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Adversus Judaeos

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Adversus Judaeos are a series of fourth century homilies by John Chrysostom (deemed a saint by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches) that have been circulated by many groups to foster antisemitism.[1] James Parkes called the writing on Jews "the most horrible and violent denunciations of Judaism to be found in the writings of a Christian theologian".[2] His sermons against Jews gave momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.[3]

Purpose and context

During his first two years as a presbyter in Antioch (386-387), Chrysostom denounced Jews and Judaizing Christians in a series of eight sermons delivered to Christians in his congregation who were taking part in Jewish festivals and other Jewish observances.[4] It is disputed whether the main target were specifically Judaizers or Jews in general. His homilies were expressed in the conventional manner, utilizing the uncompromising rhetorical form known as the psogos (Greek: blame).

One of the purposes of these homilies was to prevent Christians from participating in Jewish customs, and thus prevent the perceived erosion of Chrysostom's flock. In his sermons, Chrysostom criticized those "Judaizing Christians", who were participating in Jewish festivals and taking part in other Jewish observances, such as the shabbat, submitted to circumcision and made pilgrimage to Jewish holy places.[5]

In Greek, the sermons are called Kata Ioudaiōn (Κατά Ιουδαίων), which is translated as Adversus Judaeos in Latin and Against the Jews in English.[6] The most recent scholarly translations, claiming that Chrysostom's primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe the Jewish feasts and fasts, give the sermons the more sympathetic title Against Judaizing Christians.[7]

Controversial claims

Chrysostom claimed that on the shabbats and Jewish festivals synagogues were full of Christians, especially women, who loved the solemnity of the Jewish liturgy, enjoyed listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and applauded famous preachers in accordance with the contemporary custom.[8] A more recent apologetic theory is that he instead tried to persuade Jewish Christians, who for centuries had kept connections with Jews and Judaism, to choose between Judaism and Christianity.[9]

Chrysostom held Jews responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and deicide (killing God, see "Jewish deicide" for the subject) and added that they continued to rejoice in Jesus's death.[10] He compared the synagogue to a pagan temple, representing it as the source of all vices and heresies.[8]

He described it as a place worse than a brothel and a drinking shop; it was a den of scoundrels, the repair of wild beasts, a temple of demons, the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils, a criminal assembly of the assassins of Christ.[11] Palladius, Chrysostom's contemporary biographer, also recorded his claim that among the Jews the priesthood may be purchased and sold for money.[8] Finally, he declared that he - in accordance with the sentiments of the saints - hated both the synagogue and the Jews.[12], saying that demons dwell in the synagogue and also in the souls of the Jews, and describing them as growing fit for slaughter[13]

Historical recuperation

The original Benedictine editor of the homilies, Bernard de Montfaucon, gives the following footnote to the title: "A discourse against the Jews; but it was delivered against those who were Judaizing and keeping the fasts with them [the Jews]."[14] As such, some have claimed that the original title misrepresents the contents of the discourses, which show that Chrysostom's primary targets were members of his own congregation who continued to observe the Jewish feasts and fasts. Sir Henry Savile, in his 1612 edition of Homilies 27 of Volume 6 (which is Discourse I in Patrologia Graeca's Adversus Iudaeos), gives the title: "Chrysostom's Discourse Against Those Who Are Judaizing and Observing Their Fasts."[15]

British historian Paul Johnson claimed that Chrysostom's homilies "became the pattern for anti-Jewish tirades, making the fullest possible use (and misuse) of key passages in the gospels of Saints Matthew and John. Thus a specifically Christian anti-Semitism, presenting the Jews as murderers of Christ, was grafted on to the seething mass of pagan smears and rumours, and Jewish communities were now at risk in every Christian city."[16] During World War II, the Nazi Party in Germany abused his work in an attempt to legitimize the Holocaust in the eyes of German and Austrian Christians. His works were frequently quoted and reprinted as a witness for the prosecution.[1]

After World War II, the Christian Churches denounced Nazi use of Chrysostom's works, explaining his words with reference to the historical context. According to Laqueur, it was argued that in the 4th century, the general discourse was brutal and aggressive and that at the time when the Christian church was fighting for survival and recognition, mercy and forgiveness were not in demand.[1]

According to Patristics scholars, opposition to any particular view during the late fourth century was conventionally expressed in a manner, utilizing the rhetorical form known as the psogos, whose literary conventions were to vilify opponents in an uncompromising manner; thus, it has been argued that to call Chrysostom an "anti-Semite" is to employ anachronistic terminology in a way incongruous with historical context and record.[17]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Laqueur, p. 48.
  2. James Parkes, Prelude to Dialogue (London: 1969) p. 153; cited in Wilken, p. xv.
  3. Brustein, p. 52.
  4. See Wilken, p.xv, and also "John Chrysostom" in Encyclopedia Judaica
  5. Wilken, p.xv.
  6. John Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians (vol. 68 of Fathers of the Church), trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1979) p.x
  7. For example John Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians (vol. 68 of Fathers of the Church), trans. Paul W. Harkins (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1979); and also [1]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "John Chrysostom" in Encyclopedia Judaica.
  9. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, (Princeton University Press:1997)p.66-67.
  10. William I. Brustein, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust, (Cambridge University Press:2003) ISBN 0-521-77308-3, p.52.
  11. Laqueur 47–48
  12. Walter Laqueur, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times To The Present Day,(Oxford University Press:2006) ISBN 0-19-530429-2, p.47-48
  13. John Chrysostom, Against the Jews, 1:6
  14. Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, p.xxxi)
  15. Chrysostom, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, p.xxxi).
  16. Johnson, Paul, A History of the Jews, (HarperPerennial: 1988), p. 165.
  17. Wilken, p. 124-126.
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