Categories of Race: “Judæis Notris Angliæ” and the 1275 Statute of Jewry
The medieval impulse to racialize is driven by an unconscious fear about the Jewish Other’s potential to disrupt the Christian community. Medieval theologians, such as Ambrose of Milan, interpret the Bible to be portraying the Jew as evil, murderous, and hateful. There are obvious problems with this myth; one of which is that all Jews are not evil, murderous, and hateful. But another serious rupture arises when these same theologians deploy other aspects of the Bible to develop arguments. Given that the Bible is always already divided into two parts—Old and New—and because the Old, which provides the foundation for the New, is filled with Jewish characters (or rather Hebrews and Israelites), a careful distinction must be fashioned in order to make what is proximate (the Hebrews and the Jews) become distant so that Christians do not have to be Jews before they become Christians. Sorting out identity proves to be a considerable problem. In fact, questions about religious selfhood pervade the drama of medieval identity. Of course, Augustine and Ambrose before him attempted to reason through this problem as did Paul, but the need to distance Jews as racially dissimilar to Christians suggests that these Fathers’ theories did not satisfy medieval Christians.2 That dissatisfaction is articulated in the construction of a racially distinct being whose inherent homicidal nature necessitated its removal from the demesnes of medieval England.
KeywordsJewish Community Jewish Identity British Library Dark Figure Jewish Past
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