Blood and Matzo: Myth and the Middle East

Dr O’Hear: On Tuesday March 25th we were honoured to receive Dr Peter Claus, History Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford University, to address the Oxbridge Project. Dr Claus gave a talk entitled 'Blood and Matzo: Myth and the Middle East' in which he took us on a fascinating journey of some of the myths surrounding the Jewish people that originated in the Middle Ages and still endure in the Middle East to this day.

The 'Judeophobia' of the Middle Ages ranged from outlandish myths about Jewish people using the blood of Christian children in rituals (the blood libel) to allegations that Jewish people were responsible for outbreaks of the plague (they were often less affected by plague due to their purification rituals which helped to keep away germs). By the16th century most of the Jews had been expelled from Western Europe. However, these anti-Jewish myths from the Middle Ages were reincarnated in the 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and America in the form of documents such as the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion', a fabricated document which purports to unveil a world conspiracy of Jews which would lead to world domination if left unchecked. Astoundingly, despite having been resoundingly discredited as a worthless forgery, new editions of 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' are being published in the Middle East to this day and help to fuel a casual media iconography of anti-Semitism in this region.  In a recent poll, 100% of Jordanian Muslims admitted to holding unfavourable views of Jewish people (alongside 99% of Lebanese Muslims and 98% of Egyptian Muslims).

Dr Claus thus convincingly demonstrated the damaging legacy that historical myths can continue to perpetuate even in our supposedly more 'switched on' age. He was also at pains to point out that he could have delivered a similar talk on the damaging and enduring effect of 'Orientalist' myths. None of us are immune to the effects of myths about other cultures. Dr Claus singled out Felix Butcher (7B), Sadek Al-Saabari (7B) and Ezra Gill (10B) on account of their excellent questions and responses.

We are very grateful to Dr Claus for driving all the way from Oxford to give us this super talk, a taster of what reading History at Oxford University must be like.