Jerome, Jews and Theological Incoherence

Kevin Funderburk

University of Colorado, Boulder

St. Jerome of Stridon (AD 347?-420) is a rarity among early Christians who, during the first few centuries after the age of the Apostles, set himself to learn Hebrew and to associate in a friendly fashion with learned rabbis for linguistic help.  Indeed, he styled himself a Latinate Origen in this respect, and continually boasted of his knowledge of Hebrew verity in his translations through association and perhaps even friendship with Jews.  Yet he also engaged in anti-Semitic polemics alongside the harsh defamations of other leading figures of the patristic era, such as John Chrysostom.  Jerome further made comments which set him in the camp of early Christianity which denied the further worth of Hebrews outside of being a vestigial reminder to the world of divine judgment. 

I argue that this suggests a shift over time in Jerome's theology and is moreover parallel to his sudden reversal of position vis-à-vis Origen in the late fourth century AD.  When Jerome was accused by Rufinus of being a Judaizer and by Augustine of being an Origenist, Jerome proceeded to distance himself from both sets of teachers in order to preserve his dignity as a vir trilingua and translator.  Jews, however, were more easily repudiated than Origen, and Jerome could draw on a prominent stream in Christian theology which stated that gentile Christians were the "verus Israel" who stood to inherit every covenantal blessing of God in a metaphorical fashion.  The solidification of this covenantal view appears in a dispute over interpreting Galatians 2 contained in Jerome's correspondence with Augustine, which dealt with the propriety of, among other matters, Christians practicing Jewish customs.  Therefore, either Jerome's view of Jews shifted or crystallized due to pressure from two rivals in the Christian publishing world.


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