This is inspired by a tweet claiming that something was an example of mediæval blood libel; I remembered it being earlier than that, looked it up, and found the relevant tweet had disappeared off the bottom of the page.
So this blog posting.
The earliest reference to the blood libel in the relevant Wikipedia article was an accusation that Jews sacrificed Greeks in the temple in Jerusalem in the BCE era.
Calling this “blood libel” is mildly controversial – there are those who prefer to stick to a very specific definition which specifies christians accusing Jews. Whilst I’m fine with a definition this specific for a specific instance (“The Blood Libel”), being too pedantic prevents discussions about instances (real or theoretical) of similar accusations by other groups against other groups (“a blood libel”).
In addition, if you prohibit the use of the phrase “a blood libel” in reference to any accusations which don’t meet a specific definition too closely, it makes discussing generic blood libel accusations somewhat tricky – be too quick to dismiss the fictional accusation that atheists use the blood of neo-pagan children to make “holy bread” as not being “The Blood Libel” and you risk implying that it’s not that bad.
Whilst the Jews are a popular target for the evil ones that like emphasising the “us versus them” (frequently as a means of bolstering their own power), they are not the only target – from a Eurocentric perspective those other targets include the Romani, blacks, Irish, Asians, and immigrants of any kind.
This general demonisation of “them” isn’t any kind of blood libel of course, but it is possible that non-Jewish blood libel accusations have been made against “them” ever since religion became a source of power for priests – well before history (the written record) began, and well before the Jewish people called themselves Jews.
The blood libel is specifically a false accusation that Jews sacrifice the children of christians (or Greeks in the earliest examples) to use their blood to make a “holy bread”. Ignoring the ethnic groups, the key elements of a blood libel are :-
- The accusation is false (or it wouldn’t be a libel).
- The accusation involves blood consumption – blood has been important symbolically since forever.
- The religious aspect – consuming the blood is a religious act. Well, religion has been the curse blighting humanity ever since it began.
There is nothing in there that is dependent on the identity of the perpetrator or the target group (because I’ve removed it), but doesn’t it cover the essentials of a blood libel?
Being cynical about human nature, I’m pretty sure that blood libels have been around ever since religion could be used to divide us and them. Which is a good deal further back than the last 2,000 years.
None of this is meant to undermine the seriousness of the blood libel against Jews.