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15 - Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho: group boundaries, ‘proselytes’ and ‘God-fearers’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2010

Graham N. Stanton
Affiliation:
King's College London
Guy G. Stroumsa
Affiliation:
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Summary

Justin's Dialogue is the earliest surviving writing which sets out fully the issues which separated Christians and Jews. This fascinating Dialogue was written about 160 GE. It draws on earlier Christian exegetical traditions; in places it has very deep roots in Jewish–Christian polemic and apologetic.

Although Justin and Trypho argue vigorously, they do not resort to personal abuse or to name-calling. At the end of the Dialogue, they agree to disagree; after praying for one another they go their separate ways. Most later Christian anti-Jewish writings are less moderate in tone; unlike Trypho, the Jewish opponent(s) often cave in and accept the ‘truth’ of Christianity. However, if we have twentieth-century understandings of ‘tolerance’ in mind, it would not be appropriate to claim either Justin or Trypho as models of ‘tolerance’. Both the Christian and his Jewish partner in dialogue not only set out their respective very different religious positions, they go further: they appeal vigorously to one another to change sides, with the clear implication that the other side is wrong-headed.

How plausible is Justin's claim that his Dialogue records an extended discussion he had with a learned Jew, Trypho, shortly after the second Jewish revolt? Opinions have differed widely. My own view is that the Dialogue is neither a verbatim account of a two-day debate which took place in Ephesus between a Christian and a Jew, nor a wholly artificial compilation of Christian polemical traditions which is unrelated to discussions between Christians and Jews in the middle decades of the second century.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1998

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