The Holy Dead
The Holy Dead
This chapter identifies the heightened value assigned to martyrdom in the medieval period as an example of appropriation of Christian concepts involving the holy dead. The ghost tales of Sefer ḥasidim reflect the martyrs' exalted position as the holy dead of Ashkenaz. The use of the medium of the ghost tale in Sefer ḥasidim in order to illustrate the impropriety of burying the wicked beside the righteous attests to the influence that outside forces had in shaping the Pietist conception of the martyrs as the holy dead. Instead of miraculous interventions that prevented situations of improper burial in the talmudic narratives, in the Pietist stories the dead themselves seek out the living in order to correct existing situations of improper burial. Shared motifs between the relevant ghost tales of Sefer ḥasidim and those found in the Icelandic sagas and exempla literature reveal the affinity between pre-Christian, Christian, and Pietist notions regarding the burial of the wicked amidst the righteous. These shared motifs testify to the appropriation by the Ashkenazi community of the Christian notion of the martyr-saints as the holy dead, and its adaptation to the Rhineland martyrs.
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