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New Book by Israel Yuval


In the last few years Prof. Israel Yuval has written some controversial theories about the relations between Jews and Gentiles in antiquity and the middle ages. Now the English-speaking public can read them in his Two Nations in Your Womb : Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (this is based on his Hebrew book Shnei Goyim beVitneich). I think that it may have been published last year, but it definitely deserves mention. The description is as follows:

Since it was first published in Hebrew in 2000, this provocative book has been garnering acclaim and stirring controversy for its bold reinterpretation of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the Middle Ages, especially in medieval Europe. Looking at a remarkably wide array of source material, Israel Jacob Yuval argues that the inter-religious polemic between Judaism and Christianity served as a substantial component in the mutual formation of each of the two religions. He investigates ancient Jewish Passover rituals; Jewish martyrs in the Rhineland who in 1096 killed their own children; Christian perceptions of those ritual killings; and events of the year 1240, when Jews in northern France and Germany expected the Messiah to arrive. Looking below the surface of these key moments, Yuval finds that, among other things, the impact of Christianity on Talmudic and medieval Judaism was much stronger than previously assumed and that a “rejection of Christianity” became a focal point of early Jewish identity. Two Nations in Your Womb will reshape our understanding of Jewish and Christian life in late antiquity and over the centuries.

Some areas in which Yuval has been criticized are conclusions regarding material in the haggadah which are probably based on erroneous dating, his opinion that vengence was possibly the focal point of certain streams in medieval Jewish thought, and of what my friend Dr. Josh Kulp has called “polemicamania”, an attempt to see polemics everywhere. Despite this, Yuval’s work is provocative, to say the least, and a very interesting read for those interested in the relations between Jews and Christians throughout the ages.

One Response to “New Book by Israel Yuval”

  1. 1
    Menachem Mendel:

    “polemicamania” Cute, based on Sandmel’s “parallelomania” I presume. Was this in a personal communication or is this discussion published anywhere?
    andy | 01.29.07 – 7:31 pm | #

    It just occurred to me that this is probably in his article on the Haggadah. I will have to check.
    andy | 01.29.07 – 7:40 pm | #

    You’re right.
    Menachem Mendel | Homepage | 01.29.07 – 8:00 pm | #

    Yes, I coined that phrase based on Sandmel. Good call to Andy.
    To be honest, I just can’t say enough bad things about his work on the Haggadah. I don’t think he gets anything about the talmudic period at all correct. While it is interesting, it sets our understanding of the Haggadah back about 75 years. Throw all modern research, Neusner, Friedman, Lieberman, etc. right out the door and just make any assumption you want. I have an article on the afikoman where I also note how he reads the issue in order to find more and more hints at anti-Christianity. But I guess this is good for selling a book.
    Josh Kulp | 01.30.07 – 12:22 pm | #

    Speaking of Neusner, he has been accused of what Josh would call polemicamania as well.
    andy | 01.31.07 – 4:51 pm | #

    Lest I be misunderstood (as if anyone cares), I was referring to Neusner’s contention that many of the Rabbinic writings are a response to Christianity (which of course is also dependent on his view of the documents.)
    andy | 02.01.07 – 5:56 pm | #

    I see now that Alon Goshen-Gottstein uses the phrase ‘pulmusomania’ (the English TOC has ‘polemomania’) in the title of an article in ‘Mada’ei HaYahadut’ (‘Jewish Studies’) 42 about Rabbinic and patristic (primarily Origen, spelled Origin in the English TOC!) interpretations of Song of Songs. Great minds think alike!
    andy | 03.07.07 – 5:47 pm | #

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