In Augustine and the Jews, Fredriksen draws us into the life, times, and thought of Augustine of Hippo (396430). 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. The Christian Empire, Augustine held, was right to ban paganism and to coerce heretics. But the source of ancient Jewish scripture and current Jewish practice, he argued, was the very same as that of the New Testament and of the churchnamely, God himself. Accordingly, he urged, Jews were to be left alone. 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.
Augustine and the Jews sheds new light on the origins of Christian anti-Semitism and, through Augustine, opens a path toward better understanding between two of the world’s great religions.
In this densely argued and exhaustive book, religion professor Fredriksen (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) does for Augustine what she has already done so brilliantly for the historical Jesus. Drawing primarily on Augustine's Confessions and on his little-studied treatise, Against Faustus, she recreates the religious and political tensions of late fourth-century Christianity in North Africa and its attempts to understand its relationship to Judaism. While many early Christian writers condemned Jews as killers of Christ, Augustine turned the rhetorical tables on such polemic. As Fredriksen elegantly contends, Augustine argued that the Jews should be exempt from Christian persecution. Since the religious practices of the Jews devolved from God the Father-the same God Christians worshipped who was also the source of Jewish scriptures, tradition and practice-therefore God and the Jews, and thus the church and the Jews, maintain an abiding relationship. Contrary to many traditional interpretations, Fredriksen's deeply nuanced study demonstrates that the bishop of Hippo's later writings forcefully challenge the anti-Jewish tendencies of much of early Christianity and offer fresh ways of thinking about contemporary dialogue between the two religions. (Dec.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.