Bibliographic Information

Marks of distinction : Christian perceptions of Jews in the high Middle Ages

Irven M. Resnick

Catholic University of America Press, c2012

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Includes bibliographical references (p. 325-378) and index

Description and Table of Contents


For medieval Latin Christendom, authoritative texts such as the Bible and the writings of the Fathers of the Church provided a skeleton that gave form to Christian perceptions of Jews and Judaism. Eye-witness testimony, hearsay, reports of converts from Judaism, and the testimony of dreams, visions, and miraculous events helped fill in the body with concrete detail. In this newest work, renowned author and scholar Irven Resnick explores the additional support drawn from medieval science. Resnick presents a captivating study of long-held medieval scientific theories that predisposed Jews to certain types of offensive behaviour or even to communicate certain illnesses and disease. By arguing for a Jewish "nature" dictated by specific physical characteristics, medieval scientific authorities contributed to growing fears of a Jewish threat. Through the use of several illustrations from illuminated manuscripts and other media, Resnick engages readers in a discussion of the later medieval notion of Jewish difference. Externally, these differences were evidenced by marks that physically distinguished Jews from their Christian neighbours, for example the mark of circumcision. Internally, their melancholy humoral complexion, further weakened by the Jews' dietary restrictions, was thought to dictate their temperament and sexual mores, and to incline them toward leprosy, bleeding haemorrhoids, and other infirmities. These differences were viewed by some as ineradicable, even following religious conversion; or, at best, erasable with only the greatest difficulty over several generations. This work clarifies that the one doctrine of modern anti-Semitism typically thought to distinguish it so clearly from medieval anti-Judaism- the impossibility of escaping one's identity as a Jew even through religious conversion-had begun to appear by the end of the Middle Ages.

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