An exhibition examining stereotypes and tropes about Jewish people and money is to open next month at London’s Jewish Museum, and will include a Rembrandt painting which has not been on public display for decades.
Jews, Money, Myth will trace the complex relationship between Jewish people and money from the time of Jesus to the 21st century. Taking a long view “allows nuance and context and investigation”, said Abigail Morris, the museum’s director.
The exhibition includes Rembrandt’s Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver, painted in 1629 and lent to the museum from a private collection. It shows Judas on his knees, ashamed and guilty, begging priests to accept the coins he has thrown down.
The story of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the religious authorities in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, has “propelled anti-Jewish stereotypes to this day”, the museum said.
Other exhibits include a children’s dice game dating from 1807, The New Game of the Jew, which has at its centre a Jewish banker hoarding money. Stephen Sondheim, the composer, who owns a copy, described it as a game that “taught kids to be antisemitic”.
Der Giftpilz, or The Poisonous Mushroom, is a Nazi propaganda book from 1938. It says: “Money is the god of the Jew. He commits the greatest crimes to earn money. He won’t rest until he can sit on a great sack of money, until he has become king of money. And with this money he would make us all into slaves and destroy us. With this money, he seeks to dominate the whole world.”
Literary characters, including Shakespeare’s Shylock and Dickens’s Fagin, cartoons, manuscripts and ceremonial objects will also feature. The exhibition opens with a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose secondary definition of “Jew” until the 1970s was “to cheat or overreach”.
A silver coin minted during the First Jewish Revolt in the first century of the common era is one of the oldest of around 170 items.
Morris said she hoped the exhibition would be thought-provoking. “If we are to tackle and dispel antisemitism, one of the main tropes is about Jews and money. Not to talk about it doesn’t make it go away.”
She acknowledged that the subject “makes some Jews really nervous. Even putting the words ‘Jews’ and ‘money’ together is scary. But we’ve been incredibly careful and thoughtful.”
The exhibition showed how “certain dangerous, even deadly, interpretations emerged and still proliferate around the world”.
David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, which has collaborated with the Jewish Museum on the exhibition, said it “confronts and debunks stereotypes of Jews’ connections with money and power that give rise to some of the most deeply rooted antisemitic images in circulation”.
Jews, Money, Myth at the Jewish Museum in London runs from 19 March to 7 July 2019