Religions in Conflict: From Polemics to Wars (Late Antiquity - 18th Century)
About Programme Abstracts
Mary and the Jews: Three Witness Stories

Ora Limor, Open University, Tel Aviv

My paper presents three Christian stories about Mary, in which the Jews act as witnesses to her sanctity. These stories reflect the perception of the Jew in Christian thought, the complex web of relationships between Jews and Christians, and also internal Christian doubts with regard to Marian beliefs. Here as in other contexts, things that Christians quoted as having been said by Jews actually represented suppressed Christian disapproval, or a Christian guilty conscience for heretical thoughts and doubts of accepted beliefs.

While the criticism of Marian beliefs are placed in Jewish mouths, in all three stories it is the Jews who finally confirm Mary’s sanctity, her elevated status in the structure of Christian faith, and the veneration of her relics. These are thus “witness stories,” narratives in which the Jews function as witnesses to Christian truths. They were told for immediate Christian needs and formulate a narrative answer to troubling questions, attesting to the intensity of Marian beliefs. In Christian imagination, the Jew expresses the rejected voice of doubt, and his persuasion or eradication is intended to remove any doubt or feelings of guilt. In the Middle Ages, too, we frequently find the doubting Jews, blaspheming, in the most theologically problematic places—those most in need of defense.

The three stories also raise questions of gender. While Mary’s worst enemy in Christian imagination is the male Jew who profanes her innocence by words and touch, Jewish women are seen as possible allies.

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