Blood Libel

The Ritual Murder Accusation at the Limit of Jewish History
Hannah R. Johnson
The first book investigating the recent historiography of the ritual murder accusation


The ritual murder accusation is one of a series of myths that fall under the label blood libel, and describes the medieval legend that Jews require Christian blood for obscure religious purposes and are capable of committing murder to obtain it. This malicious myth continues to have an explosive afterlife in the public sphere, where Sarah Palin's 2011 gaffe is only the latest reminder of its power to excite controversy. Blood Libel is the first book-length study to analyze the recent historiography of the ritual murder accusation and to consider these debates in the context of intellectual and cultural history as well as methodology. Hannah R. Johnson articulates how ethics shapes methodological decisions in the study of the accusation and how questions about methodology, in turn, pose ethical problems of interpretation and understanding. Examining recent debates over the scholarship of historians such as Gavin Langmuir, Israel Yuval, and Ariel Toaff, Johnson argues that these discussions highlight an ongoing paradigm shift that seeks to reimagine questions of responsibility by deliberately refraining from a discourse of moral judgment and blame in favor of an emphasis on historical contingencies and hostile intergroup dynamics.

"Hannah Johnson has succeeded in showing the relevance of medieval studies to the most pressing academic and political situations of the present day, without resorting to posturing or hysteria."
—Anthony Bale, University of London

"Blood Libel is original, thoughtful, and very brave in the way that it takes on the issue of ritual murder in historiography. The ethical frame makes wonderful sense here and it is a very useful and appropriate one for this set of vexed questions."
—Lisa Lampert-Weissig, University of California, San Diego

Cover photo by John Twyning.

Hannah R. Johnson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

Praise / Awards

  • [In Spanish]
  • " argument? Yes: the language used to discuss the blood libel has forced historical treatments into a moralizing continuum that at one extreme suppresses the possibility of indeterminacy and at the other unleashes timeless forces of anti-Semitism... throughout this work, Johnson proves she can read very well."
    -LA Review of Books

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 250pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11835-9

Add to Cart
  • $79.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90254-5

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  • blood libel, ritual murder, william of norwich, medieval history and historiography, anti-semitism, history of anti-judaism, medieval jews, jewish-christian relations, religious history, simon of trent, ariel toaff, israel yuval, gavin langmuir