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Reading the Writing on the Wall

In Bruce Robinson's book, 'They All Love Jack', the writing on the wall (we shall not call it the graffito) features very heavily in the story.  Sir Charles Warren would, apparently, have immediately recognised that the reference to 'Juwes' was to the three ruffians in the Masonic story, Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum.  This is why he ordered it to be removed.


The notion that 'Juwes' was, in Masonic circles, the collective term for the three ruffians was first promulgated in the 1975 book 'The Ripper File' by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd in which the information was said to have come from 'an anonymous source'.  It was repeated by Stephen Knight in his 1976 'Final Solution' book and then featured in the 1979 Sherlock Holmes film, 'Murder by Decree' in which magically, and probably mischievously, we are told by Holmes himself that the word 'Juwes' is actually pronounced 'Juwés'. The idea has always had a problem connected with it, namely that 'Juwes' is not and never has been a masonic word and is not the collective name for the three ruffians which, if they had a such a name, one would have naturally assumed to have been the 'Jubes'.


But this does not deter Robinson.  He tells us that 'Juwes' was kind of a clue, a deliberate one for Sir Charles Warren who, the author of the writing believed, would instantly have known how decipher it, revealing to him (if he didn't know it already) that the murderer was a practising freemason, something which could not possibly be allowed to be known by the hoi polloi.  So Warren dashed into the East End in the middle of the night and ordered the writing on the wall to be removed.


Robinson tells us that he was not previously an expert on Freemasonry - in fact he says that when he started researching the book he knew no more about it than he knew about the Ripper - so one can only imagine the amount of work he must have done to confirm that 'Juwes' was not Masonic, no doubt in the hope that it actually was!  Having determined there was no such word, he perversely tries to use this to his advantage.  What fools people are who do not see how the writer of the words on the wall would not have used an actual masonic word but would have provided a cryptic clue for Sir Charles to decipher!


But here's the thing.  If Sir Charles Warren was so horrified to discover this word 'Juwes' on the wall that he had to get the whole thing erased, why on earth did he inform the Home Office of the correct spelling of the word?

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The above is what Sir Charles personally informed the Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, on 11 October 1888, was the correct wording and layout of the writing on the wall.


So why did he not say that he thought it read 'Jewes'?   He could just have said that the word was blurred and he couldn't really read it.  What was the point of having it rubbed out if he then ensures that it was correctly reported to the Home Office?


We may note at this point that Robinson mis-quotes Sir Charles' memo to the Home Office.  In his book, he quotes Sir Charles as writing:


'The spelling of Jews is curious.'


In fact, Sir Charles wrote:


'The spelling of Jews or Jewes is curious.'

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One can only imagine what Robinson would have said had someone else omitted the word 'Jewes' when quoting this document; we would probably have been faced a ten page rant about how this was part of a masonic conspiracy.


Having established that Sir Charles wrote that the spelling of 'Juwes' was a curious variation 'of Jews or Jewes' what did he mean by this?  He appears to believe that Jews could correctly be spelt 'Jewes'.  Is this possible?


The answer is yes.


A number of seventeenth century tracts used the spelling 'Jewes' in their titles or in their text. For example, a 1652 tract entitled 'The Jewes Synagogue or A Treatise Concerning the Ancient Orders and manner of Worship used by the Jewes in their Synagogue Assemblies':

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one in 1655 called 'The Messiah of the Christians and the Jewes',

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one in 1663 entitled 'A Letter Written to the Jewes' by Rabbi Moses Sciallati,

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and one in 1666 entitled 'A New Letter Concerning the Jewes written by the French Ambassador at Constantinople to his Brother the French Resident at Venice'.

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A letter to the Times of 1 November 1883, headed 'THE JEWS IN ENGLAND' by S.L. Lee, quoted a seventeenth century tract which referred to Oliver Cromwell 'sending 500 Jewes (ennemies of the Christian faith) to the battle of Newberry.'

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An even earlier reference was cited in the Manchester News of 18 September 1871 which reproduced a passage from William Thomas's 'History of Italy' of 1549 in which Thomas stated:


'It is almost incredyble what gaine the Venetians receive by the usury of the Jewes, both pryvately and in common. For in everye citie the Jewes kepe open shops of usurie, taking gaiges of ordinaire for xv. in the hundred by the yere and if at the yeres end the gaige be not redeemed, it is forfeite, or at least dooen away to a great disadvantage; by reason whereof the Jewes are out of measure wealthie in those parties'.

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A yet earlier reference was quoted in a letter to the Evening Standard by 'C.J.G.' of 24 April 1889 which reproduced a passage from a book dated 1500 entitled 'Haklyut's Voyages' by Ludovico de Bartema thus

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The Edinburgh Evening News of 2 November 1878, while referring to 'Jews from the land of Israel' also stated: 'Hundreds of Jewes are leaving Palestine':

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Sir Charles, therefore, appears to have been correct in saying that an alternative early English spelling of Jews was 'Jewes' albeit that by 1888 such spelling had virtually died out.


The suggestion has been made that Sir Charles wanted to obscure the meaning of the word 'Juwes', but in the Times of 15 October 1888 we find this:


'In reference to the writing on the wall of a house in Goulston-street, we are requested by Sir Charles Warren to state that his attention having been called to a paragraph in several daily journals mentioning that in the Yiddish dialect the word "Jews" is spelt "Juwes", he has made in inquiries on the subject and finds that this is not a fact. He learns that the equivalent in the Judeo-German (Yiddish) jargon is "Yidden"'


It has not been ascertained that there is any dialect or language in which the word "Jews" is spelt "Juwes" '


Why would Sir Charles do such a thing?  Having erased the writing, why would he want the issue clarified and the public informed that the word on the wall was 'Juwes'?  To protect the Jewish population?  Well that is what Robinson says he was not interested in doing at all.


Let's also think about how Sir Charles found out about the writing on the wall.  Presumably (as reported) he was telephoned at home with the news.  In which case all he would have heard was that the writing said: 'The Jews are the men who will not be blamed for nothing'.  It seems unlikely in the extreme that anyone would have bothered to spell the word 'Jews' for him.  So how could he have possibly deciphered the cryptic clue which caused him to dash to the East End?  If it is said that Superintendent Arnold (or 'Bro Arnold' as Robinson would say) had worked it out and sent him a telegram then it will need to be showed that Arnold had sufficient detailed esoteric knowledge of masonic history to piece such a complex puzzle together in order to alert the Commissioner.


Mind you, when it comes to esoteric knowledge, the names of Jubela, Jubelum and Jubelo were not restricted to masons, or those who read masonic textbooks. A writer calling himself Rusticus stated in a piece about Freemasonry in the Evening Standard of 25 December 1833:


'I hestitation in saying that the whole of the story of Jubelo-Jubela-Jubelum, and the murder [of Hiram Abiff] is a mere fabrication'.


In 1860, a journal entitled Brownson's Review carried an expose of freemasonry which was reproduced in the   Cork Examiner of 14 November 1860 and the Catholic Telegraph of 29 December 1860 both of which identified Jubelo, Jubela and Jubelum as the murderer of Hiram Abiff, as revealed to masons at a certain level.  The three men were not given any collective description.


Given that the word 'Juwes' was not lost by the rubbing out of the writing, because it was recorded in Sir Charles' memo - as well as in evidence at the inquest - it is a little hard to know what Sir Charles could have been trying to hide by ordering the erasure of the words on the wall.  There is, of course the handwriting, but on the night of the murder it is unlikely that Sir Charles Warren imagined that the murderer was going to be caught or convicted through a comparison of his handwriting.


Although a letter signed 'Jack the Ripper' had by this time been received by the Central News agency and passed to the police it was not until after the murder that there was reason to believe that it might have been sent by the murderer but it is hard to believe that even if the writing on the wall had been photographed - with its writing in a 'good schoolboy hand' - a proven connection could have been made between the author of the letter and the author of the writing on the wall.  Indeed, it is not even clear that the 'Jack the Ripper' letter is in the same hand as the subsequent postcard.  And then what about the 'From Hell' letter?


None of the authors of the many letters claiming to have been from the murderer were caught through their handwriting.  It is unlikely that the murderer would have been caught through his handwriting.  Indeed, according to Bruce Robinson, Michael Maybrick wrote all the letters to the police claiming to come from the murderer so that he was a master of disguising his handwriting. In that case, the writing on the wall would have told the world precisely nothing about the identity of its author.


It is also unlikely that Sir Charles knew the author of the writing and that it was to protect that person that the Commissioner ordered the writing to be erased so that he could not be identified.  There seems to have been no chance that anyone could have been identified from such a small sample of handwriting in chalk on a wall.


This is not to say that the decision of Sir Charles to erase the handwriting was a good one in any way.  While we might be able to sympathise with his interpretation that the writing on the wall could have suggested that the murderer of Catherine Eddowes was Jewish and, equally, we can sympathise with his fear that this might have causes anti-Jewish rioting, so that leaving the writing on the wall in its complete form in a highly populated area was not an option (and that covering it up probably wasn't practical), it is a little hard to see how the phrase 'The [BLANK] are the men who will not be blamed for nothing' could have caused any trouble so that the suggestion of rubbing out the word 'Juwes' should clearly have been adopted and the writing photographed.


Mind you, had Sir Charles ordered the erasure of a single word, 'Juwes', one has the feeling that this would not have satisfied Bruce Robinson and that the allegation of a masonic cover up would have been even stronger.

Indeed, the main argument for photographing the writing is that there would be no uncertainty about the spelling of the key word so that an erasure of that single word would still have been very controversial.


Before concluding on this subject, we must ask ourselves, does the word 'Juwes' actually mean Jews in any language?  Well, as Sir Charles had informed the Times, it did not in any existing dialect but, as it happens, it did in late Middle English, during the fourteenth century. For in John Wyclif's tract, De Blasphemia Contra Fratres, we find:

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'And so pes blasphemes passen Juwes in fooly, for Juwes knowen pat hit is bread when pei kyndely eten hit; and so pese freris and Pharisees ben madde pen Juwes and falser pen Paynims....'

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'...Ow, wheper God, pat is treupe, ordeyned Christen men for to be marred in hor wittes in po sacrament of trewt, more pen Juwes of Paynims erren in hor feythe!'


A very loose translation of this into modern English could be:


And so these blasphemers are like Jews in foolishness;  for Jews know that it is bread when they truly eat it; and so these friars and Pharisees are madder than Jews and falser than Pagans.... Or whether God, who is holy, ordained Christian men to be mistaken in their understanding of the sacrament of truth more than Jews or Pagans are mistaken in theirs!


A later work, 'Pater Noster' by Richard the Hermit, of 1450, contains the sentence:


'De soule of a Saracene or of a Juwe as wel made to be likenes of God & as wel wip hip deep was bougte as oures.'

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Arnold's Chronicle, dated around 1519, re-published in 1811 as 'The Customs of London' refers to 'the lawe of the Juwes'

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So perhaps the author of the writing on the wall was a Middle English or Chaucerian expert!



First published: 18 November 2015

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