An Odd What If

Blessed Purim to my Jewish readers!

What would have happened if the Princes of Kiev, in the late 900s, had not converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity, but to Judaism? There’s actually a weak precedent for a nation converting, in the tradition of the Khazars of the Crimean steppe in the 400s-500s, and Judaism was one of the faiths the princes considered.

I have no idea why this thought bubbled up. Probably because I’ve been trying to  consider how an Eastern Orthodox version of the belief in Godown would work. It is a little odd, mostly because of how the roles of the saints differ, and the very different place of the ruler of NovRodi as compared to the Babenburgs or even Laurence V. And would there be any remnants of Judaism, or as strong remnants as in the Eastern Empire (the original Peilov founders were Interstellar-Reformed Conservative Jews. Yes, this comes up in a book. No, I don’t know when it will be released. The end needs work.)

Which brings me back to the real history of Russia, and what would have transpired had Russians converted to Judaism instead of Orthodoxy. Realistically, it probably would not have lasted that many centuries, because of being caught between the Byzantines (Orthodox) and the Germanic and western Slavic peoples (Catholic). Toss in the Mongols (who, it is true, were ecumenical – they beat up on everyone) and I’m not certain how long it would heave been before someone said, “Oh dang, we need allies and if it will bring heavy cavalry and at least two more armies into the fight, I’ll eat some pork and be baptized.”  Or would you have ended up with a society divided by faith as well as position (Jewish serfs and Christian nobles, a bit of a mirror to what happened in Bosnia with Muslim nobles and Christian peasants)?

Or, would someone have said, “It’s us against the world, and the Most High is with us, so we’ll fight like Saul and David.” Would a new priesthood have developed, with Moscow or Kiev or Novogord as a temporary Jerusalem until the original could be regained? Take the endurance and mystical streak of Slavic Orthodoxy, add in Jewish traditions and history, plus the ambition to regain Jerusalem, and all sorts of interesting things could develop, including a massive clash between the Western Christians and the Jews of Rus over custody of the Holy Land. Would the Sephardic Jews of Andalusia and North Africa had fled into Rus, rather than stopping in Venice, Egypt, and Constantinople? That would certainly have changed certain trade patterns and cultural developments. Orthodoxy would probably dwindle considerably without the reservoir of Russia. Or would the West have supported Constantinople more in the 1400s as a bastion between the Jews and Muslims and the West? Probably not, but who knows.

It’s a world that would require a considerable amount of research to make believable, not only into the various national histories, but into religion and into the various balances of powers. I could almost see a Christian Central Europe (no change really), a buffer zone of some kind with either a blend of faiths (each prince or city has its own) or stratified by religion, and then the Jewish Russian Empire. Would the Russians have declared themselves protectors of the Nestorian Christians and others who lived in what is now Western China, thus setting up a collision between China and Russia? What about the pagans of Siberia? Would a more missionary branch of Judaism have developed out of an interest in converting the pagans to the worship of the Most High? Or would Rus have not worried so much about their conversion and focused on economics instead, a bit like the French fur trade in Canada?

It would be an interesting world indeed.

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2 thoughts on “An Odd What If

  1. I would find it hard to believe without some significant changes to the practice of the Jewish faith. In our history, at least, the Jewish faith has not been a prosyletizing one. Not that they don’t accept converts, but unlike the Christian and Muslim faiths, they do not spend much effort actively seeking them. I cannot see a country the size of Russia converting even a large minority of its populace, without there being a large number of missionaries spreading the faith and actively recruiting converts. And preaching to those converts about the need for them to “spread the Word” and bring others to the faith.

    • Agreed, but I could see something like that happening. There is a movement with in the modern Chasidic community to mission to people who are either other forms of Judaism (Reformed, Conservative non-practicing), or who have Jewish maternal ancestry, about coming over to the “proper practice” of the faith. You’d probably end up with a bit of a break-away group, at least at first, of the missionary Jewish community in Rus, as compared to the western Jewish practices, with an eventual compromise over time.

      But that’s why writing that world demands a lot more research than I’m willing to do, at least at the moment.

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