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Jews and Augustine's "witness doctrine" 
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Old 11-04-2010, 05:56 AM   Post #1
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Default Jews and Augustine's "witness doctrine"

This theme of the Jews as a protected witness people defines Augustine's discussion in The City of God, where he links it to the proof-text of Psalm 59.12, "Slay them not, lest your people forget ; scatter them with your might" (De Civ. Dei 18.46). "Slaying" for Augustine does not mean "killing" ; it means "impeding or preventing traditional Jewish practice," most extremely by forced conversion ("not putting an end to their existence as Jews"). Neither does his reference to Jewish "subjection" intend anything more dire than what had occurred long ago, that is, the loss of Jewish national sovereignty. Both aspects of Jewish destiny, their loyalty to their Law and their wandering in exile, are linked strategies in God's providential plan ; the broadest possible dispersion of observant Jews was necessary in order to amplify the broadest possible dissemination of the gospel.

In his own period, Augustine's "witness doctrine" articulated a theological justification for an already long-standing principle of Roman law. His views on the positive value of ancient Jewish observance created a new, more historically oriented way for Christians to understand their Bible. His insistence on the essential continuity of law and gospel, Old Testament and New, furthermore, powerfully responded to the Manichaean challenge. In short, Augustine's teaching fundamentally addressed questions of theology and identity internal to his own religious community. But the fact remains that Augustine, alone of all the Church's apologists, mounted a defense of Catholic Christianity that also served, in its way, as a defense of Jews and Judaism.

Augustine had little reason to think that his ideas on this topic would some day in their turn be understood "literally." He lived in a society governed by Roman law, wherein Jews were full citizens. One of his recently discovered new letters reveals that a North African Jew, Licinius, requested that Augustine intervene on his behalf in a property dispute between him and the bishop Victor, one of Augustine's own colleagues. Augustine, extremely familiar with Roman law, took Licinius' side in the affair. The letter testifies not only to Augustine's sense of justice and knowledge of law but also to Licinius's unself-conscious expectation of justice and to Victor's acknowledgement that, were Licinius to pursue the matter in court, Victor would lose. All the principals in the case knew themselves to be members of the same society, ruled by the same law.
The Cambridge History of Judaism: The late Roman-Rabbinic period
William David Davies, Steven T. Katz, Louis Finkelstein
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