Jakob Twinger von Königshofen, a German chronicler alive during the 14th century, documents the, possibly forced, confessions of several Jews, amongst which is Balavignus, in his book "Chronik” (English translation available in “The Black Death in the Fourteenth Century” p. 181).
Also, letters exchanged between cities, concerning the suspicion of the Jews having poisoned the wells, have been documented in "Urkunden und Akten der Stadt Strassburg" with letter 185 containing the confession of Balavignus.
- 173. Köln an Straßburg : billet um wahren Bericht über die Verurteilung von Juden wegen Brunnenvergiftung.
- 179. Rudolf von Oron u. a. an den Rat van Straßburg : machen Mitteilung über ihre Judenuntersuchungen.
- 180. Bern An Meister und Rat : teilt mit, was er uber die Juden weis.
- 181. Köln an Straßburg : billet um Mitteilung von Neuigkeiten bezüglich der Brunnenvergiftung durch Juden.
- 182. Zofingen an Straßburg : verweigert die Zusendung des von den Juden gelegten Giftes.
- 183. Colmar an Straßburg : teilt die Ergebnisse einer Judenuntersuchung mit.
- 184. Burkart von Munsingen an Straßburg : berichtet uber die Ergebnisse eines Judenverhors.
- 185. Der Castellan van Chillon sendet Straßburg Auszuge aus dem Protokoll.
Thus Balavignus was indeed a Jewish physician alive during the outbreak of the Black Death. Claims that he, in 1348, ordered people to follow the Biblical laws of Leviticus and thereby reducing the amount of Black Death victims to a mere 5%, in his neighbourhood, appear in the book "Magic, myth and medicine" by D.T Atkinson, along with other details of Balavignus. It is unclear, to me, what the original source is for the statements below.
In the early part of the fourteenth century at Thenon, near
Strassburg, lived the Jewish physician Balavignus. Though he was
distinguished among his people, his life was confined to narrow
limits, and his services were not in demand except by his own race. 1
For the part he was to play in saving his people from the devastations
of the great epidemic, fate early made of Balavignus a student of
Arabian sanitation, a science unfamiliar to the gentile physicians of
his time. 1
Balavignus was also a master of Jewish tradition and was in a position
to apply literally the principles of Pentateuchal sanitation. These
writings of Moses contain most practical instructions relating to
disinfection and the incineration of refuse. The laws of health laid
down in Leviticus are the basis of moderen sanitary science. 2
Besides being familiar with the Pentateuch, Balavignus was also a
student of the Talmud, and Talmudic writings contain a great mass of
medical information, setting for the scientific facts antedating many
supposed modern discoveries by centuries. The talmud shows the Jews
have been far in advance of their time in anatomy. Dissections of the
human body had been performed and the results carefully noted. They
had a passing familiarity with surgery, for they operated for stones
in the bladder, inserted artificial teeth, and even performed te
Caesarean section. Their thoughtful and progressive medical spirit is
indicated by Talmudic writings which describe rabies and pleurisy and
mention jaundice, giving its pathology as bile in the blood. These
studies also shade the career of Balavignus that the ghettos under his
supervision were entirely free from filthiness so general throughout
The plague being carried by rats, no condition could have been more
conducive to its spread than was afforded by this general
uncleanliness. Balavignus insisted that no better setting for an
epidemic could be staged than this general lack of sanitation which
was to be found in the homes and premises of his neighbors, both
Jewish and Christian. Immediately following the advent of the epidemic
, he instituted a cleanup movement among his people. In his campaign
to promote general cleanliness it cannot be presumed that Balavignus
had the modern conception of the cause of disease, but it is an
undisputed fact that he senses in some way the relation between dirt
and disease and attributed the plague to filth. 3
Following the sanitary laws as set down in Leviticus, Balavignus had
all refuse burned. Naturally the rats left the ghettos and gravitated
to gentile quarters in search for food. The Jews consequently suffered
less from the disease than did there Christian neighbors, the
mortality in the ghettos being five percent of what it was among the
Christians. This was so noticeable that the Jews at once fell under
Aside from the noticeable mortality difference, Atkinson offers another insight into why the Jews were easy scapegoats,
Some of the more fanatical inhabitants believed that such epidemics
were the result of the anger of the Deity because of the infringement
of his laws. Others looked to natural causes and were convinced that
the water supply as well as the walls of the homes of the people were
being poisoned. Many residents, both Jewish and Christian, were
accused of poisoning the wells and were subjected to torture unto
death if the failed to name their imaginary accomplices. In the
extremity of suffering they were driven to making false accusations
and were for the time relieved of their torture, but in nearly all
instances they were finally burned. The Jewish population suffered
especially, many if them being burned to death, each one of them
having been subjected to torture for for varying periods in order to
get names of supposed accomplices. The Jews at the time were not
allowed to enter the profession in Europe or to compete with any
non-Jewish person in business. Christians of the period were forbidden
to take interest on money, so the Jews became the bankers of each
country and made loans to Christians. It was due to this that so many
Jews were suspected of poisoning the wells. Any accusation in this
dark ages amounted in nearly every case to a conviction, and the
plagues gave a golden opportunity to those indebted to the Jews for
money to make accusations which would likely end in a conviction and a
cancellation of their debts. 5
- Atkinson, D. T. (1958). Balavignus And The Rebirth of Sanitation. In Magic, myth and medicine (pp. 57). Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org
- Atkinson, D. T. (1958). Balavignus And The Rebirth of Sanitation. In Magic, myth and medicine (pp. 58). Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org
- Atkinson, D. T. (1958). Balavignus And The Rebirth of Sanitation. In Magic, myth and medicine (pp. 59). Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org
- Atkinson, D. T. (1958). Balavignus And The Rebirth of Sanitation. In Magic, myth and medicine (pp. 60). Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org
- Atkinson, D. T. (1958). Von Leber and the End of Legal Torture. In Magic, myth and medicine (pp. 160). Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org