Although Jewish anti-Christian literature is generally seen as a response to Christian missionary attacks, this understanding of the Jewish need to argue against its daughter religion is often insufficient to explain fully the phenomenon of the Jewish polemical literature. For instance, Jews argued against Christianity in Islamic countries despite the almost complete absence therein of Christian missionary activity. Likewise, the vigorous Jewish debate against Christianity in medieval Provence was only partially a result of the aggressive Christian attempts to convert Jews beginning in the thirteenth century. A fuller understanding of Jewish polemical literature in Provence can be attained in the context of the special relationship between Jewish and Christian intellectuals at that time. Jewish philosophy entered Provence in the twelfth century with the immigration of refugees from Muslim Spain who brought with them scientific and philosophical traditions. These immigrants, particularly the Ibn Tibbon and Kimhi families, found that the local Provençal Jews were halakhically adept but philosophically ignorant. Thus, for intellectual stimulation, these immigrants seemed to have turned to the local Christian intelligentsia, with whom they maintained both personal and professional (e.g., as translators, doctors and astronomers) relations. Frustrated with what they perceived as local Jewish ignorance and disdain for science, these Jewish intellectuals often compared their Christian colleagues favorably to their Jewish co-religionists, praising the former's devotion to philosophy despite their mistaken religious beliefs. Christian scientific achievements, along with a perceived Christian interest in Maimonidean philosophy, led the Jewish intellectuals to feel that their own community was intellectually inferior to Christian society. The opponents of philosophy, those who were responsible for the great Maimonidean controversies of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, were aware of the closeness of Jewish intellectuals to the Christian community. They accused the Jewish philosophers of adopting Christian techniques, such as allegorization of the Biblical text, and they argued that such affinity to Christianity led to Jewish abandonment of the historicity of the Biblical text and punctilious observance of the commandments. Furthermore, a Jewish commitment to allegory could all too easily lead to a blurring of the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity. The Jewish defenders of philosophy were aware of these accusations, and they responded to them by emphasizing their loyalty to the Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, such accusations caused further Jewish intellectual discomfort vis-a-vis the dominant religion. In light of these social and intellectual factors, it is not surprising that Jewish philosophers in Provence perceived a need to polemicize against Christianity, lest anyone think that their closeness to Christians should be understood as an endorsement of Christianity. Jewish arguments against Christianity, as found in the works of Jewish Provençal thinkers such as Joseph and David Kimhi, Joseph ibn Caspi, Nissim of Marseilles, Levi ben Abraham of Villefranche, Jacob Anatoli, and others, should be understood not as a response to Christian mission but as an internal Jewish intellectual need. This picture of Provençal Jewish anti-Christian polemics mirrors similar phenomena in Italy and Ashkenaz, leading to the conclusion that philosophy and polemics entered the Jewish discourse in Christian Europe hand in hand.
|Translated title of the contribution||Christianity, Philosophy and Polemic in Jewish Provence|
|Number of pages||21|
|Journal||ציון: רבעון לחקר תולדות ישראל|
|State||Published - 2003|