The Singular Beast

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9780231103671: The Singular Beast

Throughout history, the slaughter and consumption of the pig has been the inspiration for role-playing and taboos, and at the center of practices that defined the boundaries between Christians and Jews. A provocative exploration of the pig in European culture and anti-Semitism, The Singular Beast chronicles the cultural and religious character of the pig -- and details the folkloric beliefs still found among both provincial and urban Europeans and the rituals that have been associated with it from the Middle Ages to today.

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Review:

The Singular Beast is an academic study of the relationship between pigs and Jews in European Christian culture. It is a challenging book, but it's well worth the trouble for readers who want to understand the shape of traditional Christian anti-Semitism. "We know that the world's cultures readily designate others by what they eat; in Europe we call one another frogs, roast beefs, or macaroni eaters," Claudine Fabre-Vassas writes. "A very rare exception should have aroused suspicion: Jews are called 'pigs,' imagined to be bloodthirsty, identified precisely as what they forbid themselves." When Fabre-Vassas digs into this paradox, she discovers all kinds of interesting and awful myths. Suffice it to say, Christian readers will think twice about putting ham in the oven next Easter.

From the Back Cover:

Throughout history, the breeding, slaughter, and consumption of the pig has been the inspiration for both religious and secular rituals and taboos. In The Singular Beast, a daring and original account of the role of the pig and its relationship to Jews in European Christian culture, Claudine Fabre-Vassas argues that these practices defined the very boundaries between Christians and Jews. Chronicling the cultural and religious significance of a creature that occupies an ambiguous place in the families of those who raise it - as a member of the family and a potential meal - The Singular Beast reveals the continuing power of symbols to sustain or create ethnic identities. Fabre-Vassas details the folkloric beliefs and rituals that have been associated with the slaughter and consumption of pigs from the Middle Ages until today by both provincial and urban Europeans - such as the myth that Jews do not eat pork because their children had been transformed into pigs and the story that they crave the flesh of Christian children because they are deprived of pork. Ranging from early Christianity to the present, from Spain to Scandinavia, The Singular Beast is both a broad study of the extraordinary, complex role of the animal central to the diets and rituals of most European populations and a close historical analysis of anti-Semitism and the creation of real-life myths.

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