What does it take to be Anti-Jewish? A deconstruction of statements held to be Anti-Jewish in Early Christian writers
In this presentation, originally given at the Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity, Dr Elena Narinskaya discusses the tendency to describe early Christian writers as being anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. Looking in particular at examples from the writings of St Ephrem the Syrian, Dr Narinskaya examines and questions the process by which these terms come to be attached to patristic authors.


In dealing with the subject of anti-Judaism in early Christian writers I have identified the following subjects for study and analysis:

  1. The actual writings of a particular Christian author, which I shall call ‘the Source’
  2. Surrounding written material on the subjects raised by ‘the Source”, which can be called ‘Interpretations of the Source’
  3. A certain tradition which developed and established itself over some time, which can be called ‘the Tradition of Interpretation of the Source’.

On the one hand, there is a clear connection between all the three identified subjects, while on the other hand, each one of them has its own dynamics, character and tendency to develop in its own unique way. Therefore, close analysis and a separate study of each subject will allow us to have a clear perspective of the relationship that they form among themselves and explore the possibility of how each one of them affects the understanding of the other. In other words, the aim of this study is to explore and analyse the nature of the relationship between ‘the original source’, written by an early Christian author, and various traditions of its interpretations that evolved throughout many following years, and even through the centuries.

The next step in the progress of this study is a graphic presentation and analysis of each of the cases for study identified above and the relationship between them:


Relationship between the three SUBJECTS identified above.



The Source (S):

The Source is a static piece of work, and therefore not flexible, being an accomplished piece of work, with its author being most probably dead.

The Source is distanced from the reader (through time, culture, language, having overall a different background). It is hard for the contemporary reader to grasp its meaning. Hence the need for Interpretations of the Source.

Interpretation of the Source (IS):

A significantly larger body of work exploring various ways of interpreting and understanding ‘The Source’. IS suggests to the reader various possibilities of thoughtful consideration of ‘The Source’ and offers ways of relating and applying the meaning of the Source to contemporary life.

Characteristics of IS:

Built around the Source and expanding on its meanings

Stays in close connection to the Source

Emphasises one or several particular points relevant to the interpreter

Tradition of Interpretation of the Source (TIS):

TIS usually promotes a certain way of interpreting/understanding of the Source that has become more popular and accepted than the others (the ‘established’ tradition). TIS charges its writings with the sense of ‘institutional’ belonging, popularised understanding of the Source, and presents this particular TIS as an ‘authority’.

Characteristics of TIS:

Detachment from the Source (there is either minimum or no contact with the Source).

The main source of influence for TIS is IS.

Theoretical basis for the study

The illustrations of how TIS drifts apart from the Source will be presented later on in this study. At this point there is a theoretical model of how the distance between the Source and its interpretation could potentially grow with time. For example,

1. An early Christian author (THE SOURCE) writes a hymn or a sermon (which is meant to serve a purpose, possibly to address the needs of the time, and maybe even deals with the problems of one sort or another).

2. Later on, in modern history, centuries away from THE SOURCE, one scholar or a number of scholars pick up an anti-Jewish sentiment in the writings of this Early Christian author and initiate a particular way of understanding THE SOURCE, offering with this their way of INTERPRETATION OF THE SOURCE.

What is interesting in the case of the scholars is that they are also presenting their arguments: serving their purpose, addressing the needs of the time, and dealing with the problems of their time. The only difference between IS and the initial S is that their purposes are different, and so are the needs and the problems of the time (there could be similarities, but there must be serious differences as well).

There is a very important element that needs to be emphasised at this point. This element will be of crucial importance for further analysis in this study. It is called THE CONTEXT. The writings of THE SOURCE and the writings of the scholars as INTERPRETATION OF THE SOURCE are often written from within a different CONTEXT. This means that, although they might be dealing with similar issues, such as ‘criticisms of Jews as a people and of Judaism as a religious practice’, the background of their arguments is a vehicle to the way that their writings are understood by their audiences.

Hence, the context in which the writings were produced becomes the key element in approaching both THE SOURCE and INTERPRETATION OF THE SOURCE. In fact, both THE SOURCE and INTERPRETATION OF THE SOURCE should be considered and studied separately for the purpose of this study. Hence, each individual piece of writing, be it the original source or its interpretation, are analysed separately, and are therefore disconnected and disaffiliated from each other.

The methodology of this study, therefore, will strictly follow the rule of analysing and studying each of the three identified components (S, IS, TIS) separately, deliberately avoiding comparisons and generalisations, and especially challenging ‘commonly held’ views and opinions.

3. As history develops, more and more scholars develop their understanding of THE SOURCE along the lines suggested by previous scholarship, so much so that soon they do not even bother to contact THE SOURCE, but build their arguments while relying on the authority of a particular tradition of scholarship which was initiated by a certain interpretation of THE SOURCE at a certain period of time by somebody else.

Hence, as the history develops, the initial meaning or primary intention of the Source becomes almost irrelevant for a particular TRADITION of ITS INTERPRETATION. The relationship to the Source becomes secondary, and the link to its original meanings gets lost. As an exemplary illustration of the above theoretical problem I would like to suggest studying contemporary understandings and commonly held views of the writings of Early Christian Fathers, popularised in the contemporary mindset’s presentation of their relationship with Judaism.

Identifying the problem

Reading a list of particular hymns of St Ephrem the Syrian or certain homilies of St John Chrysostom which have been carefully selected by contemporary scholars, or a few particular passages from St Justin’s ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, the idea of anti-Judaism in relation to these authors becomes very attractive. And, indeed, there is no point denying or being shy about the existence of particular writings that show rather sharp criticism of Jews as a people, Jewish laws and practices, and so on. However, the problem is not with the writings as such, but with the way these writings have been perceived and approached by contemporary scholars.

Contemplating the definitions of anti-Judaism in relation to the writings of early Christian Fathers I have stumbled already on the first word. Apparently there is no clear scholarly definition of the actual phenomenon of ‘anti-Judaism’. Marcel Simon, in his book ‘Verus Israel’, talks generally about anti-Jewish polemic, its characteristics and methods. He discusses other authors’ arguments, such as Lukin Williams, Harnak, and Freimann, but their areas of studies are so wide that it becomes almost impossible to get a concrete definition of what anti-Judaism actually is. They talk about Latin, Greek and Syriac Christianity as if it is one monolith case for study, while it is obvious that some distinctions have to be made.

In order to avoid the common mistake of generalisation leading to misunderstanding and confusion, I propose a tedious process of focused and detailed study of each individual author prior and much more superior to the process of assigning and applying any sort of definitions to their writings. And I am particularly concerned with the term ‘anti-Jewish’, precisely because it is increasingly commonly used without much knowledge and understanding of what it actually means.

Therefore, the initial concern of this presentation is to find as clear a definition of the term ‘anti-Jewish’ as possible. By doing so one becomes equipped to deal with the secondary task, that is to critically approach and deconstruct the arguments of some scholars who pursue certain early Christian writings as anti-Jewish. I am mostly equipped to talk about Ephrem the Syrian, but I also had a few other names in mind while preparing this presentation. The earliest Christian source per se is the New Testament as such. In addition we have:

Epistle to Barnabas – possibly 1st century (70 AD, after the destruction of the Temple, to 131, before the Bar Kokhba Revolt), possibly by an Alexandrian Jew

Justin Martyr and his ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ – 2nd century, Palestine

St John Chrysostom – 4th century, Antioch

St Ephrem the Syrian – 4th century Syriac Christianity.

While doing my PhD thesis I had to read through a numerous articles by various established scholars which argued that St Ephrem was anti-Jewish (some even used the phrase ‘anti-Semitic’) in his writings. In fact, the majority of scholars writing about the anti-Jewish remarks of the early Christian Fathers almost start with the argument that they were anti-Jewish.

I have a different point of view about that, and looking closely at the examples that scholars present to illustrate  St Ephrem’s anti-Jewish remarks, I have counter-argued that the understanding of Ephrem as an anti-Jewish writer is a misconception that we should be getting rid of.

But my thoughts this morning were not about Ephrem at all, but on the general definition of anti-Judaism. Should every remark critical of Judaism, Jews, Jewish law, etc. be considered as anti-Jewish? If so, then most of the rabbis of the Talmud and Midrash should be stigmatized as anti-Jewish – which makes the situation more interesting. While looking at the writings of contemporary scholars I did not find a clear definition of what anti-Judaism is. Everybody takes the concept for granted, which leads to all sorts of misunderstandings.

Hence, I have contemplated different layers or ways of defining the anti-Jewishness of one’s argument. I have came up with a certain chart, which describes the necessary ‘ingredients’ that could potentially form an anti-Jewish argument. The chart takes into account the following aspects:

1. Consideration of A-J elements as an attack on or a defence from Judaism, or an expression of religious and social intolerance.

2. Levels of severity of the A-J argument.

3. The place and weight/significance of A-J elements in the overall spectrum of one’s writings.

4. Motivation and inspiration for the A-J remarks.

I later on thought about the fifth category: when the author deliberately avoids A-J remarks in the particular genre of his writings. For example, St Ephrem in his commentaries on the Torah. Can this be used as evidence for his concern for avoiding A-J in his writings, and in that sense for his pro-Jewish disposition? Surely it must have some significance in the discussion of his so-called anti-Jewishness, if there is a space in the arguments of contemporary scholars for such a discussion.

If there is an inclination to reconsider certain ‘traditional’ approaches to certain critical writings or elements on the early Christian Fathers, then I would be very happy to present for further discussion my initiative in providing a methodological framework for approaching the subject. I would even offer a graphical chart, which could help in finding the right definition for critical remarks of early Christian writers that are currently and incorrectly referred to as anti-Jewish. There is a long-standing tradition in contemporary scholarship which needs to be challenged and reconsidered, as it is strongly inclined to the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the original meaning and intentions of the early Christian writers.

Opening Illustration

The first illustration of the contemporary scholarship presents the most colourful way in which Ephrem’s writings were misunderstood. Kuhlmann depicts Ephrem:

· within the tradition of anti-Jewish polemic[1]

· as an author who detests Jews, and who shifts on to them ‘the blame for accusing and condemning Jesus’[2].

Kuhlmann introduces an interesting and innovative approach to Ephrem’s writings by:

· approaching Ephrem critically from the outset by emphasising the ‘dark side’ of the ‘Luminous Eye’[3]

· contextualising Ephrem within the relatively modern concept and movement of anti-Semitism.

In Kuhlmann’s words, ‘it is the voice of Ephrem which dominates the earlier Syriac tradition of anti-Jewish polemic’[4]. Kuhlmann’s argument, however, is ambiguous, because it confuses two issues from the start:

1. Ephrem’s anti-Judaism, which the author exaggerates

2. Further use of Ephrem’s writings in the Church and in secular anti-Semitic movements.

The second point above deserves particular attention, since it touches upon much more complicated grounds. That is, further use or misuse in the Church of writings by Ephrem or other early Christian Fathers in building up an anti-Jewish ethos.

Plain inconsiderate reading of the early Fathers could be misleading. Reading passages or sentences, or even singular out of context remarks with sharp criticism of Jews as a people opens possibilities for further interpretations of these remarks. But then we have to admit that we are stepping into the area that I have identified above as ‘Interpretation of the Source’, and possibly even a certain ‘Tradition of Interpretation of the Source’, especially when a very sensitive subject of Anti-Judaism is at stake. Therefore, by developing a certain tradition of ‘Interpretation of the Source’ we are potentially loosening our connection to ‘the Source’. I want to point out here that further use of certain writings of early Fathers as contributing elements to building up an anti-Jewish ethos of the Church is the responsibility of those who were interested in building up this ethos. What I am trying to convey here is that the building up of an anti-Jewish ethos in the Church was never on the agenda of early Christian writers.

Early Christian writers used their language much more freely than we in the contemporary world could afford to. Their freedom was precisely because they did not have two centuries of Jewish-Christian misunderstandings on their shoulders. Hence, they had much less concerns with their allusions and felt much more relaxed with their language. They had the luxury of not yet being acquainted with the obligation of being ‘politically correct’, hence sensitivity to anti-Jewishness was not on their agenda. In fact, some of their contemporaries quite possibly do not even differentiate between Christians and Jews, as the Christian identity was very much in a formative state during the first four centuries of CE. Therefore, one has to consider all the above while looking closely at the particular writings of the early Fathers.

That is why it is extremely important to avoid plain and questionable interpretations of the writings of the Early Fathers. Below is an example of one of them. Kuhlmann writes:

The gratuitousness of Ephrem’s anti-Judaism is demonstrated by the way in which he simply has to throw in anti-Jewish comments in completely inappropriate contexts. In the Hymns on the Faith, no. 82, from the group of the Hymns on the Pearl, describing the pearl in stanza 2 he throws in the following: “Your symbol rebukes the Jewish girls when they wear you.” Ephrem’s incessant need to bring in anti-Jewish themes reveals how deep seated was his detestation of the Jews. There can be no positives in Ephrem’s theology without the inevitable negatives.[5]

There is, however, the possibility of finding another meaning for the quotation from the hymn, and the text of Ephrem’s Hymnallows the following alternative interpretation. The context of the Hymn is nature testifying to God’s greatness and witnessing divine presence in this world, which, as an idea, represents one of the major pillars of Ephrem’s theology. Hence, the pearls as the symbols of Christ threaded into the jewellery on the necks of the Jewish girls testify to them about Christ. There is no gratuitousness in Ephrem’s argument, and there is no anti-Jewish statement either. Therefore, one cannot accept Kuhlmann’s argument on the basis that his illustration does not support his point.

On the basis of another hymn, Kuhlmann states the following:

Ephrem’s personal bitter animosity towards the Jews is nowhere revealed more clearly then in the 67th Nisibene Hymn. Here his anti-Jewish rhetoric sinks almost as low as anything produced by modern anti-Semites when he openly admits how much he hates the Jews.[6]

This is by far the strongest statement from any of the authors who have written about Ephrem’s anti-Jewish rhetoric. Kuhlmann, however, does not present a balanced argument. He makes several mistakes:

1. He places Ephrem in the field of anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic polemic, which was never an agenda for Ephrem. A number of scholars emphasise that Ephrem’s hymns were created within the liturgical setting, and Ephrem’s audience were mostly Christians[7].

2. Kuhlmann collects his evidence and draws his conclusions by compiling Ephrem’s anti-Jewish expressions, which are taken out of context, be it literal, historical, or religious. Kuhlmann's references are predominantly from Ephrem’s hymnology[8], which limits the author’s presentation of the overall scope of Ephrem’s writings.

3. There is no reference to Ephrem’s exegesis, which contains highly laudatory and appreciative remarks about Jews[9].

4. Kuhlmann makes no effort to reflect on Ephrem’s connection to Judaism as such.

The above point is illustrative here, because, as a general tendency, not many of the authors ascribing anti-Judaism to Ephrem choose to notice the fact that Ephrem borrowed much from the Jewish tradition.

These mistakes show that Kuhlmann (and others offering similar arguments) present definitions that are speculative and offer arguments that do not hold up to scrutiny. A glaring example is the writings of Deschner, which define Ephrem as ‘one of the wildest enemies of Jews not only in his time’[10],and present an apocryphal narrative of Ephrem being raised as an anti-Semite from his childhood. Emphasising a consistency in Ephrem’s hatred of Jews, and extrapolating this attitude into Ephrem’s theology and even into the definition of the Church, Deschner states:

The saint is confronting the radiant purity of the Church with the madness and the stink and with the killing of the Jewish people. For St. Ephrem the Church is free from the stink of the stinking Jews who want to hand over their earlier sickness to the healthy.[11]

Deschner’s approach to Ephrem’s writings is somewhat misleading, as suggested even by Kuhlmann. Kuhlmann admits that Ephrem is taken completely out of context by Deschner[12]. However, similar thoughts are expressed by many other scholars. Not all of them are so extreme in presenting their argument, but quite a few, for example, state that Ephrem is anti-Jewish in his theology.

Close Connections of Early Christian Writers with Judaism: Dependency and Distance

Ephrem’s Semitic background and closeness to Judaism may play a factor in his critique. A number of scholars have noticed the rather sharp and intense criticism of Jews as a people in his hymns, and have described this as a theological position of Ephrem.

One of the reasons for the presence of Jewish criticism in Ephrem could be his own attempt to distance himself from Judaism and ‘the people’, i.e. the Jews, in order to develop a theology of ‘the peoples’, i.e. the Gentiles. Jansma points out the problem that Ephrem had to solve within himself, namely, dependency on Judaism. Jansma writes:

The extent of Ephraem’s indebtedness to Rabbinic fundamental concepts, so it seems, is directly proportioned to the intensity of the invectives directed by him to the people of the crucifiers.[13]

During the course of my PhD studies I have explored a few other ways in which Ephrem demonstrates his dependency on, closeness and indebtedness to Judaism. Comparing Ephrem’s exegetical commentaries alongside Jewish Midrashic sources provides sufficient grounds for the argument that Ephrem relates to the tradition of Jewish biblical exegesis, which certainly existed in Ephrem’s time in its oral form.

The distinctive feature of Ephrem’s creative approach to Judaism is that Ephrem introduces Christ into the very core of some of the Jewish concepts, ideas, and practices, for example, the Passover celebration or the concept of the Merits of the Fathers. Therefore, the conclusion is that Ephrem allowed himself great freedom in working with the Jewish tradition of exegesis, occasionally disagreeing with it, or developing it further from a Christological perspective. The overall impression that is obtained, however, is that even when he disagreed with the Jewish argument, Ephrem composed his exegetical writings in close collaboration with the Jewish exegetical tradition.

Further on in this study there will be examples demonstrating that Ephrem’s presentation of Israel in his writings amounts to a very special treatment of ‘the people’, i.e. as the people of God, and as the chosen nation.

However, contemporary authors prefer to comment only on the critical remarks of Ephrem, while completely ignoring his signs of favour to Jews, Judaism and such. More frequently one comes across remarks closer to Murray’s which express a regretful definition of Ephrem’s writings:

It must be confessed with sorrow that Ephrem hated Jews. It is sad that the man who could write the magisterial Commentary on Genesis, with the command it shows of the tradition which still to a great extent united Christians and Jews, could sink to writing Carmina Nisibena 67.[14]

Another statement suggests that with his theology Ephrem was ‘happily moderating the hatred of which he was capable’[15].

It seems natural at this point of the study to look closely into selected examples from Ephrem’s writings in order to show illustrations for the both sides of the argument, i.e. Ephrem’s critical remarks and negative imagery of the Jews as well as his appreciation of Jews as a people.

Part II – Case Study – Carmina Nisibena 67

One has to admit that it is not easy to read this particular hymn. It is the most difficult and suggestive. At the first reading of Carmina Nisibena 67, and even reading it for the second and for the third times, one cannot help but be encouraged to join the argument suggesting that Ephrem was anti-Jewish. There is no doubt that both Ephrem and Chrysostom use rather sharp and uncompromising language. Let us take the most suggestive lines from Carmina Nisibena 67, that is verses 16 and 17 in the translation of NPNF:

17. I wonder at the Holy Spirit, that He thus dwelt: in the midst of a People whose savour stank, as their conversation.—

18. Onions and garlic are the heralds of their doings: as is the food so is the understanding, of this defiled people.—

Taken out of the context the two verses sound anti-Jewish. However, if one looks at the overall idea of the Hymn, it becomes clear that it is constructed on the basis of using examples of negative imagery for the purpose of discouraging certain practices, scandalising insincerity and deceit.

It is important to notice that there are five examples of negative types in the Hymn:

    1. Sheol
    2. Death
    3. Jezebel
    4. The People
    5. Ephrem uses himself as a negative example.

Hence, four out of five negative illustrations are non-Jewish.  Ephrem deconstructs the dominance of negative types in the Hymn by emphasising the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus. This reveals his goal – glorification of Christ. And he achieves it by means of antagonising Christ to Death, Sheol, Jews who did not accept Him and whose deeds are an abomination, and himself – the ‘unworthy’ Christian. Thus, Ephrem negates and rejects everything, including his own self, in order to paint the darkness on which he enthrones Christ in His shining glory. This is Ephrem’s choice of creative literary form.

Most of the imagery in the Hymn is biblical, making it a poetic version of a number of the OT themes. Some scholars misread the context of the Hymn and understand selected verses of it as anti-Semitic[16], for example, misinterpreting the verse 17 as referring to the stink of the stinking Jews[17].It seems more appropriate to understand this verse as Ephrem’s reference to the biblical imagery of Peshitta, Num 11:5, when writing about the smell of the garlic and onions as the heralds of people’s doings[18].

The aim of this part is to highlight the difference between Ephrem’s use of the exegetical and literary tools of antithesis, polarisation and apology in relation to the Jews, and his so-called ‘theology of anti-Judaism’.

Ephrem allows a figurative approach to the Jews as the daughter of Zion, who killed the Watcher, Christ[19]. The personification of Israel as a whore in Ephrem[20], and the contrast to Zipporah who was chaste although being of pagan origin, could be seen as rather strong and possibly even anti-Jewish[21]. In presenting his argument, however, Ephrem also relies on the examples of the Merits of the Fathers through the figures of Moses, David, and Abraham; and he brings the figures of Elijah, Elisha and Melchizedek into the picture, further diluting suspicions of anti-Judaic inclinations[22]. Thus, Ephrem could be seen as:

· developing his argument within the framework of rabbinic exegesis

· using the biblical figures of the prophets from the Hebrew Bible

· using the technique of polarisation contrasting the virtues of the forefathers and prophets of the OT who followed God, to the Jews of the NT who rejected Christ.


Positive examples of the highly esteemed position of Jews/Israel as a chosen people in Ephrem’s writings: not anti-Jewish, but a pro-Jewish writer.

Acknowledgement of Israel’s ability to see God:

In his commentaries on Exodus Ephrem twice mentions occasions when Israel was able to see God. Firstly, Ephrem reveals that selected groups of people close to Moses saw God:

Moses and his relatives and seventy of the elders went up, and they saw God.[23]

Although Ephrem does not explicitly say that the whole of Israel saw God, his use of the number seventy – the number of the people that saw God - could imply the totality of the vision for Israel[24]. In the following extract, Ephrem mentions another occasion when the vision of God was beheld by the whole of Israel:

And the whole house of Israel saw the glory of the Lord.[25]

By showing that there was a time when Israel was able to see God, Ephrem can explore, further on in the narrative, the tragedy of Israel losing the ability of capturing the sight of God. Thus, in the commentaries on Exodus, Ephrem acknowledges the ability of Israel to see God.

Ephrem emphasises the exclusive relationship that Israel has with God. His additional commentary on Moses’ song of praise is a good illustration of this. Moses’ words according to the Bible were ‘The Lord will reign over us forever’[26], and Ephrem adds to this ‘and not other nations’[27]. Ephrem would not make such an exclusive remark unless he admits to the divine choice of the people of Israel. Thus, Ephrem describes the exclusive and privileged relationship that Israel had with God at the time of Moses and calls Israel ‘the People’[28], while all other nations he styles differently.

According to Ephrem there is only one Israel, the people who have been chosen to enter into a unique relationship with God, i.e. a relationship of intimacy, loyalty, trust and obedience, a relationship of inexhaustible potential, through God’s constant initiative on behalf of His people. By His mercy, God protects Israel from other nations and delivers the people from oppression and slavery. And it is God with the help of Moses who brings the people to this relationship. Through the efforts of their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people were led to the highest point of their relationship with God, i.e. at the Red Sea. Moses, following the Merits of the Fathers, brings the people to that point. According to Ephrem, therefore, Moses fulfils the mission of the forefathers, or at least brings it to its logical conclusion by bringing the people out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land[29].

Part III Highlights and Conclusion

The initial aim of this study was to demonstrate that defining certain writings of early Christian Fathers as anti-Jewish is not a helpful way of understanding their legacy. Instead this study offers a more productive approach to these writings of early Christians which are difficult to the modern ear.

The suggested methodology of the study puts anti-Jewish definitions outside accepted and normative language that is to be used. This suggestion comes from the realisation that anti-Jewish definitions in relation to the writings of the Early Christian Fathers are misleading and confusing. These definitions are not helpful, because they only scratch the surface of the problem without digging deep into the subject of study. Anti-Jewish definitions disregard further considerate analysis of the context of the writings, and do not take unto account the general historical, religious and cultural situation in which these writings were produced.

Anti-Jewish definitions are misleading, because they confuse the actual writings of a particular author (‘The Source’) with anti-Jewish tendencies in the church throughout the following centuries. Therefore, by abandoning the use of Anti-Jewish definitions in relation to the writings of Early Christian Fathers this study avoids, from the very outset, the problem of unmotivated suspicions directed towards the Church Fathers.

The further methodological approach of this study suggests a ‘case-based study’ of each piece of early Christian writing. This means considering each piece of writing, on the one hand, individually, and on the other hand, in the context in which they were written. This also necessitates a very careful selection of definitions using the areas of study suggested below:

the historical, religious and political context

literary genres and exegetical techniques

specifics of the language and culture (e.g. the flamboyant Middle Eastern style or reserved North Atlantic character of the writer).

One has to avoid premature conclusions which are only based on the plain reading of the text. For example, the appearance of negative remarks towards Jews as a people in the early Christian writings should be perceived as ‘appearance of negative remarks’. The definition of ‘negative remarks’ should not be changed just because it concerns the very sensitive subject of Jewish-Christian relations. Clear definitions should stay where they are unless there are sufficient grounds and substantial evidence to support the alternative view. That is to say, the appearance of negative remarks in the early Christian writings is distinctively proved to be spreading beyond the literary genre of negative imagery and into the deliberate and intentional denigration or demonising of Jews as a people and Judaism as a whole.

In order to understand the writings of early Christian Fathers it is crucially important to analyse their critical remarks and sometimes negative depictions of Jews as a people within the overall and broad context that they were produced in. It might be useful to apply a certain scale or even a chart in defining the levels of severity of certain critical remarks in order to see the dynamics of appearance of such criticisms throughout the whole spectrum of an author’s writings. Hence, the application of this ‘measuring scale’ or the chart would determine the significance of these critical remarks in relation to other ideas that the author presents and promotes as important in his writings. This exercise will help to give an objective idea of how significant this occasional criticism of Jews as a people and maybe Judaism as a whole was for this particular author at this particular time of his life.

[1] Kuhlmann, K. H., “The Harp out of Tune: The anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism of St. Ephrem”, The Harp 27 (2004) p.179.

[2] Ibid. p.180; see also Hayman, “The image of the Jew…”.

[3] Kuhlmann, “The Harp out of Tune…”,  p.181.

[4] Ibid. p.179.

[5] Ibid. p.180.

[6] Kuhlmann, “The Harp out of Tune…”, p.180.

[7] Botha, P. J., “Christology and Apology in Ephrem the Syrian”, HTS 45 (1989) p.20; see also Bardenhewer, O., Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur . 4. Band (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962) p.342,344; Gribomont, J., “La tradition liturgique des hymnes pascales de st. Ephrem”, PdO 4 (1973) p.191-246; Griffith, S. H. Faith Adoring the Mystery (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1997) p.10; Palmer, A., “‘A Lyre without a Voice,’ the Poetics and the Politics of Ephrem the Syrian”, ARAM 5 (1993) p.371-399.

[8] CNis 67, HdF , Resur 1.

[9] See Chapter I.2 for more secondary authors’ opinions and Chapter VI for positive examples of Ephrem’s attitude to Jews and Israel.

[10] Deschner, Karlheinz, Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums,Bd.1 (Reinbek:Rowohlt,1986) p.131-132, see also Kuhlmann, “The Harp out of Tune…”, p.181.

[11] Deschner, Karlheinz, Kriminalgeschichte... p.131-132.

[12] Kuhlmann, “The Harp out of Tune…”, p.182.

[13] Jansma, T., ‘Ephraem on Exodus II.5: Reflections on the Interplay of Human Free Will and Divine Providence’, OCP 39 (1973) p.13.

[14] Murray, Symbols, p.68. It has to be noted that the reprint (2004) of Murray’s Symbols is a new revised edition from where the quoted passage is absent. However, in the 2004 eddition of Symbols Murraystill refers to CNis 67 as ‘the most detestable of all Ephrem’s attacks on the Jews, inhibited by no consideration of either truth or taste’ (see Murray, Symbols (London, NY: T&T Clark, 2004) p.339.

[15] Ibid. p.60.

[16] Murray, R., Symbols of Church and Kingdom. A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge: University Press, 1975)p.68, Kuhlmann, K.H., “The Harp out of Tune: The anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism of St. Ephrem”, The Harp 27 (2004) p.177-183, Deschner, Karlheinz, K riminalgechichte des Christentums, Bd.1 (Reinbek,1986) p.131-132, Hayman, A.P., “The image of the Jew in the Syriac anti-Jewish Polemical literature” in Neusner, Frerichs (eds.) “To see ourselves as others see us” (Chico, CA, 1985)

[17] See Kuhlmann, K.H., “The Harp out of Tune: The anti-Judaism/anti-Semitism of St. Ephrem”, The Harp 27 (2004) p.180, Deschner, Karlheinz, K riminalgechichte des Christentums, Bd.1 (Reinbek,1986) p.131-132, Hayman, A.P., “The image of the Jew in the Syriac anti-Jewish Polemical literature” in Neusner, Frerichs (eds.) “To see ourselves as others see us” (Chico, CA, 1985)

[18] CNis 67.17

[19] Ibid. p.235-236; see also Nat 6.23-24.

[20] Biblical examples of the personification of Israel as a whore can also be found in Hosea 2:5, 3:3, 4:10-15, 5:3, 9:1. OT narrative is a part of the common tradition to which Jewish and Christian writers both had access.

[21] McVey, “The Anti-Judaic polemic…”, p.236, see also Nat 14.19.

[22] See Chapter V.2

[23] ComExod 24.2. Salvesen ECE p.60, see Exod. 24:9-10.

[24]On the significance of the numbers see Chapter IV.2.

[25]ComExod 24.4. Salvesen ECE p.61, see Exod.24:13-17.


[27]ComExod 15.1. Salvesen ECE p.48.

[28]ComExod 15.3. Salvesen ECE p.49.

[29]Ephrem is here very close to the Jewish concept of the Merits of the Fathers.

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