Article

postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies (2014) 5, 346–358. doi:10.1057/pmed.2014.18

One or several Jews? The Jewish massed body in Old Norse literature

Richard Colea

aProgram in Scandinavian Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

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Abstract

In this article, I seek to articulate a troubling quality in Old Norse depictions of the Jewish body: namely, its contiguity, inscrutability and lack of individuality. In Old Norse literature (visual culture is a different matter) the usual somatic markers of medieval antisemitism, such as hooked noses, dark skin and effeminacy, are conspicuous by their absence. Rather, Jews are often rendered ‘Other’ by the organization of their bodies. Like a sort of hive-mind, they appear to act as one, speak as one, and plot, scheme and rage as one. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s thoughts on multiplicity, I propose culturally specific implications of these images for medieval Icelandic society. Jews are also contextualized among the tropes surrounding other non-Christians in Old Norse, namely, pagans and Muslims, with a particular emphasis on the figure of the blámaðr (lit. ‘black man’).

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