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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

David E. Timmer
assistant professor of religion in Central College, Pella, Iowa.


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:

Research Article
Church History , Volume 58 , Issue 3 , September 1989 , pp. 309 - 321
Copyright © American Society of Church History 1989

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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.Google Scholar

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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3. Funkenstein, Amos, “Changes in the Pattern of Christian Anti-Jewish Polemic in the Twelfth Century,” Zion 33 (1968): 125144Google Scholar (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.Google Scholar

4. Cohen, Jeremy, The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism (Ithaca, N.Y., 1982).Google Scholar 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.Google Scholar

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

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);Google ScholarOfficial, Joseph, Sefer Yosef ha-Meqanne, ed. Rosenthal, Yehuda (Jerusalem, 1970);Google ScholarBerger, David, ed., Sejer Nizzahon Yashan, in his The Jewish-Christian Debate in the High Middle Ages (New York, 1979).Google Scholar

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

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

12. Moore, R. I., The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (Oxford, 1987),Google Scholar 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,CrossRefGoogle Scholar 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)Google Scholar; see also Arduini, M. L., Ruperto di Deutz e la controversia tra Cristiani ed Ebrei net secolo XII (Rome, 1979).Google Scholar

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

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 169:13071634Google Scholar (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.Google Scholar (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 9:391Google Scholar (hereafter cited as Johan.).

22. De operibus Spiritus sancti, ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, CCCM 24:19941995.Google Scholar (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.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

32. De victoria Verbi Dei, ed. Haacke, Rhabanus, MGH Geistesceschichte, 4, p. 23Google Scholar (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.Google Scholar

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.Google Scholar

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;Google Scholar 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.Google Scholar

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,Google Scholar 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.Google Scholar

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

47. Proph., p. 756.

48. Berger, , Jewish-Christian Debate, p. 40Google Scholar (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.