In Living Letters of the Law, Jeremy Cohen investigates
the images of Jews and Judaism in the works of medieval Christian
theologians from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas. He reveals how-and
why-medieval Christianity fashioned a Jew on the basis of its
reading of the Bible, and how this hermeneutically crafted Jew
assumed distinctive character and power in Christian thought and
culture. Augustine's doctrine of Jewish witness, which constructed
the Jews so as to mandate their survival in a properly ordered
Christian world, is the starting point for this illuminating study.
Cohen demonstrates how adaptations of this doctrine reflected
change in the self-consciousness of early medieval civilization.
After exploring the effect of twelfth-century Europe's encounter
with Islam on the value of Augustine's Jewish witnesses, he
concludes with a new assessment of the reception of Augustine's
ideas among thirteenth-century popes and friars. Consistently
linking the medieval idea of the Jew with broader issues of textual
criticism, anthropology, and the philosophy of history, this book
demonstrates the complex significance of Christianity's
"hermeneutical Jew" not only in the history of antisemitism but
also in the broad scope of Western intellectual history.
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