Claudia Daiber on the “Judensau” and “Practicing Pogroms Against Jewish Populations on Stage”

As announced in a previous post, scholars from several different fields will come together for two sessions entitled “Fear, Love and Loathing in the Middle Ages: Emotions and the body in polemic and boundary-making”. Within the sessions, Claudia Daiber’s paper “Practicing Pogroms Against Jewish Populations on Stage” will deal with the important theme of anti-Jewish polemics. The paper will focus on a carnival play authored by Nuremberg-based meistersinger Hans Folz (1435/40-1513), a barber and surgeon by profession. As Claudia emphasises, the play contains anti-Jewish imagery and invective which go to extremes. To quote from her abstract:

“In its first part, the play bases its narrative on the anti-Christ tradition, which immediately becomes an anti-Jew tradition. The anti-Jew is soon unmasked by the Christian characters, but the Jewish community falls prey to his false pretensions. At this point the play applies the technique of self-denunciation, reaching its climax when the anti-Jew confesses all of his sins by professing stereotypical Christian prejudices. This technique bears the advantage that the Christian side is superior from the beginning, and stays clean while the play produces damning evidence against the anti-Jew and the Jewish community as a whole.

In its second part, the play enforces the penalties induced by the verdict against the anti-Jew. A genuine technique of the carnival play is to reverse the world order during the carnival season, and existing hierarchies in particular. This technique is applied in an amended manner when the penalties are enforced by those who commit the crime themselves: for example, the heathens impose and enforce the penalties for blasphemy. When enforcing these penalties on stage, a jester and jestress deploy speech of excrement, incest, and anal sadistic comedy, producing bodily disgust which is projected onto the Jewish characters. The function of the jester is usually to mirror the world (as symbolized by the marotte); in this play, its function is to pronounce the unspeakable and therefore prepare it for entering the discourse.”

As Claudia also points out, the issues of the play are still an object of topical debate, and I would like to post her suggestion for discussion here:

“In my contribution next Tuesday I will discuss the polemics expressed and evoked by the sculpture/depiction of the so-called Judensau in a theatrical setting. This sculpture, which still exists on 30 buildings in Germany, was widely spread in the German speaking countries of the 15th century. One of these church buildings is the church at Wittenberg, the town where Martin Luther lived, taught and preached. A petition has been launched with the aim to remove that sculpture and to store it somewhere else, in a museum for example. What do you think: Should this sculpture stay or be removed?”

Images can easily be found by googling ‘Judensau Wittenberg’.

This contribution is licensed CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


Sita Steckel

Juniorprofessorin (Assistant professor) of Medieval history, High and Late Middle Ages, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster.

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Author: Sita Steckel

Juniorprofessorin (Assistant professor) of Medieval history, High and Late Middle Ages, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster.

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