There are tremendous cultural and intellectual differences between faiths that have historically resulted in the persecution of whichever faith found itself in a minority within a larger society. This has been true historically and it is true today. While we pay lip service to religious freedom in the west our leaders are busy attempting to remove every vestige of practice by the faithful that is not consistent with their goals. Intellectually faith has become an embarrassment and the principal exercises they conduct are attempts to discredit it and use biology to explain how a twisted nerve predetermines the sinner or the saint.
As part of this effort there has arisen the perceived need to take isolated cases – like stories of blood libel, of which Walter Laqueur estimates there are only 150 recorded cases in nearly two millennia – and use them to discredit the larger society and in particular the Catholic Church. In any society in which one group constitutes an overwhelming majority it follows that most of both the good and the bad things will be attributable to that group. By sheer force of numbers they will fill both the academy and the prison and you can not use the contents of either to make a definitive statement about the society.
What we do know is that the Church has historically worked to protect the dignity of man – far more than any nation. In this case Pope Innocent IV took action against the practice of blood libel as early as the 5th of July 1247 in his Mandate to the prelates of Germany and France to annul all measures adopted against the Jews on account of the ritual murder libel, and to prevent accusation of Arabs on similar charges. He wrote that “Certain of the clergy, and princes, nobles and great lords of your cities and dioceses have falsely devised certain godless plans against the Jews, unjustly depriving them by force of their property, and appropriating it themselves;…they falsely charge them with dividing up among themselves on the Passover the heart of a murdered boy…In their malice, they ascribe every murder, wherever it chance to occur, to the Jews. And on the ground of these and other fabrications, they are filled with rage against them, rob them of their possessions without any formal accusation, without confession, and without legal trial and conviction, contrary to the privileges granted to them by the Apostolic See…Since it is our pleasure that they shall not be disturbed,…we ordain that ye behave towards them in a friendly and kind manner. Whenever any unjust attacks upon them come under your notice, redress their injuries, and do not suffer them to be visited in the future by similar tribulations”
People may choose to maintain their own alphabet, language, social customs and heritage within larger and different societies. The best of these societies find ways to accommodate the minorities in their midst and often assimilate parts of the different cultures into their own mainstream. There have always been martyrs – both political and religious – and no society is exempt from criticism of the circumstances that have created them. That having been said fostering a psychology of martyrdom – or worse yet creating a cult of martyrdom – has never been healthy. Not for Christians, not for Jews and not for Arabs – yet all three have done so.
At one level this is a worthwhile book giving certain historical insight into the particulars of a single case. Once it leaves the bounds of the case and starts generalizing about historical tendencies it is no more accurate than Marx addressing historical inevitability. A true scholar would know the difference.
Trent 1475 : stories of ritual murder trial New Haven : Published [by] Yale University Press in cooperation with Yeshiva University Library, c 1992 R. Po-chia Hsia Blood accusation Italy Trento Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xxvi, 173 p. : ill. ; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
On Easter Sunday, 1475, the dead body of a two-year-old boy named Simon was found in the cellar of a Jewish family‘s house in Trent, Italy. Town magistrates arrested all eighteen Jewish men and one Jewish woman living in Trent on the charge of ritual murder—the killing of a Christian child in order to use his blood in Jewish religious rites.
Under judicial torture and imprisonment, the men confessed and were condemned to death; their women folk, who had been kept under house arrest with their children, denounced the men under torture and eventually converted to Christianity. A papal hearing in Rome about possible judicial misconduct in Trent made the trial widely known and led to a wave of anti-Jewish propaganda and other accusations of ritual murder against the Jews.
In this engrossing book, Hsia reconstructs the events of this tragic persecution, drawing principally on the Yeshiva Manuscript, a detailed trial record made by authorities in Trent to justify their execution of the Jews and to bolster the case for the canonization of “Little Martyr Simon.”
Hsia depicts the Jewish victims (whose testimonies contain fragmentary stories of their tragic lives as well as forced confessions of kidnap, torture, and murder), the prosecuting magistrates, the hostile witnesses, and the few Christian neighbors who tried in vain to help the Jews. Setting the trial and its documents in the historical context of medieval blood libel, Hsia vividly portrays how fact and fiction can be blurred, how judicial torture can be couched in icy orderliness and impersonality, and how religious rites can be interpreted as ceremonies of barbarism.