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Doing Justice to the Classics

Ancient Roman Quotes on Notorious Nazi Website

The Daily Stormer has been described as “the leading hate site on the Internet” and “probably the world’s most notorious Nazi website.” Its founder, Andrew Anglin, has been described as “a prolific Internet troll and serial harasser” and has been documented previously by Pharos for an anti-Semitic complaint about “the utter decay” of “the traditions that began with Homer and Hesiod, Socrates and Plato.” Anglin wrote in the Daily Stormer’s style guide” for contributors that “the tone of the site should be light” so that “the unindoctrinated” can’t “tell if we are joking or not” while admitting that “this is obviously a ploy and I actually do want to gas kikes.” The site is best-known for its unabashedly racist and anti-Semitic coverage of current events, with recent articles such as “Virginia: Groid faces murder charges after shooting his coalburner in a stolen car” and “Jews aggressively shilling propaganda to justify an American invasion of Venezuela” but it also features historical content, including an article entitled “The Roman Empire’s Jewish Problem.”

The article begins by claiming that “the Jews have been a consistent and irreconcilable problem for all peoples” and that the “Ancient Romans in particular had a mortal Jewish problem, just as we do today.” What follows is a list of quotes from ancient and early Christian writers attacking the Jewish religion and Jewish people, many taken from a book by Kevin MacDonald, “the neo-Nazi movement’s favorite academic.” In contrast to other anti-Semitic treatments of ancient material that Pharos has documented, there is no analysis or discussion of any of the quotes. It’s just a list which is supposed to suggest that because ancient writers expressed hatred for Jews, Anglin and his readers are justified in cultivating and promoting that same hatred.

The first of the quotes is said to come from the Roman orator Cicero, who is pictured in the article’s image. It’s a quote that appears on a large number of anti-Semitic sites and message boards: “The Jews belong to a dark and repulsive force. One knows how numerous this clique is, how they stick together and what power they exercise through their unions. They are a nation of rascals and deceivers.”  However, as the Classics professor David Levene has pointed out, Cicero never said most of what this quote attributes to him: “the Jews belong to a dark and repulsive force” and “they are a nation of rascals and deceivers” appear nowhere in Cicero’s works.

Cicero did say something like “one knows how numerous this clique is, how they stick together and what power they exercise through their unions” in his oration defending Lucius Valerius Flaccus against charges of extortion. One aspect of the charge was that Flaccus, as governor of the Roman province of Asia, had blocked the export of gold to be sent to Jerusalem. Cicero points out that Flaccus was merely enforcing a ban on exporting gold that the Roman Senate had established not just for Jewish people but for all provinces, but he praises Flaccus for doing so even though there were “a multitude of Jewish people” in his province who were “sometimes violent in political assemblies.” Thus whoever first appropriated this line distorted Cicero’s meaning into “what power they exercise in their unions” to conform to the common anti-Semitic accusation that Jewish people exercise disproportionate and harmful influence in politics.

We cannot really accuse The Daily Stormer of significant distortion of ancient evidence; their list is just a blatant appeal to the respectability of Greco-Roman antiquity

The Daily Stormer’s post does not give sources for any of its quotes, and the fabrications of the first one raise the possibility that the others are also inventions by anti-Semites. In researching the origins of each we found some minor errors of attribution but that all of the other quotes were more or less authentic. It is not hard to find attacks on Jewish people in ancient sources. The real question is how we assess that prejudice.

Thus even though the quote attributed to Cicero has been modified beyond recognition to promote anti-Semitism, Cicero’s authentic remarks do indicate an ancient prejudice against Jewish people, as does another Ciceronian quote taken accurately from the same speech saying that the Jewish religion is “at variance with the glory of our empire, the dignity of our name, the customs of our ancestors.” The other Classical quotes that the article cites actually appear in ancient sources as well:

  • The Roman historians Tacitus did write that Jewish people have “an attitude of hostility and hatred towards all others” (Histories 5.5).
  • Cassius Dio did claim that during the Jewish-Roman warsThe Jews…ate the flesh of their victims, made belts for themselves out of their entrails, and daubed themselves with their blood” (68.32.1).
  • A quote from the philosopher Seneca complaining that “the conquered [Jews] have given laws to the conquerors” is probably genuine but does not appear in Seneca’s surviving works; it is quoted by Saint Augustine (City of God 6.11) as coming from a treatise called “On Superstition” that has been lost. 

Given the long history of attacks on Jewish people by Christians it is unsurprising that The Daily Stormer’s post also includes many from early Christian writers, especially Saint John Chrysostom’s seven sermons “Against the Jews” whose disgusting content belies the eloquence that his name (“golden mouthed”) is said to commemorate. The quotes that have been selected from an almost limitless number in those speeches include:

  • One that likely appeals to The Daily Stormer because it appears to call for genocide: “[Jews] are…fit for slaughter” (1.2.6).
  • Another because it conforms to the anti-Semitic claim that Jewish people are dishonest in business: “Shall I tell you of their plundering, their covetousness, their abandonment of the poor, their thefts, their cheating in trade?” (1.7.1)

From other early Christian writers the article also gives:

This section too has some problems of attribution:

  • A quote said to come from the church father Gregory of Nyssa (“[Jews are] murderers of the Lord…advocates of the devil, race of vipers” etc.) is from a work agreed by scholars to have been written by someone else using the name of the church father (On the resurrection of Christ 5 PG 46.685).
  • A quote attributed to Saint Jerome on the site (“If you call [the synagogue] a brothel, a den of vice, the devil’s refuge, Satan’s fortress, a place to deprave the soul, an abyss of every conceivable disaster or whatever else you will, you are still saying less than it deserves”) is actually just another quote from John Chrysostom (6.7.6), although we found this quote attributed to Jerome in many scholarly sources in print and online as well.

These errors of citation do not, however, mitigate the hatred expressed in the quotes. So we cannot really accuse The Daily Stormer of significant distortion of ancient evidence; their list is just a blatant appeal to the respectability of Greco-Roman antiquity. The site assumes that whatever ancient Roman authors say, because they are “Classics”, is true and worthy of admiration. One of Pharos’ first documentations was a misogynist arguing that because Aristotle said women were inferior to men, we know they really are inferior. Its an argumentative fallacy that would be laughable if it wasn’t also the foundation for so many hateful views.

Distinguishing ancient anti-Judaism from contemporary anti-Semitism seems to run the risk of attempting to preserve the respectability of the same ancient texts that are being used to bolster contemporary hate

A secondary aspect of the argument The Daily Stormer is making with these quotes is that hatred of Jews is so old that it must somehow be a “natural” or “correct” position to hold. This line of reasoning is just as flawed as the appeal to the authority of Classical texts (just because something is old doesn’t mean it should be valued) but in addition many scholars, including within classics, have argued that ancient hostility to Jews should be distinguished from modern anti-Semitism. The former, they argue, is a hostility to Judaism as a religion, whereas modern anti-Semitism is a form of racism. If this is correct it signals one way that The Daily Stormer has distorted the ancient evidence, by recasting religious prejudice into the same kind of totalizing racialized hatred they profess. It is attractive to argue that contemporary anti-Semitism does not have the long history The Daily Stormer claims it does, because it suggests that this hatred can be eradicated. On the other hand, distinguishing ancient anti-Judaism from contemporary anti-Semitism seems to run the risk of attempting to preserve the respectability of the same ancient texts that are being used to bolster contemporary hate. With so many groups depending on the prestige of Classical antiquity to support their hateful politics we might be better off questioning whether we really want to give these ancient sources the authority we do.

Despite several web-hosting companies forcing The Daily Stormer offline for violations of their terms of service its content continues to be available online, currently with a registration from Hong Kong-based Eranet International Limited.  As always we have linked above only to archived images of the site. The original version of the article is here.

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