NYT: The Words That Killed Medieval Jews

Words don’t kill. Conflicts of interest kill. Hard words simply reflect real conflicts of interests.

Life is a struggle for survival. All individuals and groups are engaged in a struggle for scarce resources. What’s good for one group, say Christians, is often bad for other groups, such as Jews.

There’s as much connection between harsh words and genocide as there is between technology and genocide and newspapers and genocide and democracy and genocide.

The Church’s harsh rhetoric didn’t kill Jews. The facts on the ground shifted relations between the two groups so that Christians saw more advantages in killing Jews rather than tolerating them.

Sara Lipton writes:

Official Christian theology and policy toward Jews remained largely unchanged in the Middle Ages. Over roughly 1,000 years, Christianity condemned the major tenets of Judaism and held “the Jews” responsible for the death of Jesus. But the terms in which these ideas were expressed changed radically.

Before about 1100, Christian devotions focused on Christ’s divine nature and triumph over death. Images of the crucifixion showed Jesus alive and healthy on the cross. For this reason, his killers were not major focuses in Christian thought. No anti-Jewish polemics were composed during these centuries; artworks portrayed his executioners not as Jews, but as Roman soldiers (which was more historically accurate) or as yokels. Though there are scattered records of anti-Jewish episodes like forced conversions, we find no consistent pattern of anti-Jewish violence.

In the decades around 1100, a shift in the focus of Christian veneration brought Jews to the fore. In an effort to spur compassion among Christian worshipers, preachers and artists began to dwell in vivid detail on Christ’s pain. Christ morphed from triumphant divine judge to suffering human savior. A parallel tactic, designed to foster a sense of Christian unity, was to emphasize the cruelty of his supposed tormentors, the Jews.

Partly out of identification with this newly vulnerable Christ, partly in response to recent Turkish military successes, and partly because an internal reform movement was questioning fundamentals of faith, Christians began to see themselves as threatened, too. In 1084 the pope wrote that Christianity “has fallen under the scorn, not only of the Devil, but of Jews, Saracens, and pagans.” The “Goad of Love,” a retelling of the crucifixion that is considered the first anti-Jewish Passion treatise, was written around 1155-80. It describes Jews as consumed with sadism and blood lust. They were seen as enemies not only of Christ, but also of living Christians; it was at this time that Jews began to be accused of ritually sacrificing Christian children.

Comments on the NYT article:

* Words don’t kill. Otherwise, there would be few people on earth. Charlie Hebdo’s words and even pictures didn’t take a hair off any body. Nor do the texts of any religion. Killing takes more than words. By the same token, words don’t stop killers from killing, either.

* Two corrections, one major. It is incorrect to say Christians wrote no anti-Jewish treatises before 1100, to say the very least, though it may be true that their nature changed. The minor (though not really) correction is that the Turks did not rule Palestine, in 1100, or for severals centuries after–a truly baffling error for a medievalist.

* Well if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, (and to look around at what passes for a lot of “art” these days it makes me wonder), why does everybody pick on expression in the form of language so much? It’s like everybody including wilting violets like Ms. Henkel are nowadays just flouncing around waiting to get offended. Well that can work both ways, you know. Generally speaking, I have rarely encountered a more humourless, narrow-minded, self-righteous bunch of spittlebugs than the posters in these NYT comments columns and wish I could give y’all one massive communal wedgie. OHHH! I think I just induced MYSELF to violence!

* How can anyone take this article seriously when the place that espouses the most hateful, poisonous, destructive, supremacist language today is the Islamic world? Not even one mention of the thousands of sermons given throughout mosques all over the world every week that explicitly call for death and carnage? How feckless and willfully blind have we become? Let’s blame Trump for all the ills of the modern world. If only he’d go away we’ll achieve world peace. Kumbaya.

* The points made in this editorial & by some of the comments about the dangers of provocative, incendiary language about minorities leading to violence are to me so obviously true, I don’t feel I need to reiterate them.
However, for balance, I’d like to point out that provocative language leading to violence goes in other directions also. One of the worst examples of that was I believe the film “Do the Right Thing” by Spike Lee of a few years back. The film was very popular, widely acclaimed by critics, & it was well directed & did make some good points, but the take-home message of the film was that Blacks were “doing the right thing” by engaging in violence against convenient & innocent poor White & Asian scapegoats, to avenge perceived injustices against Blacks. It wasn’t saying this was understandable; it was saying it was “right”, i.e., morally right; it was effectively recommending this. I believe this film was indirectly responsible for further poisoning race relations & led to violent & destructive acts.
These things work in all kinds of directions.

* It’s offensive that a newspaper that, like most of the leftist media, considerably plays down and under reports anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence wants to get on its high horse. There are 10 times more hate crimes against Jews than Muslims, and Muslims are responsible for a vast disproportionate amount of them. Why do I never see any articles from Muslims demanding their community tone down it’s virulent dangerous anti-Jewish rhetoric? This paper will call anti-Jewish hate speech “criticizing Israel” and defend it, as they did a few months ago with professor Steve Salaita. Far less hateful rhetoric towards illegal immigrants, blacks, gays, and Muslims is quickly labeled hateful by this same paper. This paper still refers to the 3 days of racist mob violence against Jews in Crown Heights as “blacks and Jews fought”. This is dishonest, offensive, and extremely racist. This crime would have been quickly condemned by this same paper and framed very differently if it was a Jewish on Muslim or Jewish on black crime. Please leftists, own up to your own hatred, and the anti-Jewish hatred you condone, instead of always pointing the finger at the GOP.

* Medieval words causing the deaths of Jews seem like a baby’s lullaby’s compared to the vitriol being spewed today in the Arab and Muslim nations and a few European Nations daily in their children’s cartoons, National Charters, Mosques, newscasts and newspapers and classrooms and social media.

* Please read the history of the Jewish response to Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic “Dearborn Independent.” Prominent Jews organized, protested and pressured Ford in whatever ways they could, including suing the newspaper for libel. See http://www.americanbarfoundation.org/research/project/19. What Jews did NOT do was ever call for the arrest of Ford for making “hate speech” — which as everyone should know — would have violated the First Amendment. Jews came to America precisely for the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Weakening that Constitution via “hate speech” crackdowns — such as those occurring at public universities — will damage the very aspect of America that welcomed Jews and other immigrants in the first place.

* Alternatively, I wonder if harsh scripture leads to violent acts? If so, doesn’t it make sense for moderate followers of the Abrahamic religions to purge the passages advocating murder, genocide and slavery from their texts?

* I just discovered the irony in the front page of the NYT: The family greeted by Canadian PM Trudeau i in “Syrian Refugees Greeted by Justin Trudeau in Canada” is Armenian and therefore Christian.
A point about the Crusades: No doubt they were a tough crowd and killed people but the were caused by Muslim conquest of Christian lands, murder and enslavement of Christians, and closing the Holy Land to Christian pilgrimage by Muslims.
The PC culture has portrayed the Crusades as attempts to rob Muslims of what was theirs. But it was not so.
Only the 4th Crusade engaged in armed robbery but that was against the Greeks of Constantinople.

* From the perspective of the NYTimes, everything about the recent terrorism events including the hate speech about Muslims that has surfaced from Donald Trump is really about the Jews. This essay by Sara Lipton, spends the first paragraph complaining about incitement against Muslims, and then the remainder of the article about how the historical pogroms, oppression and genocide of the Jews were incited by the “harsh words” of Christian theologians. It funny to me that these same victims of Christian hate speech, the Jews, can’t be self-critical enough to see that they are doing the same stuff to the people of Palestine.

Yes words matter and do lead to violent acts including violent acts by Jewish terrorists. The great slight of hand in the Jews’ self-righteous mythic narrative is the notion that Zionism and Judaism are still somehow mutually exclusive. The trick covers the the hateful orthodox Jew settlers who apply racist, anti-Arab graffiti and burn churches, mosques, and homes (and babies) in Palestine, and rabbis who incite atrocious violence, yet preserves a sheen of religious respectability for the Zionist project.

* There’s just one little problem wtih Dr. Lipton’s argument. The entire Western world, and in fact much of the Muslim world, too, has been experiencing violent attacks by Muslims in the name of Islam for several decades now. Islamist ideology seeks to violently subjugate the entire world to the rule of Islam. Thousands of people in the US alone have died at the hands of Islamist fighters.

At no time in the history of the Jewish diaspora have Jews ever posed a threat to the communities in which they lived. They lived quiet unobtrusive lives, only asking to be left to live their lives in peace.

Militant, jihadist Islam poses a real and immediate threat to us all. Judaism never posed a threat to anyone. There is absolutely NO comparison.

* Sarah Lipton is making the same mistake the French Jews made in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Confronted by anti-Muslim prejudice, they saw in it something paralleling anti-Semitism of the Christian European past. Fearing this, they funded anti-racist groups like SOS Racisme which fought off any efforts to control immigration from Algeria. The result was a huge surge in Muslim residents of France, and recently an epidemic of Muslim attacks, torture, and killing against French Jews, who are now fleeing to Israel. It turns out there was a basis for those prejudices, and Christians were not the main threat to French Jews.

* Lipton ignores that correlation is not causation. She can no more demonstrate that anti-Jewish rhetoric and iconography caused anti-Jewish violence than modern advertising agencies can prove their ads make people buy things.

* Well, the Jews had their run as God’s Chosen People. Now it’s someone else’s turn. That old pendulum just keeps a’swinging.

Who’s up next? Kushites? Sumerians? Those *other* Canaanites?

You know, even in Martin Luther’s time, there were some folks w/ common sense. In one village,there was an extremely ill-behaved child, who Luther believed to be a changeling (wicked creature identical to kid swapped out by fairies). Luther recommended the kid be drowned, but apparently the mayor to whom he made that recommendation had more sense or compassion than him, so Luther had to settle for praying for the kid to die. Hallelujah. That’s from “Table Talk with Martin Luther.” That kid probably had Tourette syndrome or autism or something.

Now the Catholic Church is becoming less embarrassed to talk about exorcisms. (Luther was after all, a Catholic priest). Apparently since it’s been a whopping 157 years since the Vatican kidnapped young Edgardo Mortara to live w/ the Pope since he was a Jew baptized by his nanny, it’s time for the Church to start getting weird again. Or did they ever stop? You know that’d never happen if Fran Drescher was your nanny. But what’s worse… those funny hats they wear at the Vatican, or her voice?

And don’t get me started on those Muslims… Can we talk?

I once interviewed a Midwest rabbi for a report I did in school about 25 yrs ago (I’m not a Jew). He told me that some of what Meir Kahane said was true.

Whose words are scarier, theirs or mine?

* If one really wants to look for hate speech, you might look at contemporary Islamic societies. The father of the San Bernadino shooter admitted he hates Jews and his son felt the same way. We need to stop pretending that there is no issue with hate among Muslims or it is impossible to take articles like this one seriously.

* What an idiotic comparison. If living in Europe was so relentlessly miserable, why didn’t Jews leave? It’s not like there weren’t political entities that were tolerant. Jewish academicians love eulogizing Muslim Spain and their treatment of Jews. What about the Jewish-run Khazar Khanate?

These examples are getting tedious. Can academicians come up with any examples of historic wrongs against anyone other than the Jews?

* 60+ years of North Korean rhetoric has produced nothing. What’s your point?

* Sorry, this is an attempt to use genuine historical scholarship to grind a left wing political axe – despite throwing out a few words to include radical cop-killers. While Trump and other anti-immigrant agitators are reprehensible, and while there has been considerable violence committed by right wing extremists, the truth is there has been very little anti-Muslim violence in America. Yet, there was significant political violence committed by the Left in our recent history and I have never seen articles like this in the Times in context of the Unabomber, Weather Underground or the Black Liberation Army. Was not the Left’s penchant for calling the Johnson Administration “baby killers” during the Vietnam War ALSO an example of hate speech justifying the killing of innocents by radicalized middle and upper class students at the time? Is not today’s demonization of Israeli Jews as “Zionist murderers” — not just in the Arab world, but across Western academic circles — just as much a justification of violence as well?

* Yes, Europe’s relationship with Jews left much to be desired. But we should also remember that it wasn’t simply religion that drove the persecution. For instance, during Richard I’s reign in England, various pogroms resulted in a good number of Jewish deaths. But the factor driving it was aristocrats seeking to avoid paying back Jewish money lenders that which they had borrowed. Kind hearted Richard the Lionhearted stopped the persecution, then declared the Crown the heirs of those murdered, so destituting those whose family members had just been butchered.

The point being that there are other factors than hate speech involved.

Speaking of which, reading that which was being said about Jews back then was far more virulent and violence inducing than anything currently being said about Muslims. As much as many obsess about Islamophobia, total instances of such last year totaled something like 150 out of a total of more than 1 million violent crimes – worrisome but hardly epidemic.

Which leads to the next point. Jews in the Middle Ages were not scheming to kill Christians but the rhetoric leading up to many of the worst instances of persecution alleged they were. But some of those who identify as Muslims do indeed intend on killing us, and the behaviors of many of their co-religionists overseas, resulting in ethnic cleansing of religious minorities, indicate a good amount of hatred towards the West. Being paranoid does not mean they’re not out to get you.

* I have a far simpler explanation for what happened to Jews. They were vastly outnumbered by Christians who were jealous of their success. So the Christians decided to rob and kill them.

* What about hateful words directed toward Christians? I hear far, far more of those, from liberals, than toward Muslims. My guess is, the reason is, Muslims retaliate and Christians do not. Liberals: Try communicating with Muslims the same ways you communicate with Christians. Now, that would be real courage. Not too different from playground bullies.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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