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The Blood Libel Legend

A Casebook in Anti-Semitic Folklore

Alan Dundes

Publication Year: 1991

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.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

The prospective reader should be warned at the very outset that the subject of this volume is not a pleasant one. This is not a study of a folktale like Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood. Instead it is an assemblage of essays all treating one of the most bizarre and dangerous legends ever created by the human ...

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pp. ix

I thank the diligent and resourceful interlibrary loan staff of Doe Library at the University of California, Berkeley, for their success in locating rare and arcane publications on the blood libel legend. I am also grateful to Simone Klugman of the reference department of the same library for carrying out ...

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Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder

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pp. 3-40

In the case of custom and belief, or any item of folklore for that matter, it is difficult if well-nigh impossible to establish with any certainty the ultimate origin of that custom and belief. One cannot say just when the very first accusation that some other group committed a ritual murder was made. ...

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Little St. Hugh of Lincoln: Researches in History, Archaeology, and Legend

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pp. 41-71

The case of William of Norwich in 1144 may well have been the first reported instance of ritual murder in England, or anywhere else for that matter, but surely the most famous alleged occurrence of Jewish ritual murder in England is that of Hugh of Lincoln in 1255. One reason for this is that the story ...

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Little Sir Hugh: An Analysis

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pp. 72-90

The ballad of Little Sir Hugh (Child 155) might be said to have a life of its own, independent of any historical events which may have given rise to it. It is very widely known throughout the English-speaking world, in part because of its early appearance in prominent folksong collections. ...

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The Prioress's Tale

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pp. 91-98

There seems little doubt that the most famous literary articulation of Jewish ritual murder is Chaucer's Prioress's Tale. It involves ritual murder rather than the blood libel, strictly speaking, since the murdered boy's blood is not mentioned at all in the narrative. Inasmuch as Geoffrey Chaucer ...

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The Ritual Murder Accusation in Britain

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pp. 99-134

From the preceding essays and selections, one might well gain the false impression that ritual murder and blood libel were strictly medieval superstition and that they had no place in the modern world. Such unfortunately is not the case. They have had a significant role in the resurgence of anti-Semitism ...

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The Hilsner Affair

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pp. 135-161

Nowhere were there more famous or infamous cases of blood libel than those which occurred in Eastern Europe. Among the better known of these instances were the ones reportedin Tisza-Eszlar, Hungary, in 1882, in Polna, Czechoslovakia, in 1899, and in Kiev in 1911. In the following essay by ...

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The Present State of the Ritual Crime in Spain

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pp. 162-179

The blood libel legend seems to have flourished in Catholic Europe. For this reason, it should come as no surprise to learn that ritual murder accusations were reported quite early in Spain. One of the most famous or infamous cases was that which was alleged to have occurred in the town of La Guardia ...

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Damascus to Kiev: Civiltà Cattolica on Ritual Murder

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pp. 180-196

The fact that ritual murder or blood libel accusations seem to have originated or at any rate flourished in Catholic Europe did not escape the notice of the Catholic hierarchy. Some courageous popes even issued official statements denouncing the legend. The investigative report of 1759 by then ...

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Ritual Murder Accusations in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

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pp. 197-232

The blood libel legend may have originated among Christians, but it has spread to the Arab world, where there is also a tradition of anti-Semitism. The following survey of late nineteenth-century instances of blood libel accusations in Egypt by Jacob M. Landau, Gersten Professor of Political Science ...

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Twentieth-Century Blood Libels in the United States

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pp. 233-260

The instances of blood libel accusations in the United States are admittedly much fewer in number and less serious in terms of consequences than those occurring in Europe or the Middle East. Still, it is of interest that the legend did cross the Atlantic from Europe and that it has undoubtedly contributed ...

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The Feast of Purim and the Origins of the Blood Accusation

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pp. 261-272

Most of the scholarship devoted to the blood libel legend consists of surveys of case histories in one or more countries. There has been relatively little speculation about the possible origins of the legend. One of the rare attempts at speculating on the difficult question of origins is that of Cecil Roth, ...

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The Blood Libel: A Motif in the History of Childhood

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pp. 273-303

In the present essay, Dr. Magdalene Schultz of Pädagogische Hochschule in Heidelberg looks at the history of blood libel accusations from a different perspective. Inasmuch as the victim of such ritual murders is almost always a small child, Schultz examines the historical record with respect to gauging ...

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The Ritual Murder Accusation: The Persistence of Doubt and the Repetition Compulsion

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pp. 304-335

Among those few psychoanalysts who have tried to decipher the meaning of the blood libel legend is Ernest A. Rappaport, an alumnus of the University of Vienna Medical School and a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. In his posthumously published book Anti-Judaism: A Psychohistory (1975), ...

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The Ritual Murder or Blood Libel Legend: A Study of Anti-Semitic Victimization through Projective Inversion

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pp. 336-378

So much has been written on the blood libel legend that one might despair of being able to say anything about the legend that had not already been said before. In the following essay, I try to interpret the blood libel legend by using a psychoanalytic concept I call "projective inversion." I also draw on ...

A Selected Bibliography: Suggestions for Further Reading on the Blood Libel Legend

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pp. 379-382


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pp. 383-385

E-ISBN-13: 9780299131135
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299131142

Publication Year: 1991