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Augustine and The Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism.

AUGUSTINE AND THE JEWS: A CHRISTIAN DEFENSE OF JEWS AND JUDAISM. By Paula Fredriksen. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2010. Pp. xxiii + 503. $20.

This volume, originally published in 2008, is the work of an eminent Jewish scholar who is also a most respected scholar of Augustine. The book consists of a brief prologue, three major parts, an epilogue, and a new postscript, followed by acknowledgments, a time line, a chronology of Augustine's works, extensive notes, primary and secondary bibliographies, and indexes.

The four chapters of part 1, "The Legacy of Alexander," focus on the Alexandrian world with an emphasis on the role of religion, the many gods and the one God, the Hellenistic education common to at least the elite among pagans, Jews, and Christians, and to the mingling of these three groups in Mediterranean cities. Here Fredriksen expertly sets the stage for her main thesis, namely, that, contrary to many other Church Fathers, Augustine came to a more positive understanding of the role of the Jewish people in God's plan of salvation.

Part 2, "The Prodigal Son," deftly sketches Augustine's life up to and including his time as a Manichaean, his journeying to Rome and then to Milan, his contact with Ambrose and the philosophy of the Platonists that led to his conversion to Catholic orthodoxy, and his return to Africa, ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy, and work as a biblical theologian. F. rightly stresses the importance of his Ad Simplicianum, claiming that "only after 396 did he become the man--and the author--whom Western culture knows as Augustine" (183). By that time he had abandoned any attempt to understand God's justice, which thereafter had to be accepted simply on faith.

The heart of F.'s argument is found in part 3, "God and Israel," and the heart of part 3 is her study of Augustine's Ad Faustum (33 books) in which Augustine produced "something all but unprecedented within his tradition: a Christian affirmation of Jews and Judaism" (210). Faustus, the Manichaean bishop, in his Capitula (c. AD 390), had argued against the Old Testament, appealing to some of the same arguments against Judaism that Marcion and other gnostics had used in previous centuries. Faustus accused Catholics of being semi-Christian because of their retention of the OT and insisted that fellow Manichees--in their complete rejection of the old books and their insistence that any NT passages that spoke favorably of the Jewish people or their Scriptures were interpolations of the original text--portrayed themselves as full Christians. In defending the OT against Faustus's attacks, which often deftly incorporated much of the anti-Jewish polemic of early Church Fathers (e.g., Tertullian and Chrysostom), Augustine developed his much more favorable understanding of the Law and of Jewish practice as in accord with God's intention. "This simple assertion ... stood centuries of traditional anti-Jewish polemic, both orthodox and heterodox, on its head" (244). While Faustus the Manichaean rejected the OT's creator God, the flesh of both Christ and humans as good, the OT books in their entirety, and the fleshly sacrifices of the Jews, Augustine, in arguing against him, almost inevitably had to put forward positive interpretations of the OT and the fleshly practices of the Jewish people.

F. finds another interesting and positive aspect of Augustine's thought concerning the role Jews played in service to the church as guardians of the sacred books of the Law and the Prophets, books that testify to the truth of Christianity and the teaching of the church, even though the Jews themselves failed to see that. This defense emerged even in the face of the previous Christian tradition that had viewed the mark of Cain, the destruction of the Temple, and the scattering of the Jews as purely punitive.

The new postscript adds little; it mainly "synopsizes and further clarifies the conclusions ... presented narratively in the body of the book" (367). All told, the volume is a major contribution to the study of Augustine and to the history of Jewish-Christian relations. It has one minor but annoying flaw, namely, a number of the mistakes in Latin citations that should and could have been easily avoided, such as "Christus igitur sonant haec omnia" (241), "occultos peccatis Deo cognitis" (284), "alta et secreto iudicio" (286), and "occulto iustitio" (307).


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Author:Teske, Roland J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 30, 2011
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