Supporters cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigns with vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, on July 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

The 'Splainer: Was Charles Koch using the term 'blood libel' correctly?


The ‘Splainer (as in “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do”) is an occasional online feature in which RNS staff give you everything you need to know about current events to hold your own at the water cooler.

(RNS) Billionaire Charles Koch has said he cannot support Donald Trump for president.

Koch is not supporting Hillary Clinton, either. In fact, TIME Magazine reported he said rumors he would support the Democratic candidate amounted to “a blood libel.”

But do they really?

What is the origin of the phrase "blood libel" and does it apply in this case? Let us 'Splain.

RELATED: Palestinian leader’s accusation against rabbis likened to blood libel

Q: Whose blood are we talking about?

A: A "blood libel" refers to the centuries-old canard that Jews kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzo, the unleavened bread that Jews eat during Passover. Jews have also been accused of other fictions, among them: desecration of the Communion wafer and the ritual crucifixion of Christian children.

During the Middle Ages, the death of a Christian child was often blamed on Jews. Sometimes one Jew would be murdered in "retaliation"; sometimes an entire Jewish community. The scenario became known as a "blood libel."

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Q: Where did this "blood libel" come from?

A: Christians likely rooted it in a misinterpretation of the Gospel of Matthew 27:25, which has the Jewish people taking the blame for the death of Jesus in perpetuity: "Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children.'"

Mary C. Boys, academic dean of Union Theological Seminary and an expert on Jewish-Christian relations, said one of the earliest historical accounts of blood libel is from 1235, in the town of Fulda in what is now Germany, where Christians accused Jews of killing two boys and retaliated by murdering 34 Jews.

Plagues, crusades, economic upheaval and other uncertainty spurred the spread of the blood libel throughout the Middle Ages. Jews became "not simply historic enemies who had put Jesus to death, but a live threat to society," said Boys.

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Q: Where does Shakespeare come into this?

A: Literature is replete with Jewish villains, steeped in stereotypes and linked to blood libels. Shakespeare is no exception. In "The Merchant of Venice," the character of Shylock is a greedy Jewish moneylender. When Shylock demands a "pound of flesh" for failure to pay back a loan, the heroine, Portia, refers to the widespread blood libel against Jews:

"Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice."

Q: So was Koch using the term 'blood libel' correctly?

Asked Monday (Aug. 1) about specific cases in which the term had been invoked, Boys said she saw "no connection whatsoever" between rumors Koch might support Clinton and the use of the term "blood libel."

What seemed "perhaps somewhat more aligned" with the medieval myth, she said, were claims President Mahmoud Abbas made in June that rabbis had advised Israeli leaders to poison Palestinian water, which Jewish leaders had likened at the time to blood libel.

But, she said, "It's just not a useful analogy to use. ... I think one of the problems is that very few people know its origin, so it's used as a generic nasty accusation."

RNS national reporter Emily McFarlan Miller contributed to this report.


  1. ‘Asked Monday (Aug. 1) about specific cases in which the term had been invoked, Boys said she saw “no connection whatsoever” between rumors Koch might support Clinton and the use of the term “blood libel.”’


    Well if the ‘Splainer is just gonna conclude with “I have no explanation”, let ME do your job and ‘splain for you:

    Based on what you said above, one could characterize “blood libel” as a slanderous accusation of violence upon a person.

    Koch’s political beliefs align in such a way that the man believes Hillary Clinton is too pro-war. Koch is against foreign interventionism. Anti-interventionists believe interventionists, like Clinton, are violent and advocate violent policies.

    Thus, Koch takes rumors that he is pro-Clinton (for coming out against Trump) to be slanderous in nature and suggest he supports a candidate that is, in his eyes, pro-violence.

    In other words Koch sees it as a “slanderous accusation of violence upon his person”. In other words, he sees it as comparable to “blood libel” in that it is a baseless accusation that he condones violent political policies.

    Additional aid to ‘splaining might be this thing in a definition I found with a simple Google search “The term ‘blood libel’ has sometimes been used in modern times to refer to other disputed accusations, and defended as a broader, but legitimately metaphorical meaning;”

    There. ‘Splained where the ‘Splainer failed to offer any such explanation. Now do I get the ad revenue for this article or…??

  2. You call blood libel a misinterpretation of Matthew 27:25. It’s actually a textually valid interpretation, one that has the Jews as a whole accepting responsibility of the death of Jesus. It’s also an interpretation that has led to millennia of brutal and bloody anti-Semitism. It’s unlikely Matthew meant for all of that to occur, as he was writing as a Jew to other Jews within his community. In the latter part of the first century in which Matthew was written, the dividing lines between rabbinic Judaism and Jews who were part of the Jesus movement were starting to harden. In writing that line to show how “evil” the unbelieving Jews were, Matthew perhaps unwittingly helped set in motion centuries of pain and torment.

  3. You deserve to receive some sort of good $$$$ for your efforts…..As long as the money comes from Hillary’s bank account on her way to the Federal Supermax slammer !!

  4. “In ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ the character of Shylock is a greedy Jewish moneylender.”


    You do not understand Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” I am not even sure that you have even read or studied it.

    It is difficult to comprehend how greed is a factor in Shylock’s motivations. The theme seems to center upon the supremacy of grace (mercy) over justice, like Javert in Les Miz. Shylock is a scrupulously just Jew, seeking his revenge against the barbs that he and his race have long suffered as well as for the loss of his daughter. The contract is just, even if gruesome as it was contracted without coercion. And there were no laws in Venice which superseded the contract.

  5. Koch was probably quoting Sarah Palin, who also misued the term.

  6. shylock’s claim, for a pound of flesh, is supported by the Roman law of twelve Tables, item 3, depending in translation, wherein creditors may take a piece, dismember debtors,

  7. Blood libel, a false, incendiary claim against Jews. The term has been high jacked to extend beyond those of the Jewish face. You may doubt it, but quite honestly the hardcore Branch Trumpidians really do believe that the Koch’s are backing Hildebeast and comparable to the killing of Jesus. Yes, the Branch Trumpidians are that deranged and I promise you the Koch’s are fully aware of this. Any group that is so out of touch with reality that they believe Ted Cruz was the Zodiac killer, his father was involved in the JFK assassination ad Ted Cruz married his cousin are dangerous. The difference between Trump extremists and Hitler’s SA, is the lack of fashion sense.
    To call it a “Blood Libel” may be an exaggeration, but not by much.

  8. “it’s used as a generic nasty accusation.”

    Yes, mostly true. It’s good for those who who like over-the-top exaggerations, like the “Branch Trumpidians.” (Very good and very funny, iMarcusCicero)

  9. Gay men have also been libeled with blood. We are a danger to children, we murder them, molest them, and so on.

    It’s one of the commonest tactics of those who use fear to incite hatred.

  10. GReed was factor for the obvious reason– Shylock was a money lender. Christians were forbidden to lend at interest. Jews therefore became the. Angers, allowing Christians to borrow and keep their hands clean…

    Of everything except for Jewish blood.

  11. I think you could argue that it was intentional. Christianity was just a Jewish heresy. The Jews lost.

  12. Did you know that black men are a danger to white women because of their uncontrollable lusts? That’s why black men used to get lynched, because they were always lusting after innocent white women.

    did you know that black women also have uncontrollable lusts, and thus are fatally attractive to white men, and their marriages and families?

    Welcome to the world of the blood libel, Doc. IT ain’t so pretty when it applies to you, is it?

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