Sunday, 3 February 2008

Blood and Belief

I just read a review in a Danish newspaper of Blood and Belief: The Circulation of a Symbol between Jews and Christians (University of California Press, 2007) by David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Professor of Jewish History at the University of California. The reviewer claims that around 1840 at the same time as new rumours concerning alleged Jewish ritual murders circulated in East Europe, people got fascinated by 'another bloodsucker': the vampire. It's claimed that Hermann Strack's Das Blut im Glauben und Aberglauben der Menschheit (1891; a scan of the 1900 edition is available for download here) particularly uncovers folklore about vampires, although in fact vampires are only briefly dealt with in the book, and then the reviewer writes (in my translation):

'The fear of vampires and Jews surprisingly have a lot in common: both allegedly have a deviant physiology, defy ordinary national limits, are seen as hypererotic and seductive creatures, are assumed to have supernatural abilities and to be accomplices of the devil, and then, of course, they both suck blood. In 1897, at the height of the new accusations of Jewish ritual murders of Christians, Bram Stoker's Dracula was published. Once again the horrifying concepts must be understood as urban legends that reveal a deep insecurity among the populace.'

Well, once again we are faced with conclusions concerning vampires that mix up fictional vampires with historical vampires. The original - historical - vampires and revenants certainly have very little in common with those described in the review, and, as readers of my blog will know, the fascination with vampires started in the 1730'ies, not in the 1840'ies.

As far as I can see from the excerpt available at Amazon, Biale does write a bit about vampires, but as I haven't had the opportunity to browse through a copy of the book, I can't say if it's the reviewer who has misunderstood Biale, or if Biale misinterpretes the history of vampires. As we know, this is unfortunately frequently the case.

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