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  • Juden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters: Religiöse Konzepte-Feindbilder-Rechtfertigungen
  • Michael Toch
Juden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters: Religiöse Konzepte-Feindbilder-Rechtfertigungen, edited by Ursula Schulze. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2002. 290 pp.; 21 pictures. €56.

This volume grew out of a research colloquium held at the Free University of Berlin by the editor, her (presumably) younger colleagues, and her students, that is, all scholars of German Philology and Literature. The editor is right in her observation that the analysis of German literature has played only a limited role in the research on Jews in the medieval German empire. The attempt to "grasp more fully the large cultural field of Christian-Jewish relations through a partial scope," that is, vernacular German literary texts of the Middle Ages, is thus a legitimate and promising one. The choice of topics for the eleven articles making up the volume was dictated by two needs: to be representative of the time from the onset of literary production in the German language in the 12th century up to the Reformation; and to be representative of the different literary genres developing in that period of the central and late Middle Ages. After an introduction by the editor, the volume opens with a section devoted to Christian-Jewish religious disputation, first in a 12th century chronicle and then in the double image of Church and Synagogue in visual art and literary genres (articles by Vera Milde and Monika Wolf). A second section titled "Semblances of Cultural Integration of Jews" moves to a pet question of German philology, Süßkind of Trimberg, the still puzzling appearance of a Jew writing courtly poetry in the German language (article by Ricarda Bauschke). A further article, by Annette Schmidt, deals with the oaths demanded of Jews in Christian courts. The third section charts the uniformly negative image of Jews in different literary genres: in vernacular preaching (by Ursula Schulze), through the motif of the "Jewish child in the furnace" in Christian legends (article by Cordula Hennig von Lange), and in the farces and carnival plays by Hans Folz (article by Matthias Schönleber), as well as in passion plays (by Florian Rommel). Two articles, by Nicole Spengler and Björn Berghausen, take up the way pogroms are represented and justified (mainly by recourse to the blood libel and accusation of host desecration) in literary works. The volume closes with a consideration by Stefan Nied of the emergence and diffusion of the motif of the "Eternal Wandering Jew." [End Page 154]

This is a well-thought-out and balanced presentation of a topic that occupied medieval writers in the German tongue to an astonishing degree. It is also of contemporary impact, because literature was indeed a major avenue for the perpetuation of medieval Christian anti-Judaism into the early modern period and its eventual transformation into modern antisemitism. The main strength of the volume is the detailed treatment by which the different articles make clear how pervasive anti-Jewish attitudes were in medieval and early-modern literary discourse. One is also struck by the scatological vehemence and sheer brutality of the language employed, and not just in low-brow presentations of farce, but also in more refined genres such as chronicles and legends. The point made by some of the articles—a violent language for a relationship which basically had turned violent—is one well taken. However, exactly at this point a serious problem of the inter-relationship between reality and artistic expression arises. As rightly pointed out by the authors, by the later Middle Ages the anti-Jewish discourse had definitely taken on a life of its own, thus making it difficult to see it as a direct reflection of historical reality. One would have expected scholars of literature to be more aware of this problem. Of the articles in the volume, only one, by Annette Schmidt on Jewish oaths, attempts to come to grips with it. Yet another weakness inherent in the literary approach to historical reality is very apparent in the volume. Most of the case studies presented spend a lot of effort in reconstructing the theological framework of medieval...


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