By David Nirenberg
Via such a lot of Western eu historical past, Jews were a numerically tiny or totally absent minority, yet throughout that heritage Europeans have still fearful greatly approximately Judaism. Why should still that be so? This brief yet powerfully argued ebook means that Christian anxieties approximately their very own transcendent beliefs made Judaism a big device for Christianity, as an apocalyptic religion—characterized by means of prizing soul over flesh, the non secular over the literal, the heavenly over the actual world—came to phrases with the inescapable significance of physique, language, and fabric issues during this international.
Nirenberg exhibits how turning the Jew right into a personification of worldly over non secular matters, floor over internal that means, allowed cultures vulnerable towards transcendence to appreciate even their such a lot materialistic practices as non secular. targeting artwork, poetry, and politics—three actions specially condemned as worldly in early Christian culture—he unearths how, over the last thousand years, those actions however accelerated the possibility of their very own lifestyles inside of Christian tradition simply because they have been used to symbolize Judaism. Nirenberg attracts on an astonishingly different number of poets, painters, preachers, philosophers, and politicians to reconstruct the jobs performed via representations of Jewish “enemies” within the production of Western artwork, tradition, and politics, from the traditional global to the current day.
This erudite and tightly argued survey of the ways that Christian cultures have created themselves by way of pondering Judaism will entice the broadest diversity of students of faith, artwork, literature, political conception, media concept, and the heritage of Western civilization extra generally.
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Extra info for Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics
To his right and left sit Mary and John the Evangelist, each absorbed in reading a book. A lamb lies at his feet, and a river flows from his throne through the garden: a pictorial representation of the verse from the Apocalypse “procedentem de sede Dei et Agni” (Rev. 22:1, “the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb”). The river descends until it empties into a fountain outside the walls of paradise. Those walls, with turrets left and right, separate paradise from the painting’s ground floor: the terrestrial antechamber or forecourt, so to speak, of the heavenly city.
In Cantiga 74 the devil himself is enlisted in defense of pictorial realism: angered by a painter who has accurately rendered his ugliness, he destroys the scaffolding upon which the artist is working on a high fresco of the Virgin. The falling painter prays to his patroness, who suspends him miraculously in midair by his brush, the instrument of his trade becoming also the instrument of his salvation. In other songs the enemy of Christian painting is figured as a Jew. 1), for example, a Jew of Constantinople steals an outstandingly beautiful (the text tells us) image of the Virgin that has been painted on a board and hung in the street.
43 We are unlikely ever to know definitively whether or not van Eyck visited Castile, or whether The Fountain of Grace flowed from his own brushes or those of his followers. What we can say with certainty is that the retable vividly thematizes general Christian questions about the conversionary potential of painting — does it lead one toward transcendence and Christianness or toward literalism, materiality, and Jewishness? The context in which the painter or his studio confronted those questions and painted the painting remains in shadow.