Jew merchants

In Brief

"England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation's decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation's vital strength": Deasy repeats the same late 19th century theories about an international Jewish conspiracy that Haines attempted to share with Stephen in Telemachus. But when he goes on to condemn "jew merchants" and say that "They sinned against the light," he reverts to Christian ways of hating Jews much older than Wilhelm Marr's newfangled "anti-Semitism."

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The first charge stems ultimately from medieval Christianity's prohibition on lending out money at interest, which created a vacuum that Jews were happy to fill. The second is that the Jews killed Christ, by handing him over to Pontius Pilate and demanding his execution. Both charges are idiotic. To say that the Jews killed Christ overlooks the fact that Christ was a Jew—a fact which Bloom will point out to an enraged Citizen in Cyclops and expound upon to Stephen in Eumaeus. And hating others for supplying an economically essential service that one's own ethnic group has chosen not to practice makes no sense except as an expression of naked financial envy. Mr. Deasy mentions only merchants, not lending money at interest (which became legal in England in 1545), but Stephen answers him with a kind of simple, irrefutable logic that could as easily be applied to the other question: "A merchant . . . is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?"

Stephen stands up to Deasy here in much the same way that Bloom stands up to the Citizen, and he does so again a moment later on the matter of killing Christ. To Deasy's very theological statement that the Jews sinned against "the light" (which John's gospel identifies with The Word, God's begotten Son), he responds unanswerably with the doctrine of Original Sin: "Who has not?" In a roundabout way, Oxen of the Sun reinforces Stephen's point. In its final paragraph, when someone asks about Bloom's identity, someone else says, "Hush! Sinned against the light." But earlier in the chapter the narrative has charged all of Ireland with this crime: "Therefore hast thou sinned against the light and hast made me, thy lord, to be the slave of servants."

JH 2012
"Of Usury," a woodcut attributed to Albrecht Durer, in Brant's Stultifera Navis (Ship of Fools). Source: Wikimedia Commons.