Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Marks of Distinction: Christian Perceptions of Jem in the High Middle Ages

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Marks of Distinction: Christian Perceptions of Jem in the High Middle Ages

Article excerpt

Marks of Distinction: Christian Perceptions of Jem in the High Middle Ages. By Irven M. Resnick. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 2012. Pp. xiii, 385. $69.95. ISBN 978-0-8132-1969-1.)

Before Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, and the science of genetics, how were distinctions to be drawn between peoples for the most part outwardly indistinguishable? In the case of Europe's Jewish minority, some such marks were self-evident: the circumcision demanded by Jewish religious practice, or the badges that, from 1215, Christian authorities demanded that the Jews wear on their outer costume. Others were traced to hidden inner realities, psychosomatic (that the irrationality of the Jewish rejection of Christ was characteristically feminine and that Jewish men were therefore cursed with female menses), humoral (that Jewish diet encouraged a surfeit of black bile and that Jews were therefore melancholic and of dark complexion), physiological (that Judaism could be equated with leprosy, and Jews with lepers), or astrological (that Jews were governed by Saturn who, like the Jews with Christ, indulged in the slaughter and consumption of his own offspring). In recent years, there has been no shortage of scholarly attention paid to such themes to which Irven M. Resnick now devotes a monumental synthesis. Whereas previous commentators-most notably Ruth Melinkoff, Sarah Lipton, and Heinz Schreckenberg-have focused upon the iconographical representation of Jews in medieval Christian art, Resnick is principally interested in text rather than image. To this end, he offers a wealth of translation from primary sources, adding his own insightful commentary. He is particularly attuned to the role played by Christian converts from Judaism in the spread of anti-Jewish polemic. Various of his expositions, not least of the association between Jews and lepers or of the meanings attached to circumcision in both Christian and Jewish exegesis, are not only original but definitive. If there is a certain lack of architectural focus to this book, by the end readers should be in no doubt that Resnick himself inclines to Gavin Langmuir's theoretical model, outlined in the opening few pages, that racial antisemitism was a medieval, not merely a modern, impulse. …

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