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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 317-318
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The Feast of Saint Abraham:
Medieval Millenarians and the Jews
The Feast of Saint Abraham: Medieval Millenarians and the Jews. By Robert E. Lerner. [The Middle Ages Series.] (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2001. Pp. viii, 186. $35.00.)
In this intriguing study Robert Lerner describes what he sees as a Joachite tradition concerning the role of the Jews in an apocalyptic future time. He begins in the twelfth century with Joachim of Fiore and ends in the fifteenth with Nicholas of Buldesdorf. Along the way he pays particular attention to the thirteenth-century Franciscans (especially Peter John Olivi), John of Rupescissa, Frederick of Brunswick, and Francesc Eiximenis.
According to Lerner, Joachim went well beyond the common medieval view that in the period after Antichrist the Jews would be converted to Christianity. Instead he anticipated a third age of history marked by "a mutually beneficial union of Christians and Jews." The Holy Spirit would offer clarification of both the Old and New Testaments. The new people profiting from this clarification would be, in Lerner's words, "neither Jew nor Gentile but 'spiritual.'"
We are then shown how the various authors considered by Lerner fit into what is in some ways a linear progression. While all anticipated a new age that would involve Jewish-Christian reconciliation, neither Joachim nor Olivi showed much interest in delineating a particular messianic figure who would play a major role in its inception. Rupescissa connected the new age with such a person; then Frederick of Brunswick wrote himself into the scenario as a John the Baptist heralding that person; and finally Nicholas of Buldesdorf completed the process by suggesting that he himself was the messianic figure. [End Page 317]
Nevertheless, the central question posed by this study cannot be answered in terms of linear development. Joachim offered a tantalizing suggestion that the third age would involve much more than the Jews simply converting to Christianity; yet Olivi thought in terms of straightforward Jewish conversion. So did Rupescissa, but he complicated the matter by predicting that the converted Jews would become an imperial nation, an idea he never quite reconciled with the Joachite-Olivian notion of Jews and Gentiles merging into a single people. Frederick of Brunswick too predicted that the converted Jews would preside over an empire. Eiximenis changed his opinion frequently but returned late in life to the Joachite notion of synthesis, predicting an age in which the saints of the Old Testament would be honored along with those of the New. The feasts of Adam and Abraham would take their place in the calendar alongside those of Francis and Dominic. Nicholas of Buldesdorf echoed the idea of a Jewish world empire but added a new element: The Jews would "live according to the law of the God of their fathers," by which he meant "the law of Moses," which suggests that their religion would remain distinct even in the third age. Thus the question of what would be left of Judaism was answered in a variety of ways displaying not linear development but a kaleidoscopic series of changes.
Lerner sees that these writers are significant not only for what they said but for when they said it. At a time when "the Jews were becoming pariahs," these men "held to the view that Jews had a special dignity."