Blood libels are allegations that a particular group kills people as a form of human sacrifice, and uses their blood in various rituals. The alleged victims are often children.
Many different groups have been accused, including Canaanites, Jews, Christians, Cathars, Knights Templar, Witches, Christian heretics, Roman Catholics, Roma, Wiccans, Druids, neopagans, Satanic cultists, and evangelical Protestant missionaries.
A famous example of blood libel is the allegation that Jews kill Christian and Muslim children and use their blood to make Passover matzohs. Variants of this story have been circulating since at least the 1st century.
3.1 Alleged descriptions of ritual murder
3.2 Actual Jewish practices regarding blood and sacrifice
3.3 Famous instances: 1144-1840
3.3.1 England, 1144
3.3.2 Belgium, c. 1250
3.3.3 England, 1255
3.3.4 Germany, 1267
3.3.5 Alsace, 1270
3.3.6 Germany, 1286
3.3.7 Switzerland, early 1400s
3.3.8 Tyrol, 1462
3.3.9 Trentino/Italian Tyrol, 1475
3.3.10 Hungary, 1494
3.3.11 Hungary, 1529
3.3.12 Syria, 1840
3.3.13 Russia, 1911
3.3.14 20th century Arab nations
3.4 Views of the Catholic Church
Historical human sacrifice
The ancient Phoenician practice of sacrificing infants to Molech appears to be well documented. It is generally believed to be a fact, and therefore, not a blood libel. It is possible that the blood libels against Jews originate from this, as the Phoenicians were largely involved with building the infrastructure of the early Jewish cities.
Blood libel against Christians
During the first and second centuries, some Roman commentators misunderstood the ritual of the Eucharist and related teachings. While celebrating the Eucharist, Christians drink red wine in response to the words "This is the blood of Christ". Propaganda arguing that the Christians literally drank blood was written and used to persecute Christians. Romans were highly suspicious of Christian adoptions of abandoned Roman babies and this was suggested as a possible source of the blood.
In the Mandaean scripture, the Ginza Rba, a purportedly Christian group called the "Minunei" are accused of it against the Jews: "They kill a Jewish child, they take his blood, they cook it in bread and they proffer it to them as food." (Ginza Rba 9.1).
Blood libel against Jews
In many cases, anti-Semitic blood libels served as the basis for a blood libel cult, in which the alleged victim of human sacrifice was worshipped as a Christian martyr, but the claim has pre-Christian origins. The first recorded instance was in the writings of Apion, who claimed that the Jews sacrificed Greek victims in the Temple.
A list of blood libels against Jews exists in its own article.
Alleged descriptions of ritual murder
In general, the "procedure" for the alleged sacrifice was something like this: a child, normally a boy who had not yet reached puberty, was kidnapped or sometimes bought and taken to a hidden place (the house of a prominent member of the Jewish community, a synagogue, a cellar, etc.) where he would be kept hidden until the time of his death. Preparations for the sacrifice included the gathering of attendees from near and far and constructing or readying the instruments of torture and execution.
At the time of the sacrifice, (usually night) the crowd would gather at the place of execution (in some accounts the synagogue itself) and engage in a mock tribunal to try the child. The boy would be presented to the tribunal naked and tied (sometimes gagged) at the judge's order. He would eventually be condemned to death. Many forms of torture would be inflicted during the boy's "trial", including some of those used by the Inquisition on suspects of heresy. Some of the alleged tortures were:
The boy would be insulted and mocked throughout.
In the end, the half-dead boy would be crowned with thorns and tied or nailed to a wooden cross (crucifixion). The cross would be raised and the blood dripping from the boy's wounds, particularly those on his hands, feet, and genitals, would be caught in bowls or glasses.
Finally, the boy would be killed with a thrust through the heart from a spear, sword, or dagger. His dead body would be removed from the cross and concealed or disposed of, but in some instances rituals of black magic would be performed on it. This method, with some variations, can be found in all the alleged descriptions of ritual murder by Jews.
The earlier stories describe only the torture and agony of the victim and suggest that the child's death was the sole purpose of the ritual. Over time and as the libel proliferated, the focus shifted to the supposed need to collect the victim's blood for mystical purposes.
The story of William of Norwich (d. 1144) is the first known case of ritual murder being alleged by a Christian monk. It does not mention the collection of William's blood for any purpose. The story of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1255) said that after the boy was dead, his body was removed from the cross and laid on a table. His belly was cut open and his entrails removed for some occult purpose, such as a divination ritual. The story of Simon of Trent (d. 1475) highly stressed how the boy was held on a large bowl so all his blood could be collected.
Actual Jewish practices regarding blood and sacrifice
The descriptions of torture and human sacrifice in the anti-Semitic blood libels run contrary to many of the actual teachings of Judaism.
The use of blood (human or otherwise) in cooking is prohibited by Kashrut, or Kosher laws. Blood and other discharges from the human body are ritually unclean (Lev 15). Blood from slaughtered animals may not be consumed, and must be drained out of the animal and buried (Lev 17:12-13). According to the book of Leviticus, blood from sacrificed animals may only be placed on the altar of the Great Temple in Jerusalem (which no longer existed at the time of any of these alleged events).
While animal sacrifice was part of the practice of Judaism, the Tanakh (Old Testament) and Jewish teaching generally portray human sacrifice as one of the evils that separated the pagans of Canaan from the Hebrews (Deut 12:31, 2 Kings 16:3). Jews were prohibited from engaging in these rituals and were punished for doing so (Ex 34:15, Lev 20:2, Deut 18:12, Jer 7:31). In fact, ritual cleanliness for priests prohibited even being in the same room as a human corpse (Lev 21:11).
Famous instances: 1144-1840
There were a great many blood libel accusations and trials of Jews during this period. Relatively few of them are discussed here.
March 20 (Passover), the first blood libel in Europe against Jews. Jews of Norwich are accused with both ritual murder and blood libel after a boy (William of Norwich) is found dead with stab wounds. The legend gets turned into a cult, William acquires status of martyr saint and crowds of pilgrims bring wealth to local church. In 1189, Jewish deputation attending coronation of Richard the Lionheart is attacked by the crowd. Pogroms in London follow and spread around England. On Feb 6 1190, all the Norwich Jews were found in their houses, slaughtered, except a few who found refuge in the castle. Jews would later be expelled from all of England in 1290 and not allowed to return untill 1655.
Belgium, c. 1250
An early blood libel against Jews appears in Bonum Universale de Apibus ii. 29, § 23, by Thomas of Cantimpré (a monastery near Cambray). Thomas writes "It is quite certain that the Jews of every province annually decide by lot which congregation or city is to send Christian blood to the other congregations."
Thomas also believes that since the time when the Jews called out to Pontius Pilate, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matt. 27:25), they have been afflicted with hemorrhages:
"A very learned Jew, who in our day has been converted to the (Christian) faith, informs us that one enjoying the reputation of a prophet among them, toward the close of his life, made the following prediction: 'Be assured that relief from this secret ailment, to which you are exposed, can only be obtained through Christian blood ("solo sanguine Christiano").' This suggestion was followed by the ever-blind and impious Jews, who instituted the custom of annually shedding Christian blood in every province, in order that they might recover from their malady."
Thomas adds that the Jews had misunderstood the words of their prophet, who by his expression "solo sanguine Christiano" had meant not the blood of any Christian, but that of Jesus—the only true remedy for all physical and spiritual suffering.
Thomas does not mention the name of the "very learned" proselyte, but it may have been Nicholas Donin of La Rochelle, who in 1240 had a disputation on the Talmud with Jehiel of Paris, and who in 1242 caused the burning of numerous Talmudic manuscripts in Paris. It is known that Thomas was personally acquainted with this Nicholas.
The case of Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln is mentioned by Chaucer, and thus has become well known. A child of eight years, named Hugh, son of a woman named Beatrice, disappeared at Lincoln on the 31st of July. His body was discovered on the 29th of August, covered with filth, in a pit or well belonging to a Jewish man named Copin or Koppin.
On being promised by John of Lexington, a judge, who happened to be present, that his life should be spared, Copin is said to have confessed that the boy had been crucified by the Jews, who had assembled at Lincoln for that purpose. King Henry III., on reaching Lincoln some five weeks afterward, at the beginning of October, refused to carry out the promise of John of Lexington, and had Copin executed and ninety-one of the Jews of Lincoln seized and sent up to London, where eighteen of them were executed. The rest were pardoned at the intercession of the Franciscans (Jacobs, "Jewish Ideals," pp. 192-224).
At Pforzheim, Baden, the corpse of a seven-year-old girl was found in the river by fishermen. The Jews were suspected, and when they were led to the corpse, blood allegedly began to flow from the wounds; led to it a second time, the face of the child became flushed, and both arms were raised. In addition to these miracles, there was the testimony of the daughter of the wicked woman who had sold the child to the Jews.
A regular judicial examination did not take place; it is probable that the above-mentioned "wicked woman" was the murderess. That a judicial murder was then and there committed against the Jews in consequence of the accusation is evident from the manner in which the Nuremberg "Memorbuch" and the synagogal poems refer to the incident (Salfeld, "Martyrologium," pp. 15, 128-130).
At Weissenburg, a miracle alone decided the charge against the Jews. Although, according to the accusation, the Jews had suspended a child (whose body was found in the Lauter river) by the feet, and had opened every artery in its body in order to obtain all the blood, its wounds were said to have bled for five days afterward!
At Oberwesel, "miracles" again constituted the only evidence against the Jews. The corpse of the eleven-year-old Werner is said to have floated up the Rhine (against the current) as far as Bacharach, emitting a radiance, and being invested with healing powers. In consequence, the Jews of Oberwesel and many other adjacent localities were severely persecuted during the years 1286-89. Emperor Rudolph I., to whom the Jews had appealed for protection, issued a public proclamation to the effect that great wrong had been done to the Jews, and that the corpse of Werner was to be burned and the ashes scattered to the winds.
Switzerland, early 1400s
The statement was made, in the "Chronicle" of Conrad Justinger (d. 1426), that at Bern in 1294 the Jews had shockingly tortured and murdered the boy Rudolph. The historical impossibility of this widely credited story was demonstrated by Stammler, the pastor of Bern (see "Katholische Schweizer-Blätter," Lucerne, 1888).
At Rinn, near Innsbruck, a boy named Andreas Oxner (also known as Anderl von Rinn) was said to have been bought by Jewish merchants and cruelly murdered by them in a forest near the city, his blood being carefully collected in vessels. The accusation of drawing off the blood (without murder) was not made until the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the cult was founded. The older inscription in the church of Rinn, dating from 1575, is distorted by fabulous embellishments; as, for example, that the money which had been paid for the boy to his godfather was found to have turned into leaves, and that a lily blossomed upon his grave. The cult continued until it was officially prohibited in 1994 by the Bishop of Innsbruck. (source  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/rinn.html ).
Trentino/Italian Tyrol, 1475
Simon of Trent, aged two, disappeared, and his father alleged that he had been kidnapped and murdered by the local Jewish community. Fifteen local Jews were sentenced to death and burned. Simon was regarded as a saint, and was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. His status as a saint was removed in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, though his murder is still promoted as a fact by a handful of extremists.
In a case at Tyrnau, the absurdity, even the impossibility, of the statements forced by torture from women and children shows that the accused preferred death as a means of escape from the torture, and admitted everything that was asked of them. They even said that Jewish men menstruated, and that the latter therefore practiced the drinking of Christian blood as a remedy.
At Bösing, it was charged that a nine-year-old boy had been bled to death, suffering cruel torture; thirty Jews confessed to the crime and were publicly burned. The true facts of the case were disclosed later, when the child was found alive in Vienna. He had been stolen by the accuser, Count Wolf of Bazin, as an easy but fiendish means of ridding himself of his Jewish creditors at Bazin.
The Damascus affair: In February, at Damascus, a Catholic monk named Father Thomas and his servant were murdered. In this instance, also, confessions were obtained only after the infliction of barbarous tortures.
The Beilis trial: In Kiev, a Jewish factory manager, Mendel Beilis, was accused of murdering a Christian child and using his blood in matzos. He was acquitted by an all-Christian jury after a sensational trial in 1913.
20th century Arab nations
Blood libel stories have appeared a number of times in the state-sponsored media of a number of Arab nations, in Arab television shows, and on websites. A few Arab authors have written books promoting the myth of the blood libel.
- In 2001 an Egyptian film company produced and aired a film called Horseman Without a Horse, partly based on Tlass's book. The book was cited at a United Nations conferences in 1991 by a Syrian delegate.
- Some Arab writers have condemned these blood libels. The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram published a series of articles by Osam Al-Baz, a senior advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Amongst other things, Osam Al-Baz explained the origins of the anti-Jewish blood libel. He said that Arabs and Muslims have never been anti-Semitic, as a group, but accepted that a few Arab writers and media figures attack Jews "on the basis of the racist fallacies and myths that originated in Europe". He urged people not to succumb to "myths" such as the blood libel. (Source: Al-Ahram Weekly Online, January 2-8, 2003 (Issue No. 619),  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/619/focus.htm
Views of the Catholic Church
The Church's attitude towards these accusations and the cults venerating children supposedly killed by Jews varied. The church sometimes opposed them, but it generally did little to stop them, and in some cases gave its clear approval. Pope Benedict XIV permitted the continuation of the cult of Anderl von Rinn as a local cult, but refused to canonize him as a saint. On the other hand, Pope Gregory X issued a letter rejecting the blood libel accusations (source  http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/g10-jews.html ).
Contemporary blood libel myths in the West
The use of blood libel has been adopted by certain groups to promote their agendas, particularly on the far right of the political spectrum. In the United States, this is especially noticeable in the most extreme fringes of the anti-abortion movement, which has produced a litany of charges against doctors performing the procedure.
One claim stated that physicians in China who perform abortions consider the fetus a delicacy and eat it. The story, reported from Hong Kong, was investigated by Senator Jesse Helms, and gruesome artwork reminiscent of traditional depictions of blood libel was featured in several anti-abortion campaigns. http://www.jesus21.com/poppydixon/sex/chinese_eating_fetuses.html
The only use for human fetal tissue is in the medical research field, particularly stem cell research.  http://www1.od.nih.gov/oir/sourcebook/oversight/human-tissue-use.htm  http://www.nesu.mphy.lu.se/nectar/eth.1.html
Another contemporary blood libel in the United States alleges, falsely, that neopagans use human blood, sexual abuse, or ritual murder, especially of children, in their rituals. Often all of the diverse neopagan religions, the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, and sometimes Roman Catholicism and liberal or non-fundamentalist Christian denominations, are portrayed as expressions of one monolithic and ancient global conspiracy of Satan-worshippers. Michael Warnke (The Satan Seller), Bill Schnoebelen (Wicca: Satan's Little White Lie), Lawrence and Michelle Pazder (Michelle Remembers), Jon Watkins  http://www.exposingsatanism.org/witchcraft.htm , John Frattarola (America's Best Kept Secret), Bill Pricer, and Ken Wooden (Child Lures) are some of the voices of these libels.
The decline of belief in ritual murder
Belief in ritual murder has gradually disappeared from mainstream Christianity, and child-martyrs have been purged from the official Catholic calendar of saints. Nevertheless, similar accusations are still being made by Christian and Muslim extremists against the Jews, and the blood-libel entered Nazism and related movements in the twentieth century.
- Anti-Defamation League condemns Egyptian blood libel http://www.adl.org/presrele/islme%5F62/3790%5F62.asp
- Blood libel in 1840 Syria http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/reaction.html
- Blood Libel, Host Desecration, and other Myths http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_blib1.htm (on religioustolerance.org)
- The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?story=350273 -- info on Horseman Without a Horse
- Blood Feast http://www.snopes.com/religion/blood.htm Snopes.com Info page
Last updated: 02-07-2005 05:15:16
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01