In the 9th century, an individual named Bodo, born to an aristocratic family in Germany, lived a life of privilege as a highly educated churchman. However, in 838, when he was around 24 or 25 years old, Bodo asked for permission to make a pilgrimage to Rome, and he disappeared. He reappeared in Spain under a new name, Eliezer, as a Jew, and a huge controversy erupted around him.

This strange story reveals much about cultural and religious fissures within early medieval Europe and offers a counternarrative to major trends of historiography in this period. In this blog, we will examine the six principal documents or collections of documents that are contemporary to Bodo’s lifetime or shortly thereafter and rely heavily on the work of Frank Reese’s book, “The Journey of Deacon Bodo from the Rhine to the Guadalquivir: Apostasy and Conversionist Judaism in Early Modern Europe,” published in 2019.

The Life of Bodo-Eleazar

Bodo was sent to a monastery as a young boy, where he received literacy in religious texts, and then was sent to the high office of the imperial court, where he was groomed for a potential position as a bishop or even an archbishop. However, when he disappeared and reappeared in Spain as a Jew, it was a shock to everyone.

The Annals of St. Berna, a chronology of important events, contains the most important and extensive single account of what happened to Bodo. Hinkmar, the Archbishop of Reames under Charles ABALD around the year 876, authored a paragraph that details the distressing news that the deacon Bodo, an Alaman by birth (German), converted to Judaism.

Hinkmar’s account reveals surprise that someone with Bodo’s superior education would abandon Christianity and convert to Judaism. One theory suggests that Christian scholars of the era were especially concerned with the “hebraica veritas,” meaning the true Hebrew. They were working with a several-hundred-year-old translation of the Tanak into Latin and may have been troubled by the inconsistencies they found.


Polemics and Controversy

Bodo-Eleazar was involved in fascinating polemics, which were very unusual for the time. His story had larger repercussions than previously thought. One example is his life intersecting with that of Agobard, a bishop in Leon, who had many negative things to say about Jews. Bodo’s life exposed cultural and religious fissures within early European states and provides us an opportunity to study a counternarrative of this era.

The story of Bodo-Eleazar is a strange one, with a highly educated churchman abandoning Christianity and reappearing as a Jew in 9th-century Spain. However, this story provides us with valuable insight into the cultural and religious tensions of early medieval Europe and offers a counternarrative to the dominant historiography of the time. By studying Bodo’s story, we can better understand the complexities of this era and the many different forces that shaped it.

Consider joining us on one of our kosher cruises, if you desire to expand your knowledge of our shared history. You can indulge in luxury onboard Kosher Riverboat Cruises, relish fine kosher dining and daily services while exploring stunning destinations. Make this one of your Jewish trips that is beyond the ordinary.