Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition

David Nirenberg. Norton, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-0-393-05824-6
Based on a decade of exhaustive research, this book explores “anti-Judaism” as an intellectual current (as opposed to its overtly political and social analogue, anti-Semitism) from ancient Egypt through to the Frankfurt School and just after the Holocaust. Nirenberg (Communities of Violence), professor of medieval history and social thought at the University of Chicago, contends that anti-Judaism is “one of the basic tools with which [Western thought] was constructed,” yet he stresses that this device depended less on an acquaintance with real Jews, and more on “figural Jews,” ciphers for all that a particular thinker opposed. Martin Luther, for example, not only criticized Jews for clinging to the “killing letter” of the law, he also hurled accusations against the Roman Catholic Church for its “Jewish” tendencies; Luther’s adversaries, meanwhile, accused the Jews of using him to undermine the Church. Nirenberg, whose scholarship is concerned primarily with the historical and cultural intersections of the Abrahamic religions, is particularly strong in his treatment of the Enlightenment, illustrating how Christian anti-Jewish memes were adopted by secular, rationalist thinkers. Though Nirenberg gives short shrift to American intellectualism, and his examination terminates after the Holocaust, this is nevertheless a magisterial work of intellectual history. Agent: Georges Borchardt. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 10/29/2012
Release date: 02/01/2013
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