Tertullian's Adversus Judaeos: A Rhetorical Analysis


Tertullian's Aduersus Iudaeos (Against the Jews) is one of the most controversial works of early Christian literature for modern scholarship not only because of its subject matter, which denies the enduring validity of Judaism subsequent to the appearance of Christianity, but also because of the debate surrounding the authenticity of the second half of the work itself. Many believe that the parallels with the third book of Aduersus Marcionem indicate that someone other than Tertullian completed this work by ...
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Tertullian's Aduersus Iudaeos (Against the Jews) is one of the most controversial works of early Christian literature for modern scholarship not only because of its subject matter, which denies the enduring validity of Judaism subsequent to the appearance of Christianity, but also because of the debate surrounding the authenticity of the second half of the work itself. Many believe that the parallels with the third book of Aduersus Marcionem indicate that someone other than Tertullian completed this work by taking material from the latter source. As a result, historical studies of the relationship between Jews and Christians have widely neglected this work.

Geoffrey D. Dunn is the first scholar to use classical rhetoric as the interpretative tool for analyzing the question of the authorship of Aduersus Iudaeos. He argues that Tertullian structured this work according to the rules of classical rhetoric and employed arguments familiar to anyone with training in oratory. This analysis demonstrates that the work's conceptual structure matches what is written, that there are parts of the pamphlet that remain an unrevised draft, and that it was Tertullian himself who later used the material from this work in Aduersus Marcionem.

A rhetorical perspective suggests that this work was intended as an idealized Christian contribution to be employed in the debate between Christians and Jews. The intended readers of Aduersus Iudaeos were Tertullian's fellow Christians, and, by writing the work, he sought to provide them with better debating points to use in their own encounters with Jews.

This book presents valuable evidence of an ongoing, lively interaction between Jews and Christians inlate second-century Carthage about the validity of both religions and their interpretations of the scriptures.

Geoffrey D. Dunn is an Australian Research Council-funded Australian Research Fellow in the Centre for Early Christian Studies at the Australian Catholic University. He is author of Tertullian and Cyprian and the Bishops of Rome: Questions of Papal Primacy in the Early Church, and co-editor of Prayer and Spirituality in the Early Church, Volume 3: Liturgy and Life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813215266
  • Publisher: Catholic University of America Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Series: Patristic Monograph Series , #19
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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Tertullian's Aduersus Iudaeos

A Rhetorical Analysis
By Geoffrey D. Dunn

The Catholic University of America Press

Copyright © 2008 The Catholic University of America Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8132-1526-6

Chapter One

Controversy Surrounding the Text and the Genre

By way of background, in this opening chapter I wish to survey the debate that has engaged scholars over the past couple of centuries about the integrity and authenticity of Aduersus Iudaeos, before engaging with the text itself and making my own contribution to that debate in the remainder of this volume, where I shall apply Sider's rhetorical methodology. It is not my intention in this preliminary chapter to critique the assessments offered by other scholars as much as it is simply to highlight the controversy that has surrounded this work in order to suggest that the disagreement among scholars about its integrity (whether or not the work is a complete piece written by one person) and authenticity (whether or not the work was written by Tertullian) explains why many other scholars interested in early Christianity's relationship with Judaism have neglected it (a fact that can be demonstrated by a survey of such scholarship). No one has yet approached Aduersus Iudaeos from the perspective of classical rhetoric in order to address the issues of its integrity and authenticity. While many of the points I shall make in the later chapters have been made before, the fact that I shall make them employing a different methodology should help tip the balance in favor of those who argue in support of the integrity of Aduersus Iudaeos and of Tertullian as its author. Furthermore, I believe that Aduersus Iudaeos has valuable information to contribute to the debate about the reality of ongoing contact between Jews and Christians, once the controversy that surrounds the work itself has been resolved.

Those Who Doubt the Work's Integrity and Authenticity

Kroymann, whose 1942 CSEL edition,1 with only a few emendations from Borleffs, is utilized in CCSL as the standard edition of Tertullian's Aduersus Iudaeos, accepted only the first eight chapters as Tertullian's own work. His position was endorsed by the series general editor. However, the assertion of non-Tertullianic authorship for the second half of the treatise is qualified immediately: "attamen nonnullas sententias haurire uidetur ex schedis plagulisque imperfectis ipsius Tertulliani."

Aulisa points out that doubts about Tertullian's having written a treatise against the Jews did not exist in late antiquity. They first appeared in the eighteenth century with Johann Semler. This leading German Enlightenment scholar, who pioneered biblical higher criticism, not only had strong suspicions about the entire work, but believed that Aduersus Marcionem was not by Tertullian either, and that they were both by some forger. While his radical notions about the latter work did not find favor, the nineteenth-century English scholar Burkitt also rejected Tertullian as the author of Aduersus Iudaeos, arguing that the scriptural citations that appear in the second half of the work were taken from Aduersus Marcionem, and that those in the first half of the work have more in common with Cyprian's Testimonia than with Tertullian's normal method of citing Scripture. In particular, he noted that Tertullian normally cited Daniel from the Septuagint, whereas in Aduersus Iudaeos 8.4-6 Theodotion was used.

In the 1940s Quispel suggested that Aduersus Iudaeos was connected with the apostate brother who stole and published what amounted to the second edition of Aduersus Marcionem. He believed that the apostate wrote chapters 9-14 of Aduersus Iudaeos from the now lost second edition of Aduersus Marcionem. There seems to be evidence, he claimed, that the apostate did not understand what was in the work he stole and that this ignorance is obvious in Aduersus Iudaeos. According to Quispel, what we find in the first eight chapters has been reworked so much by the apostate that it cannot be called Tertullian's at all. Johannes Quasten agreed with Quispel, but made no comment about the authenticity of the first eight chapters.

Other scholars, while sharing in the belief that the second half of the work was not by Tertullian, take a more positive approach to the question of his authorship of the first eight chapters. Augustus Neander claimed that, because the passages in Aduersus Marcionem were necessary for the integrity of the argument while those same passages in Aduersus Iudaeos were not, the second half of Aduersus Iudaeos derived from Aduersus Marcionem, and was not by Tertullian himself but by a foreign hand. He was unsure when in Tertullian's career (before or after Aduersus Marcionem, before or during his Montanist phase) the first eight chapters had been written. In a brief appendix he offered his proof. Objections that one could imagine Marcion making to the interpretation of some passages from the Hebrew Scriptures do not sound nearly as authentic when placed on the lips of the Jewish opponent in Aduersus Iudaeos. Further, there are grammatical infelicities that occurred when the compiler attempted to alter clauses and sentences that referred to Marcion.

Åkerman believed that the later chapters were a mere forgery and a "ziemlich miserable Interpolation." De Labriolle repeated the same general opinion, that, because of an uncharacteristic clumsiness in the last six chapters, they must have been borrowed from the Aduersus Marcionem by someone other than Tertullian. Efroymson accepts this as the majority view among scholars today and, for this reason, ignores Aduersus Iudaeos when commenting on Tertullian's attitudes toward Judaism.

Variations on these positions also have been put forward by several scholars. Corssen agreed with Neander that the second half of the treatise was noticeably different from the first. Yet, he argued that the second half contained not only material that came from Aduersus Marcionem and other material that was written by the forger himself, but also some material that was Tertullian's own. These passages (particularly 13.1-23) would have followed on originally from chapter 8 but the forger has inserted his own material and the extracts from book 3 of Aduersus Marcionem, thereby separating them. Evans suggests, on the other hand, in a rather ambiguous clause, that the early chapters are the ones of the most doubtful validity because they lack Tertullian's usual vigor and that the second half was either copied from Tertullian or was his own draft.

Those Who Accept the Work's Integrity and Authenticity

The popularity of Quasten's multivolume introduction to early Christian literature has ensured that the negative assessment of Tertullian's involvement in at least the second half of Aduersus Iudaeos is the most readily accessible and most often repeated, despite the fact that a number of scholars have tried to repudiate it.

In the nineteenth century Noeldechen argued that Tertullian used his own Aduersus Iudaeos as a draft for the third book of Aduersus Marcionem, the first eight chapters of the former being the more finished part of the draft. His criticism of Semler was that he was unable to appreciate early Christian literature in its own context. He believed that the differences between the two halves of the treatise seduced Neander ("verführte ihn") into believing that the second half was the work of someone incompetent. Those who followed Neander were accused of merely repeating his opinion without investigating it for themselves. Noeldechen's criticism of Corssen was that the latter had not investigated his claim sufficiently and that by creating four sources for the treatise (genuine Tertullian in the first eight chapters, material from Aduersus Marcionem 3, the forger's own material, and genuine Tertullian in the second half), it became too convenient to label any difficult passage as non-genuine, thereby not engaging the text as we have it.

Noeldechen could point approvingly to the earlier work of the German scholar Grotemeyer, who had argued that the themes found in the second half of Aduersus Iudaeos were announced in chapter 6, thus indicating a "Gedankenordnung." Grotemeyer had accepted the untidiness of the second half compared with the first, and so did Noeldechen. Throughout his treatment of the relationship between Aduersus Iudaeos and book 3 of Aduersus Marcionem, Noeldechen argued that the latter was derived from the former, and that this could be explained simply as the same author himself reusing older material in a new context. Even though Aduersus Iudaeos does not have a clear rhetorical conclusion, what there is still relates back to the rest of the treatise and is consistent with how Tertullian ended a number of works.

A few years earlier Noeldechen had made some general comments about Aduersus Iudaeos. He indicated that he believed it was a genuine response to a genuine debate, because the opponent in the debate was presented not simply as a Jew but as a proselyte. In many regards it lacks the falsity one associates with feigned debates and the overall tone is mild rather than harsh. He dated the work to early 196 because of the statements in 9.12 about Roman provincial matters with regard to the division of Syria, and in 7.4, 7-8 about Roman interaction with the Parthians and Gaetulians. It is to be noted that Tertullian's comments about Syria match those in Justin's Dialogus 78.10, written well before the actual division in 194, which suggests that this is a gloss in Justin.

Although he accepted the genuineness of the entire work, Adolf Harnack argued that the first eight chapters were written after the first edition of Aduersus Marcionem and that the last chapters were taken from Aduersus Marcionem.

In 1935 Lukyn Williams accepted that the entire piece was by Tertullian, that it depended upon testimonia, and that, when Tertullian later wrote Aduersus Marcionem, he relied again upon testimonia, or on the extracts he had combined already in Aduersus Iudaeos, which were then interpreted to suit a new purpose or context. He rejected any notion that the later chapters did not belong: "[t]hey do in fact continue the argument, though as it seems, in a rougher, more detailed, and less polished form."

Gösta Säflund dates the work early in Tertullian's career and follows Noeldechen in believing, on stylistic and philological grounds, that it was employed later in the composition of the third book of Aduersus Marcionem. After a thorough examination of Tertullian's use of scriptural texts, Säflund comes to the conclusion that our treatise is a single work. He explains the problems concerning the two halves of the treatise, particularly the repetitions, as being the result of the author's change of mind during composition, writing more than had been intended initially. In particular, he takes exception to the arguments of Åkerman. Säflund seems to accept that, even though Tertullian had begun work on chapters 9 to 14, someone else, not up to the task, put the material together and attached it to the earlier chapters. A number of "problems" in the second half of the treatise, from which Åkerman reached his conclusion that this half was a forgery, are found by Säflund to occur in the earlier parts of the treatise and in some other treatises of Tertullian as well. He considers passages in the second half of the treatise that are without parallel in Aduersus Marcionem, viz., 11.1-10 and 13.1-23, as displaying characteristics of Tertullian's writing. Regarding those passages in the second half that do have a parallel to passages in Aduersus Marcionem, Säflund concludes that it makes more sense to see parts of Aduersus Iudaeos as having been deleted or made more concise for inclusion in the later Aduersus Marcionem.

The most thorough investigation of Aduersus Iudaeos has been conducted by Hermann Tränkle. His 1964 critical edition and German commentary is also the most recent we have. He rejects the position of scholars like Neander, Burkitt, Corssen, and Quispel quite explicitly, stating that the evidence Quispel offered was only "spärliche Material," insufficient to prove his point. He argues that Burkitt's claim about Tertullian's exclusive use of Theodotion in Aduersus Iudaeos and the Septuagint in the rest of his works is exaggerated. As a result Tränkle believes "sondern erklärt auch keine der bei den früheren Verfechtern der Unechtheit der zweiten Hälfte offen gebliebenen Fragen." He agrees with Noeldechen about the genuineness of the work and argues that the second half of the treatise displays lecture-like characteristics no less than the first, indicating that the second half has the same form. In fact, Tränkle distinguishes between the work's unity and its authenticity, a point he borrows from C. Becker. Even though he has some questions about the first in a few places, he has none about the second. For Tränkle, the style of the first eight chapters matches that of the second half and that of Aduersus Marcionem 3. All he concedes is that if the second half was not by Tertullian it was by someone who could imitate him particularly well.

Tränkle accepts the priority of Aduersus Iudaeos over Aduersus Marcionem, arguing, through a detailed contrast of a number of extracts, "das die Formulierungen in Marc. III viel knapper und straffer, in Iud. dagegen schlaffer und umständlicher sind." Not only is the wording tighter and more concise in Aduersus Marcionem, but sentence structure too reveals that what takes several sentences in Aduersus Iudaeos and involves much that is long-winded, is abbreviated in Aduersus Marcionem. In contrast with it, the second half of Aduersus Iudaeos is less organized and less structurally coherent, such that it lacked "Lebendigkeit und Schlagkraft." For Tränkle questions about the date of composition of Aduersus Iudaeos must remain unanswered because, given the sketch-like quality of the treatise ("nur als Entwurf erhalten ist"), points like the omission of the Parthians could be explained by any number of factors. At the same time he does support a date early in Tertullian's literary career, before Apologeticum.

Further, the work, having so much in common with other, earlier examples of the anti-Judaic genre of Christian literature, does not reflect for him contact with contemporary Judaism but simply repeats older arguments. Further still, Tränkle believes that, like Justin's Dialogus cum Tryphone, Tertullian's treatise was not directed to Jews but to pagans, and hence each of these works was "Scheinpolemik." He thinks that Tertullian abandoned this treatise when he could engage in real polemic against the popularity of Marcionism. Although he offers an extended commentary on the structure of the work, Tränkle indicates rhetorical elements only briefly.

Jean-Claude Fredouille reviewed the state of this question in 1972. Two issues were of paramount interest to him: whether Aduersus Iudaeos was by Tertullian and whether it showed that its author had contact with a contemporary Jewish community. He took a positive stance on both issues. Fredouille lists commentators under several headings: those, like himself, who believed that the work was authentically Tertullian's and that it reflected a real controversy (Monceaux, Säflund, Braun); those who believed that the work, at least the last chapters, was not by Tertullian, although it reflected a real controversy (de Labriolle, Quispel, Quasten, Altaner); and those who believed that the work was authentically Tertullian's, although it did not reflect any real contact with contemporary Judaism (Harnack, Tränkle). 55 His fourth category was for those who accepted the reality of this work as coming from contact with contemporary Judaism but who were not interested in questions of the work's integrity (Williams, Simon, Judant). Fredouille argues that Tertullian was dependent upon Justin and Irenaeus and that his urgent concern was to demonstrate the novelty of Christ's new law, which was more important than a coherent treatise about salvation history.


Excerpted from Tertullian's Aduersus Iudaeos by Geoffrey D. Dunn Copyright © 2008 by The Catholic University of America Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


1. Controversy Surrounding the Text and the Genre....................5
Those Who Doubt the Work's Integrity and Authenticity....................6
Those Who Accept the Work's Integrity and Authenticity....................8
Judaism and Christianity in Contact?....................15
A Rhetorical Reading....................27
2. Readership....................31
Declamation and Eulogy....................32
Aduersus Iudaeos as Controuersia....................36
Second-Century Christian Rhetoric....................38
Real, Imagined, and Intended Readers....................40
Imagined Readers of Aduersus Iudaeos....................43
Intended Readers of Aduersus Iudaeos....................50
3. Structure....................58
Sider's Observations of General Structural Patterns in Tertullian....................60
Summary of Rhetorical Structure....................86
Comparison with Other Structural Arrangements of Aduersus Iudaeos....................87
4. Argumentation....................97
Classical Rhetoric on Argumentation....................98
Sider's Observations on Tertullian's Arguments....................103
Argumentation in Aduersus Iudaeos....................105
5. Style....................142
Classical Rhetoric on Style....................143
Style in Tertullian....................146
Style in Aduersus Iudaeos....................148
General Index....................197
Index of Citations to Tertullian....................205
Index of Citations to Scripture....................209
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