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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST:ONADOE,ADEVILISH
HUNTER,AND JEWISH-CHRISTIAN POLEMICS
Abstract: Hunting scenes are common in Jewish illuminated manu-
scripts and are understood as allegories of the Jew, usually represented
as a hare or a deer, being persecuted by the Christian, shown as a
hunter and his dogs. This article will discuss a hunt scene from the
.zor, an Ashkenazic illuminated prayer book produced in
1272, probably in Würzburg. At the top of folio 130r, an illumination
of the piyyut (liturgical poem) “ʾAyelet ʾahavim”(the loving hind, or
doe) for Shavuot displays a deer being hunted by a devilish hunter
and his dogs. Examining the illustration in the context of contemporary
textual evidence, I shall demonstrate that the deer in the Worms
.zor portrays the Torah itself being persecuted by the hunter, who
can be understood not only as a Christian or Esau, but also as Jesus.
Hebrew illuminated manuscripts contain many miniatures of animals,
among them some portraying hunt scenes. Medieval Jews were not generally
known to have engaged in the sport of hunting,
so we should question what
such images meant to the Jewish audience of those manuscripts. As Kurt Schubert
and numerous other scholars of Jewish art have demonstrated, hunting scenes are
common in Jewish illuminated manuscripts, and can be understood as allegories of
the Jew, usually represented as a hare or a deer, being persecuted by the Christian,
depicted as a hunter and his dogs.
I am indebted to Daniel J. Lasker and Katrin Kogman-Appel for reading earlier drafts of this
paper and making numerous suggestions and comments. Thanks are also due to Leor Jacobi and the
anonymous reader, whose comments helped me to refine many of my arguments.
1. That said, it should be mentioned that Leor Jacobi recently published on medieval Jewish
hawking and falconry practices that appear to have been marginal; see Leor Jacobi, “Jewish Hawking in
Medieval France: Falconry, Rabbenu Tam, and the Tosafists,”Oqimta 1 (2013): 421–504; Jacobi, “The
Rabbis on the Hunt: From Palestine to Poland,”in Falconry: Its Influence on Biodiversity and Cultural
Heritage, ed. Urszula Szymak and Przemysław Sianko (Bialystok: Podlaskie Museum, 2016), 169–86.
2. Meir Ayali, “Halakhah and Aggadah in Haggadah Illustrations”[in Hebrew], ʿAle-Siah
no. 16 (1982): 262–68; Marc Michael Epstein, Dreams of Subversion in Medieval Jewish Art and Lit-
erature (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1997); Elliot Horowitz, “Odd Couples: The
Eagle and the Hare, the Lion and the Unicorn,”Jewish Studies Quarterly 11 (2004): 252–58; Sara
Offenberg, “Expressions of Meeting the Challenges of the Christian Milieu in Medieval Jewish Art
and Literature”[in Hebrew] (PhD diss., Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2008), chap. 4; Offen-
berg, “Illuminations of Kol Nidrei in Two Ashkenazi Mahzorim,”Ars Judaica 7 (2011): 7–16; Kurt
Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik in den Illustationen Hebräischer Handschriften,”Jewish Art 12–13
AJS Review (2020), 1–17
© Association for Jewish Studies 2020
In most cases, the hunter represents a nobleman in Christian art and litera-
ture. These depictions appear in various media, including illuminated manuscripts
(where they can appear as the main scene or in the margins),
paintings, and textiles. While the noblest of all was the deer hunt, the subjects
of the chase are diverse: deer hunts with dogs or bow and arrow, falconry, boar
hunts, and hare hunts.
White dogs with black spots often represent the Dominican
friars, who are also known as “dogs of the Lord”(domini canes). Black and white
dogs that represent the friars are seen in Andrea di Bonaiuto’s representation of the
Dominican friars as Dalmatian dogs in the fresco Allegory of the Triumphant
Church and the Dominican Order, in the Spanish Chapel at the Santa Maria
Novella in Florence, painted in 1365–1367 (fig. 1).
Schubert has demonstrated
that the same dogs may also symbolize the Dominican friars or Christian per-
secutors of the Jews in general in the Sephardic Rylands Haggadah.
is associated with the image of the hunter, especially the biblical hunter Esau,
who had long symbolized the Christians in Jewish art and culture.
to Christian art, in Jewish art the hunter plays a negative role and is sometimes
One such hunt scene is portrayed in the Worms Mah
an Ashkenazic illu-
minated prayer book produced in 1272, probably in Würzburg (fig. 2). At the top
of folio 130r (fig. 2a), the opening text of the Yoz
.er (a liturgical poem read in the
3. Michael Camille, Images on the Edge (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000);
Lilian Randall, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts (Berkeley: University of California Press,
4. Richard Almond, Medieval Hunting (Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2003), 131–32; Derek Pear-
sall, “Hunting Scenes in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts,”Connoisseur 196 (1977): 170–81.
5. Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby, “Art and Sermons: Dominicans and the Jews in Florence’s Santa
Maria Novella,”Church History and Religious Culture 92 (2012): 171–200. See also Kenneth Stow,
Jewish Dogs: An Image and Its Interpreters: Continuity in the Catholic-Jewish Encounter (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 137–44.
6. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik,”251–54. The manuscript is found at Manchester,
John Rylands University Library, MS. Ryl. Hebr. 6, fol. 29. The entire manuscript is available
7. Gerson Cohen, “Esau as Symbol in Early Medieval Thought,”in Jewish Medieval and
Renaissance Studies, ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967),
8. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik”; Ursula Schubert, “Zwei Tierszenen am ende der Ersten
Kennicott-Bibel la Coruna, 1476, in Oxford,”Journal of Jewish Art 12–13 (1986–1987): 83–88. For
a positive interpretation of dogs in Hebrew illuminated haggadot from the fifteenth century, where
the dog represents the coming of Elijah, see Chana Shacham-Rosby, “Elijah the Prophet: The Guard
Dog of Israel,”Jewish History 30 (2016): 165–82.
9. See the facsimile edition: Ms. Jewish National and University Library. Heb. 4 781/1. Com-
plete facsimile in original size: (Introductory volume), ed. Malachi Beit-Arié (Vaduz: Cyelar Establish-
ment; Jerusalem: Jewish National University Library, 1985). The entire manuscript is available online:
SCRIPTS&docid=PNX_MANUSCRIPTS000044560-1; Gabrielle Sed-Rajna, La mahzor enluminé:
Les voies de formation d’un programme iconographique (Leiden: Brill, 1983), 14–15.
morning) “ʾAyelet ʾahavim”(The loving doe, or hind) for Shavuot is illumi-
Normally, in medieval mah
.zorim, only the first piyyut for a given
holiday or Shabbat is illuminated, and it is this single poem that is addressed in
the scholarship concerning the image. However, it is my contention that
because this illumination relates to the entire holiday of Shavuot (the Feast of
Weeks), it should be interpreted in the broader context of the piyyut commentaries
and rabbinic literature related to the piyyut in question, not only with the text it
adorns in immediate proximity.
The connection between text and image in illu-
minated manuscripts is important, because just as their reading and viewing audi-
ence “read”them together, so too can we profit from understanding the scene in
both its immediate and broader context.
In a recent article, Katrin Kogman-Appel discusses methodological aspects
of what she refers to as the “three-way relationship”among patrons, artists, and
Andrea da Firenze, Spanish Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, fresco,
10. Israel Davidson, Thesaurus of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry [in Hebrew] (New York: Jewish
Theological Seminary of America, 1970), 1:2960; Daniel Goldschmidt, Mahzor for Shavuot (Jerusa-
lem: Koren, 2000), 104–7.
11. Katrin Kogman-Appel, A Mahzor from Worms: Art and Religion in a Medieval Jewish
Community (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 1–35; Kogman-Appel, “Books for Com-
munal Liturgy and Domestic Worship: Structure, Function, and Illustration of the Mahzor and the Hag-
gadah,”in Liturgische Bücher in der Kulturgeschichte Europas, ed. Hanns-Peter Neuheuser, Bibliothek
und Wissenschaft 51 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2018), 101–37; Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “The Aural-Visual
Experience in the Ashkenazi Ritual Domain of the Middle Ages,”in Resounding Images: Medieval
Intersections of Art, Music and Sound, ed. Susan Boynton and Diane J. Reilly (Turnhout: Brepols,
2015), 189–204; Sed-Rajna, La mahzor enluminé. On the types of piyyutim in Ashkenaz, see Ezra
Fleischer, Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in the Middle Ages, 2nd enlarged ed. (Jerusalem: Keter, 2007),
Beauty and the Beast
viewers, as well as the hierarchy between the textual and visual elements of
Hebrew illuminated manuscripts.
Images are not mere illustrations of texts,
but rather, they extend the meaning of the text; moreover, images unpack or
divulge latent cultural traditions not easily articulated in discursive text. A
major factor in evaluating the patron’s intention and the artist’s implementation
of the illustrations in relation to the texts is whether the manuscript was intended
for communal use in the synagogue or for private use. When an idea appears in an
illuminated manuscript, particularly one used by the whole community (e.g., the
.zor, in our case, or the giant Ashkenazic Masoretic Bible), it attests to con-
cepts that were considered acceptable in a public forum, even if the idea was
not understood clearly by all members of the congregational community.
Let us turn to the image (fig. 2a), where a hunting scene adorns the initial
word ʾayelet (doe). On the right, a hybrid, devilish hunter wears a red dress and
a green cap typical of a hunting costume of the period.
The hunter is portrayed
in grotesque profile, blowing a hunting horn, which he grasps in his right hand,
while he holds a leashed brown dog in his left; his legs resemble those of a
.zor, Würzburg (?), 1272. Ms. Heb. 4 781/I, fol. 130r, The National
Library of Israel, Jerusalem.
12. Katrin Kogman-Appel, “Pictorial Messages in Mediaeval Illuminated Hebrew Books:
Some Methodological Considerations,”in Jewish Manuscript Cultures: New Perspectives, ed. Irina
Wandrey (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2017), 443–46.
13. On the hunter’s costumes, see John Cummins, The Hound and the Hawk: The Art of Medi-
eval Hunting (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), 178–79.
rooster. On the left side of the image, in front of the hunter, two dogs chase a deer.
The grey one has caught it by its leg as it climbs a mountain.
This miniature has been discussed in previous studies;
however, I would
like to elaborate on it further and propose that over and beyond the symbolism
of hunted Jews, it references an actual Jewish-Christian polemic and resistance
to conversion. As Kurt Schubert already mentioned, the hunter’s diabolical
appearance is based on hunting associations in both Jewish and Christian cultures.
My understanding of the scene is that the hunter refers simultaneously to Esau,
Christians, and the antimessiah—Armilus. Several layers of interpretation
mingle in the mah
.zor’s illustration, which can be unraveled by analyzing both
text and image together, in relation to the literary and historical context of the
manuscript production. Hence, in order to approach the allegorical meaning of
the animals in the hunt scene, we first need to examine the piyyut’s text, along
with related Jewish and Christian texts and images.
In our illumination, the word “doe”(ʾayelet) is understood literally to mean
a doe, but its symbolic significance is open to interpretation. The first phrase of the
piyyut “ʾAyelet ʾahavim”(A loving doe) is based on Proverbs 5:19: “A loving doe,
a graceful mountain goat.”In this verse, “A loving doe”has been interpreted as
Detail, Worms Mah
14. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik”; Bezalel Narkiss and Aliza Cohen-Mushlin, “The Illu-
mination of the Worms Mahzor,”in Beit-Arié, Ms. Jewish National and University Library. Heb. 4
781/1,79–89; Sed-Rajna, La mahzor enluminé, 20; Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “Between Interpretation and
Destruction: Image, Text and Context in the Illuminated Ashkenazi Mahzor”[in Hebrew], in Jewish
Prayer: New Perspectives, ed. Uri Ehrlich (Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press,
Beauty and the Beast
referring to the Torah,
as we see in the Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 54b: “Said
R. Samuel bar Nah
.mani, ‘What is the meaning of this verse of Scripture:
“Loving hind and graceful roe”[Prov 5:19]? Why were words of the Torah com-
pared to a hind? To tell you, just as a hind …so words of the Torah are beloved.’”
This concept is also described in various piyyut commentaries of Ashken-
azic manuscripts. The need for piyyut commentary emerged, according to Elisa-
beth Hollender, from the difficulty of understanding poetic words and phrases
in the piyyutim. The elevated status of piyyutim in the eyes of the commentators
is evident from the very fact that they dedicated commentaries to them, as they
were seen as an integral part of the synagogue service and religious tradition.
Although in most cases we know the names of the paytanim (authors of piyyutim),
there are few piyyut commentaries where we can identify the author’s name clearly,
so that, as in our case, most of these authors remain anonymous.
A commentary to
“ʾAye l e t ʾahavim”appears in the Tr ipartite M ah
.zor (figs. 3–3a),
alongside a hunt
scene, and the text relates to some of the elements we are discussing here.
In the illuminated scene from the Worms Mah
.zor, the doe has been under-
stood as symbolizing the Jewish people, persecuted by the Christians, who are
represented by the hunter and his dogs. If, according to the Talmud, the Torah
is referred to as “the loving hind,”then the doe in our scene may be understood
as an allegory for the Torah, not only for the Jews. A thorough reexamination
of the visual motif of the hunt, against the background of the context communi-
cated in the liturgical hymn, can help elucidate this interpretation.
The liturgical poem that this scene illustrates deals with the giving of the
Torah at Mount Sinai, the main event celebrated during the Feast of Weeks.
That, alongside the notion of the doe as representing the Torah, leads us to the
question: What does a hunt scene have to do with the meaning of the piyyut?
After all, the painter could have portrayed just the doe/deer
the hunter and his dogs chasing after it. The answer to this question may be
found in the text of the piyyut itself. Typical of the genre, the piyyut adapts numer-
ous biblical verses,
in this case the context of an entire chapter, where we find
that the concept of the chase is referred to repeatedly. If we look elsewhere for
15. Goldschmidt, Mahzor for Shavuot, 104.
16. The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, trans. Jacob Neusner (Peabody,
MA: Hendrickson, 2011).
17. There are ten remaining manuscripts from German lands and France with a commentary on
this piyyut. Elisabeth Hollender, Clavis Commentariorum of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Manuscript
(Leiden: Brill, 2005), 234; Hollender, Piyyut Commentary in Medieval Ashkenaz (Berlin: de Gruyter,
18. Add. Ms. 22413, fol. 49, British Library, London. See the volume at http://www.bl.uk/
manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_22413. Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “The Tripartite Mahzor”
(PhD diss., Hebrew University, 2001), 79–82.
19. Tripartite Mahzor, fols. 49–50.
20. As in the Hammelburg Mah
.zor, Darmstadt, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, Cod. Or.
13, fol. 150v, produced in 1348.
21. On artistic ways of writing such piyyutim in this manuscript see David Stern, “ʻJewish’Art
and the Making of the Medieval Prayerbook,”Ars Judaica 6 (2010): 23–44.
references to help explain the dogs in our scene, we might turn first to Psalm 22.
Here the doe is ʾayelet ha-shah
.ar (dawn): “[For the leader; on ʾayelet ha-shah
…Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones closes in on me, like lions [they maul]
my hands and feet …But You, O LORD, be not far off; my strength, hasten to my
aid. Save my life from the sword, my precious life from the clutches of a dog”
(lines 17–21). Here we learn that the Bible itself includes the imagery of a deer
being persecuted by dogs.
Scholars have presumed that our illustrated chase scene symbolizes the gen-
tiles chasing Israel, but the deer here has a double meaning: it represents both the
persecuted Jews, as well as the Torah given to them at Mount Sinai. According to
Madeline Harrison Caviness, the educated medieval viewer would have been
expected to perceive iconography as multivalent; thus, a given image could
have had multiple, overlapping meanings.
The Worms Mah
.zor suggests that
the Torah itself is persecuted by the hunter. In what follows, I shall try to
.zor, Lake Constance area, c. 1322. Add. Ms. 22413, fol. 49,
British Library, London.
22. Madeline Harrison Caviness, “Reception of Images by Medieval Viewers,”in A Compan-
ion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe, ed. C. Rudolph (Malden, MA:
Blackwell, 2006), 71–72.
Beauty and the Beast
demonstrate that the illumination has more than one meaning, and that the hunter,
as well as each of the animals, is an allegorical figure for more than one character.
According to Jewish tradition, the people of Israel received the Torah at
Mount Sinai. The piyyut emphasizes that this event occurred specifically at
Mount Sinai, not at any other mountain. The word “Sinai”repeats over and
again in this piyyut, and our manuscript emphasizes the word, written in red.
One of the piyyut’s phrases is based on Psalm 68:16: “O majestic mountain,
Mount Bashan; O jagged mountain, Mount Bashan.”In the words of the piyyut,
“High hills rushed to precede Sinai / [this is] the hill [which] God desireth to
dwell in Mount Sinai.”
As I argued above, the deer represents not only the Jews but the Torah as
well. Thus Mount Sinai is highlighted in the piyyut to emphasize the concept
that the true Torah and the true Law were given at Mount Sinai, and that the
new Law, or more precisely the New Testament of the Christians, is entirely
Just as the “high hills”seek to precede Mount Sinai and assume its rightful
place as the mountain upon which the Torah was given, so, too, Christians appropri-
ate the Torah as if it were an asset of theirs. The dogs represent gentiles persecuting
Detail, Tripartite Mah
24. On the relation between the making of Torah codices in Ashkenaz and Jewish-Christian
relations see David Stern, The Jewish Bible: A Material History (Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 2017), 105–26.
Israel, but they can also symbolize Christians, who adopt the Old Testament for their
own needs when it suits them, particularly as a polemical tool against the Jews.
This scene should be interpreted in the contemporary context of the 1240 Paris
Talmud trial between Rabbi Yeh
.iel of Paris and the convert Nicholas Donin.
This was the first of three major public disputes initiated by converted Jews,
where the Talmud was the main focus of debate.
One purpose of the mendicant
orders in waging these trials was to Christianize the Jews. In so doing, they
culled citations from the Talmud as proofs that the rabbis hadalready acknowledged
Jesus as the true messiah.
Jews were aware of their role as the mission’starget.
Evidence of Christian intentions surrounded them throughout the urban space.
The public disputes reflected a spiritual persecution of Jewry that compounded
their physical persecution. Christians, guided by converted Jews, also attacked the
Talmud as a blasphemous and heretical book. An aftermath of the 1240 trial was
the public burning of the Talmud in 1242.
Thus, on the one hand, the Talmud
25. We have Hebrew accounts of the Talmud trial and a Latin text. Judah D. Galinsky, “The
Different Hebrew Versions of the ‛Talmud Trial’of 1240 in Paris,”in New Perspectives on Jewish-
Christian Relations: In Honor of David Berger, ed. Elisheva Carlebach and Jacob J. Schacter
(Leiden: Brill, 2012), 132–37. The Latin text was originally published by Isadore Loeb, “La contro-
verse de 1240 sur le Talmud,”Revue des études juives 3 (1881): 39–57. For an English translation
of the Latin text see Hyam Maccoby, Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle
Ages (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London: Associated University Presses,
26. Piero Capelli, “Jewish Converts in Jewish-Christian Intellectual Polemics in the Middle
Ages,”in Intricate Interfaith Networks in the Middle Ages: Quotidian Jewish-Christian Contacts,
ed. Ephraim Shoham-Steiner (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016), 33–83; Harvey Hames, “Reason and Faith:
Inter-religious Polemic and Christian Identity in the Thirteenth Century,”in Religious Apologetics—
Philosophical Argumentation, ed. Yossef Schwartz and Volkhard Krech (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck,
2004), 267–84; Ryan Szpiech, Conversion and Narrative:Reading and Religious Authority in Medi-
eval Polemic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 121–42; Paola Tartakoff,
“Testing Boundaries: Jewish Conversion and Cultural Fluidity in Medieval Europe, c. 1200–1391,”
Speculum 90 (2015): 728–62.
27. Robert Leon Chazan, John Friedman, and Jean Hoff, The Trial of the Talmud: Paris, 1240
(Toronto: Pontifical Inst. of Mediaeval Studies, 2012). For more on the political and theological reasons
that led to this trial, see Yossef Schwartz, “Authority, Control, and Conflict in Thirteenth-Century Paris:
Contextualizing the Talmud Trial,”in Jews and Christians in Thirteenth-Century France, ed. Elisheva
Baumgarten and Judah Galinsky (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 93–110.
28. Robert Chazan, Daggers of Faith: Thirteenth-Century Christian Missionizing and
Jewish Response (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 30–37; Jeremy Cohen, The
Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1982), 226–30; Harvey J. Hames, The Art of Conversion: Christianity and Kabbalah in the Thirteenth
Century (Leiden: Brill, 2000); Daniel J. Lasker, “Jewish Anti-Christian Polemics in Light of Mass Con-
version to Christianity,”in Polemical Encounters: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Iberia and Beyond,
ed. Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019),
29. Daniel J. Lasker, “The Jewish Critique of Christianity: In Search of a New Narrative,”
Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 6 (2011): 1–9.
30. Paul Lawrence Rose, “When Was the Talmud Burnt at Paris? A Critical Examination of the
Christian and Jewish Sources and a New Dating: June 1241,”Journal of Jewish Studies 62 (2011):
Beauty and the Beast
was exploited as a tool to convince Jews that the messiah had already arrived, but on
the other hand, it was rejected as heretical.
In 1263, R. Moses ben Nah
.manides) defended the Talmud in Bar-
celona from the attacks of the convert Pablo Christiani, who afterward disputed
with Rabbi Abraham at the second Paris trial in 1271/1273.
In both of the
Paris trials, Rabbi Yeh
.iel and Rabbi Abraham used the term “Torah”to refer to
the Talmud, rather than “the Oral Torah”or simply “Talmud”; indeed, they delib-
erately used the word “Torah.”
Testimony to the experience of persecution targeting the Talmud can be
found in an elegy composed by the Maharam of Rothenburg (Rabbi Meir ben
Barukh, d. 1293), “Shaʾali serufah ba-ʾesh”(Ask, you who were burned by
The elegy emphasizes that the Talmud that was burned was indeed part
of the Torah given to Moses at Sinai, as expressed in the verse: “Sinai, for that
the Lord choose you.”“Sinai,”referring to the Torah given to Moses, is mentioned
in the context of the burned Talmud. The author alludes to the New Testament by
asking: “Is there a new Torah, and for that they burned your scrolls?”
expresses Maharam’s mourning over the burning of the Talmud, without doubt
referring to the events in Paris and the Jews in Ashkenaz.
Susan L. Einbinder’s description of the situation in northern France in the
thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries could well apply to other regions of
31. Susan L. Einbinder, Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 70–99; William Chester Jordan, The French Monarchy
and the Jews: From Philip Augustus to the Last Capetians (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1989), 137–44; Reuben Margaliot, ed., R. Yehiel of Paris’s Dispute (Leviv: Margaliot, 1910);
Gilbert Dahan with Élie Nicolas, eds., Le brûlement du Talmud à Paris, 1242–1244, postface by René-
Samuel Sirat (Paris: Cerf, 1999); Robert Chazan, Barcelona and Beyond: The Disputation of 1263 and Its
Aftermath (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Chazan, “From Friar Paulto Friar Raymond:
The Development of Innovative Missionizing Argumentation,”Harvard Theological Review 76 (1983):
289–306; Jeremy Cohen, Living Letters of the Law: Ideas of the Jews in Medieval Christianity (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1999), 319–42; Cohen, “The Second Paris Dispute and the Jewish Chris-
tian Polemic in the Thirteenth Century”[in Hebrew], Tar b i z 68 (1999): 557–79; Saadiah Eisenberg,
“Reading Medieval Religious Disputation: The 1240 ‘Debate’between Rabbi Yehiel of Paris and Friar
Nicholas Donin”(PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2008); Hames, “Reason and Faith”;Maurice
Kriegel, “Le procès et le brûlement du Talmud, 1239–1248,”in Saint Louis et les juifs: Politique et idéo-
logie sous le règne de Louis IX, ed. Paul Salmona and Juliette Sibon (Paris: Éditions du Patrimoine, 2015),
105–12; David Malkiel, Reconstructing Ashkenaz: The Human Face of Franco-German Jewry, 1000–
1250 (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); Daniela Müller, “Die Pariser Verfahren gegen
den Talmud von 1240 und 1248 im Kontext von Papsttum und französischem Königtum,”in Interaction
between Judaism and Christianity in History, Religion, Art and Literature, ed. Marcel Poorthuis, Joshua
Schwartz,and Joseph Turner (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 181–99; Ursula Ragacs, Die zweite Talmuddisputation
von Paris 1269 (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 2001); Joseph Shatzmiller, La deuxième controverse de
Paris (Paris: E. Peeters, 1994); Haym Soloveitchik, “Catastrophe and Halakhic Creativity: Ashkenaz
—1096, 1242, 1306 and 1298,”Jewish History 12 (1998): 71–85.
32. Daniel Goldschmidt, Order of the Lamentations for the 9th of Av [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem:
Koren, 1976/7), 135–37; Joseph Isaac Lifshitz, Rabbi Meir and the Foundation of Jewish Political
Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 43.
33. My translation. ואשאלהישתורהחדשה.בכךשרפוגליליך
Ashkenaz: “In northern France, royal and ecclesiastical policies converged in an
escalation of pressures on Jewish communities, with the ultimate aim of conver-
sion. And throughout this period, and in addition to the coerced baptisms that
accompanied mob attacks and judicial terror, Jews converted. Indeed, not all
were convinced to do so by the sword. The omnipresent signs of Christian flour-
ishing and triumph lay before their eyes, and for medieval eyes those signs held a
kind of truth it was hard to contest. In addition, the sheer difficulty of day-to-day
life must have had a persuasive force of its own.”
In Germany, Berthold of
Regensburg (d. 1272), preaching from the 1240s to the 1260s, grouped the
Jews together with heretics, who were already outlawed.
In one of his
sermons, he assailed the Talmud and the Jews: “Their twelve [leaders?] hastily
convened and composed a book, which is called Talmud. It is completely heretical,
and it contains such damned heresy that it is bad that they live.”
preaching provided his audience with an informal carte blanche for physical vio-
lence against Jews, regardless of its formal legality. In this context, the image in
the Worms Mah
.zor subtly warns the Jewish viewer and encourages him or her
to withstand the onslaught of Christianity.
Let us now return to look more closely at our scene. The image of the hunter
in the Worms Mah
.zor has previously been interpreted as symbolizing Christians
pursuing and persecuting Jews. This perspective is based on conventional concep-
tions of the image of Esau, who has long symbolized Christians in Jewish texts.
Esau is described as a hunter in Genesis 25:27: “Esau became a skillful hunter,
a man of the outdoors.”Esau is the father of Edom, traditionally identified with
Rome, and since the fourth century, also with Christianity. Almost every reference
to Esau in late antique and medieval Jewish literature is a reference to Edom and to
Hence, identifying the figure in the scene as Esau seems eminently
reasonable. However, following this symbolic calculus to its next logical step sug-
gests another character portrayed in the scene: the hunter may represent not only
the Christians, or Edom/Esau, but even Jesus himself. A closer focus on the image
of the hunter can support the plausibility of this proposition.
34. Einbinder, Beautiful Death, 114.
35. Jeremy Cohen, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1982), 226–34; Alexander Fidora, “The Influence of the Extractiones de
Talmud on Anti-Jewish Sermons from the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries,”in The Talmud in
Dispute during the High Middle Ages, ed. Alexander Fidora and Görge K. Hasselhoff (Bellaterra:
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Servei de Publicacions, 2019), 235–47.
36. Berthold von Regensburg, Vollständige Ausgabe seiner Predigten, ed. Franz Pfeiffer
(Berlin: Wien Braumüller, 1965), 1:401 (first published 1862–1880). I used Jeremy Cohen’s transla-
tion, in Friars and the Jews, 134.
37. According to Gerson Cohen, the tradition of Esau and Edom as symbolizing Rome can be
traced back to Rabbi Akiva (cf. Genesis Rabbah 65:21). This association with Rome was turned toward
Christianity during the Middle Ages. According to Cohen, medieval Jews believed that “Esau might
exchange his eagle for a cross, but he was Esau nonetheless.”Cohen, “Esau as Symbol,”29. See
also Offenberg, “Expressions of Meeting the Challenges,”113–18; Israel Jacob Yuval, Two Nations
in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2006).
Beauty and the Beast
As mentioned above, the hunter is portrayed as a hybrid creature, revealing
his devilish nature. In Christian art, we find images of hybrid hunters frequently,
but our case is no mere copy of a Christian model; rather, the artist apparently
intended to portray the hunter as demonic in a Jewish context. In other hunt
scenes in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, the hunter is not generally portrayed
as demonic; rather, he is often depicted as a plain human being (for example, in
the aforementioned Tripartite Mah
In this case, as Kurt Schubert has demonstrated, the hunter’s face and legs
characterize him as a devil.
In rabbinic literature, cocks’feet are considered a
sign of demons; for example, in B. Berakhot 6a: “Abba Benjamin says, ʻIf the
eye had the power to see them, no creature could withstand the demons.’…If
someone wants to know that they are here, take ashes and sprinkle them around
the bed, and in the morning, he will see something like footprints of a cock.”
The source is also cited in Rashi’s commentary on B. Gittin 68b: “To see
whether it is a demon …since the demon’s legs are like those of a cock.”In
another Ashkenazic mah
.zor, produced circa 1270–1290,
the image of a
demon overcome by the power of a Jewish figure blowing the shofar is recogniz-
able among others by his rooster talon legs (fig. 5). These sources establish the
correspondence between cocks’legs and demons in the Jewish imagination, so
we need not assume that the image of the hunter in the Worms Mah
Christian conventions for depicting a demonic creature. Furthermore, the hunter
generally represents the nobleman in Christian art,
but in our Jewish manuscript,
the hunter is grotesque and devilish, diametrically opposed to the Christian
representation. Thus, the image in the Worms Mah
.zor appears to mock Christian
nobility through subversion of its symbolism.
The hunter can be identified as an evil creature not only by his legs, but also
by his grotesque profile. Schubert wrote that his nose resembles that of a pig’s, but
in my opinion the hunter’s profile is virtually identical to that of the dog he holds
by its leash (fig. 4). The rabbis described the dog faces of women in sculptures of
The Babylonian Talmud, Temurah 28b, explains that the “face of
[the male idol] Molekh should be called face of the dog.”
The hunter is a
hybrid, dressed like a man, but with demonic rooster legs and the dog face of
38. Schubert, “Wikkuach-Thematik.”
39. Kaufmann Ms. A 388, vol. II, fol. 12v, Magyar Tudomanyos Academia, Budapest. The
entire manuscript is available online: http://kaufmann.mtak.hu/en/ms388a/ms388a-coll1.htm. On this
image see Ilia Rodov, “Dragons: A Symbol of Evil in European Synagogue Decorations,”Ars
Judaica 1 (2005): 71.
40. Such as the example from the Codex Manesse, produced in Zurich in the years 1305–1340,
displaying Konrad von Suonegge (1220–1241) hunting a deer. Cod. Pal. Germ 848, fol. 202v, Heidel-
berg Universitätsbibliothek. On Codex Manesse, see the website http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/
cpg848 and the facsimile Codex Manesse: Die Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Kommentar
zum Faksimile des Cod. Pal. Germ. 848 der Univeritätsbibliothek Heidelberg, hrsg. von Walter
Koschorreck und Wilfried Werner (Frankfurt: Insel-Verl., 1981).
41. Tosefta Avodah Zarah 6:4; Talmud Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah 3:33.
42. Neusner, Babylonian Talmud.
pagan idolatry. He may thus represent not only the gentiles and their Christian reli-
gion, but even their god, namely Jesus himself.
Christian art and literature depict the character of the antichrist, the antithesis
of Christ who schemes to deceive the faithful, similarly to Christ himself. Imper-
sonating the truemessiah, the antichrist attracts the faithful but leads themto destruc-
The devilish hunter in our miniature can be conceived of as a parallel
“anti-antichrist,”bearer of the false “New Testament,”purporting to override the
Detail, Worms Mah
.zor, Ashkenaz, 1270–1290. Kaufmann Ms. A 388, vol. II, fol. 12v,
Magyar Tudomanyos Academia, Budapest.
43. Richard Kenneth Emmerson, Antichrist in the Middle Ages (Seattle: University of Washing-
ton Press, 1981); Gregory C. Jenks, The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth (Berlin:
de Gruyter, 1991); Sara Lipton, “Isaac and the Antichrist in the Archives,”Past & Present 32 (2016): 3–
44; Bernard McGinn, Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil
Beauty and the Beast
true Torah given to Israel at Mount Sinai. The hunter—Jesus—deceives the faithful
by pretending to be the true messiah and even God himself, pretending to redeem
humanity. In Christian art, the antichrist can reveal his devilish appearance; in this
image, too, the viewer is granted a glimpse of the hunter’struenature.
A figure analogous to the antichrist appears in Jewish literature by the name
of Armilus, who can be called the antimessiah. From the seventh century on, refer-
ences to Armilus are found in midrashim dealing with the topic of salvation. These
midrashim describe a war that will take place at the end of time, waged by the
nations of the world, led by the antimessiah, against the people of Israel. The mes-
siah’s enemy will kill the messiah (son of Joseph), before being killed by the
messiah (son of David).
The demonic hunter might represent a visual variant
of the Jewish antimessiah legends. The appearance of Armilus described in mid-
rashic texts is grotesque; although it does not correspond to the details depicted in
our scene, there are parallels. Note that in Christian art, as well, images of the anti-
christ do not always correspond to the textual descriptions. Just as those miniatures
are not illustrations of texts, and at times convey multiple meanings, so too, the
demonic hunter is no mere depiction of a specific text. In any case, the illumina-
tion’s symbolism is allegorical, not a literal interpretation of any texts.
The earliest and principal source of the Armilus story is in the Book of Zer-
ubbabel, written around 628 CE. Another later source is the Midrash Tefillat
R. Shimon ben Yoh
.ai, written in the last quarter of the twelfth century, before
the Third Crusade.
In Zerubbabel’s vision he is transported to the city of
(San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 2000); Rosemary Muir Wright, Art and Antichrist in Medi-
eval Europe (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).
44. Bernard McGinn focused on the antichrist’s physiognomic appearance and attempted to
map the different ways he is displayed throughout the Middle Ages. Bernard McGinn, “Portraying
Antichrist in the Middle Ages,”in The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages, ed.
Werner Verbeke, D. Verhelst, Andries Welkenhuysen (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1988), 1–
48; Debra Higgs Strickland, Saracens, Demons, & Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), chap. 5.
45. David Berger, “Three Typological Themes in Early Jewish Messianism: Messiah Son of
Joseph, Rabbinic Calculations, and the Figure of Armilus,”AJS Review 10, no. 2 (1985): 141–64;
David Biale, “Counter-History and Jewish Polemics against Christianity: The Sefer Toldot Yeshu and
the Sefer Zerubavel,”Jewish Social Studies 6, no. 1 (1999): 130–45; Wilhelm Bousset, The Antichrist
Legend: A Chapter in Christian and Jewish Folklore, trans. A. H. Keane (1896; Atlanta, GA: Scholars
46. Yehudah Even-Shmuel, Midreshe geʾulah (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1954); Adolph Jelli-
nek, ed., Beit ha-midrash (Leipzig: Bamberger & Wahrmann, 1852), 2:54–57; Joseph Dan, “Armilus:
The Jewish Antichrist and the Origins of the Sefer Zerubbavel,”in Toward the Millennium: Messianic
Expectations from the Bible to Waco, ed. Peter Schäfer and Mark Cohen (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 73–104;
Moshe Gil, “The Apocalypse of Zerubbabel in Judaeo-Arabic,”Revue des études juives 165, nos. 1–2
(2006): 1–98; Lutz Greisiger, “Armilos –Vorläufer, Entstehung und Fortlebender Antichrist-Gestalt im
Judentum,”in Der Antichrist: Historische und systematische Zugänge, ed. Mariano Delgado and
Volker Leppin (Fribourg: Academic Press; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 2011), 207–40; Greisiger,
“Die Geburt des Armilos und die Geburt des ‘Sohnes des Verderbens’: Zeugnisse der jüdisch-
christlicher Auseinandersetzung um die Identifikation des Antichristen im 7. Jahrhundert,”in Anti-
christ: Konstruktionen von Feindbildern, ed. Wolfram Brandes (Berlin: Akad.-Verl., 2010), 24–32;
Nineveh, where he meets the messiah, son of David. The messiah informs Zerub-
babel that the city is called “Rome the Great”:“They say that there is a stone of
marble in Rome, and it has the shape of a beautiful girl.”According to the
Book of Zerubbabel, the stone is shaped like a virgin, and the devil will father
And a male child emerges, in the shape of a man whose height is twelve cubits
and whose breadth is two cubits. His eyes are red and crooked, the hair of his
head is red like gold, and the steps of his feet are green.
…They call him
Armilus. And he will go to Edom [Rome] and say to them: “I am your
Messiah, I am your God!”And he will mislead them and they will instantly
believe in him, and make him their king. And all the Children of Esau will
gather and come to him. And he will go and announce to all cities saying
to the Children of Esau: “Bring me my Torah [Law] which I gave you!”
And the nations of the world will come and bring the book …and he will
[further] say to them: “I am your God, I am your Messiah and your God.”
In that hour he will send [a messenger] to Nehemiah [i.e., messiah ben
Joseph] and to all Israel, and say to them: “Bring me your Torah and
testify that I am God.”…And in that hour Nehemiah will rise …read
before him: “I am the Lord”and “Thou shalt have no other gods”[Exod
20:2–3]. And he will say: “There is nothing of this in your Torah, and I
shall not let go of you until you believe that I am God in the manner in
which the nations of the world believe in me.”Instantly Nehemiah stands
up against him and says to him: “You are not God, but Satan.”
When Armilus speaks to the nations, he calls the Torah “my Torah,”but when he
speaks to the people of Israel, he says to them, “Bring me your Torah.”The text
distinguishes between the two; the children of Esau received their Law from the
antimessiah, whereas the true Law was given to Israel by the true God on
Mount Sinai. According to this Jewish reading, the antimessiah, or Armilus, is
The name Armilus has intrigued scholars. Some have claimed that the name
is adapted from that of Romulus, the founder of Rome. According to David
Berger, Jewish messianic typology argues that if the final redeemer will be like
the first (i.e., from the house of David), so too will the final king of Rome be
like its founder. In this sense, Armilus is Romulus redux.
Another etymological possibility mentioned by Berger is that “Armilus”is
derived from the Greek Eremolaos (Έρημόλαος), meaning “destroyer of the
people.”The Talmud explains that the Hebrew name Balaam also means
Israel Lévi, “Ľapocalypse de Zorobabel et le roi Perse Siroés,”Revue des études juives 68 (1914): 129–
60; 69 (1919): 108–21; 71 (1920): 57–63.
47. We find similar features in several descriptions of the antichrist in Christian literature. See
McGinn, “Portraying Antichrist.”
48. Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1979), 157–
58. My highlights.
Beauty and the Beast
“destroyer of the people.”According to the Hebrew account of the 1240 Talmud
dispute, Nicholas Donin claimed that the Talmud states that Jesus was condemned
to boiling hot excrement (see B. Gittin 57a), and that Balaam’s punishment is
ascribed to Jesus.
Balaam is also confused with Bela, son of Beor, the first
king of Edom. (Genesis 36:31–32, “And these [are] the kings that reigned in
the land of Edom. …And Bela the son of Beor reigned in Edom”; and in 1
Chronicles 1:43, “Now these [are] the kings that reigned in the land of Edom
before [any] king reigned over the children of Israel; Bela the son of Beor: and
the name of his city [was] Dinhabah.”)
According to this logic, because
Balaam is identified with both with Esau and Jesus, when the Talmud describes
the punishment of Balaam and the criminals of Israel “with boiling hot excre-
ment,”it refers to Jesus.
Even if this concept was not actually raised in the
Talmud trial itself but recorded only later in the written textual account, it
remains highly relevant that it had been written (and probably widespread)
by the 1270s, within a few decades of 1240.
Hence, Armilus is Romulus,
the first king of Rome, and Rome is called Edom, whose first king was
Balaam, which is translated into Greek as Eremolaos. So, the first king of
Edom/Rome will return at the end of days, as both the final king of Rome
and the archenemy of the final redeemer. Moreover, in medieval Jewish litera-
ture, Rome and Edom are themselves code names for Christianity and Jesus, so
that Armilus may not only represent the three kings, but also be understood as
The story of Armilus also appears in ʾArugat ha-bosem, a collection of com-
mentaries on piyyutim and selih
.ot, written circa 1234 by Rabbi Abraham ben
Azriel of Bohemia (a student of R. Elazar of Worms).
The author associates
the four kingdoms mentioned in the book of Daniel with the fall of Edom and
Christendom. Based on the Book of Zerubbabel, R. Abraham explains that the
kingdom will be taken from Edom while he rules over the Land of Israel and
that Armilus will receive permission to kill the messiah, son of Joseph, because
of the doubters among the people of Israel. He emphasizes that sinners and
Jews who convert to Christianity give Armilus power. Thus, R. Abraham
deploys the legend of Armilus as a polemic against Christianity and conversion.
49. G. Dalman and H. Laible, Jesus Christ in the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, and the Liturgy of
the Synagogue (New York: Arno Press, 1973) (first published in German in 1893), 10, 12, esp. 17–18;
Eisenberg, “Reading Medieval Religious Disputation,”84–88; Galinsky, “Different Hebrew Versions,”
122; Ivan G. Marcus, “A Jewish-Christian Symbiosis: The Culture of Early Ashkenaz,”in Cultures of
the Jews: A New History, ed. David Biale (New York: Schocken, 2002), 2:176–82; Schäfer, Jesus in the
50. Berger, “Three Typological Themes,”157–60; Dalman and Laible, Jesus Christ in the
51. Cohen, “Esau as Symbol,”19–48.
52. Eisenberg, “Reading Medieval Religious Disputation,”38–40; Hames, “Reason and Faith,”
53. Abraham Bar Azriel, ʾArugat ha-bosem, ed. Ephraim Urbach (Jerusalem: Mek ̣
mim, 1939), 1:256–58. A similar description is found in R. Saʿadiah Gaon, ʾEmunot ve-deʿot, ed.
Joseph Kapheh (Kiryat Ono: Mekhon Mosheh, 1999), treatise 8, chap. 5, 245–46.
Just as R. Abraham warns Jews that by converting, they are responsible for Armi-
lus’s evil deeds, so too, our image serves as a visual warning to the potential
convert: the real leader of the religion of the children of Esau, the noble hunter,
is the demonic Armilus.
In summary: Armilus is the son of a stone statue that resembles a virgin and
whose father is Satan.
His parents remind us of Jesus’s parents, only in reverse: a
virgin and the Holy Spirit. As in the case of Jesus, the children of Edom believe
that Armilus is the messiah and God himself.
Now let us return to our illumination, which portrays the hunter as a
demonic creature with a doglike face. As pagan idols, sculptures portraying
both women and men are referred to as “dog face”; so too, Armilus, the son of
a statue, is depicted with the pagan statue’s face of a dog. Furthermore, Armilus
pretends to be the messiah and God, he is accepted by the children of Esau, and
he wages war against the Torah and the people of Israel, who steadfastly renounce
him. The hunter in the Worms Mah
.zor is associated fundamentally with Esau, who
persecutes Jews and their Torah, as do the contemporary medieval Christians who
tried to force the Jews to convert. The image in the Worms Mah
.zor warns the
Jewish viewer about the true nature of the alternative that Christianity seductively
offers. Esau is unmasked as a demon hunter. He is none other than Armilus, the
true face of Jesus, the antimessiah.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
54. A similar story appears in the book Toledot Yeshu. Peter Schäfer, M. Meerson and Yacob
Deutsch eds., Toledot Yeshu (‘The Life Story of Jesus’) Revisited: A Princeton Conference (Tübingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 2011).
Beauty and the Beast