The beginning of the sixteenth century saw the arrival of a new genre of polemical writing about Jews and Judaism, viz. ethnographical books that aimed at providing their readers with revealing knowledge about Jews, their rituals, and their customs. Among the most prominent of these writers was the Moravian Jew, Johannes Pfefferkorn (c. 1469–1523), a converted Jew who joined forces with the Dominicans in Cologne to publish a series of books and pamphlets that attacked the Jews’ way of life. His aim was to draw the Jews “into the light” and expose their anti-Christian behaviour. Furthermore, he called for the destruction of Jewish books, a stance that brought him into direct conflict with the humanist Johann Reuchlin. Pfefferkorn’s works were soon translated into other German and Scandinavian languages as well as Latin, and thus rapidly spread to areas that remained unaffected by the local conflicts and debates in Cologne. Furthermore, Pfefferkorn’s publications about the religion of his birth did not remain the only example of writings by converts that shaped images of Jews in the early modern era.
Aim of the conference
The conference aims to draw together scholars of medieval and early modern ethnographical writing about Jews and of Jewish-Christian relations as well as to offer a forum for discussion and methodological innovation. Areas of interest might include:
-Pfefferkorn and early modern antisemitism
What was the purpose(s) for “revealing” the Jews’ “secrets”? How do Pfefferkorn’s claims about the Jews compare with those found in medieval anti-Jewish texts and early modern literature?
- Elements of Pfefferkorn’s enterprise and their broader history
For example: attacks on the Talmud, the destruction of books, early modern pamphleteering against the Jews, calls for expulsion, and accusations of blasphemy.
- The ethnographical aspect of Pfefferkorn’s works and the emergence of critical research on Jewish texts and rituals
Why did the genre of ethnographical writing come about? How does the genre compare with classical and medieval polemical representations? How do ethnographies of Jews differ from those of other non-Christians and from related genres like travel writing? What is the genre’s place in early modern Orientalism and Christian Hebraism?
- The various versions and translations of Pfefferkorn’s works
How do the versions in High German, Low German, Danish, and Latin compare? Is there any evidence of tailoring the contents to suit local circumstances? Why did Pfefferkorn’s works appear where they did and why in those languages?
- Other sixteenth-century converts who write about Jews, such as Victor von Carben, Anthonius Margaritha, Ernst Ferdinand Hess, and Paulus Staffelsteiner
What is the focus of the descriptions of Jewish life in these works? Are such images accurate? How do the ethnographical accounts compare to those by Jewish authors or in minhag literature? How in particular are the following portrayed: the Talmud, rituals, life-cycle events, women, and language? What is the role of converts in the development of the genre?
The conference organisers welcome submissions from scholars working in all disciplines and all areas of late medieval and early modern culture and Jewish-Christian relations. The conference seeks to offer a meeting ground for established scholars as well as younger researchers. Please send a title and a short abstract (about 200 words) to the organisers Cordelia Heß (email@example.com) and Jonathan Adams (firstname.lastname@example.org) before 1 October 2014.
Yaacov Deutsch ([Head of] History Department, David Yellin College, and History Department, Hebrew University), author of Judaism in Christian Eyes: Ethnographic Descriptions of Jews and Judaism in Early Modern Europe (Oxford University Press, 2012).
Selected papers will be considered for publication in a peer-reviewed conference volume.