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The Spectral Jew

Conversion and Embodiment in Medieval Europe

2005
Author:

Steven F. Kruger

The Spectral Jew

Reveals the interdependence of medieval Jewish and Christian identities

Through incisive readings of a range of medieval texts, The Spectral Jew traces the Jewish presence in Western Europe to show how the body, gender, and sexuality were at the root of medieval religious anxieties and instabilities. Steven Kruger exposes conversion as a disruption of categories rather than a smooth passage and reveals the prominent role Judaism played in the medieval Christian imagination.

Scholars of the fantastic will find much to emulate in the book’s historical precision, its careful unpacking of the overlapping layers that form human identity, and its deftness in deploying critical theory while paying minute attention to context.

Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Medieval European culture encompassed Judaic, Christian, Muslim, and pagan societies, forming a complex matrix of religious belief, identity, and imagination. Through incisive readings of a broad range of medieval texts and informed by poststructuralist, queer, and feminist theories, The Spectral Jew traces the Jewish presence in Western Europe to show how the body, gender, and sexuality were at the root of the construction of medieval religious anxieties, inconsistencies, and instabilities.

Looking closely at how medieval Jewish and Christian identities are distinguished from each other, yet intimately intertwined, Kruger demonstrates how Jews were often corporealized in ways that posited them as inferior to Christians—archaic and incapable of change—even as the two mutually shaped each other. But such attempts to differentiate Jews and Christians were inevitably haunted by the knowledge that Christianity had emerged out of Judaism and was, in its own self-understanding, a community of converts.

Examining the points of contact between Christian and Jewish communities, Kruger discloses the profound paradox of the Jew as different in all ways, yet capable of converting to fully Christian status. He draws from central medieval authors and texts such as Peter Damian, Guibert of Nogent, the Barcelona disputation, and the Hebrew chronicles of the First Crusade, as well as lesser-known writings such as the disputations of Ceuta, Majorca, and Tortosa and the immensely popular Dialogues of Peter Alfonsi.

By putting the conversion narrative at the center of this analysis, Kruger exposes it as a disruption of categories rather than a smooth passage and reveals the prominent role Judaism played in the medieval Christian imagination.


The Spectral Jew

Steven F. Kruger is professor of English and medieval studies at Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is author of several books and editor with Glenn Burger of Queering the Middle Ages (Minnesota, 2001).

The Spectral Jew

Scholars of the fantastic will find much to emulate in the book’s historical precision, its careful unpacking of the overlapping layers that form human identity, and its deftness in deploying critical theory while paying minute attention to context.

Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Steven Kruger’s book should be of interest not only to scholars of medieval culture and theology but to every thinking person, whatever his or her own faith or lack of it.

Times Literary Supplement

This is a book of great richness.

Medium Aevum

Steven F. Kruger treats his materials well, and shows that a very good hermeneutical device can enjoy great historical and cultural reach.

Religious Studies Review

One of the joys of this book is Kruger’s ability to speak eloquently and to subject literary and theological texts to able analysis. His ability to analyze across modern disciplinary lines helps to bolster the evidence he finds to support his thesis.

Canadian Journal of History

The Spectral Jew

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. The Spectral Jew
2. Body Effects: Individual and Community Identity in the Long Twelfth Century
3. Becoming Christian? Conversion and the Stubborn Body
4. Merchants, Converts, Jews: Interreligious Debate and the Troubling of Christian Identity
5. Staying Jewish? Public Disputation, Conversion, and Resistance

Notes
Bibliography

Index