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3 - The writings of the church fathers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Edward Kessler
Affiliation:
Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, Cambridge
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Summary

The church fathers are the early Christian teachers who gave their name to the patristic age of church history, which lasted from the end of the first century to the early Middle Ages, and to the patristic literature, the main body of Christian texts from these years.

Their writings on Jews and Judaism illustrate a tension that continues to underlie Jewish–Christian relations today. On the one hand, there was acceptance that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew; on the other, they wrestled with the problem that Jews did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah. The Jewish rejection was extremely embarrassing for the early Church and raised a number of challenges, notably in the formation of Christian identity and in Christianity's relationship not only with Judaism but also with the ancient traditions commonly called paganism. Pagans were generally sympathetic to older religions and held a revulsion for all things new, for antiquity was equivalent to respectability. Even though Judaism was criticised by ancient writers for many reasons, such as its alleged separateness and unfriendliness, it was admired on the grounds of its history. For example, Numenius of Apamea, who lived in the second century bce, described Plato as an ‘Atticising Moses’.

The arrival of Christianity led to some harsh accusations, especially as the Romans considered new cults as suspicious and dangerous. Pagan critics, such as Celsus (c. 180 ce), were quick to exploit the Jewish rejection of Christianity: as far as Jews were concerned, the Messiah had not appeared.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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