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Blood and Belief

Blood and Belief: The Circulation of a Symbol between Jews and Christians

David Biale
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 316
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  • Book Info
    Blood and Belief
    Book Description:

    Blood contains extraordinary symbolic power in both Judaism and Christianity—as the blood of sacrifice, of Jesus, of the Jewish martyrs, of menstruation, and more. Yet, though they share the same literary, cultural, and religious origins, on the question of blood the two religions have followed quite different trajectories. For instance, while Judaism rejects the eating or drinking of blood, Christianity mandates its symbolic consumption as a central sacrament. How did these two traditions, both originating in the Hebrew Bible's cult of blood sacrifices, veer off in such different directions? With his characteristic wit and erudition, David Biale traces the continuing, changing, and often clashing roles of blood as both symbol and substance through the entire sweep of Jewish and Christian history from Biblical times to the present.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93423-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Writing with Blood
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the first half of the twentieth century, stories circulated throughout East Africa that firemen and policemen had kidnapped Africans, draining blood from them to treat Europeans with blood diseases.¹ Here was the confluence of African folk traditions with Western medicine and superstition in colonial contexts. Here, too, was a classic instance of the way blood inhabits the imagination as both substance and symbol. For these Africans, the firemen and the policemen extracted real blood from their victims, blood that could go on to serve an actual medical need. But this blood was also symbolic of the more general extraction...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Pollution and Power: Blood in the Hebrew Bible
    (pp. 9-43)

    “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have assigned it to you to ransom your lives on the altar; it is the blood, in exchange for life, that ransoms. Therefore I say to the Israelites: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall the alien who resides among you eat blood.” So states Leviticus 17:11–12 in one of the central texts in the priestly literature of ancient Israel. Blood is not to be eaten, because it is reserved for a cultic ritual of expiation. In an article published in the early 1990s, Stephen...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Blood and the Covenant: The Jewish and Christian Careers of a Biblical Verse
    (pp. 44-80)

    The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 c.e. radically challenged the “blood cult” that stood at the heart of biblical religion. How could a sacrificial religion preserve its central practices when it no longer had the physical facility to offer sacrifices? If blood in the Bible was a signifier that “indexed” the power of the temple priests, what role did it play when priests no longer served as the primary religious and political authorities? And how could such a religion demonstrate that it deserved recognition as a religion in the Greco-Roman world, which continued to be dominated by blood...

  7. CHAPTER 3 God’s Blood: Medieval Jews and Christians Debate the Body
    (pp. 81-122)

    In a letter written in 1376 to her disciple Niccolo Soderini, the medieval mystic Catherine of Siena warned against divisions within the church: “It is better for you to live in peace and unity . . . for we are not Jews or Saracens, but Christians ransomed and baptized in Christ’s blood.”¹ The theme of Christ’s blood recurs repeatedly in Catherine’s writings, as we shall see, but what is striking here is that she specifies blood as the marker of difference between Christians and their monotheistic opponents. In this chapter I want to demonstrate that the competing claims of Jews...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Power in the Blood: The Medieval and the Modern in Nazi Anti-Semitism
    (pp. 123-161)

    On May 17, 1934, Julius Streicher published his notorious special issue ofDer Stürmeron the subject of ritual murder.¹ A storm of international protest broke out, and as a result Hitler ordered the suppression of the issue, although several hundred thousand copies were already in circulation. The official reason given for the issue’s suppression was thatDer Stürmerhad explicitly compared Christian communion with the alleged Jewish consumption of Christian blood. But there can be little doubt that the motivation was purely opportunistic, since Streicher returned to the subject unhindered in a number of subsequent special issues. The real...

  9. CHAPTER 5 From Blood Libel to Blood Community: Self-Defense and Self-Assertion in Modern Jewish Culture
    (pp. 162-206)

    The onslaught of modern anti-Semitism made it impossible for Jews to ignore the symbolism of blood, whether in the form of the ritual-murder accusation or in the pseudoscientific language of race. A literature of self-defense emerged in the nineteenth century to counter the modern revival of the blood libel, a literature that was much more extensive than anything produced in medieval polemics. But even as Jews were vigorously rejecting the claim that human blood played a role in their rituals, some adopted the blood language of modern nationalism. If Jews had to insist that they did not steal blood from...

  10. Epilogue: Blood and Belief
    (pp. 207-214)

    By a historical coincidence, just as the Nazis were using blood to perpetrate the greatest genocide in history, Oswald T. Avery and his coworkers showed in 1944 that it was DNA—and not blood—that transmitted genetic information. Those who continued to speak of blood as the agent of genetics could do so only metaphorically: the correct language now had to be that of genes. With the elucidation of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, modern genetics was born. These fundamental discoveries, and all those that built upon them, promised to track the mixing...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 215-260)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 261-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-299)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)