03.03.04, Schulze, ed., Juden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters

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Albrecht Classen

The Medieval Review baj9928.0303.004


Schulze, Ursula, ed.. Juden in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters. Religioese Konzepte - Feindbilder - Rechtfertigungen. Tuebingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2002. Pp. vi, 290. ISBN: 3-484-10846-0.

Reviewed by:
Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

It is one thing to investigate the horrendous history of anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages and to bring to light the tragic events for Jewish communities, for example in the Rhineland resulting from the First Crusade, and all the subsequent pogroms and other anti-Semitic persecutions. It is quite another matter to examine the actual relationships between Jewish and Christian communities as reflected in medieval literature. The latter task is tentatively dealt with by the contributors to the present volume who were students in Ursula Schulze's research seminar at the Freie Universitaet Berlin (no date given). Although Middle High German literature does not seem to offer particular insights in this Jewish-Christian relationship, a critical analysis of individual texts still promises to yield valuable perspectives as many authors either directly commented on Jews and their religion, or reflected on the role of Jews within the Christian communities.

The volume is divided into five parts, covering the areas 1. religious dialogues; 2. the illusion of Jews' integration into the Christian community; 3. the representation of Jews in various literary genres; 4. justification of pogroms; and 5. the image of the wandering Jew. Even if the subtitle to this book seems to promise a new orientation, that is to say, hope for better relationships between both religions already in the Middle Ages, we are quickly disappointed, as virtually none of the contributors provides any significant evidence of open-minded, tolerant attitudes on the part of the Christians. Ominously, the subtitle points us in the opposite direction, as we are dealing with orthodox Christian concepts, images of Jews as the enemy, and justification of pogroms. In many ways, the contributors confirm, through their literary interpretations, the fundamental observations by David Nirenberg (Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, 1996) and Leonard B. Glick (Abraham's Heirs. Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe, 1999), although they do not seem to have taken note of their research, not to speak of most international scholarship focused on this topic.

In the first section, Vera Milde examines the Christian-Jewish dialogues in the so-called "Legend of Pope Sylvester" in the Kaiserchronik, which can, however, hardly qualify as "dialogues" and only served as confirmations of the absolute superiority of the Christian belief and the Jews' obstinateness, a staple argument in medieval anti-Semitic ideology. Monika Wolf focuses on the sculptured allegories of Ecclesia and Synagoga at the cathedral of Strasbourg and elsewhere, contrasting them with images of Jews in passion plays where Wolf naturally discovers rabid hostility against Jews. The sculptures in Strasbourg, however, reveal a curious fascination with the figure of Synagoga who almost displays a higher level of aesthetic appeal than Ecclesia, which Wolf interprets as an expression of subtle concordantia between both religions. Although Wolf, like all other contributors, makes a valiant effort to approach her topic from an interdisciplinary perspective, she has ignored most of the relevant research literature (see, for instance, Ecclesia und Synagoga: das Judentum in der christlichen Kunst : Ausstellungskatalog, Alte Synagoge Essen, Regionalgeschichtliches Museum Saarbr├╝cken, ed. Herbert Jochum, 1993) and leaves the reader wondering what one might learn from this essay as it remains so open-ended and descriptive.

This problem becomes almost painful in Ricarda Bauschke's study of the Middle High German courtly poet Suesskind of Trimberg (early thirteenth century) who makes, in a facetious manner, a reference to Jewish clothing in one of his poems, but whose alleged Jewishness has long been discarded by scholarship. Unfortunately, Bauschke does not seem to be familiar with the relevant literature and reiterates what should be standard knowledge by now, namely that Suesskind was not a Jew and alluded to his Jewish costume for pragmatic reasons (see, for example, Winfried Frey, "'Ich wil in alter juden leben mich hinnan fuerwert ziehen'," Unsere Heimat. Mitteilungen des Heimat- und Geschichtsvereins Bergwinkel e.V. Schluechtern 9 [1993]; Albrecht Classen, "Juedisch-deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters und der Fruehneuzeit," Amsterdamer Beitraege zur aelteren Germanistik 50 [1998]). The illuminator in the Manessische Liederhandschrift of course reflected anti-Semitic sentiments, but we don't need Bauschke's article to learn this. Surprisingly, contrary to Bauschke's own finding, the editor Schulze reiterates, in her introduction, the traditional but completely erroneous understanding of Suesskind of Trimberg (5). Did she even read Bauschke's article?

Annette Schmidt offers a fairly useful analysis of the so-called Jewish oaths which were included in the relevant medieval law books such as the Sachsenspiegel but increasingly reflected derogatory attitudes against Jews. The obvious hostility against Jews espoused by medieval preachers would not need particular commentary, but Ursula Schulze underscores this general observation with the help of a detailed analysis of a selection of representative sermons by Berthold of Regensburg, Heinrich of Hesler, and Geiler of Kaysersberg. Her brief discussion of Martin Luther's sermons confirm the same anti-Semitic attitudes also in the sixteenth century. Astonishingly, Schulze does not even consult the seminal study of Heiko A. Oberman, Wurzeln des Antisemitismus (1958; Berlin: Severin und Siedler, 1981), but her lackadaisical treatment of the relevant research literature seems to have been the model for all her students who publish in this volume.

Cordula Hennig von Lange treats the literary motif of "das Juedel," of the young Jewish child who accidentally is introduced to the Christian religion and quickly converts, which leads to the appearance of Christ himself. Matthias Schoenleber points out the combative anti-Semitism in Hans Folz Shrovetide plays, especially in Ein spil von dem herzogen von Burgund, but again, his scholarly apparatus is outdated and he claims as new interpretation what has been repeatedly stated in recent publications (see, for instance, Winfried Frey, "'Zehen Tunne Goldes'," 'So wold ich in froeiden singen'. Festgabe fuer Anthonius H. Touber zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. C. Dauven-van Knippenberg and H. Birkhan, 1995). Similarly, Florian Rommel demonstrates, once again, that late-medieval passion plays were deeply influenced by anti-Semitism.

The legend of Simon of Trient, which powerfully served as justification of Jewish pogroms, is the topic of Nicole Spengler's article, in which she focuses on the trial of 1475 and the subsequent literary production of the legend in its myriad variations. Bjoern Berghausen examines the well-known "Lied von Deggendorf" in which the alleged Jewish sacrilege of the holy Host is dealt with (W. Frey's article "The 'Messiah of the Jews' in German Medieval Literature," Canon and Canon Transgression in Medieval German Literature, ed. A. Classen, 1993, already covers the same material, but is not consulted here). Stefan Nied concludes this collection of articles with an interpretation of the chapbook Ahasverus. Der ewige Jude which exerted a tremendous influence throughout European literature.

The volume is rounded off with an index containing names and titles, an index of subject matter, and a list of illustrations. Considering that the contributors are, except for their Professor Ursula Schulze, students, their work deserves to be commended. The articles are well written and demonstrate sharp insights. Schulze has to be praised for offering this research seminar which breaks a number of taboos, and for making it possible for her students to publish their work. Nevertheless, most of them do not reach any new shores and overlook much of what previous scholarship had to say about their topics. All of their observations reconfirm a well-established opinio communis, but they do not sufficiently draw from previous work and instead open windows that have been opened many times before. It might be understandable if the authors had ignored some of non-German scholarship in their field, but they have not even paid lip-service to the crucial research center on German-Jewish relations in the German Middle Ages, headed by Winfried Frey at the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University in Frankfurt, not to speak of many oversights even pertaining to German publications on Jews in the Middle Ages and their portrayal in literary texts. This volume, published by one of the most prestigious scholarly presses in Germany, does not bode well for the future of medieval German scholarship.

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Albrecht Classen

University of Arizona