Because some of the oldest and most enduring anti-Jewish stereotypes have to do with money, academic work on Jews and money is often fraught. The dominant scholarly narratives on the subject typically acknowledge the (stereotypical) idea that Jews have always and disproportionally been involved with money, but instead of attributing this to the Jews’ perfidious nature or intentions, they argue that it is the result of centuries of discrimination against Jews in Europe. These accounts further argue that the Jews’ economic involvement was a positive factor in the development of Europe’s economy. Two new books—Julie Mell’s The Myth of the Medieval Jewish Moneylender and Francesca Trivellato’s The Promise and Peril of Credit—vigorously challenge the traditional narrative. Mell applies data analysis to archival sources to demonstrate that the medieval Jewish moneylender, a staple of Jewish history, is a myth, while Trivellato marshals the power of digital databases to trace and debunk the early modern legend that Jews invented bills of exchange (the precursors of today’s checks). Both authors combine in-depth and corrective historical study with a reflection on the state of scholarship on Jews and money, from the nineteenth century to today. After examining Mell’s and Trivellato’s books in detail, this essay argues that their challenges to traditional historiography should be taken seriously and will hopefully prompt renewed research and debate into this important topic.


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pp. 373-382
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