Feb 11, 2010

Should Jews Thank the Church?

As I finish up Paula Fredricksen's "Augustine and the Jews," there is a question that lingers in my mind. Perhaps those of you with strong opinions one way or another about Christianity and/or the church can weigh in here. I'm talking about Augustine's "witness doctrine," derived from Psalm 59 that says, "Slay them not, lest my people forget." I know this was big doings for the church in the medieval period, but I don't know how much it played into other strands of Christianity throughout time and through the present.

Augustine's philosophy, although really, incredibly backhanded, was that Jews survive and should survive throughout all time until the End of Days in order that they serve as evidence to Christianity's truth. By Jewish survival, Jewish books survive, and, according to Augustine, it is Jews and their books that provide a walking, talking, breathing witness to the truth of Christianity -- that the church fathers didn't just "make it up." Jews and Judaism were not a challenge to Christianity, insisted Augustine, but a witness to it!

So my question is this: Does the world's Jewish community underestimate the power of this doctrine's importance throughout the past 1600+ years? Is it Augustine's (REALLY BACKHANDED) doctrine that has allowed the world to not completely destroy Jews and Judaism? Hitler wasn't too interested in church philosophy, and I honestly don't know his thoughts on Augustine or the "slay them not" doctrine. Anyone know?

Either way, I'm intrigued. We joke so often about how every great nation, political entity, or world power that has tried to destroy us has failed and disappeared into time. But is this G-d, or is it the church?

Talk amongst ya'selves.

11 comments:

shavuatov said...

I don't know about Hitler's thoughts on Augustine's slay them not doctrine, but I do know that he had planned to set up the 'Exotic Museum of an Extinct Race' in Prague, which was going to be stuffed full of Jewish artefacts - to prove the Third Reich's power and complete domination over the Jewish people.

As for who we have to thank for the fact that we're still here... I'll vote for G-d, thank you!

rachel

Daniel Saunders said...

During the Second Crusade there were efforts to stop the massacres of Jews that had characterized the First Crusade. IIRC, that was partly based on Augustine, partly on trying to keep papal control of the Crusade.

My understanding is that Hitler's religious beliefs are much debated by academics, but he can't really be called a conventional Christian.

EYR said...

Ooooh - talk about your loaded topic... I"m not familiar with Augustine's full doctrine to the extent that I can voice my opinion about his approach as a whole. But I'll share my (perhaps uninformed) opinion about the idea you've tossed out to us.

1st of all, you might want to check out what is said about this in "Constantine's Sword". The one thing I recall him saying on the effects of Augustine is that those inspired by him felt a need to tread along a thin line: for, on the one hand, Jews were supposed to bear witness to the 2nd coming, and so they must be preserved; but they are also no longer G-d's chosen people, so they must suffer in this world, as testimony to His deserting them. These two motifs are not directly opposing, but the means to achieve them are. Again, its a thin line that separates constant humiliation and torture on a national scale and destruction - as the Holocaust showed.

[BTW - I was kind of surprised when you considered "Hitlers thought on Augustine" - that would suggest Hitler to be a scholar, and motivated as such, which was not his character, as far as I know. Is there any doubt in your mind that he intended to destroy every last Jew he could find? What is the Final Solution about if not to eradicate Jews from the world?]

Back to my main point - I'm interested in understanding what you mean by "Jews and Judaism were not a challenge to Christianity, insisted Augustine, but a witness to it". If Augustine agreed that Jews need to be humiliated - and as I said, I am not familiar with his teachings to know the answer - then I would say that Judaism was still perceived as as threat or a challenge. If it were not so, we would expect there to have been reconciliation between the Jews and the Church many centuries ago, with Jews being protected as some form of "Holy witnesses" that need to be preserved till the end of days. Instead, we have the Inquisition, and Pogroms, and blood libels, all of which demonstrates that the view of Jews was not as anything holy, but something to be tolerated at most, and that must be brought to heel every once in a while. Also, if you look at the way the Church reacted when the State of Israel came to be, you'll find that it was a real earthquake theologically, since Jews were supposed to be humiliated till the Messiah came - how could they rise up again? Again - this might not be Augustine, but this WAS the Church.

I know that the Church did good things as well for Judaism, if unintentionally, such as copying books etc. But I would not go so far as to say that they are the ones that made sure we would survive to this time. In fact, those that tried to destroy us were doing so many times in the name of the Church (e.g. the Crusades?) and by its command, so your last statement is somewhat baseless in my mind.

As an aside, let me say that the question you end with is also a Theologically thorny one. When some person helps me out, does that mean that G-d did not send him to help me? So, even if the Church would have been responsible for our survival, that does not mean that G-d did not arrange it so it would work out that way. But this is a side point, since, as I explained above, I don't accept the thesis you presented, as I understood it.

Dunking Rachel said...

Augustine beleived that the Jews dispersion by the Roman Empire was prophecy but he also beleived that in the "end time" all Jews left would be converted.

To open up another avenue of thought regaurding Augustine.... Augustine's doctrine of Predestination actully put into effect the seeds for the Protestant reformation think Martin Luther and Calvin…..both Dear friends of the Jews!

I think this is the Star Trek Doctrine.....if you change one thing...it all changes...lol

Chaviva said...

@Elisha There was a firm belief, especially with Augustine when he was with the Manicheans, that the Jews had misunderstood Scripture, and that they were doing it wrong from the beginning of time. Of course, this doesn’t explain Gd’s command to circumcise. How else could they have understood that? As for them being the chosen people and suffering in this world, yes, that was their plight, to be witness to the Christian truth. It was *their* Scripture, the Hebrew Bible, that was a witness to Christian truth and that Jesus was, indeed, the messiah. In fact, there are many instances of synagogues being burned but the books being saved because they are the “proof” to Christianity. Augustine is completely and vehemently anti-Jewish in most of his writings. He’s as bad as the rest of them, which is why I say he’s so backhanded. He talks about them being vile, liars, heathens, demons, etc., but also realizes how important they are to the witness doctrine.

Regarding Hitler, I know he’s no scholar. But many of these great “kill the Jews” leaders take the time to make their people (or themselves) read the works out there that are inherently anti-Jewish and this is how they build upon their historical necessity to destroy Jews. Hitler was well aware of the historical depiction of Jews, as he used it in his propaganda. So I was curious whether Hitler was familiar with Augustine’s work insomuch as he knew Augustine wrote about how craptastic the Jews were, but perhaps was ignorant of his witness doctrine that insisted that no matter how much people hated or despised the Jews, there was no reason or call to kill them, period.

The relationship of the church with the Jews is incredibly tenuous, and it is one that is meant to be so. For Augustine, this was the lay of the land, this is what Gd intended. The Jews were vile creatures worthy of being despised, but they also were the keepers of the great prophecies of Jesus and subsequently the chuch and Christian supremecy. I highly recommend Fredriksen’s book, because she lays out a lot of his writings and his policies on Jews very clearly and succinctly. Augustine was, without a doubt, stern in his belief that Jews weren’t a challenge to the church because the church was the one, true way. Jews can’t challenge it, because to him, Gd never intended Judaism to be the true way of the Father. It’s sort of like, acknowledging that there’s a bully ready to kick your tuches but being completely unafraid of him because you know that he’ll never act on it for fear of getting in trouble. It’s just a reality. And the reality for Augustine was that the church and Christianity would always come out on top. So Jews could go on with their vile fasts and ridiculous holidays and do what they would do and it would be a disgrace and the church should insist on keeping people from Judaizing and converting to Judaism (hence all the edicts against it). Thus Jews are only proliferated insularly, not affecting the outside world. It was sort of a “keep them in their box, on their shelf, and ignore them philosophy.” I’m not saying the church has always acted in Augustine’s way – I think there is a constant reminder of the witness doctrine running in the veins of the church, but I think they have gotten frustrated, throughout time, with a failure of the return of their messiah. So what’s to do? Blame the Jews? Of course. I should copy this one chapter for you to read over. It really lays out Augustine’s viewpoint. He genuinely believed that Gd gave the Law to the Jews and up until the coming of Jesus they were doing the best they knew how with it, so their Law is their Law and that shouldn’t be denied. Augustine never questions Gd.

Chaviva said...

CONTINUED


I’m questioning to create a dialogue. I think Augustine’s “witness doctrine” is a very underestimated thing, and I think that everytime that doctrine has echoed in the church’s mind it has done good for the Jews, in some way. As for saying my last statement is baseless, of course that’s your opinion. I think it’s a valid, academic question. I’m speaking specifically about the church – not people who say they’re acting for the church or how they think the church should be. Think about how many Orthodox Jews think they’re living the true way of Judaism, right!? It’s the same thing. I’m speaking about the church fathers and the church doctrine.

Again, I’m playing a card here. I’m trying to see what people think and what people know about Augustine. The man was truly brilliant with his witness doctrine, while all the while talking smack about Jews and Judaism. He was the perfect example of the conflicting view of Christians regarding the “Jewish problem.” We hate them, but we need them. That’s the eternal struggle of the church. It’s funny, because the author of the book does quote Pirke Avot in her epilogue, stating that “All things are foreknown, and man has free choice.” So it’s funny that you bring up this last point. From an academic perspective, the question is still valid and it still stands. From a religious, personal perspective, of course I know that it is all according to Gd’s plan!

Ultimately, you should really read Augustine’s perspective. It’s fascinating and uplifting, while also irritating and frustrating.

N said...

Standard Jewish answer: both! ie synthesise...

Perhaps G-d manifests His will for us to continue by having this mechanism? Hashem does not directly intercede in our universe, only manipulates, as He as hidden Himself from us while we are in exile. The doctrine appeared shortly afterwards...

EYR said...

1. Regarding Hitler - In the original post you wrote "Is it Augustine's (REALLY BACKHANDED) doctrine that has allowed the world to not completely destroy Jews and Judaism? Hitler wasn't too interested in church philosophy, and I honestly don't know his thoughts on Augustine or the "slay them not" doctrine. Anyone know?" My response to this was a result of not understanding correctly the connection between the two sentences - one might think you meant that Hitler also intended to keep some Jews around. I now understand that is not what you meant.

2. Even though I understand better now what you mean regarding Jews not being a challenge to Christianity, I disagree with the interpretation. As G-d fearing people, we understand (as should a devout christian) that there are some things that G-d is in charge of, not us. If the Jews were no threat, but instead the new "laws of nature" are such that they are to be humiliated since G-d left them, then the Church should not feel the need to take an active part in that humiliation. As Gideon says when he smashes the Ba'al alter and the town people want to lynch him - "If the Ba'al wants to punish me, you don't need to help him". However, they DID take part in it, a very active one, and so I'm left with the understanding that they either saw it as their job, or they were threatened. Either way, a Jew daring to rise up is a challenge to them. This is why I say that your statement "Jews and Judaism were not a challenge to Christianity" rings funny to me.

3. What I meant by "baseless" (which, as you say, is my opinion only) is this: If there is a big bully that tries to whack me with his right hand while his left hand stops it from reaching me - should I say that the Bully saved me from a Bully?
To make your point, you have to show that the Jews were threatened by some force (e.g. muslims) and the church protected them, perhaps due to Augustine's doctrine. The problem is that, to the best of my knowledge, 9 times out of 10 the Church was the one instigating the violence to begin with. So, I can accept you saying that the Augustinine philosophy protected Jews - but not the Church.

Also, if you start making distinctions between the Church and those who act in its name, it becomes very difficult - academically even - to address the question. Where it the line drawn - at the Pope? Cardinals? Local Priests? And how do we "decompose" things like the Inquisition or the Crusades? I see your point about the Jewish analogy of what is a Jewish way of life, but that means that when you write a sentence about "The Church did so-and-so" you need to be clear what you mean.

4. Finally, you ended up by saying

"From an academic perspective, the question is still valid and it still stands. From a religious, personal perspective, of course I know that it is all according to Gd’s plan!"

This is kind of funny. I challenge you to cast the question in academic terms. Remember, the question was "But is this G-d, or is it the church?" - how can I address the option that it was G-d academically? As I see it, the question only has meaning in a religious context, and hence my response. Of course, I might have misunderstood you - so please, show me the error of my ways!

5. I really should read more on this stuff...

Izgad said...

As someone who does medieval Jewish history, this is a big issue.

I would point to the Russian Orthodox Church if you wish to consider what it would mean to have a Christian Church without Augustine. Russian Orthodoxy, barring essentially Tolstoy, has no philo-Semitic tradition.

Chaviva said...

1. Okay, Hitler’s all cleared up.
2. I don’t think the point was to “humiliate” them. I’m curious where you derive a doctrine of humiliation from. A rhetorical doctrine of “Jews are XYZ” is not necessarily a doctrine of humiliation. Sure, Christians and others took part in Jew hatred, but was this the church’s doctrine? Not officially, no. I am, however, just stating Augustine’s point of view, which WAS that they weren’t a necessary threat that required eradication – they were a testament of witness because of how they understood the Hebrew Bible/OT. It’s not my interpretation of anything. Augustine was really blunt in what he was saying.
3. The church reacted according to Augustine’s doctrine many times, whether it was from the top down or individual priests/deacons acting accordingly. During the medieval ages (and at other times) this doctrine *was* ignored, and the reason for this was haste for apocalyptic thought – if the Jews are killed/converted, the messiah will come. Then again, every group ignores doctrine at some point or another. Regardless, the doctrine always WAS church policy, whether individuals or apostates acted otherwise is another issue. Let me find you some specific examples of this doctrine in action during various “pogroms” during the crusades (early).
4. You’re taking everything I’m saying so very literally. The web is a difficult medium. What I am saying is, the issue of whether the church has aided in the sustaining of the Jewish people can be explored academically. Over time, you can compare enactments by the church to postpone or stop anti-Jewish violence and examine it over the scheme of time and see whether they really made a true dent in the support of the Jewish people. Compare this with what various rabbis throughout the centuries thought about this and how they understood these enactments and whether they thought them to be the will of Gd, etc. Likewise, examining how the church’s major writers, over time, viewed these enactments in their then-current situation: did they feel it was forced because the ages-old “witness doctrine” or was it divine will? It’s not perfect, it’s not science, it’s not exact, but it’s interesting, and it can be explored academically in that manner. Am I any more clear?
5. This is the most difficult thing about my area of study – it’s a lot of positing. We spent the bulk of today debating whether the rabbis were working in a vacuum in some desolate location and only when Christianity took off did they come down from their mighty fortress and bestow upon the world Judaism, or were they working continuously and involved in the regular, everyday lives of every Jews? Two views: Rabbinocentric progressive Judaism or Jewish implosion thanks to Christianity?
So it goes!




4. Finally, you ended up by saying

"From an academic perspective, the question is still valid and it still stands. From a religious, personal perspective, of course I know that it is all according to Gd’s plan!"

This is kind of funny. I challenge you to cast the question in academic terms. Remember, the question was "But is this G-d, or is it the church?" - how can I address the option that it was G-d academically? As I see it, the question only has meaning in a religious context, and hence my response. Of course, I might have misunderstood you - so please, show me the error of my ways!

5. I really should read more on this stuff...

EYR said...

1. YAY - no more Hitler!

2. Take everything I say in this matter with a pinch - a BIG pinch - of salt. I consider myself a person who knows very little about Christianity. Feel free to catch me on any point I make...

3. Sorry for being so literal. I'm like this with everyone - ask my wife... I agonize over every word I write, and this is probably why I cannot maintain a normal blog

4. Re humiliation - I cannot direct you to a source. However, I've been under the impression that part of the witnessing of the Jews was that they must express via their state in society the fact that G-d has deserted them. In such a way, the fact that Jews and Judaism were at the bottom of the social ladder "made sense", and was testimony the G-ds desertion. For this reason, the creation of the State of Israel was a big shock as well. If this is not implied in the original doctrine of Augustine, perhaps I read it as a later interpretation of it or the like.

4. All that having been said, if all you were trying to suggest was that the world was a better place for Jews in previous centuries because of Augustine's doctrine - I have no problem with that idea (though of course, I know very little on the topic to begin with)

5. Finally, I can understand without any trouble how you can address the question "did the Church save the Jews because of such-and-such ideology" from a purely academic perspective. And even though I'm not in your field of study, trust me when I say that I fully understand and identify with the type of "compartmentalization" that goes on when moving between academic and religious contexts. My problem was not, therefore, that you "dared" ask an academic question re a religious topic. Rather, it was that you posed the question as an either-or challenge - G-d or the Church. I STILL think that, posed that way, this question is meaningful only in religious context. But in the revised version you wrote in your latest response, I have no problem. Again, this is me with my overly-literal interpretation of things - Sorry for being me... :)

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