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Blood and Belief

The Circulation of a Symbol between Jews and Christians

David Biale

Publication Year: 2007

Blood contains extraordinary symbolic power in both Judaism and Christianity—as the blood of sacrifice, of Jesus, of the Jewish martyrs, of menstruation, and more. Yet, though they share the same literary, cultural, and religious origins, on the question of blood the two religions have followed quite different trajectories. For instance, while Judaism rejects the eating or drinking of blood, Christianity mandates its symbolic consumption as a central sacrament. How did these two traditions, both originating in the Hebrew Bible's cult of blood sacrifices, veer off in such different directions? With his characteristic wit and erudition, David Biale traces the continuing, changing, and often clashing roles of blood as both symbol and substance through the entire sweep of Jewish and Christian history from Biblical times to the present.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

...northeastern Italy may have actually killed Christian children for their blood, motivated in part by a desire for revenge and in part by the practice of using human blood for medicinal purposes. An enormous controversy broke out and forced the author to suspend new printings of his book until he could incorporate some clarifications...

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Introduction: Writing with Blood

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pp. 1-8

...In the first half of the twentieth century, stories circulated throughout East Africa that firemen and policemen had kidnapped Africans, draining blood from them to treat Europeans with blood diseases. Here was the confluence of African folk traditions with Western medicine and superstition in colonial contexts. Here, too, was a classic instance of the way blood inhabits the imagination as both substance and symbol. For these Africans, the firemen...

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1. Pollution and Power: Blood in the Hebrew Bible

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pp. 9-43

...to ransom your lives on the altar; it is the blood, in exchange for life, that ransoms. Therefore I say to the Israelites: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall the alien who resides among you eat blood.” So states Leviticus 17:11–12 in one of the central texts in the priestly literature of ancient Israel. Blood is not to be eaten, because it is reserved for a cultic ritual of expiation. In an article published in the early 1990s, Stephen Geller pointed...

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2. Blood and the Covenant: The Jewish and Christian Careers of a Biblical Verse

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pp. 44-80

...The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e. radically challenged the “blood cult” that stood at the heart of biblical religion. How could a sacrificial religion preserve its central practices when it no longer had the physical facility to offer sacrifices? If blood in the Bible was a signifi er that “indexed” the power of the temple priests, what role did it play when priests no longer served as the primary religious and political authorities? And how could such...

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3. God’s Blood: Medieval Jews and Christians Debate the Body

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pp. 81-122

...In a letter written in 1376 to her disciple Niccolo Soderini, the medieval mystic Catherine of Siena warned against divisions within the church: “It is better for you to live in peace and unity . . . for we are not Jews or Saracens, but Christians ransomed and baptized in Christ’s blood.” The theme of Christ’s blood recurs repeatedly in Catherine’s writings, as we shall see, but what is striking here is that she specifi es blood as the marker of difference between...

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4. Power in the Blood: The Medieval and the Modern in Nazi Anti-Semitism

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pp. 123-161

...Jewish consumption of Christian blood. But there can be little doubt that the motivation was purely opportunistic, since Streicher returned to the subject unhindered in a number of subsequent special issues. The real problem evidently was his timing, for the 1934 publication came after the first wave of anti-Semitic actions from the spring of 1933 had already crested and during a period when...

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5. From Blood Libel to Blood Community: Self-Defense and Self-Assertion in Modern Jewish Culture

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pp. 162-206

...The onslaught of modern anti-Semitism made it impossible for Jews to ignore the symbolism of blood, whether in the form of the ritual-murder accusation or in the pseudoscientific language of race. A literature of self-defense emerged in the nineteenth century to counter the modern revival of the blood libel, a literature that was much more extensive than anything produced in medieval...

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Epilogue: Blood and Belief

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pp. 207-214

...By a historical coincidence, just as the Nazis were using blood to perpetrate the greatest genocide in history, Oswald T. Avery and his coworkers showed in 1944 that it was DNA—and not blood—that transmitted genetic information. Those who continued to speak of blood as the agent of genetics could do so only metaphorically: the correct language now had to be that of genes. With...


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pp. 215-260

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 261-280


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pp. 281-299

Production Notes

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pp. 300-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780520934238
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520253049

Page Count: 316
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 182574786
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Blood and Belief

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Subject Headings

  • Blood -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Blood -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Blood in the Bible.
  • Blood accusation -- History.
  • Antisemitism -- History.
  • Christianity and antisemitism.
  • Judaism -- Relations -- Christianity.
  • Christianity and other religions -- Judaism.
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