Paula Fredriksen made an appearance at Corwin Pavilion last night to tackle the subject of anti-Semitism.
Fredriksen, an Aurelio Professor of Scripture from Boston University, introduced her newly released book, Augustine and the Jews, at her lecture yesterday. In her presentation, Fredriksen explored Augustine of Hippo’s interpretation of the Bible, and how it opposed the negative view of Jews that was often a part of the Catholic religion. Fredriksen’s argument hinged on her belief that Augustine – a fourth-century Christian church father – said Jews should be exempt from Christian persecution.
In her new work, she reconstructs the religious and political conflicts of fourth-century Christianity, as well as its efforts to comprehend its relationship to Judaism. Fredriksen states that, according to Augustine, anti-Semitism was unfounded as Jewish and Christian practices were derived from the same God.
“Augustine said that Israel interpreted it according to the ‘flesh.’ His main idea was that Jews since that generation were correct to keep Jewish tradition in a Jewish way,” Fredriksen said.
Fredriksen’s lecture focused on a particular line in Romans 11:26 – “All Israel will be saved” and the differing interpretations from ancient Biblical leaders.
“There was a complicated relationship between the idea of Jews and actual Jews in the Roman Empire because of the negative role that Judaism often played in the construction of the Christian identity,” Fredriksen said.
Fredriksen first introduced Paul, one of Jesus’ disciples, and explained his divine conviction of the world’s coming end with the arrival of Jesus Christ. She explored his ideas that the Jewish rejection of Jesus as their savior was a strategic and temporary decision made by God.
“According to Paul, the Jewish disinterest in the Gospel is a gracious miracle that God was performing for the Gentiles,” she said.
According to Fredriksen, Augustine had a much different perspective. Augustine, who wrote centuries after Paul, wondered why Israel was still, in Paul’s words, hardened and blind to Christ’s teachings. He suggested, that instead of Jews being held accountable, all humanity should be seen as damned. As Augustine wrote in his famous work, City of God, “there is no escape for anyone from this justly deserved punishment, except by merciful and undeserved grace.”
According to Fredriksen, Augustine’s rejection of other Christian heretics may not have been immediately appreciated, but his defense of the Jews was much more significant later, during times of Jewish persecution in the Middle Ages.
“Augustine invented a language and theology of Judaism that in the crueler, bloodier days of medieval period, would save many lives,” she said.
After Fredriksen’s presentation, the floor was opened for questions. Courtesy of the Book Den, copies of Augustine and the Jews were available for purchase and signing at the event.
Fredriksen has authored From Jesus to Christ, which was the foundation of a popular “Frontline” documentary, and Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, which received a 1999 National Jewish Book Award.