Wednesday, November 9, 2011

“His Face was Horned from the Conversation of the Lord”

Driving north from Florida, we stopped somewhere in the Carolinas to buy drinks at a convenience store. As we traipsed back to the car, a man approached our family in the parking lot, flipped my ten-year-old son’s kippah up and asked in astonishment, “Wher’ yuh horns?” My astonishment equaled his: that anyone really believed this old canard! A quick Google search reveals that these sorts of interactions are less uncommon than we’d hope.
The Jews-have-horns myth may be confirmed by Michelangelo’s Moses, glaring with ropy beard and throbbing veins, about to rise to dispense justice, but I think that the misimpression left by the mistranslation in the Vulgate was clinched by the observation that Jewish men wear skullcaps – why else, but to hide their horns?

And horns evoke images of lecherous satyrs who prey upon innocent women, goat-like in their pursuit of physical pleasure. This was certainly the image the Nazis painted of Jews. They may have discarded the idea of horns, but the Jew as something not quite human was the basis of all that followed.
"The Poisonous Mushroom," a children's book from the Nazi era

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 1938 attack against German Jewry that we now recognize as the beginning of the Holocaust, whose horror still casts its long shadows upon us. As we refute these old myths, I hope it will lead to a repudiation of these villainous stereotypes as well, leading us to an era when each man shall dwell ‘neath his vine and fig-tree and none shall be afraid (Michah 4:4).

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