From "the Pharisee" to "the Zionist Menace": Myths, Stereotypes and Constructions of the Jew in English Catholic Discourse (1896-1929)

  • Simon Mayers

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is the result of an investigation into the representations of the Jew that existed in the English Catholic discourse during the final years of the nineteenth- and the early decades of the twentieth-century (1896-1929). As very little has been written about English Catholic representations of the Jew during this timeframe, the primary aim of this project has been to excavate a layer of discourse which, with the exception of the published works of a few prominent individuals, has hitherto remained largely unexamined. In order to increase our understanding of the English Catholic discourse as much as possible, a wide range of sources have been examined, including the published works of prominent, obscure and anonymous authors, the pastoral letters and sermons of cardinals, bishops and priests, articles and editorials in English Catholic newspapers and periodicals, pamphlets, personal correspondence, letters to the editors of newspapers, unpublished documents and a small number of oral testimonies. Three main types of representation of the Jew have been uncovered in this project: the roles assigned to the Jew in traditional Christian myths, contemporary stereotypes of the Jew, and composite constructions which combine themes drawn from myths and stereotypes. Representations of the Jew which originated in traditional Christian myths include the Jew as Pharisee, Christ-Killer, fanatical murderer, diabolic sorcerer and Antichrist. Contemporary stereotypes portray the Jew as usurious, cowardly, unpatriotic and secretive. Composite constructions combining themes from traditional myths and contemporary stereotypes include the Jew-Freemason conspirator and the Zionist Menace. The material examined reveals that representations of the Jew in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century were not always modern in character. In the case of the English Catholic discourse, they were often pre-modern or anti-modern. Many existing studies of English antisemitism argue that by the late nineteenth century, constructions of the Jew based on traditional Christian myths had largely, though not entirely, been replaced by modern socio-political and racial forms of antisemitism. This study however demonstrates that traditional religious myths about the Jews continued to thrive and function in the English Catholic discourse. Their continued existence was not confined to a handful of narrative artefacts from a bygone era. English Catholic constructions of the Jew combined these persistent Christian myths with other more contemporary social stereotypes, though surprisingly, the one element that was usually absent from these constructions was "race." Jews were rarely denigrated as racially inferior in the English Catholic discourse and there were few references to biology or pseudo-scientific "race" theories. They were however portrayed as greedy, cowardly, disloyal and secretive villains and diabolized as Pharisees, Christ-Killers, fanatical murderers, sorcerers and Antichrists. In some cases the language used to describe the Jew, the Pharisee, the Zionist and the Jew-Freemason, drew upon a vocabulary which suggested an apocalyptic conflict between the forces of good and evil.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDaniel Langton (Supervisor) & William Gregory (Supervisor)


  • Discourse
  • Stereotypes
  • England
  • Myths
  • Catholics
  • Jews
  • Freemasons

Cite this