Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography

Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography

by Sara Lipton


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In Dark Mirror, Sara Lipton offers a fascinating examination of the emergence of anti-Semitic iconography in the Middle Ages

The straggly beard, the hooked nose, the bag of coins, and gaudy apparel—the religious artists of medieval Christendom had no shortage of virulent symbols for identifying Jews. Yet, hateful as these depictions were, the story they tell is not as simple as it first appears.

Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, Lipton argues that these visual stereotypes were neither an inevitable outgrowth of Christian theology nor a simple reflection of medieval prejudices. Instead, she maps out the complex relationship between medieval Christians' religious ideas, social experience, and developing artistic practices that drove their depiction of Jews from benign, if exoticized, figures connoting ancient wisdom to increasingly vicious portrayals inspired by (and designed to provoke) fear and hostility.

At the heart of this lushly illustrated and meticulously researched work are questions that have occupied scholars for ages—why did Jews becomes such powerful and poisonous symbols in medieval art? Why were Jews associated with certain objects, symbols, actions, and deficiencies? And what were the effects of such portrayals—not only in medieval society, but throughout Western history? What we find is that the image of the Jew in medieval art was not a portrait of actual neighbors or even imagined others, but a cloudy glass into which Christendom gazed to find a distorted, phantasmagoric rendering of itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805079104
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Sara Lipton is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Stony Brook and the author of Images of Intolerance: The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bible moralisée, which won the Medieval Academy of America's John Nicholas Brown prize. The recipient of fellowships from the New York Public Library's Cullman Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Huffington Post.

Read an Excerpt



The Birth of a Jewish Iconography,
CA. 1015–1100

But man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured

—William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act 2, scene 2

The world did not come to an end in the year 1000, as many clerics, if not huge masses of people, feared—or in some cases hoped.1 Instead, in the decades around the turn of the first millennium an apparently rejuvenated Western Christendom experienced an unprecedented economic, cultural, and religious awakening. The fruit of this medieval spring included the rebirth of a great empire (the now-Holy Roman Empire), the revival of large-scale stone building and a related explosion of artistic creativity, and the emergence of new devotional foci and more vision- and art-oriented modes of worship.2 These same years also saw the appearance of an entirely new figure in Christian art: the visually recognizable Jew. The simultaneous emergence of these historical and artistic changes is not coincidental. They are, rather, intimately related: the birth of new and increasingly image-based Christian practices led to the visual articulation of previously unillustrated abstract ideas about Jews. As Christians learned to give visible form to a range of themes associated with “that which is Christian,” they likewise began visually to mark “that which is not.”

1. A Jewish Hat?

When Christian artists finally began to single out Jews, they did so, somewhat anticlimactically, with a hat. As any handbook of medieval iconography will attest, and as any glance at an illuminated manuscript or stained glass window from the later twelfth or thirteenth century makes clear, Jews can be recognized in high medieval art by various versions of the pointed or peaked headgear known sometimes as the pileum cornutum (horned cap) or simply as the “Jewish hat.”3 This hat first appeared on the heads of painted Jews in the eleventh century and by about 1150 had become the sign par excellence of the Jew.4 [Fig. 1] What is less clear is why this came about. Why, after so many centuries of benign neglect, did artists suddenly begin to mark Jews in this way? Did Jews of the period change their dress, or did artists for some reason start paying novel attention to Jews’ clothing? Or was the pileum a purely artistic invention, an arbitrary identifying sign unrelated to actual practice? For that matter, why did Jews need to be identified at all? And most importantly, what did “Jewishness” mean when expressed through this symbol?

The issue may not immediately seem momentous. There is, after all, nothing remarkable about using a hat as an identifying mark. In a period when portraiture was not practiced and when most people were classified according to rank, office, or function, clothing—particularly headgear—was the single most common means by which figures were distinguished in art. Popes were depicted with tiaras, kings with crowns, soldiers with helmets: objects that, if not worn every day, nevertheless constituted essential and conspicuous elements of their “professional” attire.5 Why should we not see the “Jewish hat” as a straightforward corollary, a faithful representation of the garb adopted by the people of the Mosaic law in accordance with that law?6

One basic reason for looking more deeply into the sign is its sheer newness. Medieval artists tended to work from models and to replicate venerable traditions, none of which, before 1000, depicted Jews with hats. This is not to say that change never happened—indeed, the period we shall be examining was a time of markedly creative artistic change—but it does mean that each change represents a deliberate and potentially meaningful choice, which should be examined and understood. Moreover, even “straightforward” identifying marks still embody a point of view, convey a certain meaning. A king wasn’t painted wearing his crown simply because kings wore crowns—kings also wore gloves on cold days and hats or hoods in rainy weather, but we are rarely treated to pictures of them doing so. Rather, kings wore crowns on ritual occasions because they symbolized power and sovereignty, and images of crowned kings capture and fix those attributes.

The “Jewish hat” is just as ideological, and considerably more complicated, a sign. The first complication is that it is by no means certain that in the period and place where the iconography was developed—eleventh-century northwestern Europe—Jewish men regularly wore hats at all or regarded covering the head as a religious obligation. It is important at this point to consider the nature of early medieval Jewish life. There is a widespread tendency (evident especially though not exclusively in Hollywood productions) to picture medieval Franco-German Jewish communities as purer versions of the Polish shtetl or the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn, teeming with black-hatted, heavy-coated scholars devoted night and day to intense study of the Talmud, splendidly isolated from and oblivious to the outside Christian world. This is a seriously inaccurate impression.7 Like their forebears, eleventh-century Jews strove daily to maintain their religious traditions and to observe Jewish law, but living in the Latin West posed unique challenges.8 Most Jewish communities in eleventh-century northern Europe were small and quite scattered. While one or two of the largest may have numbered as many as a thousand souls, the average size of a Jewish community was probably closer to one hundred, with the smallest consisting of just a handful of individuals.9 Some Jews were the only members of their faith in their village. Many communities worshipped in private houses, as they could not afford (or felt no need for) a separate synagogue building, and no community boasted a full-time rabbi or religious teacher.10 The great Jewish scholars of the period supplemented their incomes by working as merchants, vintners, or craftsmen; other Jews worked the land or possessed land worked by Christian peasants.11 Scholars of any kind were a minority; the average Jewish male adult was supposed to know some Hebrew, but actual command of the language varied widely, and we have several texts attesting that some Jewish men knew no Hebrew at all.12 Under such conditions Jews were of necessity economically and to a certain extent culturally and socially integrated into their Christian surroundings: they lived on the same streets and sometimes in the same buildings as Christians; they bought food and goods from, and sold them to, Christians; they entertained Christians at their tables and employed them in their homes; they attended Christian trade fairs, went on outings with Christian nobles, and (when it suited them) aired their grievances in Christian courts.13 Jewish mothers suckled their Gentile neighbors’ babies when their own failed fully to drain their breasts, and they called on the same pagan goddess to protect their children as did their Christian counterparts.14 The fact that, according to Rabbi Samson ben Abraham of Sens (d. ca. 1230), it was customary for young Jewish men to celebrate a friend’s wedding by conducting a rowdy joust on horseback shows vividly enough that even as late as the thirteenth century, when various restrictions had begun to socially distance Jews from Christians, we are dealing with a culture far from the shtetls of Poland.15

How did such communities approach the issue of covering the head? Jewish law and tradition are far less clear on the question than might be thought. The Hebrew scriptures say nothing about prescribed headgear for anyone other than the high priest and his sons, whose head coverings signified their priestly status.16 Although the Talmud praises men for covering their heads, especially during prayer, apparently even in Babylonian academic centers only married scholars of consequence habitually did so; in Palestine even pious scholars seem not to have covered their heads.17 If such vagueness and diversity of opinion prevailed among the Talmudic sages, one would hardly expect greater clarity or rigor from medieval authorities. And indeed, there was no consensus about the subject among medieval rabbis. In fact, they rarely discussed it—a strong signal that no great significance was invested in head coverings and also that no sharp change in practice was taking place. Most scholars apparently followed the Palestinian approach in not requiring that the head be covered during blessings, prayer, or study, much less during the course of daily business.18 Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel, a well-regarded rabbi from late-twelfth-century France, recorded that he prayed bareheaded, and there is no reason to think that this was a daring departure or that he was alone.19 Starting around the mid-thirteenth century, the wearing of hats did become more common among Jewish men (for reasons explored in chapter 4), but it was not until well after the end of the Middle Ages that covering the head both inside and outside the synagogue became standard practice for religious Jews.20

Finally, there is little reason to think that those eleventh-century Jews who did cover their heads—and some surely must have, whether out of piety, dignity, or simply to ward off the cold—would have sported pointed or otherwise distinctively “Jewish” hats. At various points in history Jews did seem to wear headgear not unlike the pileum cornutum: they are portrayed wearing pointed hats in Assyrian reliefs of the ninth century BCE (as are many other peoples) and probably wore the peaked Persian felt cap during their subjection to Persian rule.21 But they did so because Jews generally conformed outwardly to the society in which they lived; it would strain credulity to assume that such ancient garb was worn in an unbroken tradition during the intervening millennium and a half, in lands far from Persian dominions, and leaving no further trace in the visual or textual record. The unchanging nature of Jewish customs and observances is a common trope, positively asserted by many Jews and negatively by many non-Jews, but it is a completely unhistorical one. Talmudic discussions of head coverings mention not hats or caps but the sudra, a wrapped kerchief or turban common in Babylon, while Greek and Roman texts indicate that Hellenized Jews wore no distinctive costume.22 Jews in Muslim lands wore turbans identical to those of their Muslim neighbors.23

The few surviving early medieval references to Jewish clothing likewise suggest that Jews dressed no differently from their Gentile neighbors. The only aspect of their attire that attracted comment was the luxury displayed by wealthier Jews. Bishop Agobard of Lyons (d. 840), a notably dyspeptic cleric who bitterly resented the favor shown Jews by Carolingian rulers, complained about the ostentation of Jewish women’s dresses; to the bishop’s disgust, these dresses were gifts from the emperor’s female relatives and other palace noblewomen, and they presumably reflected the latest court fashions.24 Another ninth-century text, a biography of Pope Gregory the Great by John the Deacon, associates Jews with a certain kind of hat, but one made of fur, and it does so in the context of scolding a Christian bishop for wearing a fur hat in preference to more customary clerical headgear.25 In the tenth and eleventh centuries Jewish merchants are known to have traded in luxurious garments and textiles, including furs, gold-brocaded cloth, and silks, some of which were imported from Muslim lands; though the merchants and their families may well have worn such exotic clothing themselves, this would not have made them stand out in elite circles, as most of their customers were Christian noblemen and women.26 Contemporary descriptions of the Christian cleric Bodo, who converted to Judaism in the ninth century, note that upon his conversion he “allowed his hair and beard to grow long” and started to wear a sword but say nothing about covering his head, much less adopting any special kind of hat.27 In fact, the thrust of all accounts of Bodo’s conversion is to highlight not so much those changes that made him look more like a Jew but those that made him look less like a cleric. Conversely, when a certain (unnamed) Jew converted to Christianity in the early eleventh century, we are told that because he became a priest he shaved off his beard and “affected baldness on his head” (that is, adopted the clerical tonsure), but nothing is said of his abandoning any “Jewish” headgear.28 The famous French rabbi Rashi (d. 1105) mentions in passing that when a person is warm he takes off his kumta (cap) or sudra (turban), but, again, nothing in the comment suggests that these were widespread, peculiarly Jewish, or religiously meaningful fashion items.29 The earliest Jewish textual reference to Jewish headgear cited in the major modern study of Jewish costume dates to 1295; the earliest Christian reference is a 1267 ordinance from Breslau.30

In sum, we have no reason to think that in eleventh-century Europe the wearing of hats by Jews was either a new or a (newly noted) general custom, that covering the head was considered a central element of Jewish observance, or that those Jews who did wear hats wore characteristic or conspicuously pointed ones. The only evidence we really have for the wearing of pointed “Jewish hats” by medieval Jews prior to the thirteenth century is art.31 And it hardly seems satisfactory to answer the question posed by our images by citing the very images we are trying to explain.

2. The Sign of the Hat

If it has proven fruitless to look to actual sartorial practice to explain the emergence of the “Jewish hat” in eleventh-century art, this should not come as a surprise. Medieval images served many purposes: they glorified God, embodied sanctity, told tales, radiated authority, and inspired miracles, but they did not seek to document their surroundings.32 Even when images did reflect reality, it was because that particular reality was invested with special meaning, and its representation therefore expressed important religious or political ideas. And so we have come back to the questions I posed at the outset: Why did an identifying sign for Jews suddenly become necessary at the dawn of the high Middle Ages? And what was the sign of the pointed “Jewish hat” trying to say?33

For some time scholars believed they had an answer. In A History of Jewish Costume, Alfred Rubens claims that the very first appearance of the pointed “Jewish hat” in art was in the painted initials of the Stavelot Bible, a giant two-volume illustrated Bible made for the Abbey of Stavelot in the region known as Lotharingia, or Lorraine (now Belgium).34 [Fig. 2] This Bible is conveniently signed by its scribe, a rather charming monk called Goderanus, who is humble about his virtues but tangibly (and justifiably) proud of his handiwork. At the end of the Bible Goderanus tells us not only his name and his hopes and dreams for himself and his brother monks but also the year of the manuscript’s completion: “I, Goderanus, a sinner, and Brother Ernesto, my helper and comrade in that labor, commit this and a companion volume to the Abbey of Stavelot.… We have written both these volumes constantly and most diligently for almost four years.… And it is now the 1097th year of the Incarnation of the Lord … in the Fifth Indiction, with Emperor Henry IV ruling and as an army of Christians is violently driving against the pagans.”35 What a perfect context for the birth of anti-Jewish iconography: the Bible was made during the First Crusade in the very heartland of Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, first Latin ruler of Jerusalem, and allegedly one of the instigators of the terrible anti-Jewish attacks perpetrated by fanatical crusaders on their way to the Holy Land in the spring of 1096.36 Is it any wonder that Bernhard Blumenkranz, the first great historian of anti-Jewish art, identified 1096 as the crucial turning point in the Christian representation of the Jew and found the inspiration for the new anti-Jewish imagery in the hatred and prejudice fanned by the First Crusade?37

Unfortunately, there are several reasons why this theory does not convince. For one thing, it is hard to see how or why this iconographical sign might reflect or promote crusader anti-Judaism. There is nothing overtly anti-Jewish in Goderanus’s use of the “Jewish hat” in his biblical illustration. The hat appears on the heads of the prophets Joel, Abdias (Obadiah), and Zacharias—revered Old Testament figures whose writings were accepted by Goderanus and his Christian contemporaries as the true word of God and who were never denigrated in the medieval Christian tradition. And although Goderanus seems to endorse the idea of a holy war against the “pagans,” he doesn’t mention, much less praise, crusader attacks on Jews, which were certainly not part of the official Crusade program and which were roundly condemned by ecclesiastical authorities, the Emperor Henry IV (patron of Stavelot), and at least one monastic chronicler.38 Nor should we be misled by the fact that the pointed “Jewish hat” looks somewhat odd to our eyes. In spite of its resemblance to the modern dunce cap, the shape of the hat would not have appeared ludicrous to medieval viewers, who were accustomed to seeing headgear of quite extreme sizes and shapes on a range of figures in art, and probably also in life. Indeed, the closest analogue to the pileum cornutum was the headgear of the pope—the papal tiara (to which, I argue below, it was in fact related).

A more basic problem with Blumenkranz’s approach is the fact that Goderanus placed the same pointed hat on the heads of Hebrew prophets in an earlier manuscript, a Bible he made for the monastery of Lobbes (also in Belgium), which he completed in the year 1084.39 [Fig. 3; see also color insert] Unless Goderanus was something of a prophet himself, able to foresee the First Crusade eleven years before it was preached (not to mention its unauthorized anti-Jewish digressions), we cannot look to crusader ideology to explain the introduction of the “Jewish hat.”

In fact, the “Jewish hat” was not invented for the Lobbes Bible either. Although the example of the Stavelot and Lobbes Bibles reveals how tricky it is to try to define a starting point for any artistic trend in so ill-documented a period as the Middle Ages, I have been able to trace the “Jewish hat” at least as far back as the year 1015. Nor is this the first appearance of the pointed hat, which has a long and complicated history in Christian art before it finally lands on the head of a Jew in the early eleventh century. In order to understand how and why it got there, and what it meant to the people who painted and viewed it, we need to examine the circumstances and concerns—artistic, social, and religious—of its moment of birth and explore the visual and social sources drawn upon by the artists.

3. Dressed in Authority

The earliest surviving appearance of the “Jewish hat” is in a manuscript known as the Second Gospel Book of Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim, which dates to about 1015.40 Jewish figures wear distinctive pointed hats in two different illustrations in this manuscript. [Fig. 4] The first illustration shows, in its upper register, Saint John the Baptist preaching to a group of four men; below, Christ stands with four disciples.41 In the preaching scene the Baptist, on the right, is young, beardless, and barefoot; his listeners on the left are bearded and dressed in elaborate gold-trimmed cloaks and red shoes. One of these figures carries a book, the foremost holds a long, thin staff, and all wear tallish, slightly backward-curved pointed hats.42

Who are these men? John’s audience is not specifically identified in the Gospel of Mark (the biblical book this image precedes), which says only “John was in the desert, baptizing and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins,” with the next verse noting that “all Judea went out to him … to be baptized.” In the Gospel of Matthew John’s auditors are called “Pharisees and Sadducees,” and in the Gospel of John, “priests and Levites.”43 We can conclude, then, that these behatted figures are generally meant to be religious leaders of the Judean Jewish community.

In the second image, the figures can be identified more precisely. [Fig. 5] The Last Supper is depicted above and Judas’s betrayal below, as narrated in Luke 22:4–5: “And [Judas] went and discoursed with the chief priests and the magistrates, how he might betray him to them. And they were glad and covenanted to give him money.” In both scenes Judas, the greatest villain in Christian history, is visually distinguished only in that he wears greenish-bluish clothing, whereas the other disciples resemble a heavenly company, all in white.44 By contrast, the “chief priest and magistrates” of the betrayal scene are clearly demarcated: they wear the same distinctive hats as the Judean elders listening to the Baptist’s sermon.

In this manuscript, then, the pointed hat is twice associated with “Jewish” New Testament figures. This is apparently the first time that any such association was made. But why? What does this association mean? The hat cannot possibly serve to identify the figures as Jews: as noted above, there is no evidence that Jews wore such headgear in Bernward’s day, the pointed hat had never been used as a Jewish artistic symbol before this moment, and, indeed, most Jewish figures in this manuscript wear no hats. Nor can the hat be seen as somehow acting as a vehicle for vilification. In the second scene the Jewish associates of Judas are of course unabashedly villainous. But it is less clear that the auditors of John the Baptist are equally depraved. Although the Gospel of Matthew is aggressively hostile toward the Pharisees and Sadducees against whom the Baptist rails, the Gospel of Luke, which the betrayal image prefaces, is far less so, and both texts claim that “all Judea” was eventually baptized, making these figures potential converts to Christianity. Indeed, practically the same hat appears in one more image in this manuscript: not on the heads of priests, Pharisees, or other opponents of Christ but on the heads of his first devotees: the Three Magi. [Fig. 6]

This third image provides the key to the meaning of the sign. For the hat that is habitually referred to as the “Jewish hat” is in fact primarily linked to the Three Magi in early medieval art.45 Sometimes in the guise of the forward-falling Phrygian cap, but sometimes as straighter, tall, peaked caps or, as here, backward-falling pointed hats, the Magi’s pointed headgear appears as early as the third century on a Gallo-Syrian sarcophagus from southern France and can be found on objects as diverse as a Coptic ivory plaque from sixth-century Egypt, mosaics from sixth-century Ravenna, Italy, and a stone carving from eighth-century Spain.46 The Magi and King Herod wear identical pointed caps in manuscripts almost exactly contemporary to the Bernward Gospels.47

Because the Gospels provide very little information about these “wise men” who traveled to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews, saying only that they came from the East and saw his birth written in a star, early Christians were free to develop a variety of ideas about their status and origin.48 Tertullian (d. 220) assumed they were high-born Persian priests;49 another early author known as Pseudo-Augustine believed that they came from the mysterious eastern land called Hevilath famed for its gold;50 a third, anonymous text calls them Chaldeans.51 Isidore of Seville, the great encyclopedist of the seventh century, sees them as astrologers,52 while various other writers, inspired by Psalm 71:10–11 (“The kings of Tarshish and all the islands shall offer presents; the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts”), identify them as Arabian kings.53 Accordingly, when Western artists imagined the garb of the Magi they dressed them in vaguely “Eastern” and “archaic” fashion, characterized especially by “Phrygian” tunics and leggings and by hats that recalled one of three kinds of antique Eastern headgear: [Fig. 7] the soft cap with a forward-falling peak known as the Phrygian cap (often shown on Persian characters or on classical personifications), the somewhat taller pointed cap said to have been worn by pagan priests, or the similar, though less soft, pointed tiaras that functioned as crowns on the heads of ancient kings.54 Pointed caps were also adopted as court dress in the Byzantine Empire, perhaps as early as the tenth century.55 The pointed hat or cap was thus associated in Christian thought and art with Easternness, antiquity, esoteric knowledge, priestly authority, and/or an exotic form of royalty—qualities eminently suited for the “wise men from the East” who came to pay homage to Christ, king of kings.56

If the painter of the Bernward Gospel Book drew on earlier sources for his depiction of the Magi, like any other creative artist he nevertheless used his models in his own way and modified inherited forms to suit his own needs and culture.57 Here, the representation of the Magi is shaped by contemporary political ideology: the Ottonians, the new and ambitious Germanic imperial dynasty named for its founder, Otto I, sought in this period to solidify their position through ceremonial and artistic as well as military means. In this task they drew on ancient Roman rituals and forms—largely transmitted via the envied, revered, resented, and feared Byzantine Empire—to exalt themselves above all their rivals, even to the point of equating themselves with Christ himself.58 Bernward’s manuscript echoes this conflation of emperor and savior, depicting the wise men standing not beside the infant Jesus, as was usual, but beneath him. They raise their hands to offer their gifts in a way directly analogous to the personifications of the subject peoples often depicted in Ottonian art paying tribute to the Holy Roman emperor.59 [Fig. 8] Bernward’s image thus underscores the fact that though the Magi may be endowed with regal and/or priestly wisdom, power, and authority, they recognize and submit to a greater Lord above themselves. Just as the emperor demonstrated his imperial status by receiving the offerings of leaders beneath him, so the preeminence of Christ is confirmed by this act of tribute. Paradoxically, because the illustrations of this manuscript, unusually for Ottonian art, emphasize the humanity and humility of Christ (portraying him, for example, as a swaddled infant rather than an enthroned youth), the dignity and glory of those who bow to him have all the more to be highlighted; hence the Magi’s particularly fantastical and luxurious attire.60 Their orientalized and stately clothing and headgear show simultaneously their wisdom in recognizing the supreme king and their worthiness to pay homage to him, while the archaic nature of their appearance underscores their supersession by his coming.

If the pointed hat signifies antique or Eastern wisdom and authority, what are we to make of the fact that “Jewish” figures wear it as well? Why do John’s auditors and Judas’s paymasters share the headgear of ancient priests and Asiatic kings? One possible explanation is that the Judeans’ hats, like their gold-trimmed clothing and long golden staff, were primarily markers of rank, intended to single out these figures as eminent priests and leaders—at the 1014 coronation of Henry II as Holy Roman emperor, the king was surrounded by twelve senators carrying staffs of office.61 In so hierarchical and status-conscious a culture as Ottonian Germany, a person was measured by the dignity of his enemies as much as of his friends—for a mere knight to slay a royal kinsman and prince was a particularly abhorrent offense.62 Bishop Bernward or his artist may have felt that the men who heard but rejected the message of Christ’s forerunner and who engineered the death of Christ himself, though grievously culpable sinners, had to be endowed with a grandeur at least equal to those who served him if his dignity was to be preserved. The image may also seek to identify Jesus’s opponents with the “East,” reflecting the Ottonians’ vexed relationship with the far older and wealthier Byzantine Empire, whose status (and princesses) they coveted even as they denied its claims to precedence.63 The hats of the Jewish priests and Pharisees, then, help to reconfigure the career of Christ as a (successful) contest for sovereignty and dominion, paralleling the Ottonians’ own struggle to dominate not Jews but rather their own imperial predecessors, their noble challengers, their clerical retainers, and their Greek rivals.

But I do not think this explanation fully satisfies; it is a bit too impoverishing to reduce the inventive images of this Gospel Book solely to a matter of rank and dignity, even when the king in question is Christ. Perhaps some Ottonian Christians did indeed view divinity through such a monochromatic lens, but for most human beings, then as now, religious imagination is more complex. The Bernward Gospels were made for a complex and sophisticated man indeed. Bernward of Hildesheim (d. 1022) was a powerful political player who at the very end of his life became a monk and who eventually came to be venerated as a saint. Born into a noble Saxon family, Bishop Bernward entered clerical orders as a young man and received a first-rate education in Christian literature and theology, as well as unusually extensive training in the “mechanical arts”—manuscript illumination and goldsmithing. After a brief stint in the service of the archbishop of Mainz, he became tutor and adviser to the young Emperor Otto III, by whom he was named bishop of Hildesheim in 993. Bernward understood as fully as any of his contemporaries the multifaceted nature of power, and throughout his career he creatively and effectively drew on personal, political, administrative, intellectual, and aesthetic resources to promote his chief interests, which included defending the prerogatives of the church of Hildesheim, promoting monastic and clerical reform in his diocese, and, most especially, adorning his cathedral and the monastery he founded nearby with the most splendid and innovative possible works of art. Bernward is credited with, among other things, reviving the art of bronze casting in Germany after a hiatus of almost two hundred years and helping to spark the reappearance of monumental sculpture across Europe. He is now known primarily as one of the greatest of all medieval artistic patrons.64

Bernward was also an innovator in another way: he was in the forefront of a new trend in Western Christianity to focus devotion on the vulnerable and human as well as on the divine and triumphant Christ.65 The causes of this new interest in Christ’s humanity are the subject of considerable debate.66 Some scholars have suggested that the approach of the thousandth anniversaries of Christ’s birth and crucifixion redirected attention to his human life and death. Others hypothesize that increasing agricultural returns and improved life expectancy following improvements in the weather may have rendered Christians less inclined to seek escape from the material world and more open to thinking about Christ’s earthly existence, rather than just his heavenly reign. The relief and optimism brought about by the cessation of Viking attacks and Otto I’s decisive victory over invading Magyars in 955 may have had a similar effect. Intensified contact with the Byzantine world, which had a deeper tradition of engagement with Christ’s humanity than the early medieval West, is also likely associated with the new religiosity. Whatever the causes of the new devotional emphasis, its effects are less in doubt: toward the end of the tenth century and in the first half of the eleventh, the mortal birth, fleshly body, and—especially—the corporeal death of Jesus Christ received increased emphasis in western Christian worship. With this trend grew a desire to touch and see tangible traces of Jesus’s earthly existence. The visual encounter with Jesus’s image consequently gained in religious import. Such physical contact and visual encounters took a variety of forms, including intensified collection and veneration of relics of the True Cross (among the only material fragments associated with Jesus’s physical body to remain in this world);67 a surge of interest in pilgrimage to the Holy Land, site of Jesus’s birth, career, and death; the veneration (new in northern Europe) of freestanding religious images, especially images of the Virgin and Child;68 the abandonment of the Carolingian reluctance to extensively illustrate the human life of Christ;69 and a heightened liturgical role accorded crosses and crucifixes—including greater use of the altar cross, the addition of images of Jesus to processional crosses, and the introduction into churches of large-scale crucifixes suspended from the ceiling or choir arch.70

Few eleventh-century Christians were more devoted to the human Christ or eager to visually contemplate his bodily image than Bernward of Hildesheim. The sight of Christ was so central to Bernward’s faith that he enshrined it in the epitaph he chose for his own tombstone: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that on the last day I will be raised up from the earth, and I will again be enveloped in my skin, and in my flesh I will see God my Savior, whom I myself shall see and my eyes shall perceive, and no other. This my hope is stored in my breast.”71 While he was anticipating that final face-to-face encounter, Bernward meanwhile tried to approach God made man through images. As the historian Henry Mayr-Harting has remarked, “Bernward’s patronage of art seems almost in the nature of a mystical experience.”72 The splendid works of art he commissioned were not simply designed to glorify Christianity through opulence, they were intended to move Christians through creative and stirring visual expression. The large wooden crucifix that he gave to the canonesses of Ringelheim sometime between 1000 and 1020 is an extraordinarily touching and human image, and the silver crucifix made for Bernward sometime after 1007, which shelters a True Cross relic in a cavity in the corpus of Christ, is among the first such objects in Latin Christendom to show a vulnerable and dying Jesus slumped on the cross.73 [Fig. 9] This combination of an intense devotional focus on the human body of Christ, together with obviously potent aesthetic sensibilities, led Bernward to place visual experience at the center of his spirituality.

These two tendencies—to draw pious inspiration from Christ’s humanity and to exalt the spiritual importance of vision—come together in Bernward’s Second Gospel Book; they are also, I believe, directly related to the function of the pointed hat. A recent publication on the manuscript notes that in the Nativity/Adoration scene the Magi are posed strangely: not so as to give gifts but so that they can look at the star above them.74 I would modify this observation slightly: their glances are actually trained on the Christ Child himself, lying in a crib illuminated by the light of the celestial star. There is, I think, considerable significance to this fact. One other depiction of Christ’s starlit crib appears in the manuscript—in the frontispiece to the Gospel of John, directly below a shining image of a beautiful young Christ in Majesty. This second image is a rare and creative illustration of John 1:14: “And we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of his grace and truth.”75 [Fig. 10] The rays of starlight shining on the swaddled Child adored by the Magi, then, indicate that in token of and as reward for their faith, the Magi were granted heavenly illumination. When the wise men from the East pierce the frame of the image and gaze on the human infant Christ, they can simultaneously see the radiant, divine, glory-filled God—just what Bernward himself (like Saint Paul before him) so yearned for.

This same vision of the divine and glorious Son of the Father is precisely what is being offered the Jewish elders in the Preaching of John the Baptist scene. Through the words and person of the prophet, and in the layout of the very page they are painted on—which depicts Christ standing just below them—the Judeans are offered a view of the God made man. However, the attitude of these elders contrasts markedly with that of the Magi whom they otherwise so resemble. Whereas the Magi look to the space above them, recognize the divinity in the newborn child, and submit with joy, the Judeans are poised in indecision: they stand stiff and frozen, clinging to a closed book and a staff that is slipping awkwardly out of its holder’s hand—signs indicative of lost wisdom and waning authority.76 And though the elders look toward John, they are unable to follow his downward gaze and pierce the frame of the image as the Magi do to behold Christ, who is welcomed by humbler and more discerning souls in the scene directly below.

The three “chief priests and magistrates” depicted in the Betrayal of Judas scene, who also fail to look at, much less to see and recognize, Christ (visible just above) contrast even more sharply with the Magi. The treasure they give in gift is not the tribute of acolytes but the blood money of executioners, and the grief they cause is movingly expressed in the tears pouring down the Virgin Mary’s face in the Crucifixion scene on the very next folio.

In these three images featuring pointed hats, then, Bernward’s manuscript starkly lays out three different possible reactions to the sight of Christ in the flesh. And this, I believe, is the primary function of the unusual and unprecedented sign of the pointed hat in this manuscript: to render the Magi and the Jewish elders commensurable, forcing the viewer to do exactly what I have just done—compare and contrast the two sets of figures, note their visual similarities, and meditate upon their spiritual differences.77 Both groups wear hats, signs of knowledge and authority, and so can lay claim to antique learning and high religious office. Both groups are offered a glimpse of the truth, in the form of the sight of Christ. Yet each group wields its powers of perception to radically different ends. By looking so alike and reacting so differently, these behatted figures crystallize the choices facing anyone who contemplates the truth, who in the flesh or on the page comes face-to-face with Christ.

One can certainly read into this use of the pointed hat an anti-Jewish message, a visual concretization of the verbal critiques (of Pharisaic/Judaic blindness, arrogance, stagnancy) that inform so many Christian texts, including the Gospels themselves. But I suspect that contemporary Jews would not have been the only, or even the primary, people associated with the elders. It is surely no accident that just in this period imperial bishops, whose political, ecclesiastical, and liturgical importance was increasing in the decades around 1000 and who consequently began to display augmented signs of authority, were adopting a new form of headgear.78 Whereas before the late tenth century bishops had worn circular bands as signs of temporal power, in Bernward’s lifetime they began to wear the conical cap known as the miter, a modified version of the papal tiara, which in turn was based on the same antique sources that inspired the hats of the Magi.79 When Bernward of Hildesheim looked upon the headgear of the men who were offered his own heart’s desire—the chance to look upon the Son of God in the flesh—he saw not his Jewish subjects and neighbors but himself. Because the pointed hat signals not Jewishness but knowledge and authority, it functions not to distinguish Jews from Christians but to link the medieval Christian bishop to his ancient forerunners, Gentile and Judean. By tracing the path of the pointed hat from magus to elder to magistrate, he might contemplate in turn the great prize, the difficult test, and the terrible fate that faced a prelate of power and learning, pride and wealth. The images in this manuscript, and the innovative iconography they unveil, bring together ancient garb, timeless scripture, and contemporary culture to simultaneously challenge, taunt, and give hope to the deeply pious, politically powerful, and intensely visual man for whom they were made.

4. Beyond the Page: Painted Hats, Living Symbol, and Unseeing Jews

I do not think, then, that we can read Bernward’s manuscript in the first instance as an anti-Jewish work. Indeed, there is little reason to suspect that Bernward harbored any particular personal antagonism toward Jews. He left no comment on Jews in his works, though he surely must have known some, perhaps quite well—he was closely associated with two archbishops of Mainz during the years when the famous Rabbi Gershom was living and teaching there, and a Jew named Kalonymus was close to Bernward’s student Emperor Otto III. Relations between Jews and some Ottonian prelates seem to have been quite good. One well-known story emphasizes the intensity of the grief experienced by the Jewish community of Magdeburg at the death of the archbishop.80

Nevertheless, there is some evidence that even before the making of Bernward’s Second Gospel Book, both the religious sensibility underlying its artistic innovations and the artistic trends to which it belonged prompted some Christians to think anew about Jewish “blindness.” The question of Jewish vision was the subject of a vigorous textual debate between a Christian convert to Judaism named Wecelin and a Catholic cleric named Henry, who was attached to the court of Emperor Henry II (r. 1002–24).81 At some point after his conversion Wecelin had disseminated a letter justifying his conversion and lambasting what he saw as the inconsistencies and errors of Christianity. The emperor, enraged by the attack, asked one of his priests to write a response. According to the chronicle in which both letters are recorded, the first subject debated in the exchange was Christ’s incarnation. Wecelin’s reason for rejecting the idea that God took on human flesh was that according to Exodus 33:20, “no man could see [God] and live.” In his response, the Christian cleric Henry reaffirmed both Jesus’s visibility during his time on earth and his continued visibility in medieval Christendom by quoting 1 Corinthians 1:23: “we preach Christ Crucified, an offense for Jews and foolishness to gentiles.” In this epistle Paul was referring to Jewish disgust at the idea of equating any man with God and to Gentile resistance to the idea of deifying a lowborn criminal executed in a humiliating fashion. But Henry changed the words of Paul’s declaration slightly: instead of calling the crucifixum a scandalum (offense) and stultitiam (foolishness), he added very concrete words, calling the crucifix a lapis offensionis et petra scandali, that is, “a stone of offense and a rock of scandal.”82 The addition of these material terms recalls to the mind not just the historical fact of the Crucifixion but its representation in physical objects: the crucifixes that were increasingly visible in his day were often encrusted with gems, if not generally carved from stone. Moreover, Henry goes on to tell his Jewish opponent: “Through the preaching [that you call foolishness] the arrogance of the world has already been overthrown, and upon the foreheads of kings you will see the trophy of the cross.” This phrase, too, invokes a tangible contemporary object: in the early eleventh century, a filigree cross was added to the top of the crown of the Holy Roman emperor, Henry’s patron.83 Henry spends the rest of the section criticizing Jewish “blindness,” by which he means their corrupted, corporeal way of looking. For perhaps the first time in Western Christendom, a diatribe against Jews’ inadequate vision and understanding cites not just the historical Christ or his scriptural prefiguring but also his artistic representation.

The images of unseeing Jews in Bernward’s Gospel Book echo such accusations. But they do much more than merely illustrate a theological position. Art can affect as well as reflect the culture that creates and views it. The combination of exalting the sight of the Christ while visually singling out those “blinded” Jews who could not properly contemplate it seems to have impelled some viewers to consider Jews in new and more negative ways. The new iconography lent immediacy and visceral force to a fairly traditional textual charge and so had significant repercussions for Christian attitudes toward real, living Jews. Though Bernward visually marked Christ’s Jewish interlocutors primarily as a spur for meditation on self rather than on Jewish “otherness,” not all his contemporaries were equally introspective. For them, shining a new spotlight on those ancient Jews who (in Christian thought) saw Christ in the flesh and yet didn’t believe seemed to highlight primarily the extent of Jewish “difference” and the depths of their iniquity. Thus, several contemporary texts and at least one contemporary image confirm that art was becoming a flashpoint for anti-Jewish animus in this period, often in the form of accusations of Jewish hostility and even violence toward Christ’s image. The monastic chronicler Adémar of Chabannes (fl. ca. 1025) asserted that an earthquake that struck Rome on Good Friday in the year 1020 was caused by Jews who mocked a crucifix, bringing God’s wrath on the entire city. According to Adémar, the city was secured only when the perpetrators were executed.84 At about the same time, a responsum of Rabbi Joseph Tob-Elem (d. 1030) notes that the Jews of the ecclesiastical province of Sens experienced “untold calamities” (in fact, a stiff fine) because they were somehow blamed for the destruction of a statue or cross (or perhaps a church ornament or a religious image; the source is unclear) in the region.85 Although there is reason to doubt the truth of both of these accusations, the very existence of such rumors, assumptions, or fictions suggests that Jews were increasingly regarded as “enemies” of Christian art and, most especially, of its most holy image, the crucifix.86 It is probably for this reason that at just this time Western Christendom finally began to embrace a centuries-old Byzantine exemplum (moralizing anecdote) about a crucifix that bled when mocked and struck by Jews. First mentioned in a sermon at the pro-image, anti-iconoclast Seventh Council of Nicaea in 787, the tale was translated into Latin as early as the ninth century but for two hundred years remained largely unknown in western Europe. In the eleventh century, however, it entered the Latin liturgy and quickly spread throughout the continent.87 The Jews’ antagonism toward the image of Christ had become an integral part of Catholic worship.

If Bernward’s Second Gospel Book cannot quite be considered a visual expression of hostility toward unseeing Jews, another image in a contemporary manuscript almost certainly can. From the very beginning of the popularity of Crucifixion imagery in the West, it had been traditional to include female personifications of Ecclesia (Church) and Synagoga (the Old Law) among the figures flanking the crucified Christ. In ninth- and tenth-century art, these two figures were generally identical to each other in dress and appearance, symbolizing the intimate connections between the Old Covenant and the New. The smooth and uncontested transition from the former to the latter was demonstrated by Synagoga’s actions: she usually walks calmly off to the right, while looking back to keep her gaze fixed on Jesus. [Fig. 11] However, a fundamental shift in the representation of Synagoga occurred in the later tenth century: Synagoga becomes increasingly deprived of her signs of respect: her once-intact staff is now shown as broken, and her crown as slipping off her head.88 In the early eleventh century one more twist was added: Synagoga lost her sight. The earliest surviving representation of a blinded Synagoga dates to Bernward of Hildesheim’s period, appearing in a manuscript known as the Uta Codex, which was made in Regensburg for the abbess of Niedermünster around 1025.89 In one of the Codex’s frontispieces, the Crucifixion is flanked on Christ’s right by three personifications: the Sun, Ecclesia (called Grace), and Life, as well as an image of the resurrection of the dead. On Christ’s left are likewise three personifications: the Moon, Synagoga (called Law), and Death, plus a depiction of the Torn Veil of the Temple. [Fig. 12] This complex program serves to underscore the importance of visual devotion. According to the art historian Adam Cohen, the chief function of the image was to demonstrate to the reader that the once unapproachable and cosmic God had not only become incarnate on earth but also was physically present for the nuns at Niedermünster.90 Physically present, that is, in the Eucharist, but also visually present in this very image. But the Uta Codex does more than use manuscript illumination to instruct and inspire Christians. It is one of the first works of art to condemn Jews’ lack of sight. For as Synagoga walks off to the right, her eyes are entirely blocked by the frame of the page. This image graphically demonstrates not only that “The Law Brings Destruction,” as Synagoga’s scroll announces, but that the cause of that destructiveness is her refusal to do what Bishop Bernward, the nuns of Niedermünster, and so many of their fellow Christians longed to do: gaze reverently at the image of Christ.91

What do we learn from this look at the early-eleventh-century invention of the sign of the “Jewish hat”? First, it suggests that living medieval Jews were not the main inspiration for the first visually distinctive depictions of “Jewish” figures. Bernward’s artists based the basic shape of the hat not on Jewish apparel but on artistic precedents, and in deploying the hat in new ways they were influenced by internal—that is, wholly Christian—developments and imagery, both imperial and ecclesiastical. As Christians found themselves contemplating ever more visible and religiously significant images of Christ, they found it useful to consider, and to visually identify, other figures who also had been presented with the sight of Christ. A sign of high office, when applied to Pharisees and priests, drew attention to powerful and privileged viewers of Christ, so that those in similar positions of power and privilege might be forced to contemplate their own relative worth. At the same time, although contemporary Jews may not have inspired these images, the images may well have impelled Christians to regard contemporary Jews in a new, more suspicious light, just as the new prominence of the crucified God highlighted the Jews’ very different assessment of that image and figure.

Second, our inquiry indicates that the sign of the “Jewish hat” was not inescapably negative and did not necessarily enshrine a sense of utter difference. The pointed hat was associated with positive figures as well as nefarious ones, and if the comparison erected between the Magi and the Jewish elders was undoubtedly to the detriment of the latter, there is little sense in these Gospel images that the Jews’ failure lay in some inherent or inescapable “otherness” or iniquity. Even in the Uta Codex, Synagoga is blinded by her decision to turn away from Christ, and not by any inborn incapacity for faith or vision. If Christians came to hate and fear Jews (and I am not giving away any surprise ending by acknowledging that many, perhaps most, medieval Christians did eventually come to hate and fear Jews), it was not because they were seen as different from Gentiles in essence or ability.

Finally, it is surely no coincidence that the first specific iconography related to Jews—a hat resting on the foreheads of figures presented with a prospect of Christ, and a Synagoga blinded by her own refusal to look—appears just as the role of art in general, and images of the crucified Christ in particular, are beginning to take center stage in medieval Christian practice and to enter the hitherto text-bound realm of Jewish-Christian debate. But these ruminations did not lead to any single destination: the considerably more hostile reading of Jews’ relation to Christ’s image offered by some of Bernward’s contemporaries demonstrates the variability with which the subject of Jewish vision can be approached. Moreover, as the nature and role of Christian art evolved, so too did the depiction of the Jew.

5. Antique Prophets and “Modern” Priests

In identifying Bernward’s Second Gospel Book as the birthplace, or at least the earliest surviving example, of the “Jewish hat,” I do not mean to suggest that this manuscript or Bernward’s preoccupations rigidly dictated the sign’s meaning or subsequent use. In fact, the iconography devised for Judean elders in Bernward’s Gospel Book did not immediately revolutionize the representation of Jews in art. Bernward himself employed it in no other work of art that we know of. [Fig. 13] Conical hats slightly different in appearance do show up on the heads of New Testament Jews identified as “princes of the priests and elders of the people who plot to take and kill Jesus” in at least one other eleventh-century manuscript—a liturgical book from Reichenau dating to about 1056.92 Presumably they serve there to signal the figures’ status and high office. And a fresco of John the Baptist Preaching in the Danish church of Jelling dating to about 1100 seems fairly closely modeled on the corresponding image in Bernward’s Second Gospel Book, complete with pointed hats.93 But there are few other surviving mid-eleventh-century uses of the peaked or pointed hat in association with Jewish figures; the sign continued to function primarily as a marker for Eastern learning, antiquity, and authority. Then, toward the end of the century, pointed hats reappear in association with Jews—this time not just New Testament Judaic elders and priests but Old Testament prophets, figures who had never before been endowed with such attributes. And so we come back, finally, to Goderanus, our innovative and allegedly anti-Semitic Belgian scribe and monk.

Like the artworks commissioned by Bernward, the Lobbes Bible, completed by Goderanus in the year 1084, lays claim to a series of influential firsts.94 It was one of the first illuminated Bible manuscripts made in the Holy Roman Empire to include the Hebrew scriptures (previously scribes and illuminators had focused on the Gospels and liturgical texts).95 It is the earliest surviving manuscript whose decoration consists solely of historiated initials (that is, large initial letters with figures and scenes painted inside), and the number and variety of these initials is likewise without precedent. Many scenes and themes in the Lobbes initials, such as Daniel seated among the lions and the brazen serpent perched on top of a column (Numbers 21:4–9), are the first documented of their kind. Its style, too, is new, displaying a solidness of figure and color that will come to dominate Romanesque painting.96 And if Goderanus was not the first to use the pointed hat as a Jewish sign, he seems to have been the first to transfer the hat from New Testament priests and Pharisees, communal leaders and office holders who might be expected to display signs of authority, to Hebrew prophets—spiritual advisers who had never before been endowed with such signs. What induced this transfer, and what, in this new context, did the pointed hat come to mean?

For reasons detailed above, I believe we can rule out anti-Judaism as a primary motivation. That is, in spite of the pointed hat’s previous (occasional) association with the Gospel opponents of Christ, it was not here intended to mark “Jews” as evil or different. In fact, I think it unlikely that Goderanus was thinking of figures we would consider “Jews” at all. Instead, to Goderanus and his contemporaries, these representations of Hebrew prophets would have suggested something very different.

As we have seen, the principal associations of the pointed hat were priestly or royal dignity, Eastern exoticism, and antique authority. Bernward drew on all of these qualities in his search to express his sense of episcopal status, privilege, and aspirations. In the Lobbes initials, Goderanus emphasizes only the last of these traits. Unlike the Magi and priests in Bernward’s manuscript, these prophets wear relatively simple clothing—colored cloaks over pale robes, displaying little in the way of luxury, rank, or exoticism. Also unlike Bernward’s priests and elders, these prophets carry no staffs or tokens of power or high office, nor do they sit on thrones. Indeed, one would not expect them to: the Hebrew prophets, many of whom were of modest birth, were distinguished not for high office or glorious lineage but for their spiritual insight and for the courage and righteousness with which they faced down power and privilege and championed the humble. Goderanus’s prophets, accordingly, display not staffs or scepters but emblems that had long been associated in Christian art with antique wisdom. Each carries the words of his own ancient prophecy inscribed on a scroll, the classical form of the book,97 and, in contrast with the Jewish elders in Bernward’s manuscript, some of whom had beards and some of whom did not, all the Lobbes prophets are bearded (Jeremiah has a five o’clock shadow rather than a beard, but this is an exception that proves the rule: he is mourning in the initial, and according to his own prophetic book, shaving or plucking the beard was a sign of mourning: Jeremiah 41:5; 48:37). Thus, Goderanus combined the new sign of the pointed hat with two other symbols (the scroll and the beard), neither of which would have struck the eleventh-century viewer as particularly evocative of either contemporary Jews or the First Crusade, much less as conveying hatred of Jews.98

This assertion that the beard would not have been regarded—yet—as peculiarly Jewish may come as a surprise to those accustomed to considering beard wearing a central marker of Jewish religiosity. But in early medieval Jewish law and custom the status of the beard, like that of the head covering, is surprisingly indeterminate. The Hebrew Bible forbids the clipping or shaving of the corners or sides of the beard (so as to produce a pointed beard), but it does not require that Jewish males wear beards, nor does it ban the trimming of beards outright.99 In the Mishnah (redacted ca. 220), only close shaving of the beard with a razor is forbidden; trimming with scissors and even the rough use of a razor seem to be permitted.100 Some Babylonian Talmudic sages forbade the removal of the beard by any means; others were less strict.101 Although the reception of the Talmud in the West probably did inspire European Jews to endow beard wearing with religious significance, and it is likely that pious Jewish men did begin to favor beards, medieval rabbinic texts do not provide clear information or guidance on the subject. For much of the Middle Ages it seems to have been quite common for Jewish men to remove their beards with scissors, and perhaps even with a razor.102 Though pietists of the thirteenth century endorsed beards as signs of wisdom and piety and condemned shaving as a form of assimilation, we have no such texts from the eleventh century; moreover, the pietists’ frequent laments suggest that even in the thirteenth century a disturbing (to the reformers) number of Jewish men eschewed beards in spite of the strictures.103

Even if most Jewish men, or at least the most pious among them, were bearded in the eleventh century, beards could hardly have been seen by either Jews or Christians as distinctly Jewish features, since at that period beards were common among Christian men as well. There are frequent references to beards in Latin sources. To cite just a few: the Book of Miracles of Saint Faith (written ca. 1010) notes that a layman who became a cleric performed the ritual of shaving his beard and head.104 An early-eleventh-century Count of Flanders (Baldwin IV, d. 1036) was nicknamed “Belle-Barbe” (“Beautiful Beard”). And early medieval law codes specify quite stringent penalties for the gross insult of pulling or plucking someone’s beard.105 Beards feature prominently in many ruler portraits, and in genealogical trees emperors are shown with longer beards than kings, and kings with longer beards than dukes, etc.106 This is due to their cultural significance: because beards can be grown only by mature males, they had long been regarded in medieval Europe, as in many other cultures and eras, as signs of virility, age, and wisdom.107 So, for example, the reformer Peter Damian (d. 1072) interpreted David’s beard as a sign of strength and a prefiguring of Christ’s divine wisdom.108

However, in the mid-to-late eleventh century a subtle but detectable shift in beard practice was apparently taking place, and the beard began to acquire new and more fraught significance.109 There had always been a divergence regarding shaving in the Eastern and Western churches: clerics were generally bearded in the East and clean-shaven in the West. With the exacerbation of tensions between the Latin and Greek churches in the eleventh century, the significance of this disparity between clerical beard customs intensified, and Roman Catholic authorities began to insist far more stringently than previously that clerics shave their beards.110 At the same time, shaving was beginning to become more fashionable among laymen in the Holy Roman Empire. We know this because moralists, by nature conservative, disapproved of the change: Abbot Siegfried of Gorze, writing to his friend Abbot Poppo of Stavelot in 1043 (head of the same monastery where Goderanus worked fifty years later), called the cutting of beards “a shameful custom of the vulgar French.”111 Around the same time, a man was deemed to have failed a judicial ordeal not because he had actually committed the crime of which he was accused but because he had “shaved like a cleric rather than letting his beard grow as a layman should.”112 The fashion of shaving nevertheless spread; within a couple of decades it seems to have become fairly common across northern Europe, and the beard came to be viewed as a sign of senility, distance, or difference. By 1105 a monk could write disapprovingly not of shaving but of beards, which, he said, made Christians look like Saracens (not, it is worth noting, like Jews).113 In Goderanus’s day, then, beards, though still common among Christians, and though still embodying age and wisdom, accrued some different and fairly exotic connotations: an aura of worldliness, a whiff of the outdated past, or a hint of Muslim or Greek “Easternness.” Bearded faces contrasted starkly with the clean-shaven visages of Latin priests, which consequently came across as modern, Western, and spartan.

It is this constellation of qualities, and this contrast, rather than Jewish religious practice, that was evoked by Goderanus’s employment of the conjoined signs of the beard, the scroll, and the antique cap and/or turban to embody Hebrew prophecy. The prophets’ overall appearances suggest a new approach to the biblical past. Bishop Bernward had viewed biblical history (and so represented biblical Jews) in relation to very timely questions of power, office, and sovereignty, and especially to his pressing desire to believe that the mighty could visualize God. He thus envisioned Judean elders as comparable to Ottonian bishops (even though they acted erroneously). By contrast, the Belgian monk Goderanus contemplated Hebrew scripture (and represented scriptural Hebrews) through the lens of distance, age, and time and saw Hebrew prophets as distinct from Western Christian clerics (even though they foretold the truth). The prophets’ appearance, like the overall presentation of scripture in the Lobbes Bible, thus underscores that Hebrew history is long past, and helps to visually conjure the dynamic nature of chronological progression.114

This emphasis on the linear movement of time is likewise apparent in Goderanus’s rendering of Old Testament events, both here and in his second great work, the Stavelot Bible of 1097.115 As Wayne Dynes has shown, the Pentateuch initials in the Lobbes Bible are suffused with typology—that is, they present scenes from Hebrew scripture as “types” or “figures” for New Testament events.116 Thus, the sacrifice of a bull in the Leviticus initial prefigures the Eucharist, the Raising of the Brazen Serpent in the Numbers initial prefigures the Crucifixion, and the depiction of Moses and Aaron in the Temple in the Deuteronomy initial prefigures the Church.

The practice of citing Old Testament events as figures for Christian history was not, of course, invented by Goderanus. It can be traced back to the New Testament itself. The epistles of Paul insist that God’s plan for the salvation of the world was foreshadowed in the Old Testament.117 The Gospel of John systematically compares and contrasts Moses’s life and deeds with those of Christ (see John 1:17, 3:14, 5:46, 6:32, 8:5, 19:33–36). And the Epistle to the Hebrews lays out an extended typological theory in which the Old Testament is a base, earthly foreshadowing of the New. Typological exegesis quickly became standard among the Christian fathers.118 But while all medieval Christian exegetes agreed on the essential truth and continued relevance of the Old Testament, they differed on its nature and status as a sign. Some early Christian theologians stressed the historicity of the Old Testament events, insisting that though they certainly served to herald a deeper Christian truth, they also actually happened and had meaning and validity in their own right. Others tended to subordinate history to allegory, seeing Old Testament figures as shadowy mysteries that had to be interpreted and the literal text as a “veil” that had to be lifted and whose surface meaning or outward appearance could obscure or mislead.

Goderanus’s wielding of visual typology balanced these two approaches. His employment of archaizing imagery and literalistic details drawn directly from the biblical text displays a noteworthy respect for literal fact, an insistence on the reality of Old Testament events, underscoring his highly developed chronological sense.119 Hebrew history was real, the images suggest, and it had value in its own right. But at the same time Goderanus never fails to privilege the Christian allegorical reading of scripture over the literal sense. Via visual parallels between Old Testament and New Testament scenes, the initials highlight how Hebrew history served both to prefigure salvific history and to model Christian behavior. The iconography nonetheless clearly visually distinguishes Old Testament types from their Gospel parallels, underscoring the limitations, temporal as well as spiritual, of the Old Law.120 Hebrew history was situated firmly in the past; its very age was confirmation of the unerring march of Christian time.

In emphasizing the linear movement of time, Goderanus was part of a larger contemporary tendency to regard the past as far distant. This tendency was evident in several realms, most notably biblical scholarship and ecclesiastical politics.121 A host of new monastic foundations and cathedral schools were created in the eleventh century, all of which needed new Bible manuscripts. Production of these manuscripts created a heightened awareness of how error-ridden existing copies were. Scribes and scholars, therefore, sought a more correct and “authentic” scriptural text and looked to the Hebraica Veritas, the literal text of Hebrew scripture, to show the way. Some undertook study of the Hebrew language and even consulted with contemporary Jews.122 So, for example, the monk and chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux is known to have consulted Jewish scholars about the text and even the interpretation of the Bible while he was teaching in Metz around the year 1070,123 and Stephen Harding, prior and then abbot of the first Cistercian monastery, asked Jews about the proper wording of scripture when he sought to fix the Vulgate text in or around 1109.124 But like Goderanus’s imagery, scholarly attention to the “original” biblical text had the paradoxical effect of emphasizing the antiquity and remoteness of the Hebrew scriptures. The consultations with Jewish scholars, while testifying to cordial and perhaps even close relations between Jews and Christians, thus may have helped to stamp Jews as antique and even fossilized in Christian minds.125

A sense of the passage of time likewise permeated ecclesiastical debates of pressing import to imperial monks and clerics.126 New monastic reform groups claiming to be reinstituting original monastic practice began to appear in Lotharingia, eastern France, and western Germany in the later eleventh century. These new orders criticized the customs and costumes of more established monasteries as “novelties.” The criticisms were, naturally, rejected by the traditionalists, who portrayed the reformers as alarmingly radical.127 A similar pattern accompanied the papal reform movement, which sought to purify the secular clergy. Papal reformers looked to ancient texts to sanction their innovations; critics turned to antiquity to condemn them.128 Both sides claimed to be restoring the “true” practices of the ancient fathers, even (or especially) when promoting significant innovations.129 But the more the authority of the past was invoked to justify reform, the more distant that past came to seem: the rapidity with which new events unfolded made it impossible to deny the processes of change. Pope Gregory VII famously noted in reply to the charge that he was introducing novelties into church practice: “Christ said, ‘I am the truth and the life.’ He did not say, ‘I am custom.’”130 And even as the reformer Peter Damian cited Old Testament precedent as authority for new devotional practices, he also revealed the kind of nostalgia for a lost golden age of antiquity that can come only from a recognition of change: “The translation of relics is an occasion for joy because through it the things that happened long ago … somehow seem recent and new.”131 The popularity of pilgrimages to the Holy Land in just this period testified to longing for the sacred past but also crystallized its temporal and geographical distance.

Historian John Van Engen has remarked of the intellectual and conceptual adjustments taking place in the years between 1050 and 1150: “Contemporaries sought words and images to distinguish their times and achievements from the world of ‘antiquity.’”132 Among those distinguishing images were historical and genealogical charts that organized sequences of events and peoples,133 illuminations that visualized Christ’s ancestry,134 and, I would argue, painted biblical prophets who displayed ancient distinguishing signs. That is, Goderanus used consciously archaizing iconography and carefully constructed typological scenes to visually codify the transition from the Hebrew (and Eastern) past to the Christian (and Western) present. If the prophets’ hats, scrolls, and beards proclaim their antique authority, they also confirm the passing of their age and the advent of a new era.

As in the case of Bernward’s Second Gospel Book, it is hard to associate Goderanus’s iconographical move with any particular anti-Jewish intent. The antiquity of the Hebrew prophets was both taken for granted and positively assessed, and no new negative message is latent in Goderanus’s assignment to them of the antique hat. The new Jewish iconography was not a reflection of Crusader-inspired anti-Jewish hatred. Rather, the Crusades themselves were inspired (at least in part) by the same renewed interest in the human Christ who so moved Bernward and in the historical reality and geographical specificity of the biblical antiquity that underlay Goderanus’s new iconography. But in the decades following the making of the Lobbes and Stavelot Bibles, a significant change took place. The renewed importance of the historical “event” and the biblical “letter” spurred greater meditation on the relationship of the material to the spiritual, of the visible, tangible world to the ineffable heavenly realm. Old Testament “figures” became weapons in intra-Christian debates, and the iconographical signs designed for antique prophets came to be applied to post-antique Jews. Christendom had turned a corner, and in the Christian imagination, it will be seen, the Jews were left behind.

Copyright © 2014 by Sara Lipton

Table of Contents

Illustrations xiii


In a Mirror, Darkly 1

Chapter One

Mirror of the Fathers:

The Birth of a Jewish Iconography, ca. 1015-1100 13

Chapter Two

Blinding Light and Blinkered Witness, ca. 1100-1160 55

Chapter Three

Jewish Eyes:

Loveless Looking and the Unlovely Christ, ca. 1160-1220 95

Chapter Four

All the World a Picture:

Jews and the Mirror of Society, ca. 1220-1300 129

Chapter Five

The Jew's Face:

Flesh, Sight, and Sovereignty, ca. 1230-1350 169

Chapter Six

Where Are the Jewish Women? 201

Chapter Seven

The Jew in the Crowd:

Surveillance and Civic Vision, ca. 1350-1500 239

Conclusion 279

Abbreviations 283

Notes 285

Acknowledgments 371

Index 375

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