The Jews in Christian Art: An Illustrated History
Audrey Doetzel, NDS
The Jews in Christian Art: An Illustrated HistoryThe Jews in Christian Art: An Illustrated History. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1996, $120.00 ISBN 0-8264-0936-9 (hc) 400 pp.
Translated by John Bowden from the German Die Juden in der Kunst Europas. Ein
Bildatlas, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1996.
This encyclopedic volume of more than 1,000 pictures, 12 pages of which are in color, has
been described as "a sad book revealing the downside of human history" (Dr. Isaac
Levy). It is nevertheless a valuable work for anyone attempting an honest and comprehensive
study of Christian attitudes toward Jews over the past 2,000 years.
It is the unique lifetime work of Heinz Schreckenberg, an associate at the Institutum
Delitzchianum of Judaica in Münster who, over the course of twenty years, gathered examples
of imagery in churches and cathedrals initially for use in his lectures on Christian
anti-Judaism. His enormous collection, much of which can still be viewed throughout Europe
today, helps us understand how Christian polemic against the Jews was reinforced by a wealth
of imagery from the time of Charlemagne until the twentieth century. The prejudices and
misrepresentations are vividly reflected in paintings, statues, stained glass windows,
sculptures, murals, frescoes, woodcuts, bronze reliefs and manuscript embellishments.
Created specifically for the instruction and edification of all Christians - from the Middle
Ages until deep into modern times - these works of art conveyed in pictorial form to the
illiterate masses the same polemics and denigrations to which theologians and priests were
exposed in the books they studied. The collection enables us to see how overt depictions and
background details which appear to have come quite naturally to the artists had a subtle and
tenacious impact on the subconscious of the masses seeking religious edification.
By categorizing the works of art thematically and historically - from the time of Rome
versus Judea (66-70 CE) through twentieth century history in Christian Europe -
Schreckenberg illustrates that art is a serious means of accessing historical knowledge
about the ideological constructs Christian thinkers and artists developed around Jews. An
extended introduction explains how the pictures are categorized thematically and how they
illustrate various kinds of texts (theological, political, social, legendary...) and
different historical periods (Destruction of Jerusalem, Middle Ages, Modern times...).
Twelve chapters of pictures with detailed commentary vividly convey: the polemics of the
early Church fathers; the social impact of the Fourth Lateran Council (with its clothing and
segregation regulations to protect Christians from contamination); supersessionism (the
triumphant ecclesia/defeated synagogue depictions); the "old" and "new"
dispensation juxtapositions; the missionary efforts of the medieval church; the blood libel
charges and the shocking Judensau depictions. About 150 pages are illustrations relating to
the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament. The volume concludes with an
extensive bibliography as well as an appendix listing the titles of Christian texts on the
Jews from the second to the twentieth century.
The only critique one might make of this work is its cost which will unfortunately make
it inaccessible to many. However, given the volume of information it contains, the quality
of the reproductions and the commentaries, and the great need in the Christian world for a
work of this nature it is an investment well worth making. Schreckenberg has presented the
unhappy past in a manner which not only illustrates the malignant nature of a "teaching
of contempt," but also opens our eyes to the power works of art have on the formation
of public opinion - an awareness needed more than ever in view of the pictorial invasion of
our lives by movies, television and cyberspace today.