The Murder of William of Norwich: The Origins of the Blood Libel in Medieval Europe

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Oxford University Press, 2015 - History - 394 pages
In 1144, the mutilated body of William of Norwich, a young apprentice leatherworker, was found abandoned outside the city's walls. The boy bore disturbing signs of torture, and a story spread that it was a ritual murder, performed by Jews in imitation of the Crucifixion as a mockery of
Christianity. The outline of William's tale eventually gained currency far beyond Norwich, and the idea that Jews engaged in ritual murder became firmly rooted in the European imagination.

E.M. Rose's engaging book delves into the story of William's murder and the notorious trial that followed to uncover the origin of the ritual murder accusation - known as the blood libel - in western Europe in the Middle Ages. Focusing on the specific historical context - 12th-century
ecclesiastical politics, the position of Jews in England, the Second Crusade, and the cult of saints - and suspensefully unraveling the facts of the case, Rose makes a powerful argument for why the Norwich Jews (and particularly one Jewish banker) were accused of killing the youth, and how the
malevolent blood libel accusation managed to take hold. She also considers four copycat cases, in which Jews were similarly blamed for the death of young Christians, and traces the adaptations of the story over time.

In the centuries after its appearance, the ritual murder accusation provoked instances of torture, death and expulsion of thousands of Jews and the extermination of hundreds of communities. Although no charge of ritual murder has withstood historical scrutiny, the concept of the blood libel is so
emotionally charged and deeply rooted in cultural memory that it endures even today. Rose's groundbreaking work, driven by fascinating characters, a gripping narrative, and impressive scholarship, provides clear answers as to why the blood libel emerged when it did and how it was able to gain such
widespread acceptance, laying the foundations for enduring antisemitic myths that continue to present.

 

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User Review  - antiquary - LibraryThing

This book is a full examination of what the author maintains is the first historical example of the 'blood libel" --the claim that Jews as a community would ritually kill a Christian youth, usually ... Read full review

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User Review  - Veronica.Sparrow - LibraryThing

In 1144 the body of young William of Norwich was found. He had been tortured and then murdered by a person or persons unknown but for a variety of reasons blame was unfairly placed on the entire ... Read full review

Contents

I The Monk the Knight the Bishop and the Banker
1
II The Earl the Count the Abbot and the King
127
Acknowledgments
239
Notes
245
Bibliography
343
Photo Credits
381
Index
383
Copyright

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About the author (2015)


E.M. Rose is a historian who has taught at Johns Hopkins University, Villanova University, Princeton University, Rutgers University, and Baruch/CUNY.

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