Ritual Murder - Encyclopedia

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RITUAL MURDER, a general term for human sacrifice in connexion with religious ceremonies. False accusations as to the practice of ritual murder by Jews and Christians have often been made. "The Christians of the second and third centuries suffered severely under them" (Strack). Justin Martyr (150-160) in his Second Apology (ch. 12) vigorously defends the Christian community against this charge; Octavius, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, Origen and other Church Fathers all refer to the subject and indignantly repudiate the atrocious libel that the Eucharist involved human sacrifice. The myth was revived against the Montanists, and in the later middle ages against various sects of heretical Christians. In recent years the accusation has been again levelled against "foreigners" during the disturbances in China. The chief sufferers, however, from the charge were the Jews. The charge was never coherently defined, but a notion prevailed that at the Passover Christian blood was used in Jewish rites. For this belief there is no foundation whatever, as is proved in the classical treatise' on the subject by Hermann L. Strack, Regius Professor of Theology at Berlin University. The first occasion on which the medieval Jews were accused of the murder of a Christian child was at Norwich in 1144. In the following century other instances of the charge occurred on the Continent, and by this time (middle of the 13th century) the legend had grown into a belief that "the Jews of every province annually decide by lot" which congregation or town is to be the scene of the mythical murder. It is easy to understand how in ages when the Jews were everywhere regarded with superstitious awe, such stories to their detriment would find ready credence, but the revival of the myth in recent times by the anti-Semite is a deplorable instance of degeneration. It is only necessary here to refer to the Lincoln case (1255), the Trent case (1475) and more recently the Damascus case (1840), the Tisza-Eszlar affair (1882), the Xanten charge (1891) and the Polna case (1899). All of these charges - sometimes invented by malicious seceders from the Jewish fold - were followed by spoliation and tragic persecution of the Jews. On the other hand many Jewish proselytes to Christianity have strenuously defended the Jews from the charge, among them may be particularly named Prof. D. Chwolson (Blutanklage, 1901). In 1840 a protest against the charge was signed by 58 Jewish-Christians, the list being headed by M. S. Alexander, Anglican bishop at Jerusalem. Further testimonies of a similar kind are collected in Strack (op. cit. p. 239). Many of the popes have issued bulls exonerating the Jews (cf. Strack, p. 250); similarly temporal princes have often taken a similar step (ibid. p. 260). Many Christian scholars and ecclesiastics have felt it their duty to utter protests in favour of the Jews. Among them have been the most eminent Christian students of Rabbinism of recent times, e.g. Professors Alexander McCaul, P. Lagarde, Franz Delitzsch, A. Merx, T. Ndldeke, C. Siegfried, A. Wiinsche, G. H. Dalman and J. von Ddllinger. A careful examination of the evidence (with a complete acquittal of the Jews) is contained in a notable work by a Catholic priest, F. Frank, Der Ritualmord vor dem Gerichtshdfen der Wahrheit and der Gerechtigkeit (1901, 1902). The literature on the other side is entirely antisemitic and in no instance has it survived the ordeal of criticism. The most notorious exponent of the charge was A. Rohling, the worthlessness of whose writings on the subject is exposed by (among many others) Strack (op. cit. pp. 155 seq.).

A list of some of the most important of the cases is given by J. Jacob in the Jewish Encyclopedia, iii. 266-67. (I. A.)

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