The Talmud Trial of 1240: Aggadah, Blasphemy, and the Folkloric Construction of the Jew in the High Middle Ages


Michael J. Bell (Independent, retired)

In Paris in June of 1240, the Talmud, (Oral Torah) a collection of writings on Jewish law and tradition, was tried, convicted and sentenced to burning by a Papal Commission. Historical discussions of this trial rarely mention the role played by an Aggadah (Jewish exegetical folk narrative lemma) cited by the prosecution as evidence of alleged Jewish blasphemy. This presentation will rectify that omission by arguing that the tale’s dueling interpretations were an example of a failed folk exegetic agreement between the emergent Jewish communities of northern Europe and the existing Christian establishment: making it an examination of the role of contested folklore interpretation in the construction of official Christian anti-Semitism during the High Middle Ages.

Part of 62-03 Historical and Political Analysis of Folk Narrative, Saturday, October 23, 10:30 am–12:00 pm