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

Hardcover | June 8, 2015

byE.M. Rose

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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 ofChristianity. 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-centuryecclesiastical 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 themalevolent 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 soemotionally 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 suchwidespread acceptance, laying the foundations for enduring antisemitic myths that continue to the present.

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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 ofChristianity. The outline of William's tale eventua...

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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Format:HardcoverDimensions:416 pages, 8.39 × 5.79 × 1.18 inPublished:June 8, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0190219629

ISBN - 13:9780190219628

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Table of Contents

Part 1: The Monk, the Knight, the Bishop and the Banker1. Introduction2. The Discovery of a Dead Body3. Background: Civil War and Crusade4. The Trial5. The NarrativePart 2: The Earl, the Count, the Abbot, and the KingIntroduction6. Gloucester7. Blois8. Bury St. Edmunds9. Paris10. Conclusion

Editorial Reviews

"E.M. Rose's book on the murder of William of Norwich is a breathtaking work of revision that addresses one of the central questions in the history of Christian/Jewish relations in the Middle Ages, a topic of enormous relevance in the contemporary world and one around which there isconsiderable scholarly contestation. The book is a brilliant piece of historical investigation and a marvelous read as well." --Gabrielle Spiegel, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University