St. Jerome and the Jews

Recently anti-Semitism has become revitalized, and it is sad to see some Orthodox Christians on board, using the Fathers of the Church as support (despite condemnations by the Serbian bishops, former Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow, and Patriarch Bartholomew). A thorough and honest study of the Fathers will, I hope, show that, no matter how one-sided their views on Judaism may have been, they cannot be used to such an end.

St. Jerome is often cited as an anti-Jewish Church Father. In his fight with St. Augustine over the interpretation of Galatians 2:14, he comes across as far more hostile to Judaism. Furthermore, in Letter 84.3, he – defending himself from the accusation he had studied too much under Jews – says: “If it is expedient to hate any men and to loath any race, I have a strange dislike to those of the circumcision. For up to the present day they persecute our Lord Jesus Christ in the synagogues of Satan. Yet can anyone find fault with me for having had a Jew as a teacher?”

Samuel Krauss has an almost comprehensive study of Jerome’s references to Judaism in The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 6, no. 2, January 1894, pp. 225-261. Most of the references that he documents are negative, including complaints about Palestinian Jews’ wealth, and that they charged Christians more for lessons (though, this should not be understood as a specifically Jewish thing: from personal experience, I can attest that to this day it is still common for Christian and Muslim Levantine Arabs to charge foreigners higher prices). It should not be forgotten that Jerome was friendly with his Jewish tutors, some of whom even were educated in the New Testament and explained it to Christians (Commentary on Isaiah 11:1).

On p. 229 of the Jewish Quarterly Review article, Krauss mentions a couple more positive remarks. The most remarkable comes from Jerome’s commentary on Hosea 3:1 (“And the Lord said to me: Go yet again, and love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress: as the Lord loves the children of Israel, and they look to strange gods, and love the husks of grapes”):

Let it be noted that the adulterous woman signifies the Jews of the present time, who, far from God, from knowledge of the Scriptures, and from the grace of the Holy Spirit, are loved by the Lord, Who expectat (waits for/expects) the salvation of all, and opens the doors to the penitent, and nonetheless these people love useless things, the traditions of men, and their ‘deuterosis’ fantasies [i.e., their Torah traditions], having no longer grapes, nor wine, nor a press full of must, but old husks which have been discarded (PL 25:842).

Overall it is a negative comment, but still noteworthy that he says God still loves the Jews, and waits for the salvation of all. I am not sure if he means all the Jews, or all of humankind. I figure it is the former, and perhaps he is referring to Romans 11:26, which was commonly interpreted by the Fathers as referring to the salvation of the Jews (at least in the last days). The takeaway is that one of the most anti-Jewish fathers, Jerome, while never letting Jews ‘off the hook’ for sticking to the Old Covenant, nevertheless states that God stills love them.

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