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Detail of choir windows in St Mary’s church, Frankfurt (Oder) (c. 1360s). The Red Jews wait at the banks of the river Sambation.

The Red Jews (German: Rote Juden), a legendary Jewish nation, appear in vernacular sources in Germany during the medieval era, from the 13th to the 15th centuries. These texts portray the Red Jews as an epochal threat to Christendom, one which would invade Europe during the tribulations leading to the end of the world.

Andrew Gow studied the original German-language texts and concluded that the legend of the Red Jews conflated three separate traditions: the biblical prophetic references to Gog and Magog, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and an episode from the Alexander romance (3rd century AD), in which Alexander the Great encloses a race of heathens behind a great wall in the Caucasus. These traditions had some overlap already; Gog and Magog are among the nations trapped behind the wall in the Alexander Romance, and the only ones named in the version of the story appearing in Qur'an Sura al-Kahf (The Cave) 18:89, while the 14th-century work The Travels of Sir John Mandeville explicitly associates the confined nations with the Ten Lost Tribes.

Many pamphlets circulated interpreting such events as the rise of Turkish power in the context of the legendary Red Jews. Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560), for example, claimed that the Ottoman Turks and Muslims were the Red Jews.[citation needed]

Kevin Alan Brook, among others, speculated, but could not conclusively prove, that the legend of the Red Jews was actually based on misremembered accounts of the Khazars (fl. 7th century to the 10th century). Indeed, in his 9th-century Expositio in Matthaeum Evangelistam, Christian of Stavelot refers to the Khazars as Hunnic descendants of Gog and Magog, as well as having been "enclosed" by Alexander, but having since escaped, demonstrating that the Khazars were indeed conflated with two of the three elements making up the legend of the Red Jews. Other medieval sources consider various connections with the Lost Tribes, and they are described in Arabic sources[which?] as having red hair, a trait associated[by whom?] with the Devil in medieval Germany and possibly the source of the term "Red Jews".

See alsoEdit


  • Anderson, Andrew Runni. Alexander's Gate, Gog and Magog, and the Inclosed Nations. Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1932.
  • Brook, Kevin Alan. The Jews of Khazaria. 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2006.
  • Christian of Stavelot. Exposito in Matthaeum Evangelistam.
  • Gow, Andrew C. The Red Jews: Antisemitism in an Apocalyptic Age, 1200-1600. Brill, 1994.
  • Rabb, Theodore "Action and Conviction in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of E.H. Harbison, Princeton University Press, 1969