Disputation of Paris

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The Disputation of Paris took place in 1240 in the court of the reigning king of France, Louis IX (St. Louis). It followed the work of Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, who translated the Talmud and pressed 35 charges against it to Pope Gregory IX by quoting a series of blasphemous passages about Jesus, Mary or Christianity.[1] Four rabbis defended the Talmud against Donin's accusations.

Background[edit]

As part of its evangelistic efforts, the Church sought to win the beliefs of the Jews through debate. During the period of the dialogues, the Western European Christian world was less developed technologically and intellectually than the Middle East.[citation needed] Because many of the great Jewish thinkers lived in the latter region, they brought more of the intellectual and philosophical developments of that area to Western Europe than did Christianity.[citation needed] These disputations sought to correct this. Western Christianity in the 13th Century was developing its intellectual acumen, and had assimilated the challenges of Aristotle through the works of Thomas Aquinas. In order to flex its intellectual muscle, the Church sought to engage the Jews in debate, hoping that these Jews would see the intellectual superiority of Christianity and convert.[2]

Paul Johnson states a significant difference between the Jewish and Christian sides of the debate. Christianity had developed a detailed theological system. The teachings were clear, and therefore vulnerable to attack. Judaism had a relative absence of dogmatic theology. Judaism did have many negative dogmas, mainly to combat idolatry. Judaism did not, on the other hand, have a developed positive theology. “The Jews usually avoided the positive dogmas which the vanity of theologians tends to create and which are the source of so much trouble... the Jews had a way of concentrating on life and pushing death—and its dogmas—into the background.”[3]

Disputers[edit]

The debate started on the 12 June 1240,[4][5] Nicholas Donin represented the Christian side. He was a member of the Franciscan Order and a Jewish convert to Christianity. He had translated the Talmud and pressed 35 charges against it to Pope Gregory IX by quoting a series of blasphemous passages about Christianity. There is a Talmudic passage, for example, where Jesus of Nazareth is sent to Hell to be boiled in excrement for eternity, while the Mary the mother of Jesus is considered as a harlot. Donin also selected injunctions of the Talmud that permit Jews to kill non-Jews, that permit to deceive Christians and to break promises made to them without scrupules.[6][7]

The Church had shown little interest in the Talmud until Donin presented his translation to Gregory IX. "It seemed to have been news to the Pope" that the Jews relied on a book other than the Torah and which contained blasphemies against Christianity. This lack of interest also characterized the French monarchy which until the 1230's chiefly considered the Jews as a potential source of income.[8]

Four of the most distinguished rabbis of France, Yechiel of Paris, Moses of Coucy, Judah of Melun, and Samuel ben Solomon of Château-Thierry, represented the Jewish side of the debate.

Trial[edit]

The terms of the disputation demanded that the four rabbis defend the Talmud against Donin's accusations that the Talmud contains blasphemies against the Christian religion, attacks on Christians themselves, blasphemies against God, and obscene folklore. The attacks on Christianity were from passages referencing Jesus and Mary. There is a passage, for example, of someone named Jesus who was sent to Hell to be boiled in excrement for eternity. The Jews denied that this is the Jesus of the Bible, stating “not every Louis born in France is king.”[9]

Hyam Maccoby gives his opinion that the Jewish representatives in the Paris disputation were less than forthcoming. There are ancient Jewish polemics against the Jesus of Christianity such as the Toledot Yeshu, and the Jesus who was portrayed in the Talmud fits that portrayal. Among the obscene and odd folklore, there are passages that Og of Bashan was a giant. There is also a story that Adam copulated with each of the animals before finding Eve. Noah, according to the Talmudic legends, was castrated by his son Ham.[10] It was common for Christians to equate the religion of the Jews with the Israelite Mosaic Faith of the Old Testament. The Church was therefore surprised to realize that the Jews had developed an authoritative Talmud to complement their understanding of the Bible. Maccoby believed that the purpose of the Paris disputation was to rid the Jews of their belief in the Talmud, in order that they might return to Old Testament Judaism and eventually embrace Christianity.[11]

The hostility of the Church during this disputation may have had less to do with the Church’s attitude and more to do with the Christian proponent, Nicholas Donin. The style of Donin’s argumentation exploited controversies that were debated within Judaism at the time.[12] Maccoby also suggests that the disputation may have been motivated by Donin’s previous affiliations with the Karaite Jews, and that Donin’s motivations for joining the Church involved his desire to attack rabbinic tradition.[13]

Outcome[edit]

A commission of Christian theologians condemned the Talmud to be burned and on June 17, 1244 twenty-four carriage loads of Jewish religious manuscripts were set on fire in the streets of Paris.[14][15] The translation of the Talmud from Hebrew to non-Jewish languages stripped Jewish discourse from its covering, something that was resented by Jews as a profound violation.[16]

The translation of the Talmud changed the Christian perception about Jews. Christians viewed the Jews as the followers of the Old Testament, who honoured "the law of Moses and the prophets", but the Talmud's "blasphemies" indicated that the Jewish understanding of Old Testament differed from the Christian understanding.[17]

Louis IX, who sponsored the debate, stated that only skilled clerks could conduct a disputation with Jews but that laymen should plunge a sword into those who speak ill of the Christ.[18][19][20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, pp. 136–138
  2. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. p. 62. 
  3. ^ Johnson, Paul (1998). A history of the Jews (25. [pr.] ed.). New York: Harper Perennial. p. 161. ISBN 0060915331. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Nesta H. Webster, "Secret Societies and Subversive Movements", p.407
  7. ^ Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, pp. 136–138
  8. ^ Susan L. Einbinder, "Beautiful Death: Jewish Poetry and Martyrdom in Medieval France", p.74
  9. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. p. 26. 
  10. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. p. 36. 
  11. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. p. 25. 
  12. ^ Ragacs, Ursela. "Christian-Jewish or Jewish-Jewish, That's my question...". European Journal of Jewish Studies: 98. 
  13. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. p. 37. 
  14. ^ Rodkinson, Michael Levi (1918). The history of the Talmud, from the time of its formation, about 200 B. C. Talmud Society. pp. 66–75. 
  15. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. 
  16. ^ Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation, pp. 136–38
  17. ^ E. Michael Jones, "The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit: And Its Impact on World History", p.122
  18. ^ Henry Osborn Taylor, "The Medieval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Age", p.604
  19. ^ Maccoby, Hyam (1982). Judaism on Trial: Jewish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages. Associated University Presses. p. 22. 
  20. ^ Norman Roth, "Medieval Jewish Civilization: An Encyclopedia", p.414