Grumme løver og menstruerende mænd
Ferocious Lions and Menstruating Men: The Perception of Jews in Medieval Denmark
The article examines the portrayal of Jews in medieval texts written in Danish before 1515. It begins by describing the theological basis for and creation of a ‘fantasy Jew’. The perception of Jews was fundamentally shaped by the idea that they had tortured and killed the Christian messiah.
Devotional texts, sermons and Passion stories which describe the Jews as Christ killers are therefore discussed in detail, and the image of the deicide Jew in vernacular texts is shown to be malleable and changing. The image of the violent Jew who tortured and killed Jesus was used to arouse empathy among readers and to chastise them for being too like the Jews by behaving sinfully.
Other Jewish ‘types’ that occur in the material are also investigated: effeminate, Satanic and usurious Jews, as well as comparisons with animals. The preliminary results of an investigation into the type of language that was used to shape the image of Jews show that certain ‘negative’ words were used disproportionately more frequently in descriptions of Jews than of non-Jews. This suggests a powerful association between such words and the perception of Jews – a connection that was supported and further enhanced through religious art and theatre.
The article concludes by noting what is missing in the extant material and what this might tell us about medieval Danish attitudes towards Jews.