Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Blood Libel Tales

I'm teaching the Prioress's Tale in Chaucer today, because, you know, I needed something to make my week even cheerier than it has been so far.

The Prioress's tale is the one about the evil Jews who snatch up the sweet little Christian boy who is doing nothing but singing hymns to the glory of Jesus -- well, Mary, but same difference, in Chaucer's day -- snatch up this sweet little boy, just seven years old and innocent as the driven snow, cut his throat to the "nekke boon" and cast him into a privy, there where they void their entrails. Wicked, wicked Jews!

All because they can't stand to hear God's true name praised!

Oh, well, yes, there was the bit in the hymn about how evil Jews were, and how they ought to blush red for the nasty sins they commit -- but hey. As my Born-Again Christian student pointed out, back a few semesters, if Jews did the crime, they ought to start doing the time. Shouldn't have betrayed the Savior if we didn't want to pay for it for all Eternity, right?

In any case, the Jews in the Ghetto get theirs, first tortured and then pulled to bits by wild horses, it does the Prioress's heart good to hear such a tale of justice, and Chaucer reminds us at the end about Hugh of Lincoln, right here in England, same tale, same result.

Hugh of Lincoln was a contemporary blood libel myth -- contemporary to Chaucer, I mean -- you can find data here


but basically, what happened was a boy was found murdered and the local officals hung it on the Jews, and held a tidy little pogrom, cause the English, they were so very tidy -- not like over in Europe, where, when the same thing happened,


the pogroms were much less tidy and much more vicious.

Chaucer would have known about those too. Given that the Black Death had just occurred, and that Western Europe had a rash of pogroms during the Black Death, he surely would have.

My Riverside Chaucer tries to read the Prioress's Tale as a simple miracle tale, straight up, and uneasily. It's hard for me not to read Chaucer as speaking with deep irony here: the child who is killed sings in a language he does not understand, and is killed for it; the Prioress, who is a stupid, ignorant woman, speaks from her ignorance, preaching a racist tale whose result she clearly does not comprehend -- she thinks she is preaching love. Can she not comprehend that the result will be death and hate? Does she truly think that "Evil shall have what evil will deserve" is Christ's message?

I say that, and I think of what I am reading on the Christian conservative blogs.

They do think that is their God's message. Death and hate is what they preach. Pogroms are what they want (cf this Iraqi war).

Have we learned anything since the 14th century?

Is it not the message of the Conservative movement that there is nothing to learn?

And here: look at this: also from the Wikipedia site.
(And you'll remember this: http://delagar.blogspot.com/2005/06/ai.html)

Contemporary blood libel myths in the West:

The use of blood libel has been adopted by certain groups to promote their agendas, particularly on the far right of the political spectrum. In the United States, this is especially noticeable in the most extreme fringes of the anti-abortion movement, which has produced a litany of charges against doctors performing the procedure.
One claim stated that physicians in
China who perform abortions consider the fetus a delicacy and eat it. The story, reported from Hong Kong by Bruce Gilley, was investigated by Senator Jesse Helms, and gruesome artwork reminiscent of traditional depictions of blood libel was featured in several anti-abortion campaigns.[4]
The only use for human fetal tissue is in the medical research field, particularly stem cell research. [5] [6]

I remember sitting with a student, six or seven years ago in Idaho, who had written an anti-abortion paper, and having that student swear to me that the cosmetic industry used ground up human fetal tissue in the making of shampoo and face cream: that this was why "the government" would not overturn Roe v. Wade. Because it was too profitable. Nor could anything I said convince him otherwise. His preacher had told him so.

The beat goes on.


Ol Cranky said...

actually it was placenta in shampoo and nothing to do with abortion - but then why introduce any actual facts into an argument, right?

I original read the CAnterbury Tales in 5th grade - we were not couched about the overt antisemitism in the Prioress's Tale and I paid a bit of a price for it (though older sister of the kid who taunted me the most was the goalie on my soccer team & beat him up over it and we eventually became friendly).

My freshman year of college (in the bible belt) it was read again in my Medieval History class - this time in context. The BOC's in the class seemed to understand, but back then the heart of the movement was still about being Christian, not be Fristian.

academic coach said...

The only thing that's keeping me sane right now with regard to christianity is Anne Lamott's new blog.

delagar said...

Anne Lamott has a blog? Gimmee a link, dude!

Anonymous said...

There's nothing in the Alma Redemptoris about Jews, much less them blushing--that's in the Gaude Maria, which is the responsorio the child sings in several of the analogues.