Jews as Idolatrous and Sub-Human, Allied with the Forces of Evil

The sense of both historic and here-and-now Jewish enmity moved many in medieval western Christendom to envisage Jews as allied with the forces of evil in the world. In an immediate sense, the alliance was alleged between Jews and the omni-present devil figure. Imagery of a Jewish-devil alliance abounds. Less immediately, Jews were projected as future allies of the Anti-Christ figure that was assumed to make its oppositional appearance onthe eve of the Second Coming, to win major victories over the forces of Christ, and eventually to succumb to the overwhelming strength of divine majesty. For many caught up with the imagery of an Anti-Christ figure, Jews would ally themselves with this powerful, albeit transient figure in persecuting righteous Christians, eventually to fail along with their Anti-Christ leader.

Out of all the negative imagery detailed thus far evolved a sense on the part of many that the Jews were utterly inhuman. Thus, imagery of the Jews as animals or as monsters came to suffuse medieval western Christendom, at least at popular levels. To be sure, Jews were not the only figures so projected. Nonetheless, the harm done by this evolution of negative imagery was considerable.

Secondary Literature

  1. J. Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews- The Medieval Conception of the Jews and Its Relationship to Modern Antisemitism (2 nd ed.; Philadelphia- Jewish Publication Society, 1993).
  2. R.Bonfil, “The Devil and the Jews in the Christian Consciousness of the Middle Ages,” in Antisemitism through the Ages, ed. S. Almog (Oxford- Pergamon Press,1988), 91-98.
  3. D.Strickland, Saracens, Demons, and Jews- Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton- Princeton University Press, 2003), 95-155.

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