JEWS IN MEDIEVAL CHRISTENDOM 

Below are links to online sources and references to books relevant to subjects covered during the 2003 NEH Summer Institute on Representations of the 'Other': Jews in Medieval Christendom, held at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, 9 July-13 August 2003, and directed by Irven M. Resnick.

Webpage designed by Barbara StevensonProfessor of English, Kennesaw State University
 

Photo from Heinz Schreckenberg, The Jews in Christian Art (originally published as Die Juden in der Kunst Europas. Ein Bildatlas Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996). Painting by the "Master of the Ursula Legend" (late 15th Century), depicting Synagoga. From the website designed by Irven M. Resnick, Director of NEH Summer Institute-- “Representations of the ‘Other’: Jews in Medieval Christendom,” http://www.utc.edu/NEH/


I have summarized topics covered in the Institute and, where available, have inserted hyperlinks to primary sources translated into English. After each citation I have included either publication information for books or website names. Most of the online sources can be found on Paul Halsall’s internet sourcebooks, particularly the Internet Jewish History Sourcebook (labeled as IJHS).

 

Judaism and Early Christianity: In Living Letters of the Law: Ideas of Jews in Medieval Christianity (U of California P, 1999), Jeremy Cohen traces the development of the Christian treatment of Judaism. Since Jesus himself was a Jew, early Church leaders had to formulate a Christian identity distinct from Judaism, a process that began the “othering” of the Jew in the Middle Ages. 

New Testament (Humanities Text Initiative) 

·        Mark/Luke on Crucifixion: Because the chief priests of the Jews conspired to have Jesus put to death, Christians during the Middle Ages called Jews “Christ-killers.” 

·        Paul, in Romans 1-11 and Galatians: According to Cohen, Paul expresses “the futility of [Mosaic] law in the achievement of salvation, the sinfulness of the Jews, and God’s covenant of grace with those who descended spiritually from Abraham by emulating his faith” (7); nevertheless, God chose to give the law to the Jews, so “the Jews had contributed to the salvation of the world and would continue to do so. . . . The Jews’ rejection of Jesus constituted the ultimate trespass and allowed the Gentiles to enter into God’s covenant. Upon the completion of this process, the Jews will regain God’s favor, and their conversion will signal the final redemption . . .” (9). 

Post-Biblical Times

·        Josephus, 70 CE, Siege and Fall of Jerusalem (PBS): This and other chronicles about the Roman destruction of Jerusalem will be used by later Christian medieval writers as “proof” that God favors Christianity; the Roman Empire eventually adopted Christianity as its religion, while the Romans destroyed the Jewish state.

·        Augustine, 414-25, City of God (De civitate Dei), books 17-18 (Early Church Fathers): Building upon Paul, other Biblical writers, and early patristic writers, Augustine formulated the medieval view of Jews. Cohen identifies six Augustinian points—1. God has punished the Jews for rejecting Jesus by sending them into exile and slavery, while Christians have flourished. 2. Jewish disbelief fulfills biblical prophecy. 3. Jews are important for Christians because God gave the law to the Jews. 4. Jews are to be admired for not abandoning their law. 5. Psalms 59:12 says “slay them not,” so Christians are to allow the Jews to continue practicing their religion without harm. 6. Jews will eventually convert, in accordance with Paul’s prophecy (35-7). In brief, Augustine portrays the Jews as antiquated relics who adhere to the now obsolete Old Law in a physical sense, while blind to the spiritual truth of the New Law—the Jews, ironically, cannot read their own law correctly since they cannot move beyond its literal level to see its symbolical meaning.

·        Toledoth Yeshu , 500s, (UPenn): This anonymous Jewish parody of the life of Jesus apparently was written in response to the anti-Judaism of early Christians.

 

Christian-Jewish Relations in the Middle Ages: As Christianity flourished in medieval Western Europe, so did Jewish communities. Christians often welcomed Jews, and the two communities at first co-existed peacefully. However, there was noticeable Christian anxiety that Jews might influence Christians to convert, so laws were developed that would limit contact.

Secular and Ecclesiastical Laws

·        Fourth Council of Toledo, 633, On the Keeping of Slaves (IJHS): This ecclesiastical ruling from Visigothic Spain was just one of many such medieval attempts to prohibit Jews from owning Christian slaves.

·        The Jews of Spain and the Visigothic Code, 654-681  (IJHS): Visigothic Spain was the first medieval Christian state to establish anti-Jewish policies. 

·        Bishop of Speyer, 1084, Grant of Lands & Privileges to the Jews (IJHS)

·        Richard I of England, 1190, Charter by Which Many Liberties are Granted and Confirmed to the Jews (IJHS)

·        Pope Innocent III, 1204,  Protest to Philip Augustus of France Against Royal Protection of Jewish Money-Lenders (IJHS): Although Pope Innocent III would echo the Augustinian position of “slay them not”, nonetheless he developed restrictive policies in regards to the Jews (he led the Fourth Lateran Council mentioned below). The Church of the High Middle Ages saw Jews as a threat to Christian unity and dominance in Europe.

·        The Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, Canon 68 - on Jews  (IJHS): Jews must wear distinctive clothing so that sexual relationships do not “accidentally” occur between the two groups.

Conversion and Contact

·        Agobard of Lyons, 826-7, On the Insolence of the Jews To Louis the Pious (IJHS): Cohen sees Agobard as the point of departure from early Augustinian views of the Jews. Agobard aggressively lobbied against Louis the Pious’ protections of the Jews, he tried to convert Jews over the objections of their parents or owners, he popularized the view of Jews as “Christ-killers” in league with Satan—in short, Agobard saw the Jews as enemies of Christian unity (Cohen 123-45).

·        Gerald of Wales, before 1200, Two Cistercian Monks turn Jews (IJHS)

·        Converts to Judaism: France and Germany, before 1200 (IJHS)

·        For an account of a Jew converting to Christianity, see the memoir of Herman-Judah in Karl F. Morrison, Conversion and Text (UP of Virginia, 1992).

·        Image of Jewish Usurers, 1233, England, from the Rotulus Judeorum (IJHS). Although only a minority of money lenders in Europe were Jews, nonetheless the image of Jew as greedy usurer (one who charges excessive interest) became stereotypical. Note that the image portrays Jews in pointed hats with long noses similar to those of the devils in the picture; for a discussion of iconography, see Sara Lipton, Images of Intolerance: The Representations of Jews and Judaism in the Bible moralisee (Berkeley: U of California P, 1999).

 

Jews During the Crusades: Although Pope Urban II originated the First Crusade as a campaign to take Jerusalem from the Muslims, some Crusaders generalized the “holy war” to include Jews and other non-Christian groups. This action anticipated a later medieval trend to conflate Muslims, Jews, pagans, heretics, witches, etc., as enemies of Christians.

The First Crusade (1096)—En route to the Middle East, the Crusaders slaughtered Jews in the Rhineland.

·        Chronicle of Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan, 1100s (Norton Topics Online)

·        Soloman bar Samson, The Crusaders in Mainz, 1100s (IJHS)

·        For translations and analysis of the various First Crusade chronicles, see Robert Chazan’s European Jewry and the First Crusade (U of California P, 1987). Chazan maintains that the close Jewish and Christian communities influenced one another. Consequently, he sees the Hebrew accounts of the First Crusade as being influenced by not only the Hebrew Bible, but also by such Christian genres as chronicle, hagiography, and chanson de geste.

The Second Crusade (1147)—After the Pope issued the call for a Crusade to fight the Muslims who had undertaken a Counter Crusade, a Cistercian monk named Radulf incited the Crusaders to violence against the Rhineland Jews, but Bernard of Clairvaux reprimanded Radulf and commanded the Crusaders to spare the Jews, who serve God as “living letters of the law.” (Both Cohen and Chazan discuss and quote Bernard and the chroniclers of the Second Crusade.)

 

Jews vs. Christians—Medieval Philosophy and Debate: In Christians and Jews in the Twelfth Century Renaissance (London: Routledge, 1995), Anna Abulafia traces the rise of universities and scholastic philosophy, and she discusses how reason gets turned against Jews.

Jewish Writers

·        Judah Ha-Levi, 1075-1141, The Kuzari (IJHS): Ha-Levi, a Spanish philosopher, wrote in one of the most popular philosophical genres of the Middle Ages—a debate among various men as to which religion is the true faith. In this work, the King of Khazar converts to Judaism after listening to a debate involving a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim.

·         Maimonides, 1135-1204 (Jewish Encyclopedia): This physician from Spain became an influential Talmudic scholar and rationalist philosopher who applied the principles of Aristotle to Judaism. His philosophy would shape the thought of not only subsequent Jewish philosophers, but also Christian rationalists and scholastics.

·        Abraham Abulafia, 1240-1291 (Jewish Encyclopedia): Proclaiming himself the true Messiah and Jesus the false one, Abulafia attracted few Jewish followers and fewer Christians. Nonetheless, his work was important for the development of medieval cabbalism and alchemy.

·        For commentary on anti-Christian polemic, see Daniel Lasker, Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity (New York: KTAV, 1977). 

Christian Writers

·        Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109 (Jasper Hopkins): Anselm was interested in applying rationalist philosophy to prove Christian belief, not argue against the Jews. However, the assumption that a rational mind could comprehend the truth of Christianity led to the belief that Jews (and other non-believers) were blind to the truth and irrational like animals.

·        Gilbert Crispin, 1045-1117, Disputation of a Jew with a Christian about the Christian Faith (IJHS): Friend of Anselm, Crispin applied Anselmian rationalism to anti-Jewish polemic in writing this debate between a Jew and a Christian. Many Christian authors composed dialogues between Jews and Christians: Odo of Tournai (A Disputation with a Jew, Leo, trans. Irven Resnick, Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1994); Peter Alfonsi (Alfonsi had converted from Judaism, Dialogues with Moses the Jew, in Disciplina Clericalis, trans. P.R. Quarrie, 1977); Peter Abelard (Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian, trans. Pierre Payer, Toronto: Pontifical Institute, 1979); Ramon Llull (in Doctor Iluminatus, trans. Anthony Bonner, Princeton UP, 1993).

·        Thomas Aquinas,1225-74, Summa Theologiae 1-2.102.1-3 (Christian Classics Ethereal Library): Jeremy Cohen sees Aquinas, perhaps the greatest and most influential of all medieval Christian philosophers, as a turning point in the representations of the Jews. The Friars of the thirteenth-century began an aggressive campaign to convert Jews (along with other non-believers) and to resort to punitive measures for those who refuse to convert. Though Aquinas rejected such severe measures, his theology nonetheless reflects Franciscan views of the Jews. The traditional view, built upon Augustinian doctrine, saw the Jews as blind to the truth, as limited to the physical world of the body, materialistic (“greedy usurers” was a common stereotype), and literal readers of biblical law, in contrast to Christians who were spiritual and attuned to the truth. However, Aquinas depicts Jews as consciously rejecting the truth; just as Jews of Jesus’ time knew they were killing their savior, so, too, Jews of Aquinas’ time consciously deviated from the law established by their ancestors in the Old Testament. Thus, the Jews were not simply ignorant, like pagans; they were consciously evil, like heretics (364-89).

The Disputations

·        The Disputations—public debates between Jews and Christians—were a missionizing tool of the Friars, a religious order established by St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The friars began an aggressive campaign to convert non-Christians and to depict Jews as heretics who had strayed from their own faith; Franciscan ideology increased medieval anti-Judaism. (See Jeremy Cohen, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism, Ithaca, NY:  Cornell UP, 1982.) The claim that Jews had strayed from their own biblical religion came as a result of Christians’ becoming aware of post-biblical rabbinic traditions, in particular the Talmud (Sacred-Texts).

·         The Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies website includes a summary of the disputations and a woodcut containing medieval iconography of Jews wearing pointed hats and having distorted physical features distinct from Christians in the image. For a discussion of this iconography, see Sara Lipton, Images of Intolerance: The Representations of Jews and Judaism in the Bible moralisee (Berkeley: U of California P, 1999). For a translation of the Disputations themselves, see Hyam Maccoby, Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages (London: Littman Library, 1982).

 

Demonization and Expulsion of Jews in the Later Middle Ages

Tales of Host Desecration and Blood Libel—In the later Middle Ages, stories circulated of Jews who killed Christian children and committed sacrileges against the Eucharist. (See Miri Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late-Medieval Jews, New Haven: Yale UP: 1999.)

·        Thomas of Monmouth, 1144, The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich, (IJHS)

·        Anti-Semitic Legends (D. L. Ashliman)

·        Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Prioress’s Tale," 1390s, Canterbury Tales (Librarius.com). For criticism on this subject, see Sheila Delany, ed., Chaucer and the Jews: Sources, Contexts, Meanings. London: Routledge, 2002.  

The Jewish Response

·        Although ancient in origin, the Jewish legend of the Golem became particularly popular during times of persecution at the hands of Christians (J. E. Weinstein and Jewish Magazine). The most famous version of the tale involves the Rabbi Loeb of Prague (I. Arbel).

The Black Death—In 1348 when the Black Death ravaged Europe, many Christians attributed the plague to Jews who had poisoned wells.

·        The Black Death and the Jews, 1348-1349 CE (IJHS)

·        The Decameron, 1348-50 (Decameron Web): In the third story of the first day, Giovanni Boccaccio relates a historical tale in which a Jew tells the great Muslim leader Saladin the allegory of the three rings; despite the stereotype of the “rich Jew,” The Decameron gives a sympathetic portrayal of Jews and Judaism.

Expulsion

·        The Expulsion of the Jews from France, 1182 CE  (IJHS)

·        Ephraim of Bonn, On the York Massacre of 1189-90 (IJHS): This massacre was a precursor to the 1290 expulsion of Jews from England.

·        The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE (IJHS)

 

© Barbara Stevenson, 6 Oct. 2003