A landmark history of the antisemitic blood libel myth—how it took root in Europe, spread with the invention of the printing press, and persists today.
Accusations that Jews ritually killed Christian children emerged in the mid-twelfth century, following the death of twelve-year-old William of Norwich, England, in 1144. Later, continental Europeans added a destructive twist: Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood. While charges that Jews poisoned wells and desecrated the communion host waned over the years, the blood libel survived.
Initially blood libel stories were confined to monastic chronicles and local lore. But the development of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century expanded the audience and crystallized the vocabulary, images, and “facts” of the blood libel, providing a lasting template for hate. Tales of Jews killing Christians—notably Simon of Trent, a toddler whose body was found under a Jewish house in 1475—were widely disseminated using the new technology. Following the paper trail across Europe, from England to Italy to Poland, Magda Teter shows how the blood libel was internalized and how Jews and Christians dealt with the repercussions.
The pattern established in early modern Europe still plays out today. In 2014 the Anti-Defamation League appealed to Facebook to take down a page titled “Jewish Ritual Murder.” The following year white supremacists gathered in England to honor Little Hugh of Lincoln as a sacrificial victim of the Jews. Based on sources in eight countries and ten languages, Blood Libel captures the long shadow of a pernicious myth.
[A] magnum opus…Suggest[s] that in any era truth sits on a precarious perch, and that a slight shift in political or social winds can send reason and fact toppling into a conspiratorial void…A tour de force of historical research, reconstruction, and analysis that casts new light on well-known stories and unearths episodes almost entirely forgotten…Offer[s] both hope and a warning. Hatred, either of neighbors or strangers, is not inevitable.
Terrifying and learned…Her book can be read more broadly as an allegory for our age, a story about how technological change, religious beliefs, struggles for power, and a politics of demonization can produce memes capable of transmitting the potential for violence across vast amounts of time and space…Teter’s book assumes a well-deserved place in this illustrious tradition of forensic history on the blood libel, and we should all be grateful for it, since the task remains vitally necessary.
[A] magisterial account of the blood libel and its origins.
Reads like a high-end crime novel; it’s a page-turner that the reader will have difficulty putting down…The conceit of the book is that how and why the libelous stories of ritual murder were spread across Europe, using new broadcast technologies, were as significant—perhaps more so—than the blood libel incidents themselves.
Draws on archives in eight countries, including Vatican City, in a detailed analysis of the establishment of this monstrous myth in medieval and early modern Europe…Blood Libel presents a cogent account of this persistence of hate…An informative account of the different ways in which European countries handled blood libel accusations against Jews…A timely reminder that ‘leadership matters, as do words and official statements.’
Although there is a great deal of research on the history of the blood libel, much of it recent, Magda Teter’s book is one of the rare works to focus extensively on the early modern period (1450–1790s). She does so with impressive erudition…The product is a dazzling intellectual history, a foray into hundreds of well-known and little-known sources that, examined together, provide a comprehensive picture of the creation, dissemination, and reception of this stubbornly persistent antisemitic myth…A monumental work of scholarship likely to stand for a long time as the definitive study of this scurrilous anti-Jewish myth.
Begins and ends on a warning note, with an attentiveness to modern-day incidents. With its wealth of archival material, Blood Libel will engage readers who are interested not only in the history of antisemitism but also in the historical and cultural contexts with which it intersects.
Unique…A detective-like reconstruction of blood libel accusations…[These are] extraordinary stories Teter reconstructs. We have in them a unique, unprecedented, and expansive window into a scourge, which, as even the briefest online glance reveals, is sadly still alive.
A well-written, masterful examination of one of the most deleterious examples of ‘fake news’…Teter is fully conversant with canon and civil law, iconography, church-state relations, and social history—all requisite in exploring the regional similarities and differences between Christian attitudes regarding, and Jewish responses to, the blood libel charge.
An intellectual tour de force. This authoritative study of the blood libel and its ramifications in early modern Europe will become a classic.
A work of wide-ranging research, great insight, and remarkable erudition. This will be the definitive book on blood libel for a long time to come, equally important for readers of Jewish history and Christian history in early modern Europe.
In this deeply researched and meticulously argued book, Magda Teter offers the first comprehensive study of the origins and afterlife of one of the most virulent and harmful of all anti-Jewish accusations. But Blood Libel is far more than a narrative history. By highlighting the central role of printed books, broadsheets, and images in the dissemination of the libel, Teter illuminates the mechanisms by which hate can be generated, and offers a powerful and sobering lesson for our own time.
- 2020, Winner of the George L. Mosse Prize
- 2021, Winner of the National Jewish Book Awards
- 2021, Winner of the George L. Mosse Prize
- 560 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.