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August 6th, 2014
08:59 AM ET

Blood libel: the myth that fuels anti-Semitism

By Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN

(CNN) – Last week a video of Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan emerged in which he claimed that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make matzo for Passover.

The translation of Hamdan’s interview with the Lebanese television station Al-Quds on July 28 reports him as saying:

We all remember how the Jews used to slaughter Christians, in order to mix their blood in their holy matzos. This is not a figment of imagination or something taken from a film. It is a fact, acknowledged by their own books and by historical evidence. It happened everywhere, here and there.

When confronted about his statements by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday, Hamdan did not retract his claim or distance himself from the blood libel slur. His only defense was that he “has Jewish friends.”

Whatever “historical evidence” or “facts” Hamdan believes himself to be remembering, this is nothing more than the infamous blood libel: the most persistent and longest-lived anti-Semitic myth in history, aside from the claim that the Jews killed Jesus.

The blood libel originated in medieval England with the death of William of Norwich. William was a 12-year-old tanner’s apprentice who was killed in 1144. At the time of his death, his parents accused the local Jewish community of responsibility, but investigations revealed nothing.

Six years later Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk, decided to investigate and sensationalize the murder.

Drawing purely on anti-Semitic hearsay and sensationalism, he wrote a martyrdom account, "The Life and Miracles of William of Norwich," in which he said local Jews, acting as part of an international conspiracy, crucified the young boy as part of a ritual to reclaim control of the Holy Land.

Monmouth’s work was used to garner financial support from pilgrimages to the boy’s grave and laid the foundations for the blood libel.

Similar stories crop up throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, often accompanied by episodes of violence and retaliation toward Jews. Stories of mob lynchings and illegal trials abound, especially during the Crusades, when these stories were used to justify pogroms.

In the case of the disappearance of 2-year-old Simon of Trent in March 1475, the entire Jewish community was arrested and 15 men burned at the stake after being forced to confess under torture. Until 1965, Simon of Trent was regarded as a saint in the Catholic Church.

Throughout history the specifics of the blood libel varied and expanded. It primarily involved the baking of Christian blood in Passover matzo, but early accounts also occasionally described the crucifixion of children, the poisoning of wells, and the use of Christian blood to heal cuts from circumcision.

It should go without saying that these lurid stories in all their manifestations are patently untrue.

But these accusations of ritualistic murder and cannibalism are found not only in anti-Semitic propaganda. Early Christians faced their fair share of slander, too.

The Christian writer Minucius Felix records one rumor, which spread widely in the second and third centuries, that early Christians would ritually kill and consume infants as part of their initiation rites.

These accusations are effective because they strike at the heart of society’s fears about outsiders. They involve the most vulnerable (children), the destruction of public resources (wells), or the presence of secret organizations in society's midst.

Accusing those who are religiously different of attempting to undermine society by engaging in the ultimate taboo of cannibalism provides a justification for dislike of and violence toward small nonconformist groups.

But the shadows of history are long, and the longevity of this particular slander is impressive.

As recently as 1928, Jews in Massena, New York, were victims of blood libel. And in 2005, 20 members of the Russian Duma attempted to ban all Jewish organizations on the grounds that Jewish groups were anti-Christian and practiced ritual murder.

References to the Nazis are irresponsibly bandied about in modern discourse, but in the case of blood libel these myths helped sow the seeds of the Holocaust.

In his interview Hamdan linked blood libel to current events in Israel.

He said, “The Israelis concentrate on killing children. … This is engraved in the historical Zionist and Jewish mentality, which has become addicted to the killing of women and children.”

Blood libel is only one chapter in the violent history of anti-Semitism, but it resurfaces throughout as a means of encoding anti-Jewish sentiment and justifying violence toward and mistreatment of Jews.

As Osama al-Baz, an adviser to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, observed in 2013, some “Arab writers and media figures … attack Jews on the basis of … racist fallacies and myths that originated in Europe.”

Hamas may be doing no more than repeating tired cultural clichés and long-debunked slander, but myth and action go together. The history of Europe is a testimony to the devastating power of the blood libel.

People and cultures are defined by the myths they create, but also by the myths they accept and propagate.

Joel S. Baden is professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School. Candida Moss is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Discrimination • Holocaust • Israel • Judaism • Middle East • Persecution • Prejudice • Religious violence • Violence

soundoff (915 Responses)
  1. monica7c

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

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    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=390]

    August 17, 2014 at 11:11 am |
    • Doris

      spam

      August 17, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
  2. Bob

    The whole Jesus-sacrifice thing is a steaming pile of bull-do. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    August 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm |
  3. Bob

    The whole Jesus-sacrifice thing is a steaming pile of bull-do. Christians, how is it again that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

    August 15, 2014 at 1:36 pm |
  4. 19covenant19

    Jesus Christ has truly returned

    with BIBLICAL EXCELLENT MIRACLES

    for all Nations on earth now.

    19covenant19.com

    August 10, 2014 at 6:36 am |
    • Bob

      The whole Jesus-sacrifice thing that you keep trying to sell here is a steaming pile of bull-do. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
      Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      August 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm |
    • Doris

      Spam

      August 17, 2014 at 5:51 pm |
  5. austin929

    wolf was tryig to ask the guy a question and that guy deserves an award , he should be a politician. He squirmed around like a mechanical bull. pointing away at the camera.

    This blood libel story is garbage. and then we learn the Lakud member was calling for concentration camp? and genocide ? can we verify that?..........

    August 9, 2014 at 9:36 pm |
  6. austin929

    wolf was tryig to ask the guy a question and that guy deserves an award , he should be a politician. He squirmed around like a mechanical bull. pointing away at the camera.

    This blood libel story is garbage. and then we learn the Lakud member was calling for concentration camp? and genocide ? can we verify that?

    August 9, 2014 at 9:35 pm |
  7. PsiCop

    Nice to see how millennia of religion saturating vast chunks of humanity hasn't managed to help any of them grow up. They're still spewing hateful medieval propaganda in the name of justifying their irrational, sanctimonious rage. Please, tell me again how believing in God supposedly - and magically - makes people better ... ? I'm dying to know how that works, because to date, I haven't seen any of it.

    August 8, 2014 at 9:08 pm |
    • Dalahäst

      Who says believing in God supposedly – and magically – makes people better?

      August 8, 2014 at 9:10 pm |
      • PsiCop

        Lots of people have said so. Have yourself a look:

        http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/03/13/worldwide-many-see-belief-in-god-as-essential-to-morality/

        http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/morality/

        http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/jesuscreed/2009/03/do-you-need-god-to-be-moral.html

        http://www.christianity.co.nz/moralit2.htm

        And many believers think non-believers must be immoral (hence their non-belief in their "moral" God):

        http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVSermons/ImmoralityOfAtheism.html

        http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread830968/pg1

        I could post more but will not bother. To say that many religionists don't think that morality requires belief in God - and specifically, their own God, whichever one that is - is laughably disingenuous. Of course they believe it, and they use that belief to propound the notion that everyone in their societies should be required to believe in their God. To accept anything else allows "immoral" people to wander around in society, and that can't be allowed (in their minds, anyway).

        August 8, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I still don't see anyone saying that believing in God magically makes people better. I didn't say anything about morality. Sure, some religionists might suggest such things. Some religionists don't believe in God, though.

          August 8, 2014 at 9:30 pm |
        • PsiCop

          OK, so you want to deny that people say what they clearly have said. If you're intent on doing so, I clearly can't stop you. But I'm not stupid enough to go along with it myself.

          August 9, 2014 at 7:20 am |
        • Dalahäst

          So you are basically saying not believing in God somehow magically makes you better?

          I don't say believing in God magically makes me better. I've never heard anyone, especially leaders from my church community, saying such things.

          August 9, 2014 at 9:16 am |
        • PsiCop

          Re: "So you are basically saying not believing in God somehow magically makes you better?"

          No, I'm not. I never said anything of the sort. Moreover, you know it. What I did say ... and confirmed using links from various locations ... is that some religious believers think that being moral requires believing in their God and that people who believe in their God are more moral than those who don't.

          What you have done, rather than pay attention to this very simple message (which, again, I backed up with primary-source evidence) is to accuse me of having said other things than that. They've been nice attempts at swerving out of the way of what religious believers have claimed, but no amount of swerving on your part can change what they, themselves, actually have said.

          You don't have to like that they said it. If so, I suggest you take it up with them. But complaining at me ... and more specifically, claiming I said things I didn't actually say, in order to get out of the way of admitting believers said what they've demonstrably said ... cannot and will never change the fact that they said it.

          Ultimately you're complaining at the wrong person. Go make false accusations of someone else. I have no time for your petulant defiance.

          August 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
        • jhg45

          just to help a little Psi, I have heard it and seen it here.

          August 9, 2014 at 10:39 am |
        • PsiCop

          Of course ... religionists make that claim all the time. Then when they're confronted with reality they run around denying they ever said any such thing. It's a lie, of course, but it's a lie for their God, so it's OK. I guess. I mean, it must be ... because they do it all the time.

          August 10, 2014 at 7:16 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Then we can let them describe how believing in God magically makes them a better person.

          Most people who believe in God don't make that claim, in my experience.

          August 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm |
        • PsiCop

          Re: "Most people who believe in God don’t make that claim, in my experience."

          First of all, I doubt you have never actually "experienced" any believer telling you their God promotes morality. Really, I do. I don't precisely mean to call you a liar; what I'm saying is that your memory is failing at a convenient moment for it to fail.

          Second, even if that is your "experience," unfortunately that doesn't matter. As I've been able to demonstrate, believers DO in fact make that claim all the time. It's part of the Catholic Catechism, for instance.

          I understand the ramifications of this claim made by other believers might be hard to take. You might not wish to accept the ramifications of believers clinging, for thousands of years, to religious traditions that claim to make their believers more moral but which, as it turns out, have utterly failed to improve human morality at all. I get it. Really. Honest. I truly do understand why you'd rather not wish to concede that religions have demonstrably failed at their stated mission. It's not to any religion's credit to have such a dismal record, and I completely sympathize with your desire not to accept that.

          Unfortunately, though, that isn't my problem. I'm not a believer in any of those religions. I'm not making any claims about how any religion makes its followers more moral. Other people do that. You will, sadly, have to express your displeasure to them, not to me. Tell them to stop saying that and thus making you look bad. I'm not the one you should complain to ... they are.

          August 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
        • jhg45

          1 for dale

          August 9, 2014 at 3:20 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          The faith community I belong to doesn't preach what you assume believers preach. Sure, some do preach that. So what?

          In the links you provided nobody said God magically makes people better. For example, it usually takes some work on the behalf of the person who wants to be better. And it isn't magic. Nor a better moral code. Nor a religion.

          August 10, 2014 at 10:38 pm |
        • evidencenot

          No god required.

          August 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm |
  8. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    People believe the Blood Libel. There is a long tradition of people believing in it. It is written that it is true. I think it meets the standards of evidence accepted by most believers in the Abrahamic God.

    August 8, 2014 at 4:04 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Well you can't prove it doesn't happen....(sarcasm font)

      August 9, 2014 at 1:54 am |
  9. Mike

    Why does Wolf look like he is about to cry?

    August 8, 2014 at 1:16 pm |
    • Mike

      Finally, what a challenge with that one sentence. Phew!

      August 8, 2014 at 1:17 pm |
      • Løki

        Double O's are such a wordily menace...

        August 8, 2014 at 2:29 pm |
  10. Vic

    This is a "Belief" Blog, expressing "Faith/Belief in God" is the "centerpiece," I believe we can objectively and civilly agree or disagree, there is no reason for feud and personal attacks.

    August 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm |
    • new-man

      well said.
      I see quiet a few who come here solely to argue, name-call, basically spoiling for a fight... it's sad and ridiculous.

      August 8, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      Dang, and I just learned some new yo mama jokes I was ready to fire off.

      August 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm |
      • Robert Brown

        I love how jovial folks become even more so on Friday

        August 8, 2014 at 9:55 pm |
    • LaBella

      About this blog
      The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives.

      There is nothing that says belief in God is a requirement.
      Agree on the ad hominems. It is, as I'm sure you will agree, prevalent on both sides of the aisle.

      August 8, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Let's not segregate ourselves as partisan politicians do. No "aisle", please. Believers in unfounded beliefs are as human as anyone is and deserve our best efforts to educate them and help them recover from their errors.

        August 8, 2014 at 4:30 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          I love how jovial folks become even more so on Friday.

          August 8, 2014 at 9:57 pm |
        • austin929

          that is soooo sweet! Christ set that type of tone too. He died for all His enemies and denounced war. The problem, tom tom, is seen in the revelation of the apostate killers.

          The devil is cunning. He has many different flavors.

          August 8, 2014 at 10:39 pm |
        • awanderingscot

          @Austin
          "He died for all His enemies " – with all due respect brother, this statement really needs qualification. To say that Christ died for all His enemies without qualification implies universal salvation which is not scriptural. Christ did not die in vain. The sad fact of the matter is that the road leading to eternal life is narrow and few are those who find it and travel it. – Peace brother.

          August 9, 2014 at 12:46 am |
        • austin929

          peace bud. ok however Christ sends no one to hell. Christ is the savior of all mankind. An I believe He did die for all his enemies, and that they reject Him and choose the god of hell. That is not Christ's choice. Hence the term, all are justified.

          It is an interesting topic, predestination is. I may be wrong I suppose. When it comes to the book of life and the blood of Christ, and free will, I believe that God's will was not to exclude even Esau.

          August 9, 2014 at 12:56 am |
        • TruthPrevails1

          Austin and awanderingdolt: You have confirmed why many stop partaking in anything to do with your cult...too many interpretations and none that can be verified as being based in reality. Both of you have the mentalities of 2 year old children. Awanderingdolt is the lover of all things incest and Austin knows that he'd be the first sent to hell for his crimes against humanity. You both need educations outside of the bible and to stop eating so much paste-the toxins have destroyed your 2-celled brains.

          August 9, 2014 at 5:15 am |
  11. Doris

    Is Gaza ~139 square miles with a population of ~1.8 million or not, Snotty?

    Are there health problems in Gaza due to water restrictions or not, Snotty?

    I don't give a rat's behind where you've been – based on your record here of gross misrepresentation of scientific knowledge, I wouldn't trust your assessment of the count of how many suns appear in the sky to you on a given day.

    August 8, 2014 at 12:43 pm |
    • Doris

      I have copied this reply to the intended location.

      August 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm |
    • joey3467

      He has posted so many gross misrepresentations of scientific knowledge that at this point I just assume nothing he says about anything is true.

      August 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.