Medieval art historian Asa Mittman has a new piece in The Conversation on the survival of the Blood Libel myth. He talks about the medieval origins and dissemination of the myth that Jews ritually murder Christian children and use their blood to make their Matzoh (note: they/we don’t. They/we never did).
He called it a “zombie lie,” unkillable, rising again and again no matter what we do. He discusses a Facebook group dedicated to the Blood Libel, then broadens out to engage with antisemitic myths more broadly. At the end, he writes:
The blood libel is still told and retold, and The Protocols are still read as if they contained truth. We live in a moment when anti-Semitism seems ascendant to many, or is perhaps being revealed after a period when it was largely underground, filling up the anonymous comment threads of the Internet. Now, we see protests in the streets of Europe, and a resurgence of long-dead chants.
Protesters in Belgium and France have revived “Death to the Jews!” while Germans have resurrected “Gas the Jews!” In London, pro-Palestinian protesters have shouted “Heil Hitler.” Rioters have thrown rocks through windows of Jewish-owned businesses, and even burned some down. Newsweek devoted a cover story to the potential exodus of European Jews, some of whom are so concerned with rising anti-Semitism that they are considering leaving their home countries.
Most fictional monsters have bodies. This is how heroes can kill them. But zombie ideas like these are more resilient than their fleshy namesakes – and more dangerous.
Like Asa, I’m a medievalist, and I’m interested in myths. Myths emerge and re-emerge when they serve a function, and it’s been troubling to see the medieval western myth of the Blood Libel take root in contemporary anti-Jewish discourse, especially among Palestinian voices.
It is vital to reject the Blood Libel and similar myths, to condemn without hesitation or contingency, and not to try to explain them away in the face of Israeli aggression. There is no place in the modern world for the Blood Libel myth.
As a historian, I want to understand. I want to worm my way into a culture and see how even the darkest ideas emerge, and to do that well, you have to try to get inside. But such a pathway has dangers, because explanations can easily turn into justifications, and some things are simply not justifiable.