of his cardinals, archbishops, bishops, ordinary parish priests, abbots, deacons, and an assortment of influential Catholic noblemen convened at the church of Notre-Dame-du-Port, in Clermont, Auvergne—at the time, part of the Duchy of Aquitaine in central France—supposedly to discuss and debate routine church business.
Historians would later come to call this gathering simply the ‘Second Council of Clermont’—sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it?
The council went on for ten days, and in the end issued thirty-three canons—the first thirty-two of which just dealt with run-of-the-mill stuff such as reaffirming the Church’s centuries-old prohibition of clerical marriage, excommunicating the Bishop of Cambrai for selling church privileges, extending the excommunication of the King of France for having committed adultery by daring to divorce and remarry, and so forth. But the thirty-third, or last to be announced to the throng waiting outside the church to find out what decisions were being made inside, effectively launched one of the longest, bloodiest holy wars in all recorded history.
For that’s exactly how Urban dared refer to it as he addressed the crowd: not only a bellum justum, or ‘just war’, he declared—but a bellum sacrum, ‘holy war’.
As for Urban himself, he’d been in office for about seven years by then, had already acquired something of a reputation as a reformer and an exponent of the old Charlemagnian idea that Christianity should continue the expansion of its territory by whatever means necessary; and then as luck would have it, he’d received a letter from the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople just that March first appealing to him for help in repelling the Muslim army that had defeated his own some fourteen years before and was now seriously threatening to overrun the whole of eastern Christendom, and then expressing his personal outrage about the growing Muslim persecution of Christians making pilgrimages to Jerusalem—the city where Christ had been crucified—and suggesting that after beating back the Muslims, their combined armies might actually pursue them all the way back to Jerusalem—which had been in Muslim hands for the last four hundred years—and ultimately seize the city for Christianity.
Although the two main, eastern and western divisions of the Christian world had more or less survived independently of each other since agreeing to go their separate ways more than forty years before—among other things, the eastern church had refused to accept the spiritual authority of the Pope, thus bringing about what historians would eventually come to call the Great Schism—the current leader of the western Church was disposed to send his ecclesiastic rival military assistance and join up with his army in a glorious, united fight for Jerusalem, if only because doing so promised to increase the prestige of his papacy as his own forces led the fight; while it also offered him a perfect opportunity to fulfill a long held personal dream: he wanted to reunite the two halves of the Christian world and go on to become its undisputed head, ultimately to rank above the now-weakened Patriarch of Constantinople.
And so the Pope informed the crowd that every able-bodied nobleman, knight, artisan, monk, beggar, and even lowly thief and murderer among them was now needed for a great Crusade to drive the Muslims from Christianity’s birthplace.
That the capture of Jerusalem—and extermination of every Muslim and Jew who refused to leave it—would be their primary objective; with the defense of Byzantium being of secondary importance.
That those who joined him in this endeavor, which Christ himself had ordered—“Christus autem imperat,” he told them, ‘Christ commands it’—would soon be embarking on a religious pilgrimage during which all their sins would be washed away.
That those who answered the call would be compensated in this life with material rewards, and in the next with spiritual ones.
That whether they died on the way to the Holy Land or in battle, they were still guaranteed a place in Heaven.
That the families and property of those who answered the call would be guarded by those who were left behind, and would ultimately be protected by God himself.
That while due to the local climate and the time that it would take to recruit and train a sufficiently large army and build it some siege weapons, the long, twenty-five hundred mile march probably wouldn’t begin until the following summer.
That everyone except the very young and very old, along with women and the priests who’d be needed to look after the spiritual needs of those remaining behind, should immediately step forward, take the Crusader’s oath, and start spreading the word.
Concluding his speech with the words “Deus vult!”, ‘God wills it,’—which was reported to have subsequently been adopted as the Crusaders’ battle cry—Urban announced that his attacking force would be organized in five sections assembled at various points throughout the Catholic lands and then appointed Adhémar de Monteil, the Bishop of Le Puy, as his personal representative for the expedition and effectively its supreme commander; who was subsequently approached by an emotional, zealous monk from Amiens, Peter the Hermit, begging to be named one of his subordinate commanders and presenting as his credentials a letter of recommendation that he claimed had been written by God himself and hand-delivered to him by Jesus.
* * *
As it happened, after preaching rousing sermons all over Western Europe exhorting people to follow him to Jerusalem, Peter was so eager to get underway that he decided not to wait for the rest of the Crusaders to finish their own recruiting and training, but to set out alone from Cologne, Germany in early spring with an undisciplined, peasant horde numbering in the thousands—under the protection of the Holy Ghost, he assured them—which some historians have since come to call the ‘People’s Crusade’.
Unfortunately, those Crusaders didn’t make it past Constantinople—but along the way, they did manage to impress their leader by storming the homes of thousands of Rhineland Jews, stealing whatever of value that they could carry and destroying the rest, desecrating and burning all their Torahs, torturing and raping the women, and killing off their men until according to eyewitnesses, in town after town the bodies of the dead simply couldn’t be piled any higher.
And so perhaps it was only to be expected that early in August, following their brazen takeover of a Byzantine castle just outside Constantinople, these particular Soldiers of Christ would be ambushed and all but annihilated by several thousand Soldiers of Muhammad sent to stop them before they could make much real progress.
* * *
Thus ended the Crusade’s so-called first wave; but midway through that same month, a much more powerful, better organized, and properly disciplined second wave that included some four thousand mounted knights, twenty-five thousand infantry troops, and almost half that many non-combatants, moved east from France on its own divinely ordered mission to rid Jerusalem of all non-Christians.
Crossing into the Byzantine lands early the following year, by late-May they’d definitely established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, first capturing the Muslim-held Turkish city of Nicaea, then defeating a massive Turkish army sent to take it back, and subsequently marching on to Antioch—which immediately closed its gates and sent its soldiers to the parapets.
Thus began a difficult, six-month long siege during which the Christian army successfully repulsed a number of attacks by would-be relief forces. ‘Repulsed’—such an antiseptic way to put it. Actually, the Crusaders brought hundreds of the severed heads of their Muslim opponents back from the battlefield, and shouting, “God wills it!”, took to catapulting most them over the walls into the besieged city while impaling the rest on stakes stuck in the ground in plain view of the enemy soldiers manning the ramparts.
When the Muslims sometimes crept out of the city at night in an effort to bury their dead, the suspicious Christians watching in the dim light from their campfires would remain clear of them; but then in the morning, they’d hurry forth to dig up the corpses and rob them of their gold and silver jewelry and any other items of possible value.
The siege of Antioch ended only when one of the more persuasive Christian leaders managed to convince one of the tower guards, an Armenian whom history appears to record only as ‘the traitor Firouz’, to accept a sum of money and a title in exchange for hanging a rope ladder from his tower just before daylight next morning and looking the other way while sixty of the crusaders’ best men ascended it and rushed to open one of the nearby city gates, allowing the rest to pour in.
In the orgy of killing that followed, the Christian Warriors are known to have massacred thousands of Muslim soldiers and ordinary citizens—men, women and children—until the only inhabitants left alive were some who’d managed to take refuge in the city’s heavily fortified citadel.
According to the Christian chronicler Fulcher of Chartres, a witness to this mayhem, the invaders didn’t rape the women that they inevitably came across in the enemy tents, “but just ran their lances through their bellies.”
Later that month, when a huge Turkish army attempted to re-take the city, again only to be defeated, the citadel too surrendered, and all Antioch finally belonged to the Europeans.
After resting, attending to their wounded, and carefully reorganizing themselves over the next several months, the Crusaders—by now reduced to less than half their original number—marched on toward Jerusalem.
Early that winter, the Crusaders took the Syrian city of Ma’arat al-Nu’man, where they killed thousands more; after which, according to the Christian chronicler Albert Aquensis, “the already stinking corpses of the enemies were eaten by the Christians,” due to a famine in that area.
Finally arriving before the Jerusalem walls the following June—and finding it more heavily fortified than expected—they immediately set to building some enormous siege towers.
Six days later, the towers were complete and the Christians began fighting their way across the city walls; and by the next day, they’d penetrated the Muslim defenses to the extent that a few of them were able to open one of the gates from the inside—and the slaughter was on.
Not thousands, but tens of thousands now fell before the Christian swords—Jews and Muslims alike; men, women and children—with the killing continuing all night and into the next day and then the next. Some Jews who’d taken refuge in a synagogue were burned alive when the Christians set it ablaze. And according to an Arab historian, when some seventy thousand Muslims, including many renowned scholars, managed to squeeze into the vast al-Aqsa mosque under the protection of a Christian banner and lock themselves in, the Crusaders simply forced an entry next morning and massacred them all.
As the city’s defenses collapsed, some Moslem soldiers who’d sought refuge in the citadel managed to fight on for three days, but in the end were forced to surrender to the invaders in return for safe passage to Ascalon. They were the only Moslems known to have escaped Jerusalem alive.
To sum up the remembrances of one participant: “Now that our men had taken control of the city, wonderful sights were to be seen. The city was filled with corpses and blood. Some of our men chopped the heads off their enemies; others shot them with arrows until they fell from the towers; others tortured them for as long as possible by casting them into one of the many fires. Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen everywhere. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon. If I were to tell the full story of that, it would exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say that at the Temple and on the porch of Solomon, our men rode with enemy blood dripping from their bodies and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that the place was absolutely filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it had suffered for so long from their blasphemies.”
On the other hand, another participant, the Archbishop of Tyre, simply wrote: “It was impossible to look upon the vast numbers of the slain without horror; everywhere lay fragments of human bodies, and the very ground was covered with the blood of the slain. It was not alone the spectacle of headless bodies and mutilated limbs strewn in all directions that roused the horror of all who looked upon them. Still more dreadful was it to gaze upon the victors themselves, dripping with blood from head to foot, an ominous sight that brought terror to all who met them.”
So the crusaders indeed achieved their goal; and when a numerically superior Egyptian Muslim army marched on the city shortly afterward to challenge the Christians’ claim on it, it too was routed—thereby ending Muslim resistance to the Christans for the time being; while in the end, five small, Christian states were set up in the region, each under the rule of one of the Crusade’s leaders.
(to be continued)
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