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  • Against the Odds:The Jew in the Medieval Mind
  • Frank Felsenstein
Beatrice Groves. The Destruction of Jerusalem in Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xi + 269.
Sara Lipton. Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2014. Pp. xxi + 390.
Kenneth S. Jackson. Shakespeare and Abraham. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 172.
Kathy Lavezzo. The Accommodated Jew: English Antisemitism from Bede to Milton. Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, 2016. Pp. xv + 374.
Howard Jacobson. Shylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold. London and New York: Hogarth Shakespeare, 2016. Pp. 275.

The writing of this review coincided approximately with the three-week period of lamentation leading to Tisha B'Av, the Jewish fast in joint remembrance of the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 b.c.e. and of the Second Temple by the Romans under Titus in 70 c.e. Whether directly or obliquely, all five of the books under review here make reference to the historical experience of sanctuary destruction and collective suffering as telling factors in delineating the experience of living the daily life of a Jew. Central to the main thesis of her book, Beatrice Groves describes the second iteration of the Temple's destruction as "arguably the most [End Page 377] important world event attested in detail by both scriptural and nonscriptural texts" (p. 89). It was a transforming event that was to intrude significantly into the psychological makeup of both Jews and Christians in later millennia. As Ken Jackson properly reminds us, Titus's conquest of Jerusalem "brought emergent Christianity to the world's consciousness" (p. 94), often (one might add) in ways that were unflattering to Judaism. For example, arguing it as emblematic of the putative carnality of Jewish women as delineated in Christian texts, Sara Lipton cites the harrowing story out of Boccaccio (originally from Josephus) of a woman, who in her hunger during Titus's siege of Jerusalem was "motivated by bodily weakness and uncontrollable impulse" to kill, roast, and eat her own son who had been sucking at her breast. For Lipton, the mental burden brought about by intense suffering and the fear of eradication tipped the woman into insanity, making her "as false to her own people as she was to God and her maternal duty" (p. 219). According to Kathy Lavezzo, so fundamental was the destruction to their thinking and beliefs that many early modern Jews would bring "a virtual fallen Jerusalem into their homes" by leaving a wall unpainted to memorialize the enduring significance of the event (p. 179). With this and more recent acts of genocide in mind, the eponymous hero of Howard Jacobson's novel describes the self-perception of his fellow Jews as "a people on the verge of annihilation," who "tear their hair in shame" (p. 192). Though the Torah may be prime theological territory shared and contested by Jews and Christians, the postbiblical history of the interaction of the two religions traces its antecedence to the destruction of the Second Temple. Both traditions grapple with the against-the-odds survival of the Jewish people and question whether, beyond lamentation, the destruction of the Temple and subsequent persecutions leave any space for optimism.

Early on in her scrupulously researched The Destruction of Jerusalem in Early Modern English Literature, Beatrice Groves, a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Trinity College, University of Oxford, reminds us that the Gospel According to Saint Luke "contains five passages which have been traditionally read as prophecies of the Roman destruction" (p. 19) of Jerusalem. Together with stylistic and other evidence, these passages have been interpreted by many scholars as pointing to a date of composition for Luke's gospel that is later than the fall of Jerusalem and thus more than a lifetime after the events it describes. The theological controversy over the origins of Luke is not a concern of Dr. Groves; rather, her study concentrates on the multiple ways that "the destruction of Jerusalem transcended the boundaries of genre in early modern England," manifesting...


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