Medieval W. Christendom
During the twelfth century, the imagery of Jews as enemies—prominent in
traditional Christian thinking and activated during the crusading period—took a
dangerous new turn. While the traditional imagery highlighted Jews as historic enemies,
voices in western Christendom began to circulate the notion that twelfth-century Jews
were in fact as profoundly hostile as their ancestors had been more than a millennium

In popular circles, the notion took hold that Jewish enmity went beyond
blasphemy against Christianity, that Jews were committed to inflicting physical harm
upon their Christian contemporaries. The notion of groundless Jewish murder took hold
in public imagination in many areas of western Christendom, especially in northern
Europe, where the Jewish presence was quite new. Discovery of a body, especially the
corpse of a Christian youngster, would regularly elicit the claim that the Jews had
committed murder, for no other reason than simply the Christian identity of the victim.
The authorities of church and state regularly rejected the allegations and by and large
protected the Jews effectively, but the notion of groundless Jewish murder made inroads
into folk thinking during the twelfth century.

The notion of groundless Jewish murder held the potential for embellishments of
all kinds. During the middle decades of the twelfth century, the first of these
embellishments suggested that the purported Jewish murders were carried out in a
symbolic manner, i.e. through crucifixion of the purported Christian victim. By the
middle of the thirteenth century, the embellishment of the claim of Jewish murderousness
took yet another turn, into the allegation that the murders were rooted in Jewish ritual,
that Jews required Christian blood for their Passover ceremonies. The combination of the
new claim of Jewish murderousness with the centrality of blood in the biblical account of
the exodus from Egypt fostered this new turn. The blood libel was destined for a long
history, which stretches from the thirteenth century down into the twentieth and twenty-
first centuries, despite lengthy and carefully documented denials by major figures in
ecclesiastical and lay hierarchies.