Jews were a pariah people in the Medieval Christian world because, like the Hindu 'Untouchables', Jews performed a necessary social function for which they were despised. This theory completes Hyam Maccoby's religio-mythic explanation for antisemitism, begun in 'The Sacred Executioner' (1982) and continued in 'Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil' (1992).
The argument is that Christianity is an event in the history of pagan religion (not a true continuation of Judaism) and a central characteristic of many pagan cults is an annual human sacrifice to renew the world. This sacrifice requires a 'sacred executioner', onto whom is transferred the guilt of the community and who is thus both despised by those who benefit from the sacrifice and held in awe by them. This role is lightly disguised in many ancient myths, such as the Norse myth of Baldur. It is the role Jews were conditioned to play in Christianity, where their eponymous hero Judas is equivalent to Loki and Pontius Pilate (who actually executed Jesus) is presented as an unwitting dupe, like Hother.
The role of Jews as a mystically awesome people (contrary to the degraded social position into which Jews were forced by the medieval Church) explains Jewish power as a central feature of antisemitic mythology in fascist and socialist politics and throughout the Muslim world today. I none the less think this is the weakest part of Maccoby's theory, which implies that antisemitism is a largely Christian phenomenon (Jews have no mythic role in the Moslem world-view), yet typically-Christian antisemitic themes (including the blood-libel) proliferate in Islam, as they did in atheist communist countries.Read more ›
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