Gentile Tales

The Narrative Assault on Late-Medieval Jews

Miri Rubin

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This powerful book tells of the creation and growth of one of the principal anti-Jewish stories of the Middle Ages and the violence that it bred. Beginning in Paris in the year 1290, Jews were accused of abusing Christ by desecrating the Eucharist—the manifestation of Christ’s body in the communion service. Over the next two centuries this became an authoritative, awe-inspiring tale that spread throughout Europe and led to violent anti-semitic activity in areas from Catalonia to Bohemia—particularly in some German regions, where at times it produced region-wide massacres and “cleansings.”

Drawing on sources ranging from religious tales to Jews’ confessions made under torture to religious poems, Miri Rubin explores the frightening power of this narrative. She looks not just at the occasions on which massacres occurred but also at those times when the story failed to set off violence. She also investigates the ways in which these tales were commemorated in rituals, altarpieces, and legends and thus became enshrined in local traditions. In exploring the character, nature, development, and eventual decay of this fantasy of host desecration, Rubin presents a vivid picture of the mental world of late medieval Europe and of the culture of anti-semitism.

Miri Rubin is a reader in medieval history at Oxford University and a fellow of Pembroke College.

"Richly illustrated with images from medieval manuscripts, this book makes a welcome addition to the literature on public thought in medieval society and the history of Christianity and anti-Semitism."—Library Journal



"This is a courageous book, with implications far beyond medieval history, and it is also admirably produced. . . . There are excellent illustrations, and they are placed wherever possible alongside the portion of Rubin’s text explaining them. . . . Rubin has produced a humane and important book."—Michael Clanchy, Times Literary Supplement

“[An] absorbing and deeply disturbing book.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

“Here is a fascinating account of the appearance and growth, at the end of the 13th century, of a series of accusations about desecrations of the eucharistic host by Jews. . . . Rubin lifts the curtain on some fearful sequences; her work . . . is as instructive about the nature of humanity itself as it is about any particular nastiness in late-medieval culture.”—Edward Norman, Church Times

“This is a beautifully produced book with many fine plates in colour. It covers an enormous geographical and linguistic range and Dr. Rubin is to be commended for her attempt to bring it together into a cohesive argument.”—Anna Sapir Abulafia, History Today


“This remarkable book explores the genesis and evolution of the powerfully destructive anti-Jewish tale of host desecration. Drawing upon diverse sources—including religious stories, chronicles, Jewish confessions obtained under torture, religious poetry, and visual testimony—Rubin portrays the growth, metastasis, and ultimate decay of this Christian fantasy about Jews. . . . Rubin has given us an invaluable contribution to the thought world of the late medieval Europe and the nature of antisemitism that should serve as a model of the historian’s craft and will be most rewarding to a very wide audience of readers.”—Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review

“This remarkable book explores the genesis and evolution of the powerfully destructive anti-Jewish tale of host desecration. . . . Rubin has given us an invaluable contribution to the thought world of late medieval Europe and the nature of antisemitism that should serve as a model of the historian’s craft and that will be most rewarding to a very wide audience of readers.”—Stephen D. Benin, Religious Studies Review


“[A] haunting, provocative, beautiful book. (Yale is to be commended for the thick glossy paper and the striking color plates.) The prose is, at times, lyrical and poetic. The story is, always, disturbing. . . . Gentile Tales ought not be relegated to medievalists’ shelves. It belongs in the library of every Christian (and, for that matter, every Jew) who is concerned about Christian and Jews, and what the former have done to the latter in the name of the God we share.”—Lauren Winner, Books & Culture

“Rubin traces and analyzes the evolution of this powerful narrative, both as story and history, as something told as well as played out. Her argument is engagingly written and well researched; the book itself handsomely produced and generously illustrated. . . . Gentile Tales will remain a standard work on the narrative of Jewish host abuse for years to come, and scholars from all branches of the humanities will greatly benefit from its interdisciplinary approach.”—Achim Timmermann, Studies in Iconography

Co-winner in the scholarship category for the 50th Annual National Jewish Book Awards sponsored by the Jewish Book Council
ISBN: 9780300076127
Publication Date: June 10, 1999
280 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
18 b/w + 12 color illus.
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