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The jews, Leviticus, and the unclean in medieval english bestiaries

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Chapter Summary

Medieval bestiaries are well-known and admired by both popular audiences and historians of medieval art chiefly for their lively illustrations of various beasts, birds, fishes, reptiles, and other subjects from the natural and imaginary worlds. This chapter examines in greater detail the key means by which Jews are evoked in the bestiaries, and how these characterizations fit into the wider arena of contemporary anti-Jewish polemic. It argues that the bestiaries, as well as the early Christian text of the Physiologus on which they were based, should be ranked among the most popular and widely-disseminated of Christian polemical texts directed against Jews. The chapter examines the Christian bestiarists’ use of the dietary system outlined in Leviticus 11 as a strategy to assert the supersession of the Old Law by the New, and ultimately, the redundancy of Judaism itself.

Keywords: anti-Jewish polemic; Christian polemical texts; Jews; Judaism; Leviticus 11; medieval bestiaries; Physiologus



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