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Blood Libel

The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History

Hannah Johnson

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to the University of Pittsburgh for supporting my research in numerous ways, through the Central Research Development Fund, the University Center for International Studies, and an Arts & Sciences Faculty Research Grant, as well as a sabbatical leave...

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Introduction: The Ethical Dimensions of Historical Interpretation: The Blood Libel as Limit Case

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pp. 1-29

The story begins with the discovery of a child’s body. Most commonly it is a boy, though occasionally it could be more than one child, or a girl. The body might be discovered in a sewer drainage ditch, perhaps in a wood. The setting is generally a medieval town. The child is a Christian and he is young...

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Chapter 1: Thomas of Monmouth and the Juridical Discourse of Ritual Murder

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pp. 30-58

Near the end of his account of the life and miracles of William of Norwich, Thomas of Monmouth records a case of blasphemy punished. Thomas tells us that a certain man named Walter, a fellow monk in the Norwich priory, made a habit of disparaging “the holiness and miracles”...

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Chapter 2: Moralization and Method in Gavin Langmuir’s History of Antisemitism

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pp. 59-90

In the midst of his tendentious account of William’s death and afterlife, Thomas of Monmouth composes an imaginary speech for the Jews who are accused of the crime and pictures them deliberating among themselves about the consequences of discovery...

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Chapter 3: On Being Implicated: Israel Yuval and the New History of Medieval Jewish-Christian Relations

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pp. 91-128

In his Life and Miracles of William of Norwich, the monk Thomas of Monmouth calls up a casual remark he might have heard in the street or marketplace. The Norwich Jews, he writes, used to rail at us insolently, saying, “You ought to be very much obliged to us...

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Chapter 4: Beyond Implication: The Ariel Toaff Affair and the Question of Complicity

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pp. 129-164

In previous chapters, I argued that a shift in ethical discourses is visible in recent scholarship on the ritual murder accusation. I suggested that scholars like Gavin Langmuir, Israel Yuval, and Elliott Horowitz can be located on a continuum between moralization and ethical deliberation that is operative, in a larger sense, within the ‹eld of medieval Jewish studies...


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pp. 165-214


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pp. 215-234


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pp. 235-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028436
E-ISBN-10: 047202843X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118359
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118358

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 804049008
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blood Libel

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Blood accusation -- Europe -- History.
  • Jews -- Persecutions -- Europe -- History.
  • Antisemitism -- Europe -- History.
  • Christianity and antisemitism.
  • Judaism -- Relations -- Christianity.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Judaism.
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