Volume 50, Issue 2, 2019
John Y. B. Hood
Did Augustine Abandon His Doctrine of Jewish Witness in Aduersus Iudaeos?
Augustine’s doctrine of Jewish witness maintains that, although Christianity has superseded Judaism as the one true religion, it is God’s will that the Jews continue to exist because they preserve and authenticate the Old Testament, divinely-inspired texts which foretold the coming of Jesus. Thus, Christian rulers are obligated to protect the religious liberties of the Jewish people, and the church should focus its missionary efforts on pagans rather than Jews. Current scholarly consensus holds that Augustine adhered consistently to this doctrine from its first iteration in Contra Faustum in 398 until his death in 430. However, this essay argues that, when Augustine spoke his last words on the subject in the Tractatus Aduersus Iudaeos (427–430), the doctrine was no longer his primary guide in thinking about how Christians should interact with Jews. In marked contrast to his earlier views, here, Augustine passionately urges Jews to accept Christ and encourages his congregation to try to convert them. This reading of the Tractatus Aduersus Iudaeos calls for a re-examination of the development of Augustine’s teaching, particularly in the context of dramatic changes in imperial policy toward Jews in the 420s.