- Violent Men and Malleable Women: Gender and Jewish Conversion to Christianity in Medieval Sermon Exempla
- Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
- Indiana University Press
- Number 30, Fall 5777/2016
- pp. 24-47
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Sermon exempla are entertaining and illustrative stories that medieval preachers inserted into their sermons in an attempt to hold the attention of the audience while conveying an important religious message. Use of such stories spread in the thirteenth century, when popular preaching emerged on a large scale, and famous preachers began composing collections of them that functioned as handbooks for other preachers throughout Europe. Exempla sometimes feature the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In these stories, Jewish men appear as evil, hostile adversaries whose conversions typically took place after they had attempted to cause some harm to a Christian or to Christianity, only to see their evil act prevented or reversed by a miracle that convinced them to convert. However, Jewish women very rarely act as enemies of the faith and instead appear in these stories as willing converts to Christianity. Some convert of their own accord, in the absence of miracles, while others call out to the Virgin Mary in a time of need and choose to convert after receiving her miraculous help. Medieval assumptions about gender played a role in creating these gendered narratives. Women were assumed to be more malleable and fickle than men, while men were considered to be more stubborn and violent than women.