Ultimi barbarorum: You are the greatest of barbarians


By Richard Mather…

In colloquial usage, a barbarian is someone who is brutal, cruel, uncivilised and warlike. The term originates from the Greek barbaros. The Oxford English Dictionary defines five meanings of the noun “barbarian.” The third definition is “a rude, wild, uncivilised person.”

This sounds familiar. It reminds me of Ishmael and his descendants. According to the Torah, Ishmael is said to be a “wild ass of a man.” Targum Onkeos translates “a wild man” as “one who kills people.” Regarding Ishmael, the Torah tells us that he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.

Again, this strikes a familiar chord. It calls to mind the Arab terrorists who attack Jewish bystanders with knives, who murder rabbis with meat cleavers, who drive cars into pedestrians. It reminds me of the barbarians who incite anti-Semitic violence in mosques and in the media. It reminds me of the lynching, murder and mutilation of Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami, two IDF reservists who accidentally entered Ramallah on October 12, 2000.

Such wild-ass barbarism, especially the horrifying events in Ramallah, recall a terrible event that took place in the Dutch Republic in 1672. On August 20 of that year, an organised mob murdered, mutilated and literally ate – yes, ate – a well-known politician called Jan de Witt (his brother Cornelis also suffered the same fate). When the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza heard about the murders, he prepared a placard stating ultimi barbarorum (“you are the greatest of barbarians”).

Fellow philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz visited Spinoza four years after the bloody murders. He wrote:

“I have spent several hours with Spinoza, after dinner. He said to me that, on the day of the massacres of the de Witts, he wanted to go out at night and post a placard near the site of the massacres reading ultimi barbarorum. But his host locked the house to keep him from going out, for he would be exposed to being torn to pieces.”

That was in the late seventeenth century. But even in 2016, in our supposedly enlightened age, Jewish men, women and children face the very real possibility of being torn to pieces by bloodthirsty barbarians who believe that such brutality is somehow a virtue. To me, such people are inhuman.

More than three hundred years after the horrible murders in the Dutch Republic, Spinoza’s well-aimed Latin insult seems cannily appropriate. His words apply equally to the likes of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah, and to anyone who supports or legitimises the murder of Israeli Jews.

Yes, to all these people, I say: ultimi barbarorum. You are the greatest of barbarians.

By Frank H Art

Baruch Spinoza by Frank H Art


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