Alan Dundes, in this casebook of an anti-Semitic legend, demonstrates the power of folklore to influence thought and history. According to the blood libel legend, Jews murdered Christian infants to obtain blood to make matzah. Dundes has gathered here the work of leading scholars who examine the varied sources and elaborations of the legend. Collectively, their essays constitute a forceful statement against this false accusation.
The legend is traced from the murder of William of Norwich in 1144, one of the first reported cases of ritualized murder attributed to Jews, through nineteenth-century Egyptian reports, Spanish examples, Catholic periodicals, modern English instances, and twentieth-century American cases. The essays deal not only with historical cases and surveys of blood libel in different locales, but also with literary renditions of the legend, including the ballad “Sir Hugh, or, the Jew’s Daughter” and Chaucer’s “The Prioress’s Tale.”
These case studies provide a comprehensive view of the complex nature of the blood libel legend. The concluding section of the volume includes an analysis of the legend that focuses on Christian misunderstanding of the Jewish feast of Purim and the child abuse component of the legend and that attempts to bring psychoanalytic theory to bear on the content of the blood libel legend. The final essay by Alan Dundes takes a distinctly folkloristic approach, examining the legend as part of the belief system that Christians developed about Jews.
This study of the blood libel legend will interest folklorists, scholars of Catholicism and Judaism, and many general readers, for it is both the literature and the history of anti-Semitism.
Drawing on sources in eight countries and ten languages, Magda Teter tells the history of the antisemitic blood libel myth, whose long shadow extends from premodern monastic chronicles to Facebook. The vocabulary and images that crystallized and spread with the invention of the printing press are still with us, as are their pernicious consequences.
The ritual murder accusation is one of a series of myths that fall under the label blood libel, and describes the medieval legend that Jews require Christian blood for obscure religious purposes and are capable of committing murder to obtain it. This malicious myth continues to have an explosive afterlife in the public sphere, where Sarah Palin's 2011 gaffe is only the latest reminder of its power to excite controversy.Blood Libel is the first book-length study to analyze the recent historiography of the ritual murder accusation and to consider these debates in the context of intellectual and cultural history as well as methodology. Hannah R. Johnson articulates how ethics shapes methodological decisions in the study of the accusation and how questions about methodology, in turn, pose ethical problems of interpretation and understanding. Examining recent debates over the scholarship of historians such as Gavin Langmuir, Israel Yuval, and Ariel Toaff, Johnson argues that these discussions highlight an ongoing paradigm shift that seeks to reimagine questions of responsibility by deliberately refraining from a discourse of moral judgment and blame in favor of an emphasis on historical contingencies and hostile intergroup dynamics.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, Vienna and Berlin were centers of scientific knowledge, accompanied by a sense of triumphalism and confidence in progress. Yet they were also sites of fascination with urban decay, often focused on sexual and criminal deviants and the tales of violence surrounding them. Sensational media reports fed the prurient public’s hunger for stories from the criminal underworld: sadism, sexual murder, serial killings, accusations of Jewish ritual child murder—as well as male and female homosexuality.
In Violent Sensations, Scott Spector explores how the protagonists of these stories—people at society’s margins—were given new identities defined by the groundbreaking sciences of psychiatry, sexology, and criminology, and how this expert knowledge was then transmitted to an eager public by journalists covering court cases and police investigations. The book analyzes these sexual and criminal subjects on three levels: first, the expertise of scientists, doctors, lawyers, and scholars; second, the sensationalism of newspaper scandal and pulp fiction; and, third, the subjective ways that the figures themselves came to understand who they were. Throughout, Spector answers important questions about how fantasies of extreme depravity and bestiality figure into the central European self-image of cities as centers of progressive civilization, as well as the ways in which the sciences of social control emerged alongside the burgeoning emancipation of women and homosexuals.