In 1144 the mutilated body of William of Norwich, a young apprentice leatherworker, was found abandoned outside the city's walls. The boy bore disturbing signs of torture, and a story spread that it was a ritual murder, performed by Jews, in imitation of the Crucifixion as a mockery of Christianity. The outline of William's tale eventually gained currency far beyond Norwich, and the idea that Jews engaged in ritual murder became firmly rooted in the European imagination. E. M. Rose's engaging book delves into the story of William's murder and the notorious trial that followed to uncover the origin of the ritual murder accusation - known as the "blood libel" - in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Focusing on the specific historical context - 12th-century ecclesiastical politics, the position of Jews in England, the Second Crusade, and the cult of saints - and suspensefully unraveling the facts of the case, Rose makes a powerful argument for why the Norwich Jews (and particularly one Jewish banker) were accused of killing the youth and how the malevolent blood libel accusation managed to take hold. She also considers four "copycat" cases, in which Jews were similarly blamed for the deaths of young Christians, and traces the adaptations of the story over time. In the centuries after its appearance, the ritual murder accusation provoked instances of torture, death, and expulsion of thousands of Jews and the extermination of hundreds of communities. Although no charge of ritual murder has withstood historical scrutiny, the concept of the blood libel is so emotionally charged and deeply rooted in cultural memory that it endures even today. Rose's groundbreaking work, driven by fascinating characters, a gripping narrative, and impressive scholarship, provides clear answers as to why the blood libel emerged when it did and how it was able to gain such widespread acceptance, laying the foundations for enduring anti-Semitic myths that continue to the present.
©2015 E.M. Rose (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
The "blood libel" is a hideous anti-Jewish myth which has persisted, it would seem, in some parts of the world, into the XXI century. Rose presents an analysis of the first known examples, in England, then in Europe, of accounts of male children, of Christian heritage, being abducted around Eastertide, allegedly to be tortured, in mockery of Christ, and bled dry for baking of matzoh!
She does show that there is nothing that could really stand up as evidence of such practices, but does present interesting, if not proven alternatives.
I'm not English, and have limited knowledge of their history, but luckily for me, her cases are set in the aftermath of an English civil war, corresponding to "Cadfael", so I've got more idea of places and culture, and for all that Cadfael, as fiction of that time in XX century perhaps couldn't go so far, I can see that Rose's thesis fits in to that violent feudal England.
She makes it clear, that, even with no evidence at all, and sometimes not even a body, Jews would be blamed, individually, or more usually, collectively, for "ritual murder" of missing boys.
One bone I'd like to pick with her - she says there were assumptions that Jews (homosexuals) abducted boys to abuse them sexually, and thereby falls into another trap, akin to the "blood libel" atrocity - "gay" = "paedophile". Shame on you, Ms Rose!
Having just re-read "Les Rois Maudits" I understand just how powerful people persecuted, executed, expelled those to whom they owed money, or from whom they could steal it - Templars, Jews, Lombards.
A phenomenal, rich history exploring the blood libel. The writing is beautiful, the story is detailed and nuanced, the performance was lovely. Though academic in nature, it's an accessible read. More people should know the roots of the anti-Semitic trope still in use today and the geopolitical, economic and social factors which allowed for its creation and acceptance.
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