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148 Reviews Cohen, Jeremy, Living Letters of the Law: Ideas of the Jew in Medieval Christianity (S. Mark Taper Foundation Imprint in Jewish Studies), Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999; paper; pp. x, 451; R R P US$60 (cloth), US$24.95 (paper). In the introduction to Living Letters, Cohen states his intention to attempt threefold contribution to the understanding of the Jew's position in the cultural and intellectual history of Christendom. His initial aim is to analyse the developing ideas of the Jew in medieval Christian thought and thus add to the appreciation of the theologians responsible for these ideas. Next, by highlighting the most influential patterns in the theological mentality of the period, he traces evolving attitudes toward Jews and Judaism among Christian intellectuals from late antiquity to the High Middle Ages. To conclude, he intends to elaborate a new foundation that will allow him to 'advance beyond the conclusions of previous scholarship' (p. 4). Using Augustine of Hippo as a starting point, the author examines the evolution of the Jew from the living representation and embodiment of Scripture who validates a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament to the heretic, conscious unbeliever and enemy of God Jew crafted by the mendicant friars. Cohen's thesis is that the foundation of medieval thought regarding the Jews is not their actual condition or behaviour but the image of the Jew required for the purpose of Christian theology. Therefore, to undermine the fundamental Jewish contribution to Christianity, Augustine reconstructs him as an interpretative tool for understanding the correlation between the Old and the N e w Testaments and as a living testimony to the antiquity of the Christian church. According to Cohen, the Augustinian Jew is redefined by Isidore of Seville in his formulation of ecclesiastical policies aimed at strengthening the power of the Spanish Christian church. Although Isidore advocates a coercion-free pursuit of Jewish conversion to Christianity, he legitimises the notion that Jews detract from Christian unity and, therefore, have no place in a properly integrated Christendom. The author also considers how several prominent prelates of the early Middle Ages construe the role of the Jew in an ordered Christendom. For instance, he proposes that Agobard of Lyons extends the view of Jewishness advocated by Isidore as he likens a well-integrated Christian society to the body of Christ. Within this context, Jews become a paradigm of contamination and malaise in Reviews 149 the Christian body. Thus, the Augustinian notion of a Jewish link to the establishment of the Christian church and to a Christ-oriented interpretation of Scriptures is permanently obliterated. Using the works of theologians such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter the Venerable, Cohen then proposes that the expanding cultural horizons of European society during the Crusades helped to gradually modify the construction of the Jew. H e argues that Bernard and Peter are largely responsible for the conflation of Jews with other infidels, for 'the concomitant construction of ludaism as a category of infidelitas or disbelief ... [and] the linkage between Jewish carnality and irrationality' (p. 220). Before concluding by revisiting his own views on the mendicant friars and discussing Thomas Aquinas,' aggressive program of anti-Judaism, Cohen examines the personal responses of several twelfth-century humanists to Jews and Judaism. Accordingly, Abelard constructs the Jew in relation to nature, its laws and reason whilst Hermann of Cologne, a converted Jew, imposes on him his own complexities, ambiguities and insecurities. Although promising, this is a particularly disappointing section of the book as Cohen, failing to keep a scholarly distance from his subjects, allows himself to make contradictory and unsupported assumptions. Typical of this response is his evaluation of Abelard. In the opening paragraph ofthis section, Cohen refutes Gavin Langmuir's view that Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and Ethics reveal Abelard's tolerance, sympathy and understanding towards contemporary Jews. Yet he uses this same view to support his own argument that Abelard surpasses all his predecessors in an understanding of Jewish attitudes (pp. 275, 287). Ironically, Cohen hears the voice of the persecuted Abelard in the lament of the Jew in the Dialogue and cannot escape the conclusion that he feels...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 148-150
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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