“His blood be on us and on our children”: Medieval Theology and the Demise of Jewish Somatic Inferiority in Early Modern England

  • M. Lindsay Kaplan


Theology inflects and promotes the importance of blood across a range of discourses in the culture of medieval Europe.1 Among them arises an association of blood with human difference in religious and medical texts that distinguishes male Jewish bodies less in terms of blood lineage, as is the case in the later Iberian context, than in terms of a hereditary bleeding disease. Christian exegetical writings of the thirteenth century represent contemporary Jews as punished with a periodic bleeding resulting from their ancestors’ alleged role in the crucifixion. The biblical prooftexts of Matthew 27:25, “His blood be on us and on our children,” and the mark of Cain (Genesis 4:15) confirm the idea of a hereditary cursed disability.2 This theological concept migrates into “scientific” and medical discourses of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, where it is explained as hemorrhoidal or menstrual bleeding. The expanded interest in this idea coincides with contemporary efforts to translate the spiritual doctrine of Jewish inferiority into the social and legal spheres of medieval Europe. The Church’s frustration at the failure to implement and enforce such a hierarchy contributes to the construction of a cursed, bleeding Jewish body that attempts to render the subjection of the Jews in “real,” material terms.


Menstrual Bleeding Fourteenth Century Early Modern Period Theological Concept Divine Origin 
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© M. Lindsay Kaplan 2014

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