Augus­tine and the Jews: A Chris­t­ian Defense of Jews and Judaism

Paula Fredrik­sen
  • Review
By – January 3, 2012
Pro­fes­sor Paula Fredrik­sen of Boston Uni­ver­si­ty presents a rel­a­tive­ly char­i­ta­ble read­ing of the ear­ly and influ­en­tial church father known for his the­sis of the wan­der­ing Jew.” After some years, and express­ing sev­er­al dif­fer­ent neg­a­tive view­points on Jews and Judaism that reflect­ed the pre­vail­ing fourth cen­tu­ry tra­di­tions among Catholic and oth­er Chris­t­ian groups, Augus­tine made a deci­sive move away from some of these posi­tions in his chal­lenge to rival Chris­t­ian groups, and in par­tic­u­lar, to the Manichaean, Faus­tus. 

Augustine’s con­cern was not nec­es­sar­i­ly with real Jews or Judaism per se, but with the the­o­log­i­cal defense of his own vision of the Chris­t­ian church. With­in his argu­ments, the degra­da­tion of Jews and Judaism lives on unmis­tak­ably, and his defense is at best patron­iz­ing. Nev­er­the­less, based on his reflec­tions on God’s sov­er­eign­ty and free will, along with dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the way his Chris­t­ian and pagan rivals degrad­ed Catholics via their degra­da­tion of the Jews, Augus­tine pre­sent­ed a dif­fer­ent por­trait, one that under­mined some cher­ished anti-Jew­ish views with­in his own Catholic groups, includ­ing neg­a­tive view­points he had him­self expressed. 

Now Augus­tine argued that the Jews played a spe­cial role in the ser­vice of Chris­tian­i­ty as those who also wor­shipped the One God, in con­trast to pagans and heretics: by God’s sov­er­eign design, and under God’s pro­tec­tion, their scrip­tures, tra­di­tions, and prac­tices pro­vid­ed a wit­ness to the prophe­cies of Christ, even if they did not them­selves believe in them in the same way. Wher­ev­er the Jews were scat­tered, they bore wit­ness to the tes­ti­mo­ny to the claims of the Chris­t­ian church­es. Jews out­side the Church must not be sep­a­rat­ed from the prac­tice of Judaism, which God employed as a gift in ser­vice of the mis­sion of the Church to the nations. 

In addi­tion to the exten­sive treat­ment of the devel­op­ment of Augustine’s thought cul­mi­nat­ing in these argu­ments, in the first 102 pages, Fredrik­sen pro­vides an insight­ful and sophis­ti­cat­ed overview of Gre­co-Roman and Jew­ish civ­i­liza­tion as well as the ori­gins of Chris­tian­i­ty that is by itself worth the price of the book. Bib­li­og­ra­phy and indexes.
Mark D. Nanos, Ph.D., Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas, is the author of Mys­tery­of Romans, win­ner of the 1996 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, Charles H. Revson­Award in Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian Relations.

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