It is largely for his attack upon the Talmud that Peter the Venerable’s Adversus Iudeorum inveteratam duritiem stands out. Peter is the first medieval Latin author to name the Talmud as such. Having identified the Talmud as a principal source of Jewish error, Peter condemns its influence upon Jews. In their Talmud, Peter the Venerable insists, Jews even declare that God condemns Christians to Hell ‘because they do not believe in the Talmud.’ Peter views the Talmud not only as a source of error for Jews, however, but also for Muslims. Mohammad wove the Qur’an in part, Peter insists, out the ‘filthy cloth’ of the Jews’ Talmud. Since he claims that Satan is the ultimate source for talmudic ‘lies’, he attributes both the Talmud and the Qur’an to diabolical agency. This paper examines Peter’s view of the Talmud, then, and its deleterious influence upon both Jews and Muslims.
My current work traces the intellectual history of servitus iudaeorum, the enslavement imposed upon the Jews as punishment for the crucifixion. This idea develops in medieval Christian theology and ecclesiastical law to mark Jewish alterity as an ontological, hereditary inferiority that I argue contributes to the pre-history of race. Formulated initially through a range of biblical figures connoting servitude, notably Cain, Ham, and Ishmael/Hagar, this trope moves from Biblical exegesis into canon law where it is redeployed to mark off and subordinate other enemies of the faith through the imaginative reapplication of these types to include Islam (Ishmael) and Africans (Ham). My contribution to this session would be:
1) to argue that the servitus iudaeorum offers a medieval Christian category/term for understanding Jewish difference;
2) to explain that since difference in and of itself can be neutral, we need to understand the negative element of ‘alterity’, something that the servitus iudaeorum brings into sharp focus in constructing inherent inferiority as a category of degraded difference;
3) and to demonstrate that this status, reformulated in canon law as perpetual servitude, generated new imaginaries that shaped not only the understanding of Jewish inferior difference, but also that of Muslims and Africans in subsequent centuries.
England, like other regions in the medieval west, gave rise to implicit and explicit myths about an essential relationship of Jews to capitalism as a materialist practice. Such fantasies have roots in Pauline hermeneutics and its stigmatization of Jews as inherently carnal, fleshly, material, and literal. Paul’s interpretive method proved so influential that Christianity emerged as a religion whose very coherence hinged on its supposed supersession of a materialism that it stigmatized as Jewish. The Hereford mappa mundi evinces the long life of that stereotype in its depiction in of contemporary Jews worshipping an idol that excretes money. But as Marx insinuated in his complex screed ‘On the Jewish Question’, the official version of Christianity – like the 19th-century political state – is ‘unreal, imaginary’ insofar as its mystical elements have no existence in an ineluctably material world. Any claim about Christian spirituality- like notions of political community – is, Marx asserts, mere sophistry, the ‘political lion’s skin’ that covers over profane, material practices that in reality dominate life and are the practical basis of both Christianity and the political state. Notoriously -perhaps facetiously – Marx equates the actual nature of Christianity with Judaism, confronting Christian readers with the idea that the Jewishness they have long demonized as grasping, selfish, and carnal is in actuality their own nature. David Nirenberg has reframed this insight in a non-Marxist and more religious register when he writes that Pauline supersession ‘would have the effect of stigmatizing and “Judaizing” vast areas of human life – letter, law, flesh – that are difficult to transcend in this world’.
My presentation aims to complicate our critical understanding on the ‘economic’ Jew on several registers. On a historical level, I want to stress the contingency of the historical participation of Jews in commerce (that is, the fact that whatever role Jews have played in capitalism over time has arisen from a host of changing and various contingencies). Moreover, I will suggest how, at least in the case of England, a closer look at medieval and renaissance texts reveals a relationship far more complicated than a projection of debased Christian materialisms onto the Jewish ‘other’. For example, the earliest English anti-Semitic texts (such as Thomas of Monmouth’s pseudo-hagiography) acknowledge Christians’ role in the economy. Moreover, such texts reveal how such materialisms aren’t so much rejected as outworn and base but rather prove appealing due to their association with the new, the vital, and even the beautiful. My talk will end by pondering how rethinking the ‘economic Jew’ offers fresh ways of approaching recent work on new materialisms and object-oriented ontologies.