Nothing can give a better idea of the closeness and complexity, even the ambivalence, of the secular links between the Jews and the Holy See than the cycle of legends (Judeo-Italian and JudeoGerman) about a 'Jewish pope' which was woven from the early middle ages on.1 According to the oldest version (fifth century), the first pope, Simon Kefa or Simon Caiaphas, was fundamentally a loyal Jew. Disturbed by the rapid progress of Christianity and afraid that this heresy might seduce the Chosen People (or again in another version: because the Christians were threatening to massacre the Jews if they did not rally to their ranks), he pretended to be a Christian. His purpose was to make his way into the bosom of the rival sect and divert the dangers that threatened. He was also concerned to reserve the blessings of the Hereafter solely for the Jews, and to that end to widen the gulf between the two religions. Consequently, so it was said, Simon diverted Christianity on to paths which made it unacceptable to Jews. On the
other hand, he forbade Christians to convert Jews by violence. He may have adopted the name of Petrus, but this was because he had exempted or 'absolved' (Pator in Hebrew) the Christians from their loyalty to Mosaic practices. Once his task was completed, he is said to have retired to a tower where he lived as a hermit and composed the Nishmat prayer which forms part of the Sabbath liturgy.