The Pre-Thirteenth-Century Legacy
An Overview of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Missionizing among the Jews
Like its sister monotheisms, Christianity, committed to the notion of one true God and one true covenant between that God and a particular human community, felt a religious and moral imperative to spread its truth among all humanity. For Christians, failure to make such an attempt represented a major dereliction of duty. It would seem that the Jews were particularly well suited for Christian missionizing, since they shared so much common sacred literature and so many fundamental views.
While there is some truth in this simplistic formulation, it does not begin to address the complex phenomenon of Christian missionizing among the Jews. There were far more powerful stimuli for, and some significant constraints on, such proselytizing. The complexities can only be understood against the backdrop of the evolution of Christianity from sectarian status within Palestinian Jewry, to religious and social independence, to a position of dominance in western civilization. The only way to highlight these complexities is by pointing (as briefly as possible) to the salient stages in this evolution.
The difficulties of reconstructing the earliest period in the history of Christianity are well known. The sources for these all-important years stem from later decades and from radically altered circumstances, making recovery of this formative epoch almost impossible. Nonetheless, for our purposes, it is clear and beyond dispute that the social context of earliest Christianity was Palestinian Jewry. In a Jewish community beset with overwhelming political pressures, there was vital and intense religious creativity, which resulted in extensive fragmentation, as differing groups within the community found con-
flicting political and religious solutions to the problems of those trying times. Earliest Christian missionizing was carried out almost exclusively among Jews. To be sure, the term missionizing here means merely the effort to attract members of the Jewish community to a particular understanding of the Jewish covenant, in the same way that one could speak of Pharisaic, Sadducean, or Essenian missionizing within first-century Palestinian Jewry.
The Jewish context of this effort to win new adherents is shown dramatically by the story of the centurion Cornelius in Acts. All the details of the narrative bespeak an ingrained reluctance by Jesus' earliest followers to take their message outside the Jewish fold. It is only a set of divine signs to Peter that makes him receptive to the invitation of the gentile Cornelius. This ongoing Jewish context is demonstrated in an equally forceful manner by the lines of argumentation that are fundamental to the authors of the Gospels. Although these works derive from a later period, a time in which the message of Christianity was directed far beyond the Jewish community, the core argument for the truth of the Christian vision remained fulfillment by Jesus of prophetically uttered predictions concerning the advent of the Messiah. The persistence of such an argument reflects again the Jewish context of earliest Christianity and constitutes a powerful legacy for subsequent efforts to show Jews that the literature held sacred by both Jews and Christians adumbrates fully the truth of the latter group's religious vision.
The original message of Jesus and his immediate followers (whatever it might have been) exhibited appeal beyond this initial circle of Palestinian Jews, attracting Greek-speaking diaspora Jews and, eventually, gentiles as well. Paul is associated with this movement outward and with the inevitable shift in ideas that had to accompany such a shift in social context. Since the ideas of the earlier stage cannot be brought into focus clearly, it is impossible to delineate with precision the Pauline innovations. What concerns us here is Paul's relationship to the Jews, an exceedingly complex subject and the occasion of much recent scholarly investigation and dispute. Central to this study are the implications of the Pauline stance for proselytizing among the Jews. While there is evidence in the Pauline Epistles of a desire for bringing the truth of Christianity to his former fellow-Jews, Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize his special role as Apostle to the Gentiles. He seems to negate the intrinsic efficacy of the law with regard to achieving salvation, seeing faith in the risen Jesus as having superseded the old dispensation. Paul's mission was to bring this new and
universal message to the gentile world. What then of the Jews? The picture is not altogether clear. There is a sense of some residual belief in the efficacy of fulfillment of the law, but there is a stronger sense that someday Jews will join the gentiles in accepting the higher truth of faith in Christ.
I now ask, did their failure mean complete downfall? Far from it! Because they offended, salvation has come to the gentiles, to stir Israel to emulation. But if their offence means the enrichment of the world, and if their falling-off means the enrichment of the gentiles, how much more their coming to full strength!
Interspersed with highly negative statements about the Jews and their law—probably aimed at combating the proponents of Jewish law within the Christian camp—is an underlying belief in the eventual uniting of Jew and gentile in acceptance of the highest truth. The potential implications of this complex stance were many and diverse.
While a Jewish-Christian community survived for many centuries, the future of Christianity lay outside of Palestine and beyond the confines of the Jewish community. It was among the gentile population of the Roman Empire that the independent Christian faith was to spread widely. During the first four centuries of this expansion, the young Christian community was beleaguered and persecuted. It is impossible to be sure of its stance toward missionizing among the Jews. It seems likely that the main thrust of proselytizing efforts was aimed at the Greco-Roman population of the empire. Yet the issue of the Jews could hardly have been a matter of indifference, even during this trying period. First, the Jews formed a considerable percentage of the population of the Roman Empire; indeed, they were a segment of the general populace that should have been susceptible to Christian claims. Since so much of Gospel argumentation involved texts revered by Jews and Christians alike, what group would, on the face of it, be more likely to understand and accept the truth of Christianity? Second, the Jews inevitably became an issue for believing Christians, perhaps particularly for those recently attracted to the fold. Again, given the extent to which Jewish texts and values permeated the Christian Scriptures, it is not surprising that on occasion converts to Christianity should have raised questions about Judaism, about its truth and its shortcomings.
It has long been recognized that at least some of the literature ostensibly directed at Jews was in fact intended to obviate the dangers of judaizing among Christians, especially new ones. Similarly, there
was also occasionally a Jewish issue associated with preaching to the pagan world. Pagans aware of the close link between Judaism and Christianity often employed Jewish-related argumentation in their anti-Christian treatises, and as a result, Christian spokesmen often had to make convincing anti-Jewish statements as part of their appeal to pagan audiences. The source materials for this crucial period are not terribly rich, and the reality was ever-changing and diverse. Consequently, we can reach no comfortable conclusion about the extent, during these centuries, of the missionizing effort among the Jews. In any case, it hardly seems to have been a predominant concern of an embattled but rapidly expanding Christian community.
With the early-fourth-century reversal of the political fortunes of Christianity and its sudden accession to power in the Roman Empire, the stage would seem to have been set for many ,adical changes, including, perhaps, enhanced proselytizing among the Jews. In truth, however, the road to Christian supremacy was slow and exacting. The brief reign of Julian highlighted the tenuous hold of Christianity within the empire and the necessity for struggle on many fronts, with the Jewish community once again a significant but not overwhelming priority. Indisputably new was the Christian need to adumbrate, from a position of strength, a policy vis-à-vis the one other monotheistic community and the bearer of a heritage now claimed by the dominant daughter religion. What emerged slowly on the political level was the notion of Judaism as a legitimate religious faith, misguided in its theology but sufficiently conversant with the truth to warrant toleration in a Christian commonwealth.
This political theory came to be increasingly buttressed with theological underpinnings, suggesting that toleration of the Jews involved far more than a mere modus vivendi: the divine plan for the universe allocated a significant place for the once-proud, now-humbled Jewish people. The basic notion, articulated most successfully and most lastingly by Saint Augustine, argued that the Jews were vouchsafed a specific role in the divine plan for the development of human society. This role involved serving the purposes of Christian missioning among the pagans of the world. The Jews provided a useful set of arguments to the pagan population, and they did this in a number of ways. Two modes predominate. The first involves Jewish testimony to the divine origins of the Scriptures. As Christians sought to win over their pagan neighbors, disinterested testimony to the truth of biblical prophecy was of great value. Christians could point to Jewish acceptance of the
entire corpus of the Hebrew Bible; on this testimony, they could then construct their Christological exegesis. The Jews functioned in another and more deleterious fashion. Their allegedly abject fate subsequent to rejection of the special claims of Jesus and to imputed responsibility for his death was viewed by Christians as evidence for the truth of Christianity and the errors of Judaism. According to this view, the Jews were immediately visited with divine punishment for their repudiation of Jesus, punishment that took the form of loss of their Temple, their city of Jerusalem, and their homeland; this purported punishment was traditionally seen as clear proof of the indisputable truth of those claims which the Jews had misguidedly spurned. All of this made the Jews useful, and indeed the sense emerged that they were an indispensable part of preredemptive society. Moreover, the Jews were to serve an additional function at the onset of redemption. At that crucial juncture, they would convert en masse. Such conversion would be one of the undeniable signs of the onset of the new era.
Given this new political and theological framework, what were the implications for missionizing among the Jews? Once again, no clearcut answer emerges. On the one hand, there had to be ongoing interest in such missionizing. The general desire to spread the truth of Christianity and the pervasive sense that, of all people, the Jews should be most responsive to Christian truth made inevitable continued hopes for winning Jews to the fold. On the other hand, the recurrent experience of Jewish intransigence was now buttressed by a political and theological system that exempted the Jews from missionizing efforts. Use of force in bringing Jews to see the truth of Christianity was abjured; similarly, efforts at massive conversion were at least depressed by the notion that wholesale conversion was to be a sign of the onset of the age of redemption. At best, there remained an ongoing sense of the religious responsibility for bringing individual Jews to a recognition of Christian verities and hence to salvation.
As the power of Christianity slowly developed throughout the vast Roman Empire, disintegration of the western half of the empire introduced new realities into the ever-changing relationship between Christian majority and Jewish minority. The history of these areas, the fate of their Jewish population, broad missionizing efforts in these areas, and the missionizing directed specifically at the Jews—all these elements are difficult to trace. In general, the southern (i.e., Mediterranean) sectors of this western Christendom hosted older and larger Jewries, while the northern areas, more recently attached to the orbit
of Christendom, attracted only sparse new Jewish settlements. The disruption of the Germanic invasions was augmented by the loss of portions of the older and more settled Mediterranean lands to the Muslims, in particular, the rich and important Iberian Peninsula. Through all these upheavals, missionizing among the Jews could hardly have been a significant priority for the political or ecclesiastical leadership of a society in stress.
Only with the reawakening of these western sectors of Christendom, particularly in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, does some measure of concern with missionizing among the Jews reappear. It is during this period that Christendom was aroused to push back the Muslim intrusion into the lands of southern Europe, and it is at this time that a vigorous and creative new northern European Christian society began to assert itself. In these areas, there existed disparate Jewish communities—a larger and more firmly rooted Jewry in the south, particularly that of the Iberian Peninsula, which had enjoyed substantial growth and development on many levels under Muslim rule, and a newly emergent but surprisingly vigorous Jewry north of the Loire, a community whose vitality paralleled the general élan of this rapidly developing area.
The newly invigorated Christian society was profoundly committed to its religious identity. This meant the strengthening of Christianity from within and the winning over of non-Christians from without. This effort was ultimately to prove remarkably, if temporarily, successful. Rarely has such a large and creative area been so thoroughly unified under the banner of a common faith. While there were non-Christians in the area and dissident Christians as well, the level of unity was unusually high. What, then, of the Jewish element in this relatively homogeneous society? As has been indicated, the legacy to which eleventh- and twelfth-century western Christendom fell heir was rich and complex, and this complexity is reflected in the varying stances toward conversion of the Jews. On occasion, the intense commitment to a truly and fully Christian society led to abrogation of the safeguards established earlier for Jewish life. In the early eleventh century, for example, concern with the internal danger of incipient Christian heresy in northern Europe seems to have led to a program of forcible conversion that exceeded the limits permitted by Church theory. The details of these incidents are sketchy, and too much should not be made of them. The late eleventh century showed yet another instance of this underlying striving toward homogeneity.
While the assaults on key northern European Jewish communities in 1096 are well known, the phenomenon, it must be emphasized, was a manifestation of excessive zeal on the part of the peripheral crusading forces. Such assaults, preferring to the Jews alternatives of conversion or death, utterly contravened established ecclesiastical theory and practice, were not perpetrated by the better organized and more normative crusading armies, and were quickly and decisively repudiated by Church leadership. The inchoate longings revealed by these extreme behaviors were carefully and effectively restrained by the established authorities of this newly emerging western Christendom. For these authorities, the Jews played a more traditional role. They were protected by an important set of safeguards. As individuals, they were potential targets of missionizing but not targets of the highest priority; they were not terribly significant in the effort to reach out to non-Christians, but they were a prominent factor in combating some internal Christian dissent and, more important, in firming up the belief of Christians in fundamental tenets of Christian faith. Once more, it is widely agreed that the literature ostensibly aimed at convincing Jews of the truth of Christianity was probably committed to other goals, most likely the buttressing of internal Christian conviction. Particularly in the area of western Christendom where the Jews constituted a small (but the only) non-Christian community, such a literature repudiating Jewish belief served to answer two important questions: how could any group fail to acknowledge the truth of Christianity? and how, in particular, could a group that accepted and revered a segment of the Christian Scriptures not recognize Christian verities? This view of the adversus Judaeos literature of the eleventh and twelfth centuries does not gainsay the reality of occasional Jewish conversion to Christianity—and indeed conversion in the opposite direction as well. It merely suggests that conversion of the Jews was not a high priority of that creative epoch.
At the close of this rapid sketch of the evolution of earlier Christian missionizing among the Jews, it is useful to draw some general conclusions as to the legacy bequeathed to thirteenth-century Christendom. First, there were powerful incentives for missionizing among the Jews. Chief among these was the sense that the Jews, of all peoples, should be responsive to Christian truth. Second, the positive motivation for proselytizing among the Jews was mitigated by further considerations: recognition of the preredemptive legitimacy of Judaism; theological notions of the utility of Jewish presence; association of massive
conversion of the Jews with the onset of redemption; and a rather poor rate of success in efforts at conversion of the Jews. Finally, the historical record seems to show little evidence of serious conversionist efforts among the Jews.
The Essential Characteristics of Serious Missionizing
Having surveyed a series of major periods in Christian missionizing among the Jews, it is useful to probe more deeply into those elements required for serious conversionist efforts. The first is allocation of substantial ecclesiastical resources to such efforts. In a less developed epoch, this would mean substantial commitment of time by major figures for the purpose of conversion of the Jews; in a more advanced period, this allocation of resources should take the form of specialized personnel, trained specifically for such proselytizing. The second feature of serious proselytizing would be the creation of special techniques for consistently confronting the Jews with the truth of Christianity. Random teaching, discussion, or debate hardly bespeaks a deep-seated commitment; it is the search for regularized methods of reaching the Jews—or any other target, for that matter—that typifies intensity of purpose. The third and last feature of serious missionizing is the elaboration of convincing argumentation. This means, above all else, some awareness of Jewish patterns of thought, on the basis of which argumentation effective among the Jews could be developed. Wholehearted efforts at missionizing among the Jews require a penetrating examination of Jewish thinking so as to identify points of weakness that might be attacked and exploited. Without such awareness of the internal life of the Jews, missionizing argumentation generally misses the mark, usually because the goal, in fact, is not to convince Jews but to buttress Christian belief. A profound effort to convert Jews must include a careful assessment of the Jews and their views as a preliminary step toward adumbration of arguments that will unerringly reach the Jewish mind and heart.
Using these criteria as the basis for identifying serious missionizing, we can, I believe, reinforce the conclusion that pre-thirteenth-century Christendom shows little evidence of a sustained commitment to proselytizing among the Jews. All through the first twelve centuries of Christian history, there were sporadic efforts at missionizing among the Jews, sometimes within the boundaries permitted by ecclesiastical
theory and sometimes beyond the boundaries. At no point, however, do we have the sense of sustained and protracted allocation of significant resources, elaboration of effective techniques for reaching the Jews, and creation of persuasive lines of argumentation designed specifically for the Jewish mentality.
There is certainly no evidence, prior to the thirteenth century, of allocation of serious resources to missionizing among the Jews. Some of the major thinkers of Christendom did devote themselves to this goal, but their involvement hardly constitutes a significant element in their creativity. Thus, for example, Saint Augustine did devote two treatises and a lengthy epistle to the issue of the Jews, but within the total output of this prolific figure this material was of negligible significance. More important, there is no evidence whatsoever for special training or for specialized personnel devoted primarily to the goal of proselytizing among the Jews. There is also no evidence for the establishment of regular techniques for bringing the message of Christianity to a Jewish audience. There are occasional reports of friendly conversations and discussions, of sermons that Jews were forced to attend, or of random debates in which Jews were forced to participate. What is missing in all this is regularization. There is no sense of development of techniques that, once established, were consistently employed.
Evaluation of pre-thirteenth-century argumentation is somewhat more difficult. There surely was consideration given to arguments that would be persuasive to Jews. While this, as we have seen, was not the only function of the adversus Judaeos literature, such literature had to bear some relation to Jewish thinking. Let us look in a bit more detail at the main lines of Christian conversionist argumentation directed toward the Jews. Such an examination must address itself to the substance of the issues discussed and—more important—to the bases on which the arguments rest.
Effective religious argumentation of necessity involves both a positive and a negative thrust. The spokesman for a given religious faith normally sets out to prove the essential truth of his tradition and the fundamental shortcomings of the faith of his listener or reader. Seen in this fashion, the substance of Christian anti-Jewish argumentation is fairly straightforward and can be identified in terms of a series of contrasting statements. (1) Christianity represents the fulfillment of the biblical covenant, while Judaism is debased distortion of that covenant. More specifically, Christian spokesmen argued that Jesus was
the promised Messiah and Redeemer and the church established in the wake of his mission represented the continuation of the Israel that had first fathomed the existence of the one true God and, in return, had been promised great blessing by that God. By contrast, the Jewish people, biologically the heirs of biblical Israel, had forfeited all right to that blessing. (2) Christianity represents a system through which the believer can achieve salvation, while Judaism is misguided in its religious directives: it is at best useless, at worst harmful. (3) The Christian Church has both a distinguished present and—more important—a brilliant future. Judaism is demeaned in its present circumstances and has lost all hope for a meaningful future. The final act in its history can only be its disappearance.
More important than the basic assertions were the foundations on which these claims rested. The overwhelming proportion of this argumentation was rooted in Christological exegesis of the Hebrew Bible. As we noted at the outset, Judaism and Christianity shared a common religious literature and a common sense that it represented the essentials of divinely revealed truth. Given the sense that God had directly transmitted his truth to mankind and that this truth was embodied in the biblical corpus, proper understanding of the Scriptures afforded the simplest and most straightforward avenue to the truth. Thus, for example, the Christian sense that Jesus of Nazareth represented clear and unequivocal fulfillment of scriptural prophecy concerning the Messiah provided, from the Christian perspective, the most telling possible argument to be used with Jews. Likewise, claims that the Church represented the continuation of biblical Israel and that the directives of the Church could be clearly discerned in the literature of divine revelation constituted the most convincing claims that could be advanced to anyone, in some senses, particularly to the Jews. Collections of biblical testimonia and argumentation drawn from biblical exegesis abound. The point of all these citations and explications is that the Scriptures, that is, divinely revealed truth, clearly exhibit the irrefutable truth of fundamental Christian teachings.
Evaluating the thinking behind these truth claims is difficult, indeed, in most instances, impossible. Were the authors of such tracts themselves convinced of the efficacy of these arguments? Since the same claims were useful for internal Christian purposes and could even be utilized in attracting non-Christians other than Jews, it is generally impossible to assess the seriousness of the intent to missionize among the Jews. Nevertheless, it seems clear that, while many Chris-
tian authors may have been genuinely convinced of the potential impact of such argumentation among the Jews, there was little or no effort to weigh such impact realistically. Given the rich Christian exegetical tradition, it must have been fairly obvious that the Jews also had an exegetical tradition of their own, which might run counter to Christian claims. Before the thirteenth century, we note little Christian awareness of this Jewish exegetical tradition and even less utilization of it for missionizing purposes. Again, this leads us to question the intensity of the sporadic efforts to convert the Jews.
While biblically based argumentation certainly predominated in pre-thirteenth-century conversionist efforts among the Jews, a number of alternative approaches are in evidence. One utilized the contemporary criteria of rationality to argue for the truth of Christianity (and hence the error of Judaism). Early in its development, Christianity had absorbed much of the Greco-Roman commitment to philosophic inquiry. There developed a sense that the revealed truth of Christian faith and philosophic truth could only be one and the same. Given this profound conviction, it was inevitable that philosophic inquiry and conclusions eventually would be turned into weapons to be utilized in the battle for the souls of nonbelievers. While this philosophic impulse waned considerably in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the powerful revitalization of the eleventh and twelfth centuries brought with it a renewed passion for philosophic inquiry and a renewed conviction of the fundamental rationality of Christianity and the essential irrationality of all other faiths. Thus, during these centuries, a recurrent thrust in Christian argumentation aimed at the Jews was the philosophic truth of Christian doctrine. Once more, the view is that key Christian beliefs are indisputably true, with such truth claims now rooted in philosophic considerations. Such argumentation may have been directed at Jews, but it served an equally useful function in buttressing Christian belief. Moreover, its utility was limited to a rather thin stratum of society—those, both Jewish and Christian, who were intellectually capable of sophisticated reasoning and emotionally ready to be moved by its conclusions.
Yet another approach utilized in pre-thirteenth-century Christian argumentation aimed at the Jews was drawn from empirical observation. The claim was that direct observation of contemporary realities would indicate clearly and convincingly the superiority of Christianity. For example, traditional in all intergroup religious polemics is the claim that the standard of behavior associated with the in-group's re-
ligious faith is far higher than that associated with the belief system of the out-group. Christian anti-Jewish argumentation, from early on, had harshly criticized aspects of Jewish behavior, particularly those associated with rigorous fidelity to Jewish law, which Christianity, after all, saw as outmoded. As we approach the thirteenth century, an innovative theme emerges—criticism of the new economic specialization in moneylending by northern European Jews. The historical factors that gave rise to this new Jewish specialization lie beyond the province of this study. What is important here is that moneylending, traditionally an unpopular occupation, quickly made its appearance in religious argumentation, serving (overtly or covertly) to buttress the general Christian claim of moral superiority—hence, religious truth-and Jewish moral inferiority. A second important line of Christian argumentation drawn ostensibly from empirical observation involved historical realities, the perceived patterns of Christian and Jewish fate. As Christianity spread and, in particular, when it assumed a position of political dominance in the Roman Empire, it was almost inevitable that a sense of numerical and political supremacy would be translated into a sense of religious truth. To the Christian mind, it was from this that demographic and social success had eventuated. This old argument had gained much strength by the thirteenth century. In the vigorous and expanding Christendom of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, where the Jews were in some areas a small, old segment of the population and in other areas a relatively tiny, new group, the sense of meaningful correlation between religious truth and social, economic, political, and military might was intense. It hardly bears repeating that these empirically based claims, while they surely may have had an impact on Jewish audiences, were useful in buttressing Christian belief, and again there seems to have been little effort to look within the Jewish community and ascertain the defenses it had long ago erected against such Christian assertions.
In sum, there may have been some development of serious argumentation designed to convince Jews of the truth of Christianity, but the evidence is not impressive. Instead, the tendency seems toward utilization of fairly standardized and traditional arguments, rarely, if ever, assessed realistically for their actual impact on Jewish auditors or readers.
In fact, it is clear that the Jews within the orbit of Christendom early on developed a full set of responses to the various lines of argumentation just delineated. In assessing these responses, it must be re-
called that, for long periods of time, most of world Jewry was outside Christendom's sphere of influence and therefore was not vitally concerned with the thrusts of Christianity (either explicitly or implicitly). Specifically, this involves the major Jewry of Mesopotamia during late antiquity and the larger Jewries of the early medieval Muslim world. Only those Jewish communities situated in a predominantly Christian environment were absorbed with the task of reacting to Christian argumentation: (1) the shrinking Jewry of the Roman Empire during late antiquity, which has left us no significant Jewish literature; (2) the ongoing Jewry of the Byzantine Empire, which has left us few pre-thirteenth-century materials; and (3) the emergent Jewries of revitalized pre-thirteenth-century western Christendom, some of whose literary productivity has survived. This latter material gives us our fullest sense of Jewish lines of response to Christian argumentation.
In defending themselves from perceived Christian thrusts, both positive and negative, Jews responded in a double fashion. They argued that Judaism was the true faith (i.e., that the Christian negative assessments were wrong) and that Christianity showed serious, indeed fatal, flaws (i.e., that the positive Christian assertions were in error). While it was often impossible to ascertain whether Christian arguments were intended to win over Jews, whether their purpose was to reinforce the beliefs of the Christian community, or whether—on occasion—they might have been created to serve as an element in missionizing among other nonbelieving groups, the Jewish polemic statements—whether defensive or offensive—were clearly meant for internal purposes only, to buttress the faith of Jews. There were, to be sure, occasional instances of Christian conversion to Judaism, despite the overt prohibition of such acts and the dangers involved, but such limited conversionist potential could not give rise to a significant missionizing literature. To the extent that we encounter a Jewish polemical literature, it is clearly intended for buttressing Jewish faith only.
The centrality of scriptural exegesis in Christian polemical literature is reflected in the parallel emphasis on biblical verses and their meaning in the Jewish literature of response. Indeed, modern scholars have long been aware of anti-Christian argumentation in many of the standard biblical commentaries composed by Jews in eleventh- and twelfth-century western Christendom. In the twelfth century, we encounter a major work composed specifically of, and devoted primarily to, anti-Christian biblical exegesis, Milhamot[*]ha-Shem (The Wars
of the Lord) by Jacob ben Reuben. In this important work, the author proceeds book by book and verse by verse, adducing Christological interpretations of key biblical verses and then vigorously rebutting these interpretations. The Jews of western Christendom were surely deeply aware of the importance of this argumentation to the Christian camp and had developed, prior to the thirteenth century, an extensive literature of refutation.
The renewed claims for the rationality of Christian faith are similarly reflected, albeit less fulsomely, in Jewish literature of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Jewish authors responded to these renewed Christian claims by reiterating traditional Jewish arguments for the simplicity and rationality of Jewish beliefs and the irrationality of fundamental tenets of Christian dogma, with a heavy emphasis on the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity. Thus, the first chapter of the twelfth-century Milhamot[*]ha-Shem presents a careful and critical look at key Christian doctrines, while the contemporary Sefer ha-Berit (Book of the Covenant) argues simultaneously for the rationality of Jewish doctrine and the essential irrationality of Christian belief.
Jews were also aware of the empirically based argumentation and countered with claims of their own. To pursue the examples cited above, Jews made their own assessment of relative moral and ethical standards. They were fully prepared to argue strenuously for the higher ethical standards of their community, to criticize vigorously the flaws of Christian society, and to assert that this moral differential was an inevitable concomitant of religious truth and error. Jews were similarly prepared to argue the empirically observable differences in social and political strength. While the reality of far greater Christian numbers and power could not be disputed, the meaning of such temporal superiority could. Jews argued that this imbalance in Christian and Jewish material strength was all part of the divine plan, that Christian superiority would eventually evaporate (as had the power of earlier empires), and that an exalted Jewish status would eventuate—if Jewish behavior and belief were such as to warrant the advent of messianic redemption. In some ways, this line of Jewish argumentation threw the issue back into the arena of biblical exegesis, with both sides claiming to fathom properly the cryptic scriptural message of divine redemption. In this sense, Jews argued that redemption could not be understood on the basis of empirical observation, since sensory perceptions could be misleading. Full understanding of
the redemptive process could only come about as the result of the proper reading of the biblical message.
The most important point for our purposes is the general lack of concern with and awareness of this elaborate Jewish argumentation in the Christian camp. Only when Christian spokesmen began to look carefully into the Jewish community they intended to address, to acquaint themselves with contemporary Jewish thinking, and to take that thinking into account in structuring their proofs for the superiority of Christianity and the inferiority of Judaism could truly serious missionizing efforts be launched.
In a general way, then, based on our criteria, or elements, of intensive missionizing—allocation of extensive resources, adumbration of techniques for regularly confronting Jews with Christians claims, and elaboration of argumentation based on full awareness of contemporary Jewish thinking—we are justified in concluding that pre-thirteenth-century Christendom shows almost no evidence of serious proselytizing among the Jews. This changes dramatically during the middle decades of the thirteenth century; the details of this new missionizing are the focus of this study. Before proceeding to these decades of change, we should pause briefly to note a few twelfth-century figures who show some signs of the new proselytizing ardor and, more important, some indications of the techniques that will comprise part of the new campaign.
Twelfth-Century Harbingers of the New
It is now widely agreed that the late eleventh and twelfth centuries constituted a remarkably creative epoch in the history of western Christendom. The growth and change that marked this period led Charles Homer Haskins to speak of a "twelfth-century renaissance," R. W. Southern to call it a "secret revolution," and the conveners of an extraordinary conference on the period to designate it a "renaissance and renewal." The hallmarks of this dynamic age were accelerating population growth, rapid economic expansion, increasing stabilization of political boundaries and establishments, and exciting new intellectual and spiritual horizons.
It is the new awareness of a larger and more complex macrocosm and microcosm that is of great importance to us. As the result of a variety of factors, western Christendom gained a new sense of a vast
world surrounding it, full of the potential for good and threatening dangers. It likewise began to grapple with a rich, enlivening, and problematic intellectual legacy from antiquity which was rapidly becoming a source of stimulation and challenge. The complexities of the inner world of men and women, so long closed off, began at this same juncture to assert themselves as well.
In all of this, the relatively small Jewish population of western Christendom played a modest role or, better, a series of modest roles. The Jews served as cultural go-betweens, aiding in the process of rediscovering the legacy of antiquity; by their very presence, they served to raise disturbing questions in a society now aware of a large and threatening outside world. Since the Jews themselves were caught up in the new creativity of this dynamic age, on occasion they overtly challenged the beliefs and practices of the larger society that hosted them.
Not surprisingly, then, a new sense of the Jews began inchoately to manifest itself. This new view, like so much of the internal life of the period, was ambivalent and ambiguous. On the one hand, the Jews were slowly beginning to be perceived as threatening, part of the vast array of outside forces ranged against the Christian world. This view expresses itself in popular terms in the anti-Jewish excesses of the fringe crusading bands of 1096 and in the twelfth-century slanders that accuse the Jews of horrifying anti-Christian actions. It expresses itself more slowly in a more authoritative view that Jewish religious beliefs are harmful to Christendom and should be aggressively combated. On the other hand, in a more positive vein, Jews—along with the rest of the world—are perceived as potential converts to Christianity, a faith seen as increasingly rational and appealing by many of its adherents. To be sure, these tendencies are noted only fitfully during the late eleventh and twelfth centuries; they are, as Southern has said, mere "portents of things to come."
For us, concerned with the history of Christian missionizing among the Jews, there is little change to note prior to the middle decades of the thirteenth century. David Berger argues for attitudes ranging from indifference to outright hostility toward missionizing among the Jews. He notes three twelfth-century exceptions to this general pattern. The first of these, an obscure cleric named Odo, part of the school of Peter Abelard, devoted a disproportionate segment of his Ysagoge in Theologiam to argumentation against the Jews. His discussion of the Jews is prefaced by the following: "For, if it is proper
for us to exhort those who are fashioned in the faith to live better, surely we should recall the Jews from their erroneous disbelieving sect." Another figure concerned with missionizing to the Jews was the unusual and influential Joachim da Fiora. While caught up in broad speculations concerning the dawning of a new age—a phenomenon regularly associated in Christian thinking with massive conversion of the Jews-Joachim does, in addition, address more immediate and prosaic issues of argumentation against the Jews. The third and most interesting and important figure is Peter the Venerable. He captures best the mood that will come to dominate during the middle decades of the thirteenth century—a sense of the nullity of Judaism and the debased state of its adherents combined with the hope associated with the prospect of converting these obstinate and unfortunate human beings to a vision of the truth. In Peter's polemic, to be sure, the negative tone tends to outweigh the more positive and charitable. Nonetheless, overall he is the most significant of these three men, for he heralds the new stance that will become the norm by the 1240s.
One further observation is in order. These twelfth-century figures introduce us to the new mid-thirteenth-century tendencies not only in their genuine drive to missionize among the Jews but also in their early sense of the need to develop new proselytizing argumentation by gaining better awareness of the Jewish psyche and its patterns of thought. Odo focuses his attention on the Hebrew language, arguing that, for the purposes of successful missionizing among the Jews, it is necessary to develop skills in Hebrew, for the specific purpose of blunting the Jewish claim that scriptural proofs advanced by Christians miss the mark because of an inability to address the original text. Christians concerned with converting Jews, he argues, must be in a position to overcome this standard Jewish ploy. This can only be achieved by meeting the Jews on their own ground, that is, the sacred texts in their original idiom. Striking here is a sense of the Jews and their traditional lines of opposition to Christian argumentation. In that regard, Odo is indeed a precursor of the mid-thirteenth-century figures we will study in greater detail.
Peter the Venerable takes another approach. Well known for his concern to make the Koran available to Christian readers for missionizing purposes, he is responsible for introducing the Talmud into the missionizing context. To be sure, his method is not terribly creative. He essentially turns the fifth of his five books of anti-Jewish polemic into an effort to convince the Jews of the absurdity of their religious
belief by confronting them with the intellectual depravity of rabbinic fables. Peter operates within the context of the new spirit of western Christendom—a restless search for new knowledge and a commitment to its creative utilization. In a certain sense, he foreshadows both the thirteenth-century attack on the Talmud and the thirteenth-century utilization of the Talmud for proselytizing purposes. But the specifics of his approach bear little promise. Convincing the Jews to abandon Judaism by holding up to ridicule the literature they know well and venerate seems unlikely to achieve success. Nonetheless, the underlying sense that the Jews must be met and challenged on the battleground of their own tradition, that the Christian missionizing enterprise must take account of traditional patterns of Jewish thinking and turn that thinking to Christian advantage—these perceptions do indeed make Peter a precursor of the new missionizing.
One must beware of reading too much into these fleeting hints of something yet to come. But it seems fair to identify the beginnings of the new missionizing in the altered spirit of late-eleventh- and twelfth-century western Christendom. More specifically, there are glimmers of a more serious interest in missionizing among the Jews and vague hints of new tactics in argumentation. For actualization, these potential new directions required the altered environment of the mid-thirteenth century, with its more cohesive ecclesiastical organization, its more serious grappling with the issue of non-Christians and their religious views, its fuller commitment to a war of words against the infidel world, and its readiness to commit the necessary intellectual resources to an expensive and protracted proselytizing campaign.