Today, we think of vampires as tall, pale creatures with an unquenchable thirst and a marble beauty straight out of Twilight. Historically, however, they were somewhat less conventionally sexy–often portrayed as decaying, festering corpses fresh from the grave, with loose limbs and mouths smeared with blood.
In medieval European folklore, any number of things were believed to cause vampirism: Improper burial, eating poorly-prepared food, living near crossroads–”all things that share the theme of marginalization,” according to the new academic history Blood Will Tell, a history of vampires in pre-WWI European culture.
This made Jews, who set themselves apart from their Christian neighbors in dress and religion, and who lived in separate sections of towns, primary candidates for vampiric association. Many superstitious beliefs having to do with vampires–that they’re repulsed by crucifixes, they’re in league with the Devil, and that they gain power from books in foreign tongues–turned Jews into “Christianity’s religious vampires, their misdeeds tied to the misuse and consumption of Christian blood,” according to the book.
Sure, Tom Cruise and Robert Pattinson might be vampire cover-models. But they’re no competition to the savage, lethal, and terrifying blood-drinkers that were feared in the past.