By , an Exchequer roll was picturing the financier Isaac of Norwich as a hook-nosed Antichrist with an exaggeratedly pointed beard. By , with Christian merchants finally up to speed, Edward I would expel all of the Jews and confiscate their wealth. On the continent, all bankers and moneylenders were, at first, Christians. The Church inveighed specifically against the usurers among them, depicting them as vile, greedy, devil-like. Soon the same artistic conventions were transferred to Jews—all Jews, even though not all Jews were moneylenders and only in rare times and places did Jews actually predominate in the moneylending trade.
The universal stereotype of the Jew as an ugly, hook-nosed, pointy-bearded man clutching a moneybag came to full flower during the commercial and financial revolution of the 12th and 13th centuries.
This same stereotype confronts the visitor throughout the exhibit: in medieval stained-glass windows, in illuminated manuscripts—and in modern cartoons. Given its prominence and ubiquity, one is relieved to come upon a few images in the exhibit of non -demonized Jews. More positively, a wall in one room is filled with printed portraits celebrating the public achievements of a number of phenomenally wealthy English Jews of the lateth and 19th centuries.
They include such heroic builders of the British Empire as Sir Albert Abdullah David Sassoon , the Indian-British businessman, financier, and philanthropist, and the banker Abraham Goldsmid ca. This story has been convincingly disproved. These portraits of dignified and admirable Jews were commissioned and printed by publishers because there was a market for them. But directly adjacent to the room in which they hang is a room of anti-Semitic caricatures from the Georgian and Victorian periods. One of the cartoons shows Jewish rag-and-bone men.
It was possible at that time to scrape together a living, if only barely, by scavenging rags to be turned into paper and bones to be boiled and their grease extracted for soap-makers. In another cartoon, Rothschild is derided for his philanthropy. For the cartoonist, when the Jew Rothschild gives alms, it ceases to be a godly act of caring and becomes a vile, off-hand, token expenditure to deodorize numberless sins.
And then there are the ceramic figurines, small statuettes that decorated many a Victorian parlor. Others are ugly mockeries of these impoverished immigrants: grotesquely distorted faces of little Jews, sold as crude humor. Karl Marx grew up in a secular Jewish family that had converted and been baptized.
What is his worldly god?
Timeline for the History of Judaism
In the exhibit, greedy Jews, complete with hooked noses and moneybags, appear in images that could have stepped out of medieval cathedral windows but are in fact taken from Third Reich and Soviet propaganda. In the 21st century, ancient canards about the unnaturally vile relationship between Jews and money, and about rich Jews manipulating the world in nefarious ways, are not only still with us but flourishing with renewed vigor. An example is the fixation by elements of the contemporary American right on the financier George Soros, a major funder of left-wing causes and of the Democratic party.
Largely missing from the exhibit, however, are examples of contemporary American left-wing anti-Semitism. One visual instance of the breed might have been a December cartoon by Ward Sutton in the Boston Globe. It shows the Republican-party funder Sheldon Adelson with a medieval hooked nose. That a respected paper like the Globe published this cartoon shows that the medieval canard of the sinful, greedy Jew is so deeply embedded in the Western imagination as to flow naturally from the pen of a cartoonist and right past the gatekeeping eye of an editor.
Expulsion, Deportation and Murder - History of the Jews in Vienna
Overall, however, Jews, Money , and Myth , puts anti-Semitism in the past tense. Perhaps the prospect that Corbyn could become prime minister in the event of a Labor victory in the next general election make delving into contemporary British anti-Semitism too sensitive for a London museum to tackle. Or perhaps the narrow theme and the focus on the past are precisely what enabled the curators to mount an exhibit that, by scarcely touching on the anti-Semitism of British-style anti-Zionism, would be acceptable to the British public.
In partial compensation, in the very last room of the exhibit, the museum has compiled an endless loop of clips of contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism emanating from various points on the political and religious spectrum across Europe and the United States. In another clip, a British talk-show host takes a phone call from an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist and agrees that yes, the Jewish plot about which his caller is spouting is certainly a problem.
And so it goes—which brings us back to my initial questions. Or might it instead plant in some visiting minds a suspicion, however faint and unarticulated, that there just might be something to this stubbornly perennial image after all? Register Now. Diana Muir Appelbaum. Indeed, the Jews come off here as a focal point of world history, so that all of civilization's story can be told simply by following the course of Jewish history and fully considering its background.
Johnson attempts to do that with mixed, though generally good, results. His focus is on the Jewish people's central message--ethical monotheism--and how that message has been heard and accepted, ignored, or increasingly attacked by a hostile world.
Johnson does have a sense that the Jews have been one unified people hurtling their way through a tormented history; this misleading sense of oneness is why he consistently and incorrectly calls the Jews a race. There are many valuable sections of the book. The Biblical section is forthright in its claims that Biblical persons lived, for example. But the strongest part of the book is about the rise of modern Israel. Although the choice of material is even here sometimes arguable, there is no doubt that Johnson captures the spirit of Zionism and explains it with enviable lucidity, care, and depth of feeling.
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Nor have the extraordinary incidents of Jewish history been robbed of their drama by pedestrian prose. Johnson rises to each occasion as he needs to invoke a setting or a person. A very readable, useful introduction, then, especially to modern Jewish history.
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