Adversus Judaeos

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Adversus Judaeos (Greek Kata Ioudaiōn, "against the Jews" or "against the Judeans") are a series of fourth century homilies by John Chrysostom directed to members of the church of Antioch of his time, who continued to observe Jewish feasts and fasts. Critical of this, he cast Judaism and the synagogues in his city in a critical and negative light.

There are modern scholars who claim that an abuse of his preaching fed later Christian anti-Semitism, and some, such as Stephen Katz, go even further, saying it was an inspiration for pagan Nazi anti-semitism with its evil fruit of the programme to annihilate the Jewish race. Indeed, during World War II, the Nazi Party in Germany abused his homilies, quoting and reprinting them frequently in an attempt to legitimize the Holocaust in the eyes of German and Austrian Christians[citation needed].[1][2] Christian priest James Parkes called the writing on Jews "the most horrible and violent denunciations of Judaism to be found in the writings of a Christian theologian".[3] According to historian William I. Brustein, his sermons against Jews gave further momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.[4]

Purpose and context[edit]

During his first two years as a presbyter in Antioch (386-387), Chrysostom denounced Jews and Judaizing Christians in a series of eight sermons delivered to Christians in the church of Antioch, who were taking part in Jewish festivals and other Jewish observances.[5] It is disputed whether the main target were specifically Judaizers or Jews in general. His homilies were expressed in the conventional manner, utilizing the uncompromising rhetorical form known as the psogos (Greek: blame).

One of the purposes of these homilies was to prevent Christians from participating in Jewish customs, and thus prevent the perceived erosion of Chrysostom's flock. In his sermons, Chrysostom criticized those "Judaizing Christians", who were participating in Jewish festivals and taking part in other Jewish observances, such as observing the sabbath, submitting to circumcision and pilgrimage to Jewish holy places.[6]

In Greek, the sermons are called Kata Ioudaiōn (Κατὰ Ιουδαίων), which is translated as Adversus Judaeos in Latin and Against the Jews in English.[7] The most recent scholarly translations, claiming that Chrysostom's primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe the Jewish feasts and fasts, give the sermons the more sympathetic title Against Judaizing Christians.[8]

Controversial claims[edit]

Chrysostom claimed that on the shabbats and Jewish festivals synagogues were full of Christians, especially women, who loved the solemnity of the Jewish liturgy, enjoyed listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and applauded famous preachers in accordance with the contemporary custom.[9] A more recent apologetic theory is that he instead tried to persuade Jewish Christians, who for centuries had kept connections with Jews and Judaism, to choose between Judaism and Christianity.[10]

Chrysostom held Jews responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and deicide (killing God, see "Jewish deicide" for the subject) and added that they continued to rejoice in Jesus's death.[11] He compared the synagogue to a pagan temple, representing it as the source of all vices and heresies.[9]

He described it as a place worse than a brothel and a drinking shop; it was a den of scoundrels, the repair of wild beasts, a temple of demons, the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils, a criminal assembly of the assassins of Christ.[1] Palladius, Chrysostom's contemporary biographer, also recorded his claim that among the Jews the priesthood may be purchased and sold for money.[9] Finally, he declared that, in accordance with the sentiments of the saints, he hated both the synagogue and the Jews,[1] saying that demons dwell in the synagogue and also in the souls of the Jews, and describing them as growing fit for slaughter.[12]

Historical recuperation[edit]

The original Benedictine editor of the homilies, Bernard de Montfaucon, gives the following footnote to the title: "A discourse against the Jews; but it was delivered against those who were Judaizing and keeping the fasts with them [the Jews]."[13] As such, some have claimed that the original title misrepresents the contents of the discourses, which show that Chrysostom's primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe the Jewish feasts and fasts. Sir Henry Savile, in his 1612 edition of Homilies 27 of Volume 6 (which is Discourse I in Patrologia Graeca's Adversus Iudaeos), gives the title: "Chrysostom's Discourse Against Those Who Are Judaizing and Observing Their Fasts."[14]

British historian Paul Johnson claimed that Chrysostom's homilies "became the pattern for anti-Jewish tirades, making the fullest possible use (and misuse) of key passages in the gospels of Saints Matthew and John. Thus a specifically Christian anti-Semitism, presenting the Jews as murderers of Christ, was grafted on to the seething mass of pagan smears and rumours, and Jewish communities were now at risk in every Christian city."[15]

According to Patristics scholars, opposition to any particular view during the late fourth century was conventionally expressed in a manner, utilizing the rhetorical form known as the psogos, whose literary conventions were to vilify opponents in an uncompromising manner; thus, it has been argued that to call Chrysostom an "anti-Semite" is to employ anachronistic terminology in a way incongruous with historical context and record.[16]

Chrysostom's homilies and Nazism[edit]

Some authors say John Chrysostom's preaching was an inspiration for Nazi anti-semitism with its evil fruit of the programme to annihilate the Jewish race. Steven Katz cites Chrysostom's homilies as “the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political antisemitism of Adolf Hitler.”[2] During World War II, the Nazi Party in Germany abused Chrysostom's work in an attempt to legitimize the Holocaust in the eyes of German and Austrian Christians. His works were frequently quoted and reprinted as a witness for the prosecution.[1] After World War II, the Christian Churches denounced Nazi use of Chrysostom's works, explaining his words with reference to the historical context. According to Walter Laqueur, it was argued that in the 4th century, the general discourse was brutal and aggressive and that at the time when the Christian church was fighting for survival and recognition, mercy and forgiveness were not in demand.[1]

Chrysostom used Jesus' words in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 19:27) in his Eight Homilies,

The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.” … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.”

Other Adversus Iudaeos literature[edit]

Other documents also form part of the Adversus Iudaeos literature. These include Tertullian or Pseudo-Tertullian's own Adversus Iudaeos,[17] Pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa's testimonies against the Jews,[18] the Adversus Iudaeos texts in the literature of medieval Russia.[19] Schreckenberg sees in the popular anti-semitic references, such as anti-usurer poetry by the Rhineland poet Muskatblut an extension of Adversus Iudaeos texts.[20] Even Eusebius' Demonstratio against paganism.[21]

Samuel Krauss, Jean Juster and later Marcel Simon argued that the Adversus Iudaeos literature is a form of continuation of earlier Jewish-Christian encounters, specifically until the reign of Julian in 361,[22] though other writers see the documents as more about strengthening Christian self-identity.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e Walter Laqueur, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times To The Present Day (Oxford University Press: 2006) ISBN 0-19-530429-2, p. 47-48
  2. ^ a b Katz, Steven (1999), "Ideology, State Power, and Mass Murder/Genocide", Lessons and Legacies: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing World, Northwestern University Press
  3. ^ James Parkes, Prelude to Dialogue (London: 1969) p. 153; cited in Wilken, p. xv.
  4. ^ William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust, (Cambridge University Press:2003) ISBN 0-521-77308-3, p. 52.
  5. ^ See Wilken, p.xv, and also "John Chrysostom" in Encyclopedia Judaica
  6. ^ Wilken, p.xv.
  7. ^ John Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians (vol. 68 of Fathers of the Church), trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1979) p.x
  8. ^ For example John Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians (vol. 68 of Fathers of the Church), trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1979); and also [1]
  9. ^ a b c "John Chrysostom" in Encyclopedia Judaica.
  10. ^ Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton University Press: 1997) p. 66-67.
  11. ^ William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust (Cambridge University Press:2003) ISBN 0-521-77308-3, p.52.
  12. ^ John Chrysostom, Against the Jews, 1:6
  13. ^ Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, p.xxxi)
  14. ^ Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, p.xxxi).
  15. ^ Johnson, Paul, A History of the Jews, (HarperPerennial: 1988), p. 165.
  16. ^ Wilken, p. 124-126.
  17. ^ Barbarian philosophy: the religious revolution of early Christianity p. 139 Gedaliahu A. G. Stroumsa, Guy G. Stroumsa - 1999 "From the former, Tertullian's Adversus Judaeos and Adversus Marcionem (two closely related works) are the only Latin evidence.26 ... 25 The first volume is of direct interest to us here: Die christlichen Adversus-Iudaeos-Texte und ihr ..."
  18. ^ Pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa: testimonies against the Jews p xix Martin C. Albi - 2005 "I have not reproduced the notes from Nobilius's work, although I have incorporated some of his references into my notes and commentary when appropriate place within the adversus judaeos literature Ps.-Gregory's work forms part of the ..."
  19. ^ A Grin Without a Cat: Adversus Iudaeos texts in the literature of medieval Russia (988-1504) Alexander Pereswetoff-Morath, Lunds Universitet. Slaviska institutionen - 2002 "John Chrysostom: Adversus Iudaeos, iv To believe an erudite modern classic on Kievan literature, John Chrysostom's homilies Against the Jews (Κατὰ Ιουδαίων) circulated in Slavonic translation in 12th-century Rus'."
  20. ^ Friars and Jews in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: 2 p. 136 Susan E. Myers, Steven J. McMichael - 2004 "Schreckenberg, Adversus-Judaeos-Texte, 501. A passion play from the middle Rhine, composed between 1330 and 1340, ... Schreckenberg, Adversus-Judaeos-Texte, 369–370. 41 Heinrich of Hesler repeats traditional allegations of deicide and ...
  21. ^ Eusebius of Caesarea against paganism p. 97 Arieh Kofsky - 2000 "Indeed, some scholars include the Demonstratio in their discussion of Adversus Iudaeos literature. ... Thus A. B. Hulen classifies it as part of the second group of Adversus Iudaeos writings, in line with his definition of the work as a ..."
  22. ^ Bound by the Bible: Jews, Christians and the sacrifice of Isaac p. 14 Dr. Edward Kessler - 2004 "According to this view, the Adversus Iudaeos literature illustrates the continuation of an encounter, ... Simon suggests that the Adversus Iudaeos literature would not have been generated had there not been criticisms from Jews . ..."
  23. ^ An Introduction to Jewish-Christian Relations p46 Edward Kessler - 2010 However, whilst it is likely that the Adversus Iudaeos writings were concerned more with strengthening Christian ... has demonstrated in his research that, whilst von Harnack was right in recognising the importance of Adversus Iudaeos ..."

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