Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.02.31 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.02.31

Sébastien Morlet, Olivier Munnich, Bernard Pouderon (ed.), Les dialogues Adversus Iudaeos: Permanences et mutations d'une tradition polémique. Actes du colloque international organisé les 7 et 8 décembre 2011 à l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne. Collection des Études Augustiniennes. Série Antiquité, 196.   Paris:  Institut d'Études Augustiniennes, 2013.  Pp. 428.  ISBN 9782851212634.  €46.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Barbara Crostini, Stockholm University (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This is an extremely wide-ranging, informative, and balanced collection of essays on a body of literature that is as important as it is sensitive in the current scholarly investigations of intercultural and interfaith relationships across the centuries. The individual contributions are of the highest level, displaying remarkable scholarship but also subtlety in reviewing the materials. While the weight of the evidence lies in the late antique period, which receives the greatest number of contributions in the volume (pp. 49–268), the perusal of this genre into the medieval period (pp. 269–384) and beyond (pp. 385–402) affords a better perspective by which to evaluate the earlier dialogues, whose context is necessarily constrained by our limited knowledge about the period.

The collection focuses on the issue of continuity and change in attitudes towards the Jews as reflected in these literary Christian compositions, focusing on the evaluation of the historical accuracy of these fictional debates. Thus several contributions consider how far the dialogues must be considered the product of their author's imagination rather than the mirror of actual diatribes and whether or not they are based on current knowledge of the adversary's tradition and beliefs. While the typical analysis emphasizes the alienation of the Christian author from any real contact with Jewish believers and thus views his writing as a purely dialectical construction for the sake of debate (see in particular the vehement and detailed portrait of Justin's Trypho as his “homme de paille” (‘straw man’) in Munnich's lengthy contribution), the later evidence about official interactions between the two communities in specially staged contexts (such as the 1260 Barcelona trial) carries the echo of similar attitudes, arguments, and outcomes that—centuries before and with due distinctions—were captured in the earlier dialogues. Thus, to quote Bobichon's conclusion to his own essay, which stands as a summary to the book: “la "vérité" de l'échange n'est pas nécessairement liée à son historicité [...]. Le dialogue peut être plus authentique en ne se présentant pas comme tel” (p. 400).

It is in itself remarkable that the production of this religious polemic extended without interruption from the centuries when Christianity originated to those in which it had become the dominant religion, at least in some regions. The variation in social and cultural importance of Christianity does not immediately register as a variation in tone or substance of the discourse with the Jews. At the same time, from the Jewish point of view, there may have been a difference between dealing with Christianity as a fledgling offshoot and later as a theologically well-developed contender bolstered by an elaborate institutional structure. The diachronic perspective has the benefit of placing such debates within the broader task of self-definition and affirmation of Christianity, as well as comparing their aims with those of other types of polemic, notably that against heretics and against Muslims. The sharpness of tone does not, in this perspective, appear ad hominem. Patrick Andrist, for example, points out how violently Cyril of Jerusalem attacked other adversaries, so that his lashes at the Jews are contextualized as part of his overall catechetical aims, whose vehemence revealed a special concern for his audience rather than just (to us) appalling rudeness. Anna Sapir Abulafia also remarks that “monastic disputations... were hardly characterised by polite exchange of ideas” (p. 340). Her point about the Christian self-serving purpose in staging these Christian-Jewish disputations is further borne out by the example of the Miroir de Moines analysed in the following contribution by Claire Soussen. The paradigmatic role of these arguments for Christian preaching fits the continued missionary impulse of this religion both near home and further afield.

Surely, one aspect of the continued development and re-staging of the Dialogues 'aduersus Iudaeos' must be found in the fundamental role the Old Testament continued to play in Christian theology: as this volume argues, the interpretation of this text could not happen far from its Jewish audience. The common exegetical interest is expertly explored by Gilbert Dahan, who speaks of “exégèses qui s'influencent mutuellement” not only regarding content, but especially concerning methods: he argues that the medieval understanding of the four senses of Scripture is parallel to the Jewish methods of interpretation. A subtle and learned exegete such as Nicholas-Nektarios abbot of Casole in Southern Italy (d. 1235) provides a shining example of such engagement with Jewish exegetes of his time, while keeping in mind the whole tradition of translation of the Septuagint, including a re-evaluation of Aquila's, as Claudio Schiano explains (see esp. pp. 308–311). The biblical index at the end of the volume is a precious tool for anyone wishing to probe the use of specific passages in future research.

Pierluigi Lanfranchi’s essay could have been foregrounded in the structure of the volume, since it addresses fundamental issues concerning the very notion of dialogue. Lanfranchi takes to task Simon Goldhill's The End of Dialogue in Antiquity, arguing that—despite the literary and artificial nature of the dialogic genre—the real voices of both protagonists and antagonists can be heard as coming with urgency from a cultural substratum where both such viewpoints mattered. This reflection on what can be reasonably expected from the sources and how to read the signs they contain is a question of method, which he exemplifies by considering passages from the huge corpus of Letters of Isidore of Pelusium, and papyri attesting to contacts between communities in Egypt. Lanfranchi points out how little we know of the spectrum of Judaism in different places, so that the circularity of the arguments judging the evidence from late antique dialogues on the basis of specific expectations is exposed. Moreover, the 'adversus' mode, which is supposed to fossilize the opponent into a convenient target, is undermined by the vitality Lanfranchi perceives in these literary exchanges, which ultimately present the Jews as “un partenaire culturel” at once distinct and similar, conditions that alone permit any form of exchange.

As the introduction announces, a number of recent doctoral theses on the dialogues merited the attention of the participants in the conference that produced this volume. While hoping that the publication of the individual works will be forthcoming, this coherent and informative collection of essays offers an excellent starting point for approaching this corpus and represents a major contribution to the field. The index of authors contributes to laying the groundwork for research, though perhaps a bibliographical listing of the primary sources and of the rich secondary literature cited across the volume would have afforded a useful bird's eye view of the volume's scope and achievement.

Table of Contents

Sébastien Morlet, Olivier Munnich, Bernard Pouderon
Avant-propos, 7–20
Sébastien Morlet, Les dialogues adversus Iudaeos: origine, caractéristiques, référentialité, 21–48

Justin de Néapolis
Dan Jaffé, Adversus Iudaeos: la loi et les observances dans le Dialogus cum Tryphone Iudaeo, 49– 66
Bernard Pouderon, La source de l'argumentation de Tryphon dans le Dialogue de Justin: confrontation de deux thèses, 67–94
Olivier Munnich, Le judaïsme dans le Dialogue avec Tryphon: une fiction littéraire de Justin, 95–158

Antiquité tardive
Laetitia Ciccolini, La Controverse de Jason et Papiscus: le témoignage de l'Ad Vigilium episcopum de Iudaica incredulitate faussement attribué à Cyprien de Carthage, 159–174
Mickaël Ribreau, Quand deux allégories débattent devant les censeurs: fonctionnement rhétorique et argumentatif de l'Altercatio Ecclesiae et Synagogae, 175–198
Patrick Andrist, Polémique religieuse et dialogue adversus Iudaeos au service de la catéchèse, l'exemple de Cyril de Jérusalem, 199–224
Pierluigi Lanfranchi, L'image du judaïsme dans les dialogues adversus Iudaeos, 225–236
Christian Boudignon, “Les temos du saint baptême n'est pas encore venu.” Nouvelles considérations sur la Doctrina Jacobi, 237–256
Vincent Déroche, Les dialogues aduersus Iudaeos face aux genres parallèles, 257–269

Moyen Âge
Immacolata Aulisa, La polemica aduersos Iudaeos nell'agiografia dell'Alto Medioevo, 269–295
Claudio Schiano, Il Dialogo contro i giudei di Nicola di Otranto tra fonti storiche e teologiche, 295– 319
Gilbert Dahan, Les questions d'exégèse dans les dialogues contre les juifs XIIe–XIIIe siècles, 319– 338
Anna Sapir Abulafia, The Service of Jews in Christian-Jewish Disputations, 339–350
Claire Soussen, La parole de l'autre, la prise en compte des arguments de l'adversaire dans la polémique anti-juive à la fin du Moyen Âge, 351–368
Marie-Hélène Congourdeau, Dialogues byzantins du XIVe s. entre des chrétiens et des juifs, 369–384
Philippe Bobichon, Persistance et avatars de la forme dialoguée dans la littérature chrétienne et juive de controverse: XIVe–XVIIIe siècles, 385–402
Index biblique, 403–408
Index des auteurs anciens et médiévaux, 409–426
Table des matières, 427–428
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