By Magda Teter
Reviewed in Publishers Weekly, May 2023
In this ambitious and provocative study, Fordham University historian Teter (Blood Libel) exposes the links between Christian theology and racism and antisemitism. Analyzing ancient Roman laws, Reformation-era antisemitic screeds, papal bulls, parliamentary debates, philology, early 20th-century popular culture, and much more, Teter contends that themes of “slavery” and “servitude,” which were applied to Jews by early Christian thinkers including St. Augustine, were later refashioned to justify the enslavement and exclusion of Africans. Like Jews, who were discriminated against because of their religion, “the fact that [African people] were either Muslim or pagan, made it easier for the Christian colonizers to justify their enslavement,” according to Teter. Throughout, she carefully distinguishes between antisemitism and anti-Black racism—for example, pointing out that in 19th-century America, “ostracized as Jews may have been or felt socially or politically, they were still considered citizens able to exercise their rights” —while building a persuasive case that many of laws and practices that developed to police racial, ethnic, and religious hierarchies have their roots in late antiquity Christian theology. Though Teter doesn’t account much for denominational differences and somewhat underplays Christianity’s progressive strains, she draws incisive parallels between disparate time periods and parts of the world and fruitfully interweaves legal, religious, cultural, and political analysis. It’s a noteworthy look at the origins and mechanics of oppression.