Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon England

Article excerpt

Andrew P. Scheil, Footsteps of Israel: Understanding Jews in Anglo-Saxon England (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004). xii + 372 pp. ISBN 0-472-11408-5. £40.50/$65.00.

Whilst the Jews' medieval sojourn in England was brief - from around the Conquest to 1290 - contemporary literary criticism has become aware of the fundamental place of Jews and Judaism in the medieval Christian cultural imagination. Work on the later medieval period, on Chaucer, ritual-murder narratives, Piers Plowman, and the Croxton Play, is now entrenched and canonical, but little has been said about ideas of Jewry before the Conquest. Andrew P. Scheil's The Footsteps of Israel is then a timely and useful intervention in this fascinating area, and will be of interest not only to Anglo-Saxonists but also to those curious about the reception of Scripture, the history of stereotypes, and the history of anti-Semitism. The Footsteps of Israelis beautifully presented; Scheil, throughout, pays close attention to language (and provides translations), thus opening up his area of study to an undergraduate or nonspecialist audience.

Scheil's remit is capacious: following a characteristically eloquent, if sometimes wordy, introduction, Scheil trawls Bede (in chapters called 'Bede and hate' and 'Bede and love', and an excursus on the Historia ecclesiasiica) for images of Jewry, and then surveys a wide variety of writing, from Eusebius to Beowulf, for the 'enduring image' (p. 104) of populus hrahel, the conception of Jewry as tribal, 'racial', or national (terms Scheil does not interrogate as much as he might). The next section of the book, 'Jews, fury, and the body', offers readings in a range of images which are familiar from later anti-Semitism, using the Vercelli and Buckling homilies, Andreas, and Hlene. Finally, Scheil reviews Ælfric's works for their 'anti-Judaism'. …

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