Gerald Guest

title.none: Lipton, Images of Intolerance (Guest)

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.004 00.03.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gerald Guest, New York University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Lipton, Sara. Images of Intolerance: The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible Moralisee. Berkeley: Un iversity of California Press, 1999. Pp. x, 241. $60.00. ISBN: 0-520-21551-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.04

Lipton, Sara. Images of Intolerance: The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible Moralisee. Berkeley: Un iversity of California Press, 1999. Pp. x, 241. $60.00. ISBN: 0-520-21551-6.

Reviewed by:

Gerald Guest
New York University

In the Gothic era the making and viewing of images underwent a radical transformation. By the thirteenth century unprecedented quantities of painting, sculpture, and glass were being created throughout Europe. New iconographies emerged and new narrative strategies were developed for the telling of stories both sacred and secular. Speaking generally, images were put to far greater use than they had been in the previous centuries of the Middle Ages. Because of this, Gothic art presents medievalists with a complex challenge--more images, doing more cultural work, in relatively new ways. It is one of the chief virtues of the book under review here that it casts considerable light on the workings of the Gothic image and the complexity of its visual rhetoric. In Images of Intolerance the historian Sara Lipton explores and uncovers the sophistication of Gothic imagemaking through a specific case study--the representation of Jews and Judaism in the two earliest surviving moralized Bibles. The moralized Bible, or Bible moralisée, emerged as a manuscript type in France during the first half of the thirteenth century. In these luxury books, the narrative of sacred scripture is presented in a series of images. Each page in a thirteenth-century moralized Bible contains eight roundels, each with a caption. Four roundels illustrate biblical events, the other four act as commentary, explaining the contemporary meaning of the biblical event for the reader. In this manner the manuscripts join the medieval world and the biblical world as parallel universes. The reader of a moralized Bible is thus trained to see biblically, to inject lessons learned from sacred scripture into everyday life for the purpose of leading a more moral existence. Four moralized Bibles survive from the first half of the thirteenth century; eleven other manuscripts in varying layouts follow, but it is the first four copies that are the most luxurious and constitute the foundation from which the others spring. Of these original four, Lipton has chosen to concentrate on what are undoubtedly the earliest two, both of which are now in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, where they are shelf-marked as Codex 1179 and Codex 2554. Following earlier scholarship Lipton dates both books to the 1220s. Visually, these two manuscripts constitute the sole focus of the study--no other images are reproduced. Lipton, however, makes up for this imbalance with a strong knowledge of contemporary written sources in theology and political history. These sources are used to buttress her complex readings of the images in the two Vienna Bibles. The manuscripts themselves are both remarkably similar and noticeably different. The text of Codex 1179 is in Latin, while Codex 2554 is in French. Codex 1179 is considerably longer than Codex 2554, which is almost certainly incomplete. Lipton avoids the thorny question of which book is earlier by arguing that the two are roughly contemporary, standing as two different manifestations of the same concept, with the Latin manuscript being more learned and the vernacular manuscript more "lay." The Latin manuscript was undoubtedly made for a king. The book's final folio contains an image of a king reading a manuscript which must be a moralized Bible. Lipton offers compelling evidence that this king was Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226), a monarch praised in his lifetime for his learning. Recent work on the other manuscript suggests that it was likely made for a woman. Lipton notes this but is concerned less with readers than with an explication of the workings of the manuscripts' text-image system. The book consists of five chapters buttressed by a brief introduction and conclusion. Each chapter is structured around an iconographic theme or problem, investigating the way in which a particular motif, or motifs, is presented in the two manuscripts. Out of necessity Lipton's analyses are rooted more in the images than in the text--Jews are depicted far more often in the roundels of the manuscripts than they are mentioned in the caption texts, a significant fact and one that points to the originality and complexity of the imagery in the moralized Bibles. The book's first chapter sets the stage by examining the various motifs used to identify Jews in the manuscripts, specifically the beard and the Jewish hat or pileum cornutum. Significantly, no images of medieval Jewish women are identifiable in the two Bibles, a lacuna that Lipton promises to examine in a later study. The second chapter treats the next most common attribute of Jews in the manuscripts, the moneybag, demonstrating how it is used to connote usury, avarice, and sin in general. In this chapter money is shown to be a polluting agent, a sign of the Jews' moral corruption and their threat to good Christians. The third chapter treats images of Jews as embodiments of the "Old Law," discussing such attributes as the scroll and the sacrificial animal. Once again, the Vienna Bibles present Jews as a threat to the order of the medieval Christian world, their learning subversive, their rituals unclean. The fourth chapter investigates the manner in which Jews and heretics are linked to one another as groups who stand outside the authority of the Church. The fifth and final chapter considers the fate of the Jews at the end of time, examining the images of judgment and damnation that are omnipresent in the two manuscripts and nearly always include Jews. Reading my summary of the book's contents, one might get the impression that Lipton has written a rather simple and straightforward explication of certain iconographical features of the Vienna Bibles. She has not. On the contrary, Lipton's analyses are remarkable for their complexity and sophistication. Readers may quibble with some of her conclusions, but to my mind her work contains two major accomplishments to which medievalists should take note. First, Lipton demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt the complex pictorial rhetoric of these manuscripts. Second, she is especially adept at relating the contents of the manuscripts to the historical and intellectual politics of thirteenth-century France. In reading the images Lipton moves freely throughout the two Vienna Bibles. In this manner the books' sense of narrative flow is sacrificed, depriving the reader of what it is like to experience sustained stretches of the moralized Bibles. In return, however, this strategy allows for maximum depth--Lipton provides us with a rich mining of the iconography of these books. As Lipton argues there is a novel visual vocabulary at work in these manuscripts. The contents of the roundels are densely layered and carefully worked out by the clerics and artists who created these books. Lipton is especially adroit at applying linguistic terms in her visual analyses. She speaks repeatedly of synecdoche, metonymy and metaphor as governing principles in the image language of the moralized Bibles. To take just one example, the moneybag is used in the manuscripts to connote, among other things, usury and avarice. But because love of money was considered a kind of idolatry in the Middle Ages, the medieval Jews in the moralized Bibles are often shown worshipping idols, something that the reader should recognize as being factually untrue but which is typical of the kind of slippage one finds in the imagery of the moralized Bibles. In this paranoid hermeneutic Jews are also linked with heretics as threats to the hegemony of the medieval Church. Novel and astonishing images are used to "document" these relationships and Lipton's attention to detail shows how complex these images can be. No reader of this book is likely to forget the novel use of cats as a symbol for heresy and an object of heretical activities. The figure of the Jew thus emerges in these manuscripts as perhaps the ultimate threat to order in the medieval Christian world. That the manuscripts were created in a period of great social change is perhaps one of the mitigating factors why such fear and distrust was piled onto such a small minority. Lipton shows how the moralized Bibles are structured around a dialectic of purity and pollution, in which supposedly fixed boundaries are forever breaking down and well-defined categories interpenetrate. As she notes, French society at this time was becoming "more wealthy, urbanized, secular, literate" (p. 139). In the moralized Bibles, Jews become symbolic of the dangers of these changes. One of the most fascinating aspects of Lipton's investigation centers on intellectual politics in Paris at this time, especially at the emergent University. Earlier scholarship on the moralized Bibles by Reiner Haussherr and James Michael Heinlen demonstrated that the writings of scholars such as Peter the Chanter and Stephen Langton strongly influenced the texts of the two Vienna Bibles. Lipton takes this research a step further and shows not only how university exegesis but also how intellectual politics is foregrounded in the moralized Bibles. Repeatedly, these books contain images of students who are depicted as especially vulnerable to corrupting influences. One such threat is from wicked philosophers who are often shown as Jewish. It is well known that throughout the twelfth and into the thirteenth centuries biblical scholars turned to Jewish exegetes and exegesis as a way of understanding better the literal sense of sacred scripture. By the thirteenth century Jewish theology and philosophy were also beginning to be studied by scholars such as William of Auvergne, bishop of Paris. This Jewish learning, along with the so-called secular sciences (astrology, law, etc.), is presented in the moralized Bibles as threats to the study of theology, the central mission of Christian scholarship. Thus, the image of the Jew stands as a threat to the very project of the moralized Bibles, while simultaneously being indispensable to its semiotics of alterity.

Perhaps my only complaint about this first-rate book (aside from its often murky reproductions) is that occasionally the author seems to be of two minds about the polemics of the moralized Bibles. At certain points she speaks of the anti-Jewish component of the books as coherent and well thought out, a program if you will (pp. 50, 137). Elsewhere she speaks of its inconsistencies and contradictions, noting that much of the cumulative effects of the moralized Bibles was probably not intended by the books' creators (pp. 5, 22, 139). There is some truth to both positions. The moralized Bibles were a group effort, most likely created by a team of scholars and another team of artists. As works of thought they are consistently inconsistent, decidedly ambiguous, and at times even incoherent. But they constitute a remarkably detailed mirror, albeit a distorting one, of thirteenth-century France. Sara Lipton has made an important step in demonstrating how their unique language of text and image can be read. Her book will be useful for medievalists interested in art history, theology, Jewish history, intellectual history and politics.