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Representations of “the Jew” in English Catholic Discourses, 1850-1945

Supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Councilmy PhD project examined how Jews and Judaism were represented in English Catholic discourses from 1896 to 1930. After my PhD, and with the help of two research grants from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, I extended my original PhD investigation to include a more complete picture of how Jews were represented in English Catholic discourses from 1850 to 1945. I am currently in the process of writing up the results of this research as a monograph.

As little has been written about English Catholic representations of “the Jew” during this time frame, the primary aim has been to excavate layers of discourse which, with the exception of the published works of a few prominent individuals, have hitherto remained largely unexamined. A wide range of sources have been examined, including:

  • Published works (books, booklets and pamphlets) of prominent and obscure authors
  • Pastoral letters and sermons of cardinals, bishops and priests
  • Articles and editorials in English Catholic newspapers and magazines (such as the Catholic Herald, the Catholic Times and the Tablet)
  • Personal correspondence
  • Letters to the editors of newspapers
  • Unpublished documents
  • Oral testimonies

In these discourses, Jews were often stereotyped as greedy, cowardly, unpatriotic, secretive, anti-social and revolutionary villains, and assigned roles derived from biblical and medieval myths. Jews were cast in the role of the intransigent Pharisee, the Christ-killer, the ritual murderer, the sorcerer, and the Jewish Antichrist. Jews were frequently portrayed in conjunction with Freemasons and Bolsheviks, and together vilified as secretive anti-Christian revolutionaries and conspirators, or diabolized as Satanists and Luciferians. Conversely, Jews and Judaism were sometimes defended or praised. For example, the Catholic Worker, a newspaper which was founded in 1935, was consistently critical of all forms of fascism, rejected myths and stereotypes about Jews, and condemned antisemitism.

The following are some of the key themes addressed in my research:

1. Representations of “the Jew” in English Catholic discourses derived from traditional religious myths (e.g. the Pharisee, the Christ-killer, the ritual murderer, the sorcerer and the Jewish Antichrist). A revised version of the chapter discussing these representations has been published as an article in volume 8 of Melilah: Manchester Journal of Jewish Studies (link to volume 8 of Melilah).

2. Representations of “the Jew” derived from contemporary stereotypes (e.g. the greedy, cowardly, unpatriotic and secretive villain). The authors of these stereotypes included Cecil ChestertonG. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, William Barry and Charles Diamond.

3.  Jews were not alone in being stereotyped and mythologized in English Catholic discourses. From as early as the 1860s, long before the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was conceived, Freemasons were portrayed in English Catholic newspapers as secretive, deceptive, revolutionary, unpatriotic, anti-Christian and anti-Catholic plunderers of the Church, as host desecrators, as Luciferians, and as servants of the Antichrist. The myths and stereotypes associated with the Freemasons were often not merely similar to the myths and stereotypes associated with the Jews; in some cases they combined and coalesced. They were represented as allies and conspirators in a Jewish-Masonic camarilla bent on the destruction, plundering, or subjugation of the Church and Christian civilisation. In some cases the language used suggested an apocalyptic battle between a phalanx of righteous Catholic forces and a dark network of secret societies organised by Jews, Freemasons and Bolsheviks. Some of my findings relating to myths about Freemasons and the so-called Jewish-Masonic conspiracy have been published in volume 22 of Heredom and volume 5/1 of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism.

4. An examination of how the above stereotypes, myths and conspiracy theories about Jews combined and coalesced in narratives about Zionism. Some of my findings from this chapter of my thesis were published (in Hebrew) in Kesher, the Tel-Aviv University journal devoted to research into the history of the Jewish press (volume 46). 

5. An examination of the Catholic Guild of Israel, an organisation dedicated to the conversion of Jews. A partial version of this examination of the Catholic Guild of Israel, focusing on Arthur Day, Bede Jarrett and Hans Herzl, was published in volume 10 of Melilah (link to volume 10 of Melilah).

6. An examination of English Catholic responses to fascism, the antisemitism of the British Union of Fascists, and Nazism.