Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Hans P. Broedel


The terms “ritual murder libel” and “blood libel” both refer primarily to medieval and early modern anti-Semitic allegations that Jews murdered Christian children on religious holidays, either to abuse or profane Christ and Christians, or to acquire Christian blood for use in Jewish ritual, sorcery, or as a medicine to treat stereotypical racial infirmities. Scholars to this point have generally treated the two libels as either synonymous, or have considered distinctions to be relatively insignificant. Insufficient treatment has been given to an inversion of primary and secondary motivations attributed to the libels’ constructed villains. In “ritual murder libels,” contempt for Christians and a desire to inflict harm on them is the alleged primary motivation for their murder at the hands of Jews, and while the acquisition of human blood stands present, it is of secondary emphasis. In contrast, “blood libel” places the acquisition of blood as primary while in some cases excludes the other motivation entirely. By examining a broad range of libel material, both “popular” and intellectual, spanning the late-twelfth through the mid-sixteenth centuries, in reference to their contexts of formulation, this study endeavors to demonstrate that while the libels did share the same symbolic motifs, the ritual murder libel evolved, and ultimately experienced a shift in late medieval Germany into what can properly be called “blood libel.” By acknowledging the distinction between the libels, one is able to contextualize and better understand both the function and form of these contemptible accusations.