Jewish Magic in a Christian World

Jewish Magic in a Christian World

By Gabriella Knoll

Columbia Undergraduate Journal of History – Published Online (2008)

Introduction: Medieval Europe, it can be said, had quite an obsession with magic. Whether they resorted to magical practices to relieve their fears, or had an intense fear of being surrounded by magicians, there is no shortage of evidence documenting the belief in magic during the Middle Ages. Many scholars grapple with the slanted viewpoint of these documents, aware that since they are written, they express the opinions of the elite few who were literate. Literacy itself classified a section of the population apart from the many who had no knowledge of the written word. Thus, even if the writings sought to describe a phenomena of the general population, they were still somewhat biased, if only in tone at least. Much fewer people attend to the fact that the elite few recording history during the Middle Ages were also, for the most part, of a singular background. The monks, theologians, philosophers, and university students who provided us with the documentation of their time period approached the issues of their day with a decidedly Christian mentality. This Christian viewpoint colored their final evaluation of any and every phenomena they managed to preserve in their writing. While this holds true in many matters of state and society, this is especially true in the case of writings on magic. With their increasing concern with heresy, the Christian elite came to associate both magic and Judaism as heretical and subversive movements. Once this association was made, it was not a far leap to conflate magical rituals and Jewish rituals with one another.

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