Christoph Cluse

title.none: Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (Cluse)

identifier.other: baj9928.0107.018 01.07.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Christoph Cluse, Universität Trier,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Rubin, Miri. Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. Pp. iv, 266. $35.00. ISBN: 0-300-07612-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.07.18

Rubin, Miri. Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. Pp. iv, 266. $35.00. ISBN: 0-300-07612-6.

Reviewed by:

Christoph Cluse
Universität Trier

The relationship between certain anti-Jewish narratives and anti-Jewish violence during the medieval centuries has been the subject of a good deal of research. Often, such a relationship has been posited rather than analysed. In such accounts, the anti-Jewishness of the narrative was, as it were, spontaneously transformed into violent action, usually by 'the masses'. The present book takes on the challenge of exploring the precise mechanics of such transformations and highlights the choices people were faced with, thus reasserting human agency and responsibility. Rubin's Gentile Tales is not just about the 'power or narratives'. Its main advance lies in its consistent attempt "to measure and assess the limitations" of narrative representations and in its proving that these were "not so powerful as to leave no space for evasion, doubt and rejection" (see chapter 1, pp. 3-5, and also pp. 92, 193).

The host desecration accusation is one of the most important medieval anti-Jewish narratives, and this is the first monograph study devoted to its rise and the powerful potency for violent action which it carried. The tale emerged during the thirteenth century and was intimately bound up with the eucharistic theology, cult, devotions and doubts of later medieval Christians, so eloquently presented by Rubin in her earlier book, Corpus Christi. At the same time, the narrative posited Jews at the heart of Christian religious concerns. Chapter 2, "From Jewish Boy to Bleeding Host", traces the development of this intimate relationship through the emergence of the host desecration tale up to 1290, when it was first transformed into an accusation and the trial of a Jew in Paris. The following chapter (3) deals with "Patterns of Accusation", analysed through the Paris case and the regional persecutions in Franconia ('Rintfleisch', 1298, and 'Armleder', 1336-8 spreading as far as Alsace [1]), Austria (Korneuburg, 1305) and Bavaria (Pulkau, 1338). Rubin plausibly argues that "we need not insist on a linear development by which the Paris tale begat all other versions, but rather think of the parallel development of the narrative in a variety of regions" (40), and I believe her claim could be substantiated by a detailed comparison of the texts and the various motifs they contain.

The Korneuburg case, which prompted an inquest and sceptical report by the Cistercian Ambrose of Heiligenkreuz, provides particular occasion to discuss the "ways in which the narrative might be circumscribed by doubts about its authenticity, and problems with procedures of proof". (57) So why was the clear reference to the fraudulent staging of the accusation by a priest "in opido Neumburch", mentioned in a letter by pope Benedict XII (cf. note 110 on p. 221), not discussed in this context? The answer is that Rubin's emphasis here is not on how the host desecration narrative was employed in a plot against the Jews but on the ways in which the inquest challenged it (and, paradoxically, also helped to reaffirm it through forcing the townsmen to develop a 'consensual tale', cf. p. 63). In fact, she discusses the fraudulent production of a 'bleeding host' by a needy cleric in the paragraphs devoted to the Pulkau case. [2]

Chapter 4, "Persons and places" reflects on the cliches employed in constructing the host desecration narrative, and the cast that they set out for the individual stagings of the drama. The Jewish male, who "carried the distinctive sign of Jewishness", appears as main perpetrator in the tales, whereas women and children are accorded roles exemplifying weakness or innocence. The roles of priests and sextons, who had access to the host in churches and chapels, are more ambiguous, and anti- clerical sentiment could reinforce a discourse which posed Jewish malevolence gainst the virtue and vigilance of ordinary Christians. Thieves and theft narratives might also "fill the narrative gap" (81) and explain Jewish access to the host in other ways. In the tales, the "liminal figure" of the convert was empolyed to impart "knowledge of the secret actions of Jews". (84-5) "Narrative closure" (90) is achieved when synagogue is turned into chapel. In this chapter, emphasis is on the narrative, not on events.

The "Interjection: What did Jews Think of the Eucharist", is of great value in that it preserves a memory of Jewish agency in forms of polemics or philosophical reflection. Often, as in the liturgical lament on the Rintfleisch massacres, Jews described Christian accusations "as a plot". (101) [3] Such plots are discussed at greater length in chapter 5, "Making the Narrative Work", arguably the most important one in the book. Based on the more extensive documentation available for the accusations and trials of the later fourteenth through fifteenth centuries, Rubin presents a gripping account of how individual rulers, preachers (such as John Capestrano at Wroclaw), university scholars (!) and civic councils reacted upon the emergence of an accusation and consciously chose to either press charges or drop them. She also notes that at times, the host desecration and ritual murder accusations intersect during this period, although I would take issue with her view of the exent to which this was the case at Regensburg the time of the infamous Judenprozess (1476-80) (p. 130).

In chapter 6, "Violence and the Trails of Memory", Rubin presents the various ways in which memories of events were construed and enshrined--through texts, images, dramatic representation and through the broadsheets produced in great quantity from the later fifteenth century. Again, case studies (Prague, 1389, Brussels, 1370) serve to underline points in the argument. The mode of exposition is descriptive here, but the very breadth of the account supports Rubin's emphatic conclusion that "memories require spurs, advocates; artefacts alone will not speak", and that "the conservation of memory thus emerges as a highly active option". (188) Rubin concludes with the warning that "words are never only words. It is in facilitating the movement from word into action that we must locate responsibility." (194)

For all its merit, the book might have profited from better proofreading, preferably by a native speaker of German. At least one in three German titles cited has a typing error somewhere, and there are a small number other mistakes that can confidently be ascribed to sloppy typescript production. [4] At a few points, the sheer scope and elegance of Rubin's presentation may gloss over a lack of concern with the details. [5]

Despite these reservations, Rubin's achievement is much to be recommended. The book is thoroughly researched, based on a wide reading and a wealth of documentation not always easily accessible nor brought into synthesis before, it is well written and beautifully illustrated. In sum, it is an important contribution to the study of medieval Jewish- Christian relations.


[1] Gerd Mentgen, Studien zur Geschichte der Juden im mittelalterlichen Elsass, Forschungen zur Geschichte der Juden, A 2 (Hannover: Hahn, 1995), pp. 350-60, offers additional insights into the Armleder persecutions. In particular the fact that in Colmar Jews and Christians together succeeded in fighting off the attack deserves mention, since it underlines Rubin's argument about choice.

[2] Friedrich Lotter, "Hostienfrevelvorwurf und Blutwunderfalschung" (quoted p. 216, note 36) is still the magisterial account of such fraudulent accusations; see also Winfried Stelzer, "Am Beispiel Korneuburg: Der angebliche Hostienfrevel Österreichischer Juden von 1305 und seine Quellen," in Österreich im Mittelalter: Bausteine zu einer revidierten Gesamtdarstellung, Studien und Forschungen aus dem Niederösterreichischen Institut für Landeskunde, 26 (St. Polten, Niederösterreichisches Institut für Landeskunde, 1999), pp. 309-347.

[3] A similar observation was made regarding the blood libel: Andreas Angerstorfer, "Judische Reaktionen auf die mittelalterlichen Blutbeschuldigungen vom 13. bis zum 16. Jahrhundert" in Die Legende vom Ritualmord: Zur Geschichte der Blutbeschuldigung gegen Juden, ed. Rainer Erb, Dokumente, Texte, Materialien, 6 (Berlin: Metropol, 1992), pp. 133-156.

[4] Here is my list of errata et corrigenda (umlaut characters are not displayed in the e-mail version of this review): p. xi line 29: Menthgen] Mentgen -- last line: Yaritz] Jaritz (also on p. 223 note 121) -- Suzannah] Susanna -- p. 19 line 16: crucifix] host -- p. 25 line 28: Dominican] Franciscan -- p. 36 line 13: abundis] ab undis -- p. 46 line 10: Hocsem] d'Outremeuse (and the Liege 'chronicle of 1402' was not written by either of them) -- p. 50 line 26: Necker] Neckar -- line 28: Landesfriede] Landfriede -- p. 51 line 39: deelequisti] derelequisti -- p. 53 lines 4, 35: Mockmuhl] Mockmohl (with two umlauts)-- p. 54 line 21: Balhuisen] Balnhusen -- p. 55 line 31, 39: Oxenfurt] Ochsenfurt -- p. 56 line 24: Gerlach is no place 'in Limbourg' (a duchy in the Low Countries) but a personal name (Gerlach was lord of Limburg, a town in Hesse). - - p. 75 line 3: Koblenz] Konstanz -- p. 90 line 37: Hothausen] Holthausen -- p. 99 line 29: wth] with -- pp. 110-11: is it 'Montblanc' (map), 'Muntblanc' (p. 111) or 'Muntblanch' (index)? -- p. 118 line 30: St Goer] St Goar -- p. 124 line 41 and passim: Leignitz] Liegnitz -- p. 135 line 16] secundum Johannes rusticus quadratus] secundum Johannem rusticum quadratum -- p. 139 line 3: Archbishop] Bishop -- p. 193 line 3: Reichstadt] Reichsstadt -- p. 199: 13 Jahrhunderts] 13. Jahrhunderts -- Kleinschnidt] Kleinschmidt -- note 1: Patchovsky] Patschovsky -- p. 200 note 13: pramisse] Pramisse - - actuellen] aktuellen -- necnon amicarum] necnon et amicarum - - p. 202 note 11: B. Apulus] B. Paulus -- Turnholt] Turnhout -- p. 204 note 37: T. Erb] R. Erb -- p. 205 notes 57-8: Blumenkrantz] Blumenkranz -- p. 206 note 68: for the Dominican Annals of Colmar, the new edition by Kleinschmidt in Deutsches Archiv, 28 (1972) should be used (see also p. 216 note 42) -- p. 209 note 106: Wirtschaftsethic] Wirtschaftsethik -- Vierteiljahrschrift] Vierteljahrschrift -- Social- und] Sozial- und (also note 52 on p. 236) -- p. 213 note 147 Hostienschandung] Hostienschandungen -- note 3: Licensiat] Licentiaat -- p. 215 note 31: Reichstadten] Reichsstadten -- Archive] Archiv -- p. 216 note 36: Ein endgultige] Die endgultige -- in deutschen] im deutschen -- note 38: und ordere] und andere -- note 45: Nurenberger] Nurnberger -- p. 217 note 48: P. Herder] P. Herde -- Problemen] Probleme -- diozesan-geschichtsblatter] Diozesan- Geschichtsblatter -- note 51: K. Zatloukel] K. Zatloukal -- note 53: konigsaaler] Konigsaaler -- Forsetzung] Fortsetzung -- note 55: the namque] namque -- p. 218 note 67: Geschichte und Kunde] Geschichte und Kultur -- p. 219 note 78: in] im -- Socialgefuge] Sozialgefuge -- note 83: nos 109, 123, pp. 40, 42] nos 107, 123, pp. 39-40 -- p. 220 note 87: suprascriptuam] suprascriptam -- p. 221 note 100: val] vel -- note 108: spoliat] spoliati -- p. 222 note 121: in mittelalterliche] im mittelalterlichen -- p. 223 note 3: myth of male] myth of Jewish male -- note 5: The edition of William the Procurator's 'Chronicon' by A. Matthaeus is faulty (in fact it leaves out a whole line in precisely the tale concerned), the new edition by C. Pijnacker Hordijk (1904) ought to be used. -- (1975)] (1995) -- p. 228 note 72: Geschichts, quellen] Geschichtsquellen -- note 80: Der 'Deggendorfer Gnad'] Die 'Deggendorfer Gnad' (also in note 93) -- note 85: Marie in der Welt] Maria in der Welt -- note 88: Westfalische] Westfalisches -- p. 229 note 89: L. Schmitz-Kassenberg] L. Schmitz-Kallenberg -- p. 233 note 5: H. Fisher] H. Fischer -- note 6: perdixerunt] perduxerunt -- p. 234 note 8: in Hesse] in Hessen -- note 17: the the] the -- p. 238 note 71: Reichsstadte] Reichsstadten -- note 72: L. Olsner] L. Oelsner -- p. 240 note 95: Susannah] Susanna -- note 106: Erorterungen] Erörterungen -- note 110: Aktenstucke] Aktenstücke (and the sources from Straus' collection are unrelated to the Passau affair mentioned in the text to this note!) -- p. 242 note 13: P.E. Weiden-Willer] E. Weidenhiller - - note 17: Tillemann] Tilemann (and the quote from his chronicle is completely distorted) -- p. 243 note 24: bohmische] bohmischen -- note 29: usurias] usuras -- p. 244 note 34 add: vol. v -- p. 246 note 59: Dilingen] Dillingen -- p. 251 note 122: in Königlichen] im Königlichen -- Metallschnitt] Metallschnitte -- p. 252 note 125 (Verfasserlexikon) add: vol. ii -- note 126: zu ein] zu einer - - literarischer Texts] literarischer Texte -- p. 253 note 151: si en wouleb] si en wouden -- al tu schen] al tuschen -- aen stent] aen steit -- p. 255 note 1: Mittelelbraum] Mittelelberaum -- note 2: in Mark] in der Mark -- p. 256 note 8: 1458] 1453 -- note 9: the list referred to by Baron is not 'contemporary' but from the late nineteenth century.

[5] Thus, Henmannus Bononiensis, compiler of the Viaticum Narrationum (p. 35) is not "Herman of Bologna" but Heinemann of Bonn, and his work dates from the later fourteenth or early fifteenth century, not "of c.1280-90" ; cf. Karl Langosch's article in Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, vol. iv (Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1981), col. 654, pointing out that the Scala Coeli (c.1323-30) was one of the main sources for the Viaticum narrationum. The conversion of one "Rabbi Moses" and of twenty-four of his disciples (!) at Rothenburg, described in a letter preserved in the archives of Osnabruck (p. 106-8), was quite probably a mere story invented by a fraudulent beggar: the ample documentation from Rothenburg itself does not mention any such momentous event nor even this particular "rabbi". I was unable to discover a Christian woman by the name of "Notzin" in the documents displayed on p. 107, and know of no "massacre" at Erfurt in 1451 (p. 120), where the Jews were expelled in 1453 (not 1458, as Rubin has it in note 8 on p. 256). We learn on p. 122 that the custodian of St Matthew's church at Wroclaw was blamed for selling the host for the local Jews, on p. 124 it is the warden of St Mark's, and again on p. 126 "St Elisabeth in Wroclaw" is named as "the church from which the hosts were said to have been stolen". These conflicting data probably derive from the tales, but I would have expected some effort at resolving the problem. The Schulklopfer or "bell-ringer" (Latin campanator) of the Wroclaw community was no "Gabbai" (note 81 on p. 239) but a Shammash. On p. 182, Rubin confidently declares that one "Jonathan", according to the tales the main protagonist of the Brussels case (1370), was "the most prominent Jew of Brabant" and "a substancial financier and community leader, whose stature was reflected in his residence, a fortified stone house, a steen". Jonathan is not named in the tax lists of 1368-70, and I have no idea where Rubin found the reference to his house. In fact, Jonathan does not appear in the documentation until well into the fifteenth century: I believe his character to have been altogether legendary, and his name to derive from the later tradition on the Paris case of 1290; see my Studien zur Geschichte der Juden in den mittelalterlichen Niederlanden, Forschungen zur Geschichte der Juden, A 10 (Hannover, 2000), pp. 284-295. In the confession of Katherine the convert (p. 183), the date of the feast of St Bavo (1 October) relates to the alleged theft of the hosts in 1369 and not to the time when she said she was approached by the Jews, which was only after Easter 1370. And "questioned thoroughly" is an almost euphemistic translation of the Latin "enormiter questionatis", which I would read as "exceedingly tortured" (p. 184 and note, my emphasis).