Marks of Distinction: Christian Perceptions of Jews in the high Middle Ages by Irven M. Resnick
Call Number: BM535 .R47 2012
Publication Date: 2012
For medieval Latin Christendom, texts such as the Bible and the writings of the Fathers of the Church gave form to Christian perceptions of Jews and Judaism. Eye-witness testimony, hearsay, reports of converts from Judaism, and the testimony of dreams, visions, and miraculous events helped fill in the details. The author explores the additional support drawn from medieval science by studying long-held medieval scientific theories that predisposed Jews to certain types of offensive behavior or even to communicate certain illnesses and disease. By arguing for a Jewish "nature" dictated by specific physical characteristics, medieval scientific authorities contributed to growing fears of a Jewish threat. Externally, these differences were evidenced by marks that physically distinguished Jews, for example circumcision. Internally, their melancholy humoral complexion, further weakened by the Jews' dietary restrictions, was thought to dictate their temperament and sexual mores, and to incline them toward leprosy, bleeding hemorrhoids, and other infirmities. These differences were viewed by some as ineradicable, even following religious conversion; or, at best, erasable with only the greatest difficulty over several generations.