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Jews are the omnipresent border-dwellers of medieval culture, a source of powerful metaphors active in the margins of medieval Christianity. This book outlines an important prehistory to later persecutions in England and beyond, yet it also provides a new understanding of the previously unrecognized roles Jews and Judaism played in the construction of social identity in early England.
Andrew P. Scheil approaches the Anglo-Saxon understanding of Jews from a variety of directions, including a survey of the lengthy history of the ideology of England as the New Israel, its sources in late antique texts and its manifestation in both Old English and Latin texts from Anglo-Saxon England. In tandem with this perhaps more sympathetic understanding of the Jews is a darker vision of anti-Judaism, associating the Jews in an emotional fashion with the materiality of the body.
In exploring the complex ramifications of this history, the author is the first to assemble and study references to Jews in Anglo-Saxon culture. For this reason, The Footsteps of Israel will be an important source for Anglo-Saxonists, scholars of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, scholars of medieval antisemitism in general, students of Jewish history, and medievalists interested in cultural studies.
"The Footsteps of Israel is a fascinating study of a pervasive stereotype. Scheil's analysis of how Jews, with no real physical presence in Anglo-Saxon England, captured the imagination of writers of the period, is a superb achievement. "
—Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society
"This innovative, well-researched study looks at anti-Judaic rhetoric in the Old English and Latin texts of Anglo-Saxon England—a land lacking real Jews. The author isolates a common pool of inherited images for portraying the Jew, and teaches us to hear, especially in the vernacular, their increasingly dark and disturbing inflections."
—Roberta Frank, Yale University
"The elegance of Scheil's prose weaves a unifying thread through the vast literary and historical tapestry he presents, moving with grace from Latin to Old English, from Bede to later authors, from Wordsworth and Blake to modern writers. He speaks elegantly of these texts' conversations with the past, and the Jews emerge as both enemies and spiritual antecedents of the 'New Israel' of Anglo-Saxon England."
—Stephen Spector, SUNY, Stonybrook
"Scheil's materials are complex, subtle, wide-ranging, and well expressed. He has, in a single monograph, considered a huge array of the Latin vernacular literature, iconography too, where relevant, of Anglo-Saxon England, and with a generous sensitivity that will be of value to historians, theologians, and literary critics . . . . Scheil has written an important and gripping book . . . ."
—Jane Roberts, The Journal of Theological Studies
"[A] subtle and compelling book . . . . [A] major achievement in advancing our understanding of how the Anglo-Saxons viewed Judaism; it is sophisticated, beautifully structured and full of insights into late Antique as well as Anglo-Saxon texts and thought."
—Mary Clayton, The Medieval Review
"This book considers the various strategies used to portray Jews during the Anglo-Saxon period. [Scheil] argues for a more complex understanding of Anglo-Saxon anti-Judaism, claiming that such beliefs manifest specific anxieties about cultural history and identity."
Winner: The Medieval Academy of America's 2008 John Nicholas Brown Prize
Winner: ISAS Best First Book Award