10 November, 2011 11:01AM AEST
The Pinnacle of Hatred: The Blood Libel and the Jews by Darren O'Brien
Review by Rob Minshull
Rob Minshull produces Weekends with Warren and is an avid reader
One of the most evil allegations in history is the charge that Jews murder people to use their blood for ritual purposes. First insinuated and finely honed in medieval Christianity, the Jewish blood libel and the appallingly misnamed "ritual murder" allegation were later promoted by the Nazis to dehumanise the Jews and legitimise their mass murder. Amazingly, the ridiculous and terrifying blood libel allegations can still be heard today from both Islamists and Muslim countries alike.
For the Nazis, of course, the allegations of ritual murder and the blood libel were a potent tool in their ideology. Brisbane-based academic Darren O'Brien painstakingly surveys Nazi propaganda to illustrate just how it was important to show that "the Jew was a monster with horrifying potential in human guise - if not living next door, then living in the same street." This all-powerful, all-pervasive global monster could only be defeated by extermination and so millions of innocent men, women and children were to be murdered.
But the Nazis did not invent the blood libel and were not the originators of the ritual murder allegation. When the blood libel and allegations of ritual murder were first directed against the Jews is a subject of great debate. O'Brien is unconvinced that their origins began in 12th century England when Jews were first accused of practising ritual murder in Norwich in 1144.
More likely, the allegations first became solidified in France and Germany but by the Middle Ages the blood libel against the Jews was well established. Jews, writes O'Brien, had become "demonic outcasts" expelled from one country after another, persecuted and murdered, occasionally emancipated, but eventually marked for extermination.
O'Brien examines the whole gambit of the blood libel and ritual murder allegations from crucifixion as a mode of murder to the slitting of throats or piercing of body parts to extract blood for drinking or ceremonial use.
The Jews as crucifiers has a clear line of history traced back to the most influential charge levelled at them by early Christian writers: that the Jews and their descendents are responsible for the murder of Jesus of Nazareth and are therefore the murderers of God.
The big question about the horrific history of the blood libel is, however, the obvious one: why? O'Brien discusses all the many theories about the origins and reasons for the blood libel and takes core elements from each explanation. The end result is a book which is unparalleled in scope and utterly shocking in content.
Ironically, the blood libel was originally directed at the early Christians, tortured by the Romans to 'confess' to the ritual killing of children and the drinking or using of their blood.
One interesting argument is that the ritual murder allegation against the Jews arose "as a consequence of crusaders witnessing Jewish parents killing their own children before suiciding themselves in order to avoid forced baptism or execution."
In the final analysis, however, it was the consolidation of Christianity in Europe and the need to subsume - theologically, legally and socially - the other faiths (but principally the Jews) beneath Christianity that eventually led to the transfer of the ritual murder allegation to the Jews. Continued Jewish existence without appropriate Christian control was a threat to the Christian authorities and it had to be dealt with. The failure of the Jews to convert and accept the Christian faith meant it was they who faced the full wrath of Christian orthodoxy and the Jewish blood libel was born.
"The only reason the blood libel accusation has persisted against Jews is because Jews continue to exist," explains O'Brien. "Witches, heretical Christians, and other groups accused in the past have all but disappeared from view. The only scapegoat remaining on which to hang the allegation is the Jew. The obvious outcome is that those who continue to believe in and use the allegation will continue to use it until the Jews cease to exist."
Sadly, as O'Brien points out, the ritual murder and blood libel travesties still do exist and have been reinvigorated in the Islamic world. While retaining the assertion that Jews need human blood, radical Muslims have extended the evil nonsense so that Jews now "require" Palestinian blood, the blood of Palestinian children or Muslim blood in general.
Now Jews are accused of consuming the blood of not only individuals but of an entire people of nation. Sadly, says O'Brien, "The old-fashioned blood libel is now very much alive; so too are the speeches about the satanic nature of the Jews and the necessity for their annihilation."
The Pinnacle of Hatred is an amazing book, both comprehensive and compelling in its study of a 2000-year-old vile fabrication. It's dispassionate academic tones - and more than a third of the book is devoted to source texts - at times belie the horrific nature of the blood libel and the unspeakable consequences. It is, however, not only important as the definitive study of racial fantasy, but also as a terrifying warning of what can occur when the outsider is allowed to be demonised.