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Posted September 21, 2010

Book: Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism
Author: Paula Fredriksen
Yale University Press. New Haven and London. New Haven, Connecticut. 2010. pp. 503

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In Augustine and the Jews, Paula Fredriksen draws us into the life, times, and thought of Augustine of Hippo (396-430). Focusing on the period of astounding creativity that led to his new understanding of Paul and to his great classic, The Confessions, she shows how Augustine’s struggle to read the Bible led him to a new theological vision, one that countered the anti-Judaism not only of his Manichaean opponents but also of his own church. Conceived as a vividly original way to defend Christian ideas about Jesus and about the Old Testament, Augustine’s theological innovation survived the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and it ultimately served to protect Jewish lives against the brutality of medieval crusades.

An Excerpt from the Book:

“By the evidence of their own scriptures they bear witness for us that we have not fabricated the prophecies about Christ . . .It follows that when the Jews do not believe in our scriptures, their scriptures are fulfilled in them, while they read them with blind eyes . . . .It is in order to give this testimony which, in spite of themselves, they supply for our benefit by their possession and preservation of those books [of the Old Testament] that they are themselves dispersed among all nations, wherever the Christian church spreads. . . Hence the prophecy in the Book of Psalms “Slay them not, lest they forget your law; scatter them by your might.”

This paragraph sums up Augustine’s justly famous “witness doctrine”. His teaching on the Jews’ special status, and on the special service that their presence and their religious visibility rendered to the church remained a singular aspect of his great theological legacy. With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, this legacy passed into the traditions of medieval Christian Europe. In that more violent society, Augustine’s witness doctrine provided authority for later learned churchmen, who used it --- as Bernard, in the bleak days of the Second Crusade --- to deflect and defuse Christian violence against Jews.

Table of Contents:

The legacy of Alexander

1. Gods and their humans
2. Gods and the one God
3. Paideia: Pagan, Jewish, Christian
4. Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Mediterranean City

The Prodigal Son

5. The heretic
6. The sojourner
7. The convert
8. The biblical theologian

God and Israel

9. The war of words
10. The redemption of the flesh
11. The mark of Cain
12. “Slay them not. . .”