Medieval Blood Myths: Christian Readings and Misreadings of Jewish Practice towards Blood
By Amanda Bess Cohen
B. Phil. Thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 2010
Abstract: In the High and Late Middle Ages, Christians accused Jews of shedding Christian blood, and sometimes even their own, for ritual purposes. This project is interested in how Jewish and Christian perceptions of blood may have led to the formation of such myths. I begin my analysis by discussing the ways in which medieval Jews and Christians interacted with one another, thereby providing the opportunity for Christians to observe and interpret the behaviors of their Jewish neighbors.
Furthermore, Judaism and Christianity’s shared history and typological language would have facilitated an awareness of one another’s traditions. This paper, therefore, aims to demonstrate how interactions and common roots would have helped to shape Christian readings of Jewish practice. I argue that in observing and interpreting Jewish behavior towards blood, Christians applied their own concerns and values to make Jews active vehicles for Christian exegesis. Blood accusations stemmed from an awareness, observation, and interpretation of Jewish practices as filtered through the lenses of the medieval Christian Weltanschauung. In some cases, Christians even misinterpreted Jewish practices.
To argue my thesis, I pair one type of bloodshed familiar to medieval Christians with one type of blood accusation made against Jews. The pairs are: the Crusades and ritual murder, menstruation and male menstruation, circumcision and ritual cannibalism, and the paschal lamb sacrifice and Host desecration. Each pair will be a case study in how Christians may have understood, or perhaps misunderstood, Jewish practice from a Christian perspective and how such a phenomenon contributed to the formation of blood accusations.