Religious dynamics between Christians and Jews in late antiquity 312640

GUY G. STRÜÜMSA Introduction

Augustine called the Jews librarii nostri.1 Beyond the reference to God's revelation of the scriptures to Israel, this expression emphasises the fact that the deep, essential and intimate relationship between Christians and Jews remained a concrete and permanent one at the turn of the fifth century. In the mid-sixth century, John of Ephesus, the leading Miaphysite church historian and hagiog-rapher, reports a monk visiting a mountainous village east of the Euphrates and asking the people he meets: Are you Christians or Jews?'2 As this vignette shows, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish a Christian from a Jew in the late ancient Near East. Both could speak the same language and look the same way. This was probably also the case all around the Mediterranean: there was usually no clear-cut or visible differentiation between the two estranged communities. Both Augustine of Hippo and John of Ephesus testify to the state of affairs after the watershed of the fourth century, which had seen a radical reversal of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity

Indeed, the conversion of Constantine was only the prelude to other deep transformations of the relationship between Christians and Jews, up to the Muslim conquests. Before Constantine, while Judaism was a religio licita, the Christians had remained beyond the fringes of legality. Moreover, the last two generations of scholarship have radically shaken the old perception (nurtured by theological prejudice) according to which the Jews had begun a drastic process of social and intellectual seclusion after 70, accelerated by the bloody revolts in Alexandria and then in Palestine during the early second century. Soon after Constantine, who reportedly described the Jews as 'slayers of the

1 Augustine, Enn. Ps. 56.9, cf.40.14 and id.. Hom. 5.5, cited by J. Cohen, Living letters of the law, ch. 1, n. 35.

2 John of Ephesus, Lives of Eastern saints 16 (PO 17: 234).

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