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The myth of Jewish male menses

The myth of Jewish male menses

Willis Johnson

Journal of Medieval History: Vol. 24:3 (1998)

Abstract

Several scholars have asserted that medieval Christians believed that Jewish men menstruated. Their arguments, made in support of a grander claim that Jews as a collectivity were gendered feminine in Christian thought, rest on numerous misreadings. Though such a belief did appear around 1500, prior references to a Jewish bloody flux derived from textual traditions that were not gendered. The rupturing of Judas’s belly (Acts 1:18-19) inspired accounts of heretics and other betrayers of Christ dying with blood and /or guts coming out of their anuses. In the twelfth century this anal bleeding was exegetically linked to Jewish deicidal bloodguilt via the verse ‘may His blood be upon us and upon our children’ (Matt 27:25). In the thirteenth century this motif was rationalized using terms drawn from humoral medicine. Simultaneously, a new verse was adduced in support of the notion of supernatural anal bleeding: ‘He smote His enemies in the posteriors'(Psalms 77:66). Monthly bleeding was first alleged in 1302, but only among the male descendants of the Jews who had accepted responsibility for the crucifixion. The earliest mention of gendered, monthly bleeding appeared in the 1503 account of the ritual murder trials held in Tyrnau in 1494.

Introduction 

It has become a commonplace of recent scholarship on anti-Semitism that medieval and early modem Christians believed that Jewish men menstruated. For example, while explicating a Renaissance German text that implied that Jews were a diseased people, Sander Gilman wrote of a specific form of sexual pathology that is part of a Christian iconography seeing the Jew as inherently different: Jewish male menstruation. Thomas de Cantimpre the thirteenth-century anatomist, presented the first ‘scientific’ statement of this phenomenon (calling upon St. Augustine as his authority). Male Jews menstruated as a mark of the ‘Father’s curse’, their pathological difference is a result of their original denial of Christ. This image of the Jewish male as female was first introduced to link the Jew with the corrupt nature of the woman, since both are marked as different by the sign that signified Eve’s mortal nature after her fall from grace.

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