The Myth of Ritual Murder

Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany

R. Po-chia Hsia

View Inside Price: $29.00


September 10, 1990
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
15 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300047462
Paper

Also available in:
Cloth



From the mid-fifteenth century to the early seventeenth, German Jews were persecuted and tried for the alleged ritual murders of Christian children, whose blood purportedly played a crucial part in Jewish magical rites.  In this engrossing book R. Po-Chia Hsia traces the rise and decline of ritual murder trials during that period.  Using sources ranging from Christian and Kabbalistic treatises to judicial records and popular pamphlets, Hsia examines the religious sources of the idea of child sacrifice and blood symbolism and reconstructs the political context of ritual murder trials against the Jews.

“This volume combines clarity of thinking, elegance of style, and exemplary scholarly attention to detail with intellectual sobriety and human compassion.”—Jerome Friedman, Sixteenth Century Journal

“Hsia has… succeeded in turning established knowledge to illuminatingly new purposes.”—G.R. Elton, New York Review of Books

“This meticulously researched and unusually perceptive book is social and intellectual history at its best.”—Library Journal

“A fresh perspective on an old problem by a major new talent.”—Steven Ozment, Harvard University

R. Po-chia Hsia, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is also the author of Society and Religion in Münster, 1535-1618

"This is simply a marvellous book. . . . [Hsia] raises numerous fascinating questions about the religious, cultural, social, and political history of the period. The range of materials the book draws on . . . provides for a richly textured account of the phenomenon from a variety of social and cultural perspectives. Hsia’s judicious use of discourse theory helps open out for the reader the complex intersections between the political and economic worlds of city, territory, and empire, the cultural worlds of religious piety. Reformation, and print, and the social words of children, infanticide, and the increasing professionalism of the legal system. . . . The book bristles with brilliant insights into the cultural history of Reformation Germany. It offers much on the relationship of magic and religion, host desecration and host devotion, the use of murdered children as living relics, the role of print in standardizing legends and providing icons, on Luther as exorcist and disenchanter of the late medieval world. The documentation of ’sacrifice’ in all its varied aspects as critical to the experience and practice of late medieval central Europe will certainly have broad ramifications for the cultural and religious history of the period. . . . Hsia’s exciting analyses and methodologically self-conscious argument raises many . . . questions in a far more compelling and interesting than any book has done for many years."—Charles Zika, German History







"A fresh perspective on an old problem by a major new talent."—Steven Ozment, Harvard University



"A history of ritual murder trials of Jews in Germany between the mid-15th and the early 17th century. Hsia examines the religious sources of the idea of child sacrifice and blood symbolism, the political context of ritual murder trials, and the reasons for the gradual suppression of these trials. He says that legends of ritual murder coalesced with stories of Host desecration to create a powerful myth of Jewish magic."—Jewish Book World




"Now this gifted scholar and researcher has focused his critical eye on one of the most sordid chapters in Christianity, the blood libel, or as it is known in Hebrew, ’alilat dam.’ In this book, Po-chia Hsia gives the subject the most comprehensive and cogent analysis ever accorded this theme."—Arnold Ages, Exponent Extra

"Hatred of the Jews took many forms in medieval Europe, some of them exceptionally murderous. . . . All these things have been discussed at length before this, in several languages, as Dr. Hsia’s footnotes also testify. He has, however, succeeded in turning established knowledge to illuminatingly new purposes in his book under review. . . . Dr. Hsia tells [the] story well, basing himself on the record, which he analyzes with care and expounds with lucidity. He commendably avoids the jargon-ridden absurdities that nowadays lie in wait for anyone engaged in discussing what tend to be called ’cultural’ issues."—G.R. Elton, New York Review Books

"This meticulously researched and unusually perceptive book is social and intellectual history at its best. . . . It reveals not only fresh insights about the dynamics of the ritual murder charge, but also the social strains and cultural workings of pre-Reformation Germany."—Library Journal



"A sophisticated study of the social and religious meanings of the accusation that Jews ritually killed innocent Christians. . . . Highly stimulating."—Choice

"How does one evaluate an excellent book about a simply awful subject? Professor Hsia’s volume is a first class treatment of the blood libel, the medieval Christian belief that Jews required Christian blood for the performance of their religious rituals and to that end practiced the ritual murder of innocent Christian children. . . . The scholarly world owes a great deal to Professor Hsia for his volume combines clarity of thinking, elegance of style and exemplary scholarly attention to detail with intellectual sobriety and human compassion."—Jerome Friedman, Sixteenth Century Journal

"In his largely successful attempt to understand the way German Christians constructed reality in consonance with the myth of the demonic Jew, he has given the reader an important insight into the religious and social reality of late Medieval and early Modern Europe."—Ira Robinson, The B’nai Brith Covenant

"In this well researched addition to the considerable literature already existing on the subject of blood libels, the author, an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, traces the development of ritual murder trials as they affected the; Jew in medieval Germany and their subsequent decline after the Reformation."—Jewish Book News and Reviews

"A new innovative approach. . . . a comprehensive, scholarly, in-depth analysis of the sociological, psychological, anthropological, juridical and theological aspects of the blood libel."—Aharon Lapid, Jerusalem Post Magazine

"A sophisticated study of the social and religious meanings of the accusation that Jews ritually killed innocent Christians. . . . [A] dazzling intellectual achievement which will continue to benefit medievalists, Judaica specialists, students of Renaissance Humanism, Christian Hebraism, and the Reformation for years to come."—Choice

"This meticulously researched and unusually perceptive book is social and intellectual history at its best."—Library Journal

"This fascinating book—a model of thorough scholarship and judicious argument—will be a must on the reading list of those interested in Reformation studies, Jewish studies, the history of religion, and the history of popular culture."—David Sabean, Cornell University

"With a breathtaking proximity to the sources—from rural folk songs to erudite treatises and long forgotten mystery plays—Ronnie Hsia penetrates the violent passions of late medieval Christian society in response to the persistent presence of the Jews. Before the witch craze took over, German society on the eve of the Reformation expressed its deep-seated anxiety in transforming the ’Stubborn Jews’ into magicians ad masters of the diabolic arts. The myth of ritual murder is presented and interpreted with the best of modern scholarly tools to unravel and reveal the effort to rationalize and control passions which the Enlightenment erroneously claimed to be forever part of the past."—Prof. Dr. Heiko A. Oberman, University of Arizona