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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Horner, Timothy J.


"Listening to Trypho". Justin Martyr's Dialogue Reconsidered


Leuven-Paris-Sterling: Peeters 2001. VI, 222 S. gr.8 = Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology, 28. Kart. Euro 35,00. ISBN 90-429-1040-2.


Oskar Skarsaune

Timothy J. Horner has come up with the excellent idea to concentrate for once on Trypho, not Justin, when studying Justin's Dialogue. It has resulted in an interesting, but also somewhat puzzling, book.

The book has two main points. The first is to establish that the Dialogue as we have it is an expansion of an earlier source text written by Justin himself shortly after the conversation with Trypho around 135 C. E. in Ephesus. H. calls this source "the Trypho Text" and assumes this was a much tighter dialogue in which the longest monologues by Justin (in the present text) were missing. - The second main point is to establish that the words attributed to Trypho throughout the Dialogue show him to be a true-to-life Diaspora Jew of the second century C. E., with an agenda of his own in the conversation, an agenda which seems very authentic, and which is often misunderstood by Justin. He often fails to answer the precise questions raised by Trypho. Justin's failure in this respect only adds to the authenticity of his portrait of Trypho. The latter comes through as a typical non-rabbinic, but faithful, at the same time open- minded Diaspora Jew of the same type as we meet in the material, literary and archaeological, that derive from the second century Diaspora Jews of Asia Minor.

A third point of a more subsidiary nature, but supportive of the second main point, is the claim that Trypho appears as a true Socratic philosopher, while Justin himself does not. On the contrary, Justin's method in the Dialogue is more akin to the Sophists: his method is teaching and expounding; Trypho's method is asking Socratic questions. Trypho is a seeker, Justin a possessor, of the truth.

All the three points are interesting, but none of them entirely convincing. The least convincing, in my opinion, is H.'s proposal about the "Trypho Text". H. is not the first scholar to propose that Justin used written sources in producing his extant writings. Wilhelm Bousset launched the idea that Justin used Schriftbeweistraktate in writing his First Apology, chapters 31 ff., and did so once more in writing his Dialogue. Helmut Koester refined this idea, and proposed a tentative formgeschichtliche analysis of the character of these tracts. Pierre Prigent meant to be able to identify a main source behind the Apology as well as the Dialogue as being Justin's own Syntagma against heresies. Finally, Pierre Nautin and myself have proposed to see the lost Controversy between Jason and Papiscus as one additional source being used in the Dialogue only. In all these attempts at source criticism close comparison between parallel passages in the Apology and the Dialogue has been the chief and indispensable method. The fact that Justin produced two as parallel works as these allow a rare opportunity for redactional criticism of both. I find it strange that H. has felt no need to engage in extensive dialogue with any of these earlier proposals, nor has felt any need of using the parallel material in the Apology in his analysis of the alleged "Trypho Text" in the Dialogue. Instead, he seems to think that the simple fact that a tighter text results when digressional material is removed (from the present text of the Dialogue), in itself is sufficient proof that this tighter text once existed. But this is clearly not the case. There is nothing contradictory or a priori unlikely in an author writing a text that others may deem verbose and having too many digressions, and - for a dialogue - having too many and too long monologues. No doubt you get a tighter and "better" dialogue by shaving away parts of Justin's text, but this in itself proves nothing about the existence of such a shorter text before the present one. H. could have improved his case by careful dialogue with other proposals which try to explain the "bad" organization of the existent text by other hypotheses. The lack of such scholarly dialogue is surprising. The lack of comparison with parallels in the Apology leaves his thesis vulnerable also with regard to the primary sources. Much parallel material in the Apology and the Dialogue clearly evinces an intensive period of theological work in which the Bar Kokhba war and its aftermath have been theologically digested by Christians. This runs through much of the material assigned to the "Trypho Text" by H. But how could this be possible if the Trypho Text was written by Justin already in 135 C. E.?

H.'s point about Trypho proceeding in a Socratic manner, while Justin is more of a teacher and Sophist, is worthy of consideration. It is a question, however, whether H.'s analysis here is too formal. For Justin, the ultimate truth about God is not made known through Socratic dialectic, but through first-hand testimony by eye-witnesses: the Old Testament Prophets, and the fulfillment of their prophecies in the story of Christ. This content of Justin's "philosophy" inevitably makes him an expounder of Scripture more than a Socratic inquirer. He may therefore end up looking more like a Sophist than a Socrates, but this similarity may be accidental, due to the subject-matter he is set to communicate.

The most interesting part of H.'s thesis is, in my opinion, his extensive analysis of Trypho's questions and queries, and his positive statements of his own convictions, in the Dialogue. H. places Trypho firmly within an Asian setting, and thinks that the portrait of Trypho not only is consistent with what we know about Asian Jews from other sources, but is so distinctive that it may actually add to our knowledge of Asian Jewry. There are two problems with this; H. addresses both, but hardly to everyone's satisfaction. The first problem concerns connecting Trypho with the province of Asia in particular. H. makes the maximum out of Eusebius' notice that the dialogue between Justin and Trypho took place in Ephesus. Quite apart from the fact that this piece of information is of uncertain value, since we do not know from what source Eusebius had it; there is no doubt that according to the Dialogue itself, Trypho's stay in Ephesus was only temporary. "I am a Hebrew of the circumcision, a refugee from the recent war, and at present a resident of Greece, mostly in Corinth" (Dial. 1.3). This statement by Trypho connects him unambiguously with Palestine and Greece, and the most natural interpretation is that prior to the Bar Kokhba war he had been a native of Palestine, and after the war had settled in Greece. H.'s point that Trypho was a typical non-rabbinic Jew because he was a Diaspora Jew is made somewhat problematical, though not impossible, by this evidence. Maybe Trypho was a Palestinian "Hellenist" of the type portrayed in Acts 6-7; his apparent lack of competence in Hebrew/Aramaic could indicate this. There is thus hardly any problem in paralleling Trypho with Asian Jews on this background, but how can he provide us with new information on Jewry in Asia when his own connection to this region is at best accidental?

The next problem is more substantial. If we are to get new information about Diaspora Jewry - in Asia or elsewhere - out of Justin's Trypho, the latter cannot be merely a literary product of Justin's imagination; he has to have some historical substance. Behind Trypho there must hide a real Diaspora Jew. H. is quite confident that such is the case, and he builds his case mainly on the observation that Trypho has a consistent agenda, genuinely Jewish, and at odds with Justin's literary agenda in the Dialogue. Briefly put: If Trypho were only a literary straw figure introduced in order to put the appropriate questions to which Justin's expositions were tailor-made, the match between queries and answers should be much better than it is. Instead, H. is convinced that Justin all too often misunderstands Trypho's real intent with his questions, and answers something different than what Trypho really had asked.

In many cases, I believe Justin's "misunderstandings" are created by H., who is out to ascertain what Trypho "really" meant by his questions and comments. As a reading strategy, this seems to me rather risky. It more or less presupposes what H. is out to prove, viz. that Trypho has a reality beyond Justin's literary intentions with him. In many cases it is not very difficult to propose an interpretation of Trypho's queries which makes Justin's responses quite adequate. One could argue that such an interpretation has a higher degree of a priori probability.

Nevertheless, I think H. has bolstered, through his extensive analysis, a point of view voiced by more than one scholar: Many of Trypho's objections are authentic in the sense that they are the objections that were actually raised by reasonably educated Jews of the second century. Even if Justin used a source containing Christian arguments as well as objections against these, there is good reason to assume that he enriched his own Dialogue with fresh questions raised in contemporary debates between Jews and Christians, and not contained in any of his sources. (See extensive argument for this in my Proof from Prophecy.)

I have to notice, finally, that the book would have profited from careful copy-editing and proof-reading. There are many mistakes in orthography and especially in the editing of sentences. The gravest error is to be found in the footnotes. On pages 120-146 footnote reference nr. 176 in the main text (120) is followed by footnote reference nr. 185 on page 124; to this reference in the text there is no corresponding footnote. The relevant text of this footnote comes on page 125, in footnote 177. The reference to note 177 in the text, however, seems to refer to nr. 178 in the notes. Footnote 179 on page 130 seems to belong with something said on pages 124 f. After this there is at least a consistent system: in order to find the right footnote, add 2 to the reference given in the text. The last footnote in chapter five is 205, the first note in the following chapter is 213. There is also a discrepancy between the actual pagination of the book and that presupposed in the table of contents. One wonders whether the publisher for some reason deemed copy-editing and proofreading superfluous; obviously a mistake in this case.