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Biblical Exegesis and the Jewish-Christian Controversy in the Early Twelfth Century

  • David E. Timmer (a1)


In the prologue to his commentary on Leviticus composed in the mid- twelfth century, the reformist abbot Ralph of Flaix noted with anxiety the effect on his monks of Jewish argumentation against Christian exegesis of the Old Testament:



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Research for this paper was carried out at an NEH Summer Seminar on “Lay Life in the Late Middle Ages” held at Indiana University—Bloomington during the Summer of 1985. My thanks to directors Barbara Hanawalt and Larry Clopper and to my fellow participants for their encouragement and advice. The paper was read at the Medieval Association of the Midwest meeting in September 1985.

1. The text is given in Smalley, Beryl, “Ralph of Flaix on Leviticus,” Recherches de théologze ancienne et médiévale 35 (1968): 53.

2. Peter Damian, Antilogus contra Judaeos (Patrologia Latina [hereafter cited as PL], 145:41); twelfth-century evidence from Christian sources is summarized in Berger, David, “Mission to the Jews and Jewish-Christian Contacts in the Polemical Literature of the High Middle Ages,” American Historical Review 91(1986): 576591, esp. 585588.

3. Funkenstein, Amos, “Changes in the Pattern of Christian Anti-Jewish Polemic in the Twelfth Century,” Zion 33 (1968): 125144 (in Hebrew); see also the abridgment of this article in English, “Basic Types of Christian Anti-Jewish Polemics in the Later Middle Ages,” Viator 2 (1971): 373382.

4. Cohen, Jeremy, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca, N.Y., 1982). A restatement of his thesis is found in “Scholarship and Intolerance in the Medieval Academy: The Study and Evaluation of Judaism in European Christendom,” American Historical Review 91 (1986): 592613.

5. Cohen, , The Friars and the Jews, p. 20.

6. Ibid., pp. 25–32.

7. Ibid., passim; see the summary on pp. 244–245.

8. Ibid., pp. 145–153; compare p. 176 on Nicholas of Lyra.

9. Reuben, Jacob ben, Sefer Milhamot ha-Shem, ed. Rosenthal, Yehuda (Jerusalem, 1963);Official, Joseph, Sefer Yosef ha-Meqanne, ed. Rosenthal, Yehuda (Jerusalem, 1970);Berger, David, ed., Sejer Nizzahon Yashan, in his The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages (New York, 1979).

10. See the remarks of Chazan, Robert, “An Ashkenazic Anti-Christian Treatise,” Journal of Jewish Studies 34 (1983): 63.

11. Baer, F. Y., “Rashi and the Historical Circumstances of his Time,” Tarbiz 20 (1950): 320332 (in Hebrew); Rosenthal, Yehuda, “Anti-Christian Polemic in Rashi on Tanakh,” in Rashi: His Teachings and Personality, ed. Federbush, S. (New York, 1958), Hebrew Section, pp. 45–59; Sherevsky, E., “Rashi and Christian Interpretations,” Jewish Quarterly Review 61 (19701971): 7686.

12. Moore, R. I., The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (Oxford, 1987), notes the pivotal character of the twelfth century for Jewish-Christian relations; see pp. 33, 84, 148. See also Cohen, Jeremy, “The Jews as the Killers of Christ in the Latin Tradition from Augustine to the Friars,” Traditio 39 (1983): 127, where he notes the emergence of important changes in Christian anti-Jewish attitudes during the twelfth century.

13. For general background on Rupert and his influence, see Engen, John Van, Rupert of Deutz (Berkeley, 1983); see also Arduini, M. L., Ruperto di Deutz e la controversia tra Cristiani ed Ebrei net secolo XII (Rome, 1979).

14. Dasberg, Lea, Untersuchungen über die Entwertung des Judenstatus im 11. Jahrhundert (Paris, 1965), p. 101; compare p. 37.

15. Niemeyer, G., ed., Hermannus quondam Judaeus opusculum de conuersione sua, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (hereafter cited as MGH): Quellen, 4 (Weimar, 1963), pp. 9697.

16. The two treatises are: Anulus sive Dialogus inter Christianum et Judaeum (1126), ed. Rhabanus Haacke, in Arduini, Ruperto di Deutz, pp. 183–242 (hereafter cited as Anulus); and De glorificatione Trinitatis et processione Spiritus sancti (1128), PL 169:13071634 (hereafter cited as Glor.). Only part of the latter treatise is devoted to anti-Jewish polemic.

17. Commentarium in XII prophetas minores, PL 168:366 (hereafter cited as Proph.).

18. De gloria et honore Filii hominis super Mattheum, ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis (hereafter cited as CCCM), 29:268269. (hereafter cited as Matt.).

19. Proph., pp. 703, 686.

20. Matt., p. 293.

21. Anulus, p. 238; Comrnentarium in Evangelio S. Johannis, ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, CCCM 9:391 (hereafter cited as Johan.).

22. De operibus Spiritus sancti, ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, CCCM 24:19941995. (hereafter cited as Spir.); Proph., pp. 339–345.

23. Spir., pp. 2096–2097. The widespread association between the Jews and Antichrist in medieval eschatological thought is epitomized in the famous letter of Adso, , De ortu et tempore Antichristi, CCCM 45:2030.

24. Martin Bernards gives an amply documented description of Rupert's general view of the lay world in “Die Welt der Laien in der kölnischen Theologie des XII. Jahrhunderts. Beobachtungen zur Ekklesiologie Ruperts von Deutz,” in Die Kirche und ihre Ämter und Stände; Festgabe für Kardinal Frings (Cologne, 1960), pp. 391416.

25. Proph., p. 616.

26. Anulus, p. 199.

27. Spir., p. 1956.

28. Spir., p. 1946. Compare Annulus, p. 199. Rupert develops his belief in the Jewish receptivity to Antichrist in Spir., p. 2095, and Matt., p. 34.

29. Matt., pp. 64–65.

30. Johan., p. 594.

31. This point is developed in my dissertation, “The Religious Significance of Judaism for Twelfth Century Monastic Exegesis: A Study of the Thought of Rupert of Deutz, ca. 1070–1129” (Ph.D. diss., Notre Dame, 1983), pp. 145148.

32. De victoria Verbi Dei, ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, MGH Geistesceschichte, 4, p. 23 (hereafter cited as Vict.).

33. Matt., p. 25.

34. Anulus, pp. 189–190, 203–204, 242.

35. Little, Lester K., Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (Ithaca, N.Y., 1958), p. 57.

36. See John Van Engen's account of the self-conception of Benedictine monasticism, “The ‘Crisis of Cenobitism’ Reconsidered: Benedictine Monasticism in the Years 1050–1150,” Speculum 61 (1986): 269304.

37. Jacob Katz gives a vivid description of this phenomenon in Exclusiveness and Tolerance: Jewish-Gentile Relations in Medieval and Modern Times (London, 1961), pp. 363; see esp. pp. 10–11, 22–23, 35–47.

38. An early instance is found in the prologue to his De sancta Trinitate et operibus eius (ca. 1112), ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, CCCM 21:125.

39. Spir., p. 2091.

40. Glor., pp. 13–14.

41. Anulus, p. 203; Spir., p. 1978.

42. Proph., p. 11.

43. For sources, see appendix 3, “The Law as Allegory,” in Berger, , Jewish-Christian Debate, pp. 355360, esp. pp. 359–360.

44. Proph., p. 14; compare Vict., pp. 114–116; and Anulus, p. 201.

45. For the use of this motif by Augustine, see Pepin, Jean, “Saint Augustine et la fonction protreptique de l'allégorie,” Recherches augustiniennes 1 (1958): 247.

46. Berger, , Jewish-Christian Debate, p. 74 (Eng. trans. pp. 125–126).

47. Proph., p. 756.

48. Berger, , Jewish-Christian Debate, p. 40 (Eng. trans. p. 81).

49. Vict., p. 114.

50. These passages are examined in detail in my dissertation (see n. 31), pp. 163–197.

51. Proph., p. 811.

52. Ibid., p. 366.

53. Spir., p. 2006.

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