Shock and Awe: Medieval Northern European Jews and the Language of Violence

Tzafrir Barzilay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In twelfth-century northern Europe, public declarative violence was often employed to establish and demonstrate authority, lordship and power. This article argues that Jews adopted the Christian language of violence but reshaped it to communicate their own views and culture. The first section focuses on depictions of public violence during the persecution of the First Crusade, and on changes in Jewish liturgical practices supported by violent narratives. It shows that during the twelfth century, these descriptions became blunter and more evocative, and were established as a major feature of Jewish culture. The second section analyses the place of declarative public violence in contemporary Christian culture, while comparing it to Jewish perceptions on this issue. It shows that Jews saw such violence as major means to prove loyalty to their identity, to communicate their values and to claim authority.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-291
Number of pages27
JournalMedieval Encounters
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Brill Academic Publishers. All rights reserved.


This article was written with the support of the Kreitman School of Advanced Studies and the Department of Jewish History at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, as well as the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York. I thank Ephraim Shoham-Steiner for supporting my research. I also thank Aviya Doron, Eyal Levinson, Nureet Dermer and Adam Kosto, who read previous versions of this paper and offered valuable feedback. Jeffrey Wayno assisted me in gaining access to some of the relevant sources, for which I am grateful.

FundersFunder number
Department of Jewish History
Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture in New York
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Kreitman School of Advanced Graduate Studies, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


    • Jewish culture
    • Jewish history
    • chivalry
    • language of violence
    • liturgy
    • lordship
    • narrative
    • violence


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