Modern historians have long argued that the early medieval Franks thought themselves to be the chosen people or new Israel, especially as they gained a great empire under the Carolingian dynasty in the late eighth century. The Opus Caroli of Bishop Theodulf of Orléans has often been cited as one of the clearest expressions of this self-conception as God's elect. A massive work attacking the legitimacy of the Byzantine empire in the context of the iconoclasm dispute during the early 790s, it does indeed contest the Byzantine claim to be the Christian empire. But Theodulf's repeated statement that ‘We are the spiritual Israel’ is best understood not as an assertion of ethnic election, but as a reference to the Christian tradition of Scripture exegesis which should (he argues) underpin both the Frankish and the Byzantine understanding of images. The Carolingian claim to empire rested on the Frankish championing of the universal Church, and its traditions of orthodoxy and correct biblical interpretation.
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