Blood Libel - A History of Groundless Anti-Semitic Fables
Quotation from a deluded, American, 19th century Vice-consul:
"A most barbarous secret for a long time suspected in the Jewish
nation...at last came to light in the city of Damascus, that of serving
themselves of Christian blood in their unleavened bread...a secret which
these 1840 years must have made many unfortunate victims." Jasper
Chasseaud, US vice-consul, Beirut, Lebanon, 1840 CE.
The Blood Libel Myth:
Fables surround us. Almost everyone has heard of zombies, but it is incredibly
difficult (perhaps impossible) to find a person who has actually seen one.
It is said that millions of people have seen UFOs. But nobody seems to
have actually taken a clear, detailed picture of one. Many people have
heard of the full-size alligators living in the New York City sewer system,
but nobody seems to have come across one first-hand. Fables also exist
in the religious field. Perhaps the most common, and probably the most
long-lasting and hurtful is the "Blood Libel" myth.
Blood Libel is the accusation by "religious group A" that "religious
group B" is committing unbelievably despicable acts of ritual murder.
Typically, the story contains a number of riveting details:
a victim is kidnapped by members of "religious group B."
the victim is usually an innocent person. An infant, young child
or a blond teenage virgin girl are typical.
the victim may be abused or tortured. They are ritually killed in
order to meet the requirements of the perpetrator's religion.
in an act of cannibalism, the victim's body is eaten and/or the
obscene sexual orgies (sometimes involving incest) are held during or after
Blood Libel Accusations Against Jews:
In 1144 CE, an unfounded rumor began in eastern England, that Jews had
kidnapped a Christian child, tied him to a cross, stabbed his head to simulate
Jesus' crown of thorns, killed him, drained his body completely of blood,
and mixed the blood into matzohs (unleavened bread) at time of Passover.
The rumor arose from a former Jew, Theobald, who had become a Christian
monk. He said that Jewish representatives gathered each year in Narbonne,
France. They decided in which city a Christian child would be sacrificed.
The boy became known as St. William of Norwich. Many people made pilgrimages
to his tomb and claimed that miracles had resulted from appeals to St.
William. The myth shows a complete lack of understanding of Judaism. Aside
from the prohibition of killing innocent persons, the Torah specifically
forbids the drinking or eating of any form of blood in any quantity. However,
reality never has had much of an impact on blood libel myths. This rumor
lasted for many centuries; even today it has not completely disappeared.
Pope Innocent IV ordered a study in 1247 CE.. The investigators found
that the myth was a Christian invention used to persecute the Jews. At
least 4 other popes subsequently vindicated the Jews. However, the accusations,
trials and executions continued.
Nicholls (10) reports that "there are 150 recorded cases of the charge
of ritual murder, and many led to massacres of the Jews of the place."
Some of the incidents were:
1144 CE: Jews in Norwich, England were accused of the ritual murder;
Jewish leaders in the area were executed.
1171: Jews in Blois, France were accused of ritual murder. All of
the Jews in that town (34 men, 17 women) were tortured and burned alive.
A second source says that 31 were killed.
1181: More accusations at Bury, St. Edmund, England
1183: More accusations in Bristol, England
1192: More accusations in Winchester, England
1244: London Jews were accused of ritual murder and fined heavily.
1250: Jews in Saragossa, spain, were accused of ritually killing
a child, San Domenichino de Val.
1255: The body of a little boy, Hugh, was found in a cesspool near
the house of a Jew in Lincoln, England. He was tortured, confessed that
he had engaged in ritual murder, dragged through the streets, and finally
hung. 100 Jews were transported to London and charged with ritual murder.
One was acquitted; 2 were pardoned; the rest were hanged, either with or
without a trial.
1283-5: Following a series of ritual murder charges, 10 Jews were
murdered by a mob in Mainz; 26 were executed in Bacharach, 40 in Oberwellil,
and 180 in Munich.
1431: After ritual murder charges, several Jewish communities were
destroyed in southern Germany: Ravensburg, Uberlingen and Lindau.
1451: Pope Nicholas V appointed John of Capistrano to organize the
Inquisition of the Jews. John repeated the old charges of ritual murder
and host desecration.
1541: John Eck, a Roman Catholic writer, wrote a pamphlet
"Refutation of a Jewish Book." He repeated the ritual murder and
host desecration myths.
1840: An elderly Italian monk-priest, Padre Tommaso, disappeared
in Damascus, Syria, after having visited the Jewish quarter in the city.
12 Jewish leaders were arrested and tortured. Four died from the mistreatment;
most of the rest confessed involvement in a ritual murder. (4)
1870's: "With the rise of the modern antisemitic movement in
the late 1870s, the traditional blood accusation merged easily with the
new scientific racial arguments, serving as a lowest common denominator
to unite its secular (and often anti-Christian), Catholic, and Protestant
members." (4). Roman Catholic Bishop Martin of Pederborn, Germany,
wrote that Jews ritually murdered Christian children.
1881: A Roman Catholic journal, Civilta Cattolica, started
a series of articles which attempted to prove that ritual murder was an
integral element of the Jewish religion. They argued that the ritual murders
occurred at Purim rather than Passover. "It is in vain that Jews seek
to slough off the weight of argument against them: the mystery has become
known to all." (Not quite all. Historians have rejected the stories
of blood libel as myth.) (4)
1911-3: An allegation of ritual murder, the Beilis case, surfaced
in Kiev, Russia. The story formed the plot of novel, "The Fixer"
by Bernard Malamud.
1930's +: Hitler re-used the blood-libel myth as justification for
the Holocaust. The Nazi periodical, Der Stürmer, often published
special issues devoted to allegations of ritual murder by Jews. Hitler
had asked that a film be made of the 1840 Damascus case. World War II ended
before it could be made.
The host is a wafer used during the Roman Catholic mass. At a certain point
during the ritual, it is believed to be converted into the actual body
of Jesus Christ, just as the wine becomes Jesus' actual blood. These elements
of the mass are then eaten by the believers.
A variation of the blood libel myth developed in Europe early in the
11th century. Instead of accusing the Jews of killing an innocent child,
they were accused of desecrating the host. Sometimes they were accused
stabbing pins into the host, or of stepping on it. Other times, they were
accused of stabbing the host with a knife until Jesus' blood leaked out.
Sometimes, they were accused of nailing the host, in a symbolic replay
of the crucifixion.
Like the blood libel myth, host desecration makes no logical sense.
Being Jews, they would not believe in the Christian doctrine of transubstantiation
- that the host during mass becomes the actual body of Jesus. To them,
the host is just a simple wafer with no religious significance.
Nicholls (10) reports that "100 instances of the charge have been
recorded, in many cases leading to massacres." Some of the incidents
1021: Rome suffered through both an earthquake and hurricane on
Good Friday of that year. Some Jews were charged with having caused the
disaster driving a nail through a stolen host. They were tortured until
they confessed; they were then burned alive.
1215: The Fourth Lateran Council in Rome declared the belief in
transubstantiation. This established the theological basis for the host
1243: All Jews in Berlitz, Germany were burned alive for allegedly
torturing a stolen host (8)
1308: The Bishop of Strasbourg charged Jews in Sulzmatt and Rufach
with host desecration. They were burned alive.
1370: Jews in Brabant, Belgium, were accused of defiling the host
and were burned alive. (6)
1389: Jews in Prague were accused of attacking a monk carrying a
wafer. All of the Jews in the city were offered the choice of conversion
to Christianity or death. They were all killed.(8)
1399: A rabbi and 13 elders in Posen, Poland, were charged with
stabbing the host and tossing it into a pit. They were slowly roasted to
death. Some townspeople believed that the host had bled.
Unlike the basic Blood Libel myth, rumors of host desecration by Jews appear
to have died out in the Middle Ages. It has surfaced recently, during the
mid-1990's. In at least two Roman Catholic cathedrals (one in Ontario,
Canada and another in Mississippi) some parishioners believed that Satanists
were masquerading as church members, attending mass but not swallowing
the host. They believed that it was later taken from the cathedral and
used in Satanic rituals.
Other Groundless Anti-Semitic Fables:
693-4 CE: At the 16th & 17th church Councils of Toledo charged
Jews with undermining the church, massacring Catholics, etc.
829: St. Agobard, The Archbishop of Lyon, said that Jews were kidnapping
Christian children and selling them to the Arabs.
1130: Jews in London were accused of killing a sick man. They were
fined 1 million marks.
1321: Jews were charged of arranging with criminals to poison fountains
in Guienne, France. 5,000 Jews were burned alive.
1347+: The Bubonic Plague, a.k.a. the Black Death, struck Europe
in 1347. Jews were accused of poisoning wells (or planning to do this)
in France, Spain, Switzerland, and elsewhere. In excess of 20,000 were
murdered across Europe.