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Paul in the Eyes of Profayt Duran: Constructing a Jewish Paul

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2020

Ram Ben-Shalom
Hebrew University
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This article offers a new approach to Profayt Duran's Reproach of the Gentiles (Kelimat ha-goyim), emphasizing the particular place accorded to Paul in this work and reading it against the background of converso Paulinism. This article integrates the idea of Paul the Jew in Reproach of the Gentiles with the broader ideology that Duran developed regarding the forced converts (ʾanusim) in his other writings. To some extent, based on the ambivalence in his views and his divided personality, Paul could serve as a model for those conversos now required to develop, like him, a divided identity and ambivalent positions. Thus, Profayt Duran should be considered a forerunner of converso Paulinism.

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Copyright © Association for Jewish Studies 2020

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I would like to thank Maurice Kriegel, Jeremy Cohen, Yosi Yisraeli, and Claude B. Stuczynski for their helpful advice and comments on this paper.


1. Gampel, Benjamin R., Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391–1392 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2. Kozodoy, Maud, The Secret Faith of Maestre Honoratus: Profayt Duran and Jewish Identity in Late Medieval Iberia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the identity of the author of Teshuvot be-’anshe ’aven, see Albarracín, José Vicente Niclós, ed. and trans., Profiat Durán: Cinco cuestiones debatidas de polémica (Madrid: Aben Ezra Ediciones, 1999), esp. 26Google Scholar; and Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 215.

3. Aharon (Armand) Kaminka, “Shirim u-meliẓot le-ha-R. Shelomoh be-ha-R. Re'uven Bonafed” [Poetry and belles lettres of Solomon, R. b. Bonafed, R. Reuben], Ha-ẓofeh le-ḥokhmat Yisra'el 12 (1928): 3842Google Scholar. See Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 33–34.

4. Feliu, Eduard, “Profiat Duran: Al tehí ka-avoteikha,” Calls 1 (1986): 55Google Scholar.

5. Hacker, Joseph, “Perfeyt Duran in Italy and the Fate of Catalan and Aragonese Hebrew Manuscripts after the Riots of 1391” [in Hebrew], in Paths to Modernity: A Tribute to Yosef Kaplan, ed. Bar-Levav, Avriel, Stuczynski, Claude B., and Heyd, Michael (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2018), Hebrew sect., esp. 79–80Google Scholar.

6. Feliu, Eduard, “Profiat Duran: Cet inconnu célèbre,” in L'écriture de l'histoire juive: Mélanges en l'honneur de Gérard Nahon, ed. Iancu-Agou, Danièle and Iancu, Carol (Paris: Peeters, 2012), 205–20Google Scholar. See also Hacker, “Perfeyt Duran,” 74–80.

7. See Kozodoy, Secret Faith, esp. 21–36.

8. Hacker, “Perfeyt Duran,” 76–77.

9. Duran himself did not name the work. The title Kelimat ha-goyim (Reproach of the gentiles; following Ezekiel 36:15) was given later, slightly distorting the opening words of the author's dedicatory poem to Ḥasdai Crescas: “kelimah la-goyim” (a reproach for the gentiles).

10. Duran, Profayt, Kelimat ha-goyim, in Talmage, Frank E., ed., The Polemical Writings of Profiat Duran: The Reproach of the Gentiles and “Be Not Like unto Thy Fathers” (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 1981), 24Google Scholar.

11. See Talmage, Frank E., “The Polemical Writings of Profiat Duran,” Immanuel 13 (1981): 6985Google Scholar, reprinted in Talmage, Frank and Walfish, Barry Dov, eds., Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Studies in Medieval Jewish Exegesis and Polemics (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1999), 281–97Google Scholar; Gutwirth, Eleazar, “History and Apologetics in XVth Century Hispano-Jewish Thought,” Helmantica 35 (1984): 231–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cohen, Jeremy, “Towards a Functional Classification of Jewish Anti-Christian Polemic in the High Middle Ages,” in Religionsgespräche im Mittelalter, ed. Lewis, Bernard and Niewohner, Friedrich (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1992), 93114Google Scholar; Cohen, Jeremy, “Profiat Duran's The Reproach of the Gentiles and the Development of Jewish Anti-Christian Polemics,” in Shelomo Simonsohn Jubilee Volume: Studies on the History of the Jews in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period, ed. Carpi, Daniel et al. (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1993), 7184Google Scholar; Berger, David, “On the Uses of History in Medieval Jewish Polemic against Christianity: The Search for the Historical Jesus,” in Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, ed. Carlebach, Elisheva, Efron, John M., and Myers, David N. (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 1998), 2539Google Scholar; Ben-Shalom, Ram, Medieval Jews and the Christian Past: Jewish Historical Consciousness in Spain and Southern France (London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2015), 108CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 129–37.

12. Zetterholm, Magnus, Approaches to Paul: A Student's Guide to Recent Scholarship (Augsburg, MN: Fortress, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See Fredriksen, Paula, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13. On Duran as a pioneer of this approach, see Gager, John G., Who Made Early Christianity? The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 42CrossRefGoogle Scholar: “It will take Jewish and Christian scholars more than six hundred years to reach these same conclusions.”

14. See Gutwirth, “History and Apologetics”; Ben-Shalom, Medieval Jews and the Christian Past, 108–10.

15. Kelimat ha-goyim, 5.

16. Ibid., 6.


17. Ibid., 5. In this, I disagree with Wilke, Carsten L., “Historicizing Christianity and Profiat Duran's Kelimat ha-Goyim (1397),” Medieval Encounters 22 (2016): 140–64, esp. 155–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar, who divided Kelimat ha-goyim into four or even six different historical stages of Christianity, identifying Paul as the founder of the third stage and thus distinct from the apostles. I believe that in using the expression “head of his [Jesus's] apostles,” Duran in fact placed Paul within the apostolic stage.


18. Voragine, Jacobus de, The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, trans. Ryan, William Granger (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 350Google Scholar. See also a slightly different approach to Paul, on p. 351: “We find also that at different times Paul is portrayed as Peter's inferior, as greater than Peter, or as Peter's equal, but the fact is that he was inferior in dignity, greater in preaching, and equal in holiness.”

19. This is the subject of the entire fourth chapter: Kelimat ha-goyim, 24–29.

20. See Zetterholm, Approaches to Paul; Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle; Gager, John G., Reinventing Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 2176Google Scholar.

21. Kelimat ha-goyim, 26–27.

22. Ibid., 27. See Gager, Who Made Early Christianity?, 41–42.


23. Kelimat ha-goyim, 27.

24. Ibid.


25. Ibid.


26. Ibid.


27. Ibid., 28.


28. Ibid.


29. Ibid., 27. Cf. KJV: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.”


30. Kelimat ha-goyim, 27.

31. Ibid., 29.


32. See Galatians 5:19–29, on the temporary role of the Law.

33. “The righteousness of the Law” is probably a reference to the Ten Commandments.

34. Kelimat ha-goyim, 37.

35. Ibid., 38.


36. Ibid.


37. Ibid., 39.


38. Ibid., 29.


39. Ibid., 21.


40. Ibid.


41. Ibid., 47.


42. See Cohen, “Profiat Duran's The Reproach of the Gentiles,” esp. 81–83.

43. Kelimat ha-goyim, 24: “Jesus … was a pious fool”; 40: “and there was John the Baptist, who was also a pious fool”; 49: “There is no doubt that Jesus and his disciples were ignorant … and these pious fools would diligently listen to the sermons, and in their incapacity would confuse what they had heard.”

44. Kelimat ha-goyim, 24. Indeed, Duran relates to Jesus's folly as madness: “Although this utterance indicates his folly and the fact that he was mad, as the Jews would say of him, and that is why many of his disciples turned their backs [on him]” (Kelimat ha-goyim, 39).

45. The meaning of the sacrament of baptism is explained in Kelimat ha-goyim, 41, based on Peter Lombard, Sententiae 4.3.9, as the reception of divine grace lost due to original sin and restored through the atonement of Jesus.

46. Kelimat ha-goyim, 40.

47. Ibid., 41.


48. Ibid., 60.


49. Ibid., 62.


50. Duran probably drew on the following account in the The Golden Legend, 353: “When Paul reached the place of execution, he faced the East, raised his hands to heaven, prayed for a long time in his mother tongue, and gave thanks to God…. As soon as his head bounded from his body, it intoned, in Hebrew and in a clear voice, ‘Jesus Christ,’ the name that had been so sweet to him in life.”

51. Kelimat ha-goyim, 62; 62; 7; 28–29; 21; 26; 61–62; 62; 26–27.

52. “Lehitʻakesh ve-laḥalok ʻim ha-dorban.” Cf. KJV: “to kick against the pricks.”

53. Here I have followed Ze'ev A. Poznanski's edition of Duran's text, “Sefer Kelimat ha-goyim,” Ha-ẓofeh me-'ereẓ Hagar 4 (1915): 37.

54. Kelimat ha-goyim, 40–41.

55. See Gray, Patrick, Paul as a Problem in History and Culture: The Apostle and His Critics through the Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2016), 2931Google Scholar.

56. See Netanyahu, Benzion, The Marranos of Spain: From the Late Fourteenth to the Early Sixteenth Century, According to Contemporary Hebrew Sources (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 8693Google Scholar; Kozodoy, Secret Faith, esp. 140–41.

57. Netanyahu, Marranos of Spain, 86–93; Gutwirth, “History and Apologetics”; Cohen, “Profiat Duran's The Reproach of the Gentiles”; Ben-Shalom, Medieval Jews and the Christian Past, 108–10; Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 129–42; Wilke, “Historicizing Christianity.”

58. Kelimat ha-goyim, 47.

59. Ibid., 32–34.


60. Ibid., 34.


61. Baer, Yitzhak, A History of the Jews in Christian Spain, trans. Schoffman, Louis (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), 2:156–58Google Scholar; Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 145–60; Yisraeli, Yosi, “Constructing and Undermining Converso Jewishness: Profiat Duran and Pablo de Santa María,” in Religious Conversion: Historical Experiences and Meanings, ed. Rubin, Miri and Katznelson, Ira (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), 188–98Google Scholar.

62. Kozodoy, Secret Faith, esp. 201–3.

63. See Ben-Shalom, Medieval Jews and the Christian Past, 115–18.

64. The language in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “caught up to the third heaven,” also gives some intimation of the violent and coercive side of the vision.

65. Stuczynski, Claude B., “Converso Paulinism and Residual Jewishness: Conversion from Judaism to Christianity as a Theologico-Political Problem,” in Bastards and Believers: Jewish Converts and Conversion from the Bible to the Present, ed. Dunkelgrün, Theodor and Maciejko, Pawel (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 114Google Scholar. See also Stuczynski, “Pro-Converso Apologetics and Biblical Exegesis,” in The Hebrew Bible in Fifteenth-Century Spain: Exegesis, Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts, ed. Jonathan Decter and Arturo Prats (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 167–68.

66. Stuczynski, “Converso Paulinism and Residual Jewishness,” 114.

67. Yisraeli, “Constructing and Undermining,” 186.

68. For two well-known examples, see Castro, Americo, The Structure of Spanish History, trans. King, Edmund L. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954), 538–39Google Scholar; Sanchez-Albornoz, Claudio, Spain, a Historical Enigma, trans. Joly, Colette Dees and David Sven Reher (Madrid: Fundación Universitaria Espanola, 1975), 836Google Scholar.

69. Yisraeli, “Constructing and Undermining,” 187.

70. Ibid., 210.


71. See Yisraeli, Yosi, “From Christian Polemic to a Jewish-Converso Dialogue: Jewish Skepticism and Rabbinic-Christian Traditions in the Scrutinium Scripturarum,” Medieval Encounters 24 (2018): 18CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Further influence exerted by Duran's writings and ideas on Pablo can be found in the historical-theological analysis of the riots of 1391 in Spain as the culmination of a lengthy process of emptying Europe of Jews, which began in the thirteenth century. Both men saw this process as part of a divine plan to bring about the necessary conditions for the messianic age. See Kriegel, Maurice, “Paul de Burgos et Profiat Duran déchiffrent 1391,” in The Jews of Europe around 1400: Disruption, Crisis, and Resilience, ed. Clemens, Lukas and Cluse, Christoph (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2018), 235–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Yisraeli, Yosi, “When Christian Science and Jewish Providence Collide: Converso Puns and Biblical Discoveries in the 1390s,” Hispania Judaica Bulletin 14 (2019): 123–60Google Scholar.

72. Yisraeli, “Constructing and Undermining,” 201.

73. Yisraeli, “From Christian Polemic,” 164.

74. Yisraeli, “Constructing and Undermining,” 204.

75. Ibid., 205; see also 213.


76. Nirenberg, David, “Mass Conversion and Genealogical Mentalities: Jews and Christians in Fifteenth-Century Spain,” Past and Present 174 (2002): 341CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

77. See Ben-Shalom, Ram, “The Development of a New Grammar of Conversion in Aragon around 1400,” in Forced Conversion in Christianity, Judaism and Islam: Coercion and Faith in Premodern Iberia and Beyond, ed. Rodríguez, M. García-Arenal and Glazer-Eytan, Yonatan (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 205–34Google Scholar.

78. Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 140.

79. The work is clearly influenced by Kelimat ha-goyim, and includes a number of quoted passages. See Teshuvot be-’anshe ’aven, resp. III, nos. 5–6, pp. 76–77; and comparisons to Kelimat ha-goyim, 53, nn. 32–33. See Albarracín, Profiat Durán: Cinco cuestiones, 26; Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 215.

80. Kozodoy, Secret Faith, 140. The Hebrew language continued to serve as a means of communication and an identity-shaping tool for Jewish and converso groups in the first half of the fifteenth century. This phenomenon received expression, for example, among members of the ʻAdat Nogenim (band of minstrels) poets’ circle in Aragon, which split between Jews and conversos, following the wave of conversions in the years 1413–1414. See Schirmann, Jefim, The History of Hebrew Poetry in Christian Spain and Southern France, edited, supplemented, and annotated by Ezra Fleischer [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes and Yad Ben-Zvi, 1997), 590–93, 639–41Google Scholar.

81. Wilke, Carsten L., The Marrakesh Dialogues: A Gospel Critique and Jewish Apology from the Spanish Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

82. Hernando de Talavera, Católica impugnación del herético libelo maldito y descomulgado divulgado en la ciudad de Sevilla, con dos estudios de Francisco Márquez Villanueva y la presentation de Stefania Pastore (Cordoba: Almuzara, 2012).

83. For an attempt to reconstruct the text, see Serrano, Francisco Lobera, “Los conversos sevillanos y la Inquisición: El ‘Libello perdido de 1480,” Cultura Neolatina 49, no. 1 (1989): 7–53Google Scholar.

84. De Talavera, Católica impugnación, cap. 37, p. 98; cap. 39, p. 102; cap. 40, p. 105; cap. 45, p. 112.

85. Ibid., cap. 70, p. 163: “Porque, como escismático y sembrador de discordias, haces división y apartamiento entre los cristianos nuevos y viejos, entre convertidos del judaísmo y convertidos de gentilida.” Although familiar with Duran only from Benzion Netanyahu's book on the ʾanusim, Francisco Márquez Villanueva addressed the connection between Duran and the anonymous work from Seville in “Ideas de la «Católica Impugnación» de Fray Hernando de Talavera,” in Las tomas: Antropología histórica de la ocupación territorial del Reino de Granada, ed. José Antonio González Alcantud and Manuel Barrios Aguilera (Granada: Diputación, 2000), 13–32, esp. n. 11, reprinted in Hernando de Talavera, Católica impugnación, Apéndice, esp. p. vi.


86. This was a central element in the anti-inquisitional ideology of Hernando de Talavera, who preached among the conversos in the years prior to the creation of the anonymous catechistic tract, compelling them to keep images of the crucifixion, the Virgin, and the saints in their homes, as a means to devotion and in order to contrast the converso perception of image worship as superstition. See Stefania Pastore, preface to de Talavera, Católica impugnación, xxv; Iannuzzi, Isabella, El poder de la palabra en el siglo XV: Fray Hernando de Talavera (Valladolid: Junta de Castilla y León, 2009), 347Google Scholar.

87. Probably influenced by Alonso de Cartagena as well.

88. Pastore, preface to de Talavera, Católica impugnación, esp. xxvii–xxxii.

89. See Villanueva, introduction to de Talavera, Católica impugnación, lxxvii.

90. For example, the idea that Jesus was the first converso— “y que erró este necio en decir que Jesucristo fue el primero convertido” (de Talavera, Católica impugnación, cap. 11, p. 28) contradicts Duran's conception of Jesus as a “pious fool.” This difference is understandable, however, in light of the author's view regarding the conversos’ socioreligious superiority. On the other hand, the author's assertion that Jesus did not give a new law (“que dice que Jesucristo no innovó ley”; ibid., cap. 12, p. 30) and never abandoned the Mosaic Law (“que Jesuscristo nunca se apartó de la ley mosaic”; ibid., cap. 15, p. 55) corresponds to Duran's approach in chapter 4.

91. For example, chapter 12, entitled “En que se demuestra por seis maneras que nuestro Señor debióinnovar ley” (de Talavera, Católica impugnación, 37), is, in effect, a response to chapter 4 of Kelimat ha-goyim: “For Jesus never thought to oppose the divine Torah, but greatly desired its eternal observance, and his followers as well considered it eternal for the people who were commanded to observe it.” So, too, in de Talavera's chapter 35, against the anonymous tract's assertion that belief in the Trinity is false: “Que creemos de Trinidad en Dios no lo creemos bien” (Católica imugnación, 94).

92. Unlike John Gager, Who Made Early Christianity?, 43–45, I prefer, in this case, not to consider the figure of Paul (and Peter) reflected in later texts found in Toledot Yeshu, created for polemical purposes. In my opinion, these passages in Toledot Yeshu were written after Duran's time, and there is no indication that he was familiar with this tradition of “antihistory.” See Ben-Shalom, Ram, “The Converso as Subversive: Jewish Traditions or Christian Libel?,” Journal of Jewish Studies 50 (1999): 259–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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