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Lieu, Judith M.


Image and Reality. The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century.


Edinburgh: Clark 1996. XIV, 348 S. 8. Lw. £ 24.95. ISBN 0-567-08529-5.


Oskar Skarsaune

In this study the author draws a picture of how Christians in Asia Minor portray Jews in their literature of the second century C. E. The author’s new approach is to juxtappose in a very subtle and conscious way the literary image of the Jews on the one hand, and the historical reality behind the picture on the other, as far as this is retrievable. The social, civil, and religious situation of the Jews in Asia Minor is known to us to some extent, and better than in other areas; therefore the focus on this region.

The local focus allows the author to juxtappose Christian texts that should be genuinely comparable as coming from more or less the same milieu. This is important to one of the book’s main emphases, viz. that there is a striking, perhaps even surprising, variety and multiplicity in early Christian responses to the phenomenon of Jews and Judaism. This multiplicity must be real, since it cannot be explained by widely different geographical provenances of the texts. (It has to be said, though, that in some cases the links between the chosen texts and Asia Minor are slender, as with Justin.)

This multiplicity is demonstrated by the author on the level which she calls "image". In subtle and perceptive analyses of texts by (and sometimes about) Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, "The Apologists", Melito, Irenaeus’ "Elders", and Marcion, Judith Lieu succeeds in displaying a fascinating spectrum of different portrayals of Jews. Sometimes she finds different images in one and the same author, e.g. Justin. This study does therefore not support the traditional thesis that the Jews in the writings of the early fathers are only a literary stereotype, more or less the same in all texts, and merely transferred from one author to the other on a purely literary level. Instead, what comes out of L.s analysis is a constantly changing and varied rhetorical response to an equally changing and varied reality. Sometimes the image seems to be only image, i.e. cliché, with no live reality behind it. But when Jews are more or less absent from the antique Christian author’s horizon, they are often absent from his text, too. On the other hand, the very obtrusive presence of Jews in many of these authors cannot be explained other than as a sign that they were obtrusively present in the author’s world as well.

It is in L.s great sensitivity to nuance in the different Christian images of Jews and Judaism that her study adds substantially to our knowledge of second century Christian/Jewish relationships. She also successfully dispels commonly accepted conclusions as to the social and civil "background" to Christian anti-Judaism, e.g. in Melito.

It goes without saying that this study refrains from drawing conclusions that can be summarized in sweeping generalizations. It is rather in the careful deconstruction of accepted generalizations that this book has its great strength.