Targeted by Tertullian

The next figure we examine in our series is Tertullian, born in Carthage around 150.

Tertullian 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Tertullian 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Targeted by Tertullian The next figure we examine in our series is Tertullian, born in Carthage around 150. He became a Christian at age 40 and wrote his main theological works at the turn of the third century, primarily apologetics, mainly targeting Gnostics and Marcionists. But in his Apologies he includes An Answer to the Jews.
As with most early Church fathers, his anti-Judaic works have been largely ignored by scholars but they are, frankly, an embarrassment.
He begins by referring to Rebecca and the promise that the twins she was carrying represented two peoples – Jews and Christians. The Jews were typified by Esau, and the Christians by Jacob. The greater must serve the lesser, as Esau was subservient to Jacob, and so “beyond doubt, through the edict of the divine utterance, the prior and ‘greater’ people – that is, the Jewish – must necessarily serve the ‘less;’ and the ‘less’ people – that is, the Christian – overcome the ‘greater.’” The words “serve” and “overcome” speak of contrast, war and domination. The Jews, with their constant idolatry, writes Tertullian, deserve less than the Christians, who have fled idolatry to worship the true God.
When Tertullian writes about circumcision, after explaining that Adam, Noah, Melchisedec and Abraham were not circumcised, one asks why then circumcision is in the law of Moses. The answer is the usual one in anti-Judaic theology: “for circumcision had to be given; but as ‘a sign,’ whence Israel in the last time would have to be distinguished, when, in accordance with their deserts, they should be prohibited from entering the holy city, as we see through the words of the prophets.”
Thus, the Jews cannot enter Jerusalem. Circumcision is the veto sign.
In his discussion of sacrifices, we see another element of adverus judaeus theology. Abel is the Christian and offers a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. Cain is Israel, who killed his brother and was punished for it:
“Groaning and trembling shalt thou be upon the earth, and everyone who shall have found thee shall slay thee.”
One necessary item in third century anti- Judaism is the accusation of Christ-killing. This is not done by isolated Jews or religious groups according to Tertullian, but “all the synagogue of Israel did slay Him, saying to Pilate, when he was desirous to dismiss Him, ‘His blood be upon us, and upon our children.’”
As usual, all the good guys of the Old Testament are obviously Christian. Moses seems to be borderline – it was Joshua, not Moses, who led the people to the Promised Land, and was a type of Christ. Joseph is a type of Christ, but Levi and Simeon were types of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees.
“When Jacob pronounced a blessing on Simeon and Levi, he prophesies of the scribes and Pharisees; for from them is derived their origin. For [his blessing] interprets spiritually thus: ‘Simeon and Levi perfected iniquity out of their sect… they persecuted Christ. … in their indignation they slew men — that is, prophets — and in their concupiscence they hamstrung a bull! – that is, Christ, whom – after the slaughter of prophets — they slew, and exhausted their savagery by transfixing His sinews with nails.’”
Is there any hope left for Jews? Absolutely not!
“For, again, it is for these deserts of yours that Ezekiel announces your ruin as about to come: and not only in this age — a ruin which has already befallen — but in the ‘day of retribution,’ which will be subsequent. From which ruin none will be freed but he who shall have been frontally sealed with the passion of the Christ whom you have rejected.”
This is the mindset, the culture of the Christian Church, as Constantine enters the scene.
Rev. Anthony Rozinni is a Bible school teacher writing a series on the rise of anti-Semitism in the early Church based on his studies for a master’s degree, which included extensive reading about the Church Fathers.