Complicating Medieval Anti-Semitism: The Role of Class in Two Tales of Christian Violence against Jews
Miri Rubin justly concluded that “most remaining traces” of medieval atrocities against Jews “represent the position of Christian authorities—chroniclers, preachers, town officials—who were almost always writing in defence or celebration of the events.” The exceptions to this rule, however, are illuminating. This article explores images produced for Christians that condemn Christian acts of violence against Jews. Although these are few in number, their existence complicates our understanding of medieval anti-Semitism. The first part of the essay investigates an episode in a fourteenth-century French chronicle, the pillage of the Jews of Paris in 1380. The second part examines depictions of the fable of the murdered Jew, which date from the late thirteenth through the fifteenth century. Both narratives—one drawn from a historical event, the other grafted onto an ancient fable—portray the Jew as the innocent victim and the Christian as the treacherous assailant. In so doing, they reverse the better-known paradigm of the Jew as the evil aggressor who attacks innocent Christian boys or the consecrated host. This essay considers the circumstances that enabled some Christians to view with sympathy the figure of a vulnerable, attacked Jew and proposes that sometimes class interests trumped religious prejudice.