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From Conversion to Ritual Murder: Re-Contextualizing the Circumcision Charge

In: Medieval Encounters
Author:
Paola Tartakoff Rutgers University

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Abstract

In the 1230s, Christian authorities prosecuted Norwich Jews on charges of having seized and circumcised a five-year-old boy in an effort to convert him to Judaism. In the same decade, English chroniclers began to depict this case as an attempted ritual murder. According to Roger Wendover and Matthew Paris, Jews circumcised the boy with the intention of crucifying him at Easter. This article explores what the near simultaneous development of these two intriguing and seemingly disparate narratives suggests about thirteenth-century Christian perceptions and portrayals of circumcision. In so doing, it ushers research on medieval Christian attitudes toward circumcision into new spheres, deepens understandings of thirteenth-century Christian anxieties about conversion to Judaism, and brings to light a marginal note in the autograph copy of Matthew Paris’ Chronica majora that may constitute evidence of evolving Christian views of the relationship between the bodies of Jews’ alleged victims and the body of Christ.

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