The Ghent University has been running a training course for about ten years, mainly intended for alumni and the elderly. This year, the programme featured lectures by Professor em. John Everaert on the theme of “Human trafficking: Europe and the thread of shame”. The first lecture titled “Medieval Europe reorients its slave trade” was held on November 7. Dr. Rudi Roth was dismayed when he read in the first slide of the presentation: “slave traders / slave-brokers: rather Jews (polyglot)” and by Prof Everaert’s oral assertion that the trade was conducted “mostly by Jews”.
Which sources? When asked about the sources he drew on to make his claim, Professor Everaert referred to the work of his predecessor, Professor Charles Verlinden (1907-1996), a Belgian historian and professor at Ghent University. In 1935, Verlinden developped this hypothesis in a first publication that has been passed on uncritically ever since. Belgian historian Henri Pirenne also underlined the important role played by Jews in trade and in the slave trade during the early Middle-Ages (7th to 11th century). So did the acclaimed French historian, Maurice Lombard.
Dr. Roth examined their works and compared them with newer academic publications. They invalidate the theory of Verlinden because it is not based on hard facts but on erroneous assumptions. Historians such as Verlinden were not rigorous when dealing with sources and mixed information from various sources. Very simply put, saying that “Jews had slaves” and that “Jews were merchants” became “Jews were slave traders”. Historical truth was distorted, and historians such as Pirenne and others, adopted this view.
Everaert misses the point The proof that Everaert’s explanation is not based on facts is apparent from research by the Austian-Israeli historian Eliyahu Ashtor, but especially from the articles by Professor Michaël Toch of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the leading authority in the field of the Middle-Ages and Judaism in Europe. We asked for his opinion on the expressions “rather Jews” and “mostly by Jews” used by Everaert. Professor Toch responded there is no doubt that both are wrong: “This is as wrong as it can be, and that is not an exaggeration because it is simple: these allegations are wrong for a lot of reasons The sources and arguments against this thesis are clearly explained in my book (1), but also in other studies, for example in Atti della XXXI Settimana di Studi(2).
The specific and erroneous argument, that the slave trade was carried out “mostly by Jews” can be primarily be explained by underlying and passive antisemitic prejudices. The fact that the slave trade was mainly a non-Jewish practice was deliberately brushed aside or even concealed. This anti-Jewish claim was later adopted by a number of historians.
Professor Jean-Pierre Devroey (ULB) also rejects Charles Verlinden’s approach for similar reasons. Professor Everaert was contacted by J.A. and maintained obstinately that his theory is right even though it is not based on facts and disputed by other historians.
1. The Economic History of European Jews. Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages, 2013, pp. 178-190.
2. Michael Toch, Jews and Commerce: Modern Fancies and Medieval Realities, in: S. Cavaciocchi (ed.), Il ruolo economico delle minoranze in Europe. Secc. XIII-XVIII, Attidella XXXI Settimana di Studi, Istituto Francesco Datini, Prato, Firenze 2000, 43-58.
Comment: And so did Vikings. There were NO Jewish intermediaries!!!