Blood libel: What does it mean?

Sarah Palin’s use of the phrase “blood libel” could scarcely be more incendiary, especially in a religious country like the United States.

The blood libel refers specifically to perhaps the most notorious verse in the Bible: Matthew 27:25, which has been used by some Christians to persecute Jews for nearly 2 000 years. That it should be used by an avowedly Christian politician about a Jewish one just takes crassness and insensitivity to a new level.

One can only hope that Palin, or her advisers, did not appreciate the context, or the history. The verse in Matthew refers to the scene during Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, before his execution, where the Roman governor, not being able to find fault with the accused man, publicly washed his hands of his fate, saying the crowd bore responsibility for his death.

Sensitive phrase
The Gospel says the crowd shouted back: “His blood be on us and on our children,” a phrase taken by Christians for centuries to indicate that the Jewish people as a whole and for perpetuity bore direct responsibility for the crucifixion and were therefore fair game for persecution and extermination.

It has been used to justify pogroms, expulsions and discrimination and has fed Christian myths, such as those circulating in the Middle Ages, that Jews kidnapped and sacrificed Christian children to use their blood during Passover commemorations.

It took until the post-Holocaust period for organisations such as the Roman Catholic church to acknowledge the sensitivity of the phrase. Only in recent years has the famous Oberammergau Passion Play in southern Germany cut the words.

In 2004, Mel Gibson claimed he had excised the line from his gory film, The Passion of the Christ, owing to Jewish sensitivities, though scholars noted he actually retained it — in Aramaic. – guardian.co.uk

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