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Faith and Fantasy: the Texts of the Jews

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In the mystery plays, in the Miracles of the Virgin, and in the work of Chaucer, Marlowe, and Shakespeare, Jews are seen in light of Christian teachings which depicted them as corporeal, often depraved, beings unwilling to accept the spiritual truths embodied in Christ. This paper analyzes the lamentations/kinot written by Hebrew liturgical poets to mourn the Jewish victims of the crusaders who, on their way to fight the Muslim infidels, decided to rid themselves of the Jewish infidels in their midst. When the images that the Jews used to describe themselves and their enemies in these poems are juxtaposed alongside the images of the Jews in one salient example of anti-Semitism in early English literature, Chaucer's Prioress's Tale, a picture of the theological and spiritual battle between medieval Jews and Christians, underlying the literary works produced by poets of both faiths, emerges. In addition, an analysis of these Kinot introduces a voice long ignored in English studies, that of the Jews, who were not merely convenient images of the adversary, but living beings who had their own understanding of themselves, far different from that of their Christian neighbors, and of the faith for which they were willing to renounce their lives.

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Affiliations: 1: The Community College of Baltimore County


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