John "of the golden tongue," Chrysostom, takes pride of place in the confrontation between Judaism, as represented in sages' documents, and Christianity, as represented by substantial theologians, because he addressed the issues head-on. His principal point was that Christians cannot believe in Christ and also worship in synagogues and observe Judaic rites. Judaism is over, offering no salvation, as the fiasco of the rebuilding of the Temple had just proved. In stressing these two points, Chrysostom addressed precisely the issues of the identity of the Messiah and the conditions of his coming—the issues that, as we shall see, sages raised in the Talmud of the Land of Israel. Preacher in Antioch, Chrysostom, who was born in 347 and died in 407, in a set of sermons preached in 386-87 addressed the issue of Judaism by accusing Christians of backsliding. Not concurring on the honorable title "golden-mouthed," some, represented by Ruether, would call John foul-mouthed: "The sermons of John Chrysostom are easily the most violent and tasteless of the anti-Judaic literature of the period" (Ruether 1979, 173). But our point of interest is other than the tradition of anti-Judaism of the fourth-century Church, even though that tradition long outlived its original circumstances. What is important to us, as I have already made clear, is how Christian theologians and Judaic sages confronted the issue of who the Messiah is, whether Jesus or someone else, when he will come (Judaism), or why he will come again (Christianity)—in all, the shape of the Messiah-theme in the discourse of the age of Constantine. The testimony of Chrysostom comes right to the point, because he frames the issue as both sides worked it out. For him the principal issue in Judaic "unbelief" and Christian "backsliding" was whether or not Jesus was Christ. If he was, then the Christians should remain firm in that faith, and the Jews should accept it. If not, then not. The issue for Chrysostom carried concrete and immediate consequences: building solid and permanent foundations for the Christian governance. Christianity by the end of the century hardly enjoyed security as the religion of the empire. Julian called into doubt the future of the Church in the state, and Judaism remained a vital faith and force. For political reasons, therefore, the issue proved urgent to both Christianity and Judaism. For the one, at stake was the future of a Church resting on the messiahship of Christ; for the other, the future of the holy people awaiting the Messiah in the future.
But the specific issue framed by Chrysostom was his own—and that of the Church. For while the messianic question confronted both sides, each framed the matter in terms of its own situation. Chrysostom's target was "Judaizing" Christians who attended synagogue worship and observed Judaic rites. Judaism exercised great attraction to Christians who had in mind to observe Jewish festivals. They attended synagogue worship, resorted to Jewish courts, listened to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and on the next day came to join in the Eucharist. At issue for John was not "anti-Semitism," a wholly anachronistic category. What troubled John was the state of Christian belief. Specifically, John regarded Christian participation in Jewish worship and customs as "Judaizing," backsliding; that is, an act of disbelief. The backsliders do not believe that Jesus is Christ, and that is why they keep the law, that is, the Torah. Clearly at the heart of the matter was the Messiahship of Jesus. All else depended on that question. There was a common and conventional program of rhetoric: the Jews are guilty of "apostasy, faithlessness, rejection of God, and hardheartedness." Wilken summarizes the theological matter.
Embedded in these passages is to be found a theological argument about the status of the Jews after the death of Christ and the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. Since Christians claimed to be the inheritors of the ancient Jewish tradition, the destruction of the temple was taken to be a sign that Jewish law had lost its legitimacy. Yet, three hundred years after the destruction of the temple and the loss of Jerusalem, the Jews were still observing the ancient laws.
Jesus had predicted the destruction of the Temple. Not a few years back, the apostate emperor and the Jews had tried to rebuild it. They did not succeed. That proves that the Temple no longer serves to legitimate Jewish religion. All of these commonplaces point to a single issue: was, and is, Jesus the Christ? That is why Chrysostom plays a part in our invention of a common program of thought for both Judaic and Christian writers in Constantine's age. Since, as Wilken says, "Much of what John says ... is commonplace," Chrysostom admirably serves our purpose as an interesting and representative figure on the issue of the Messiah, his importance and identity (Wilken 1983, 32-33, 6667, 76, 132, xvi).1
Chrysostom's eight sermons, Adversus Judaeos, given in Antioch probably in 386 and 387, dealt with Christians soft on Judaism. As a set, the sermons addressed Christians who observe and defend Jewish rites, keep the Passover,
1. On "anti-Semitism," compare Gager: "The very violence of Chrysostom's language demonstrates the potential for a linkage between anti-Jewish beliefs and anti-Semitic feelings" (1983).
and, in general treat the law of Judaism as valid. The response to these views drew upon the exile of the Jews, the destruction of the Temple as Jesus had predicted, and, it must follow, the divinity of Jesus. Judaism as such was not the issue; the audience comprised backsliding Christians. The preacher referred to festivals of the autumn season, the New Year, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles, and he evidently did not wish Christians to keep those festivals, or to observe Easter coincident with Passover. What concerned him transcended attendance on Judaic festivals and fasts. Christians were keeping the Sabbath, attending synagogue worship, and did not know the difference between Christian and Judaic worship. Chrysostom claimed that Jews' supposed magical power attracted Christians, who went to synagogues for healing. But the main thrust concerned Christ. Jews do not understand the Hebrew Scriptures. "The Old Testament was shrouded in a veil, which was lifted only with the coming of Christ," and only by reading the Scriptures in light of Christ can anyone understand them.
For their part the Jews did not understand their own Scripture because they did not grasp "the true meaning of the prophecies, because they did not understand the significance of the 'times' the prophets were discussing. They stubbornly refused to apply texts to Christ." Because they had rejected and then murdered Christ, the Jews were "godless and . . . their souls were inhabited by demons." God rejected the worship of Jews, both in the Temple in Jerusalem and in synagogues. God rejected the Jews and Judaism, for the same reason. All of this was because the Jews rejected Christ (Grissom 1978, 191). Because the Jews rejected the Messiah, gentiles took their place. Because of the same error, the Jews were punished with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, which just now had not been rebuilt even though the emperor had planned to restore it. The Jewish law was no longer valid: "Just as the Old Testament was a shadow of the reality fulfilled in the New Testament, so the Jewish law was valid only as a guide to Christ." "Since Christ had come, continuing to observe the law was like going back into the desert from the Promised Land." The present power of the Church, moreover, proved that Christ was the Messiah and that the Church was favored by God. So the issue of Jesus's Messiahship enjoyed priority over all others. The dialogue, such as it was, had therefore to focus on that question alone; nothing else counted. For Chrysostom, the advent of Christ, his death and resurrection, had provided the means of grace for all who believed. The coming of Christ rendered all other religions and religious notions, including Judaism, not only unnecessary but impotent and illegitimate. Grissom makes the matter plain: "Using a Christological exegesis of the Old Testament as well as evidence taken from the New Testament, Chrysostom tried to prove that Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the prophets and that, because of his death, the Jews had been rejected by God and the Gentiles called in their place. Using Old Testament texts, he also argued that the dispersion of the Jews would never end, that the Temple would never be rebuilt, and that no Jewish worship could properly be conducted outside Jerusalem (Grissom 1978, 3).
What is critical to my claim that we deal with a genuine debate on the same issues in the same terms is the argument that the destruction of the Temple and the fiasco of Julian's plan discredit Judaism. In Chrysostom's case the relationship of the destruction of Jerusalem and the divinity of Jesus took pride of place. The longest homily and the most theological-historical, the fifth, is summarized by Wilken as follows:
The greatest proof that Christ is truly God is that he "predicted the temple would be destroyed, that Jerusalem would be captured, and that the city would no longer be the city of the Jews as it had been in the past." If only ten, twenty, or fifty years had passed since the destruction of the temple, one might understand doubts about Jesus' prophecy, but over three centuries have passed and there is not "a shadow of the change for which you are waiting." ... If the Jews had never attempted to rebuild the temple during this time, one might say that they could do so only if they made the effort. But the course of events shows the reverse, for the Jews have attempted to rebuild the temple, not once, but three times, and were unsuccessful in every effort. . . . The failure of Julian's effort to rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, then, is proof that Christ was not an ordinary man among men, but the divine son of God. His word was more powerful than the feeble efforts of men, for by his word alone he defeated the emperor Julian and the "whole Jewish people" . . . The prophecy of Christ is proven true by the historical "facts." ... the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies and the continued existence of the Church is evidence of the power and divinity of Christ (1983, 155-58)
And from this all the rest followed. So Wilken concludes, "by keeping the Law, by celebrating Jewish festivals, by seeking out Jewish magicians, the Ju-daizers proclaimed that Judaism was spiritually more potent than Christianity. What greater proof of the truth of Judaism than for the followers of Christ to observe Jewish law?" For Chrysostom, at stake was not Judaism but Christianity: "I ask you to rescue your brothers, to set them free from this error and to bring them back to the truth. There is no benefit in listening to me unless the example of your deeds match my words. What I said was not for your sakes but for the sake of those who are sick. I want them to learn these facts from you and to free themselves from their wicked association with the Jews" (1983, 158, 160).
The upshot is that, as Chrysostom framed the issue, everything depended upon the Messiahship of Jesus, on the one side, and the confirmation of that Messiahship by the events of the age—the power of the Church, the humiliation of the Jerusalem temple—on the other. Everything depended on the Temple, restored or in permanent ruin. Jesus had said no stone would rest another, and none did. Julian had tried to rebuild the Temple and had failed. Chrysostom pointed to the Jews' exile as proof of their defeat: "It is illegitimate to keep their former way of life outside of Jerusalem ... for the city of Jerusalem is the keystone that supports the Jewish rite" (in Wilken 1983, 149). The argument recurs throughout the homilies on the Judaizers and forms the centerpiece. No wonder then that sages would join the rebuilding of the Temple to the future coming of the Messiah. So the issue framed by Eusebius carried forward in its logical and cogent way. The sages' response tran scended the mere affirmation of the messianic hope. They outlined how to recognize the Messiah and what Israel must do to become worthy of his coming.
Was this article helpful?